Will Environmental Justice Finally Get its Due?
The American Prospect just posted an important piece titled:
Will Environmental Justice Finally Get Its Due?
Obama’s environment, energy, and urban affairs appointees are poised to enact policies that environmental justice activists have long been pushing for.
BRENTIN MOCK | December 22, 2008 |
The title is in the form of a question – so let’s look at Obama EPA nominee Lisa Jackson’s NJ record and explore the premise of the piece, which is as follows:
“If President-Elect Barack Obama’s recent cabinet choices are any indication, the decades-old environmental justice movement may finally see many of its top policy goals fulfilled. The Obama administration is poised to finally deliver on White House promises made in the early 1990s to protect minorities from toxic waste, and with the addition of an Office of Urban Policy, it may go even further toward correcting historical racial disparities when it comes to environmental hazards.”:
The author relies in part on a NJ environmental justice activist, who notes:
“[Lisa Jackson] gave us a lot of access,” says Dr. Nicky Sheats, statewide coordinator of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and director of the Center for Urban Environment at the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy in Trenton. “We feel here that she is concerned about environmental justice and to us it sends a signal that it would get a higher priority than it has already.”
I’m glad someone has put this issue on the table, because based on my review of the regulatory record, the EJ issue has not been a priority of Lisa Jackson or the Corzine Administration.
In fact, Jackson may have given Dr. Sheats lots of access, but it was lip service because there is no record of delivery on positive EJ policy.
For example, Dr. Sheats, on behalf of the NJ Environmental Justice Alliance, strongly opposed and raised major EJ and urban public health concerns on what is viewed as Jackson’s signal achievement, global warming. Those concerns were summarily dismissed by Jackson’s DEP (see below for verbatim text of and link to the regulatory record).(Note: and Sheats didn’t even raise perhaps the largest EJ and public health impact of global warming – i.e. the huge number of heat related deaths that will result from 100+ degree days in urban centers, like Newark, among poor and elderly that lack air conditioning. For NJ impacts, see Union of Concerned Scientists’ Report – extreme heat, page 3: http://www.climatechoices.org/assets/documents/climatechoices/new-jersey_necia.pdf
Full Report: “Climate Change in the Northeast”
Specifically, Dr. Sheats opposed Jackson’s market based pollutant trading scheme known as “RGGI” (pronounced “Reggie” – for “Regional Green House Gas Initiative:). According to Sheats, the Jackson DEP proposal gave “little consideration” to and would have disproportionate adverse impacts on already overburdened EJ communities.
Dr. Sheats raised several significant EJ and urban health concerns, all of which were summarily dismissed by Jackson’s DEP. The full document can be found at this link (see:
But global warming and RGGI are not the only EJ issues that were ignored by DEP under Jackson’s leadership. Let’s look at the record across a host of EJ and urban environmental health issues:
1. Consider the issue of urban schools built on contaminated toxic sites, including Superfund sites and old garbage dumps. Earlier this year, in May, the South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance held a statewide conference in Trenton “The Crisis of Building Schools on Contaminated Sites and Unhealthy Schools in New Jersey” to discuss this issue. I wrote about the SJEJA conference here:
May 03, 2008
“NJ schools are intensely segregated along racial and class lines. The concentration of poverty is extreme. In Abbott districts, racial minorities makeup 90-95% of enrollments and students classified as in poverty represent 90-93%”
David Sciarra, Education Law Center
The May conference was followed up by this June Trenton Press Conference demand:
Corzine asked to prevent schools from being built atop pollution
The controversy was reported by NJ press:Corzine asked to prevent schools from being built atop pollution
NJ received national attention for it’s notorious failures, problems Lisa Jackson did not tackle or were made worse under her leadership, because she refused to take on powerful interests that were resisting changes to the NJ school construction program. See this article:
New Jersey Program Bought Polluted Lands for Low-income Schools
by Megan Tady
In what critics consider one of the more blatant examples of environmental racism, a fund supposedly intended to give a leg up to impoverished pupils of color was used to put them at risk while favoring private developers.
See also: How the Other Half Schools
What would Atticus Finch do?
Chemicals in Schools
2. Consider disproportionate impact from toxic waste sites, the persistent DEP failure to clean them up and Jackson’s proposal to privatize and reduce public oversight of the DEP cleanup program.
Cleaning Up the Cleanup Process in New Jersey
Monday, 3 April 2006
By Alex Nussbaum, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
3. Consider urban air quality poisoned by toxic chemicals. Although DEP has cracked down on certain sources of fine particulate diesel pollution, DEP has done little to address this problem of air toxics which disproportionately impact the health of urban residents:
Are we losing the pollution war?
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Last updated: Sunday December 14, 2008, 1:59 PM
BY SCOTT FALLON AND JAMES M. O’NEILL
4. Consider over-development, gentrification, and Jackson support of the “Permit Extension Act”, which was vigorously opposed by NJ environmentalists. See Sierra Club:
“Permit Extension Act Worse than Fast track”
The legislation sought to automatically extend DEP permits past their expiration date to stimulate the economy. Jackson led the negotiations on this bill. Jackson’s compromise was to exempt the Highlands and the Pinelands from the law, and thereby sacrifice urban NJ to unequal and weaker environmental protections.
Although NJ environmentalists have long opposed efforts to “streamline” environmental reviews to promote urban redevelopment as unequal protection, they said nothing to criticize this Jackson compromise. One assumes they withheld criticism because they saved the prescious and (to them) higher priority Highlands and Pinelands from the ill effects of the law.
While rich developers got relief, the Jackson bill failed to address real problems of thousands of people who were losing their homes due to foreclosure. See: A cruel hoax – on many levels http://blog.nj.com/njv_bill_wolfe/2008/07/a_cruel_hoax_on_many_levels.html
Look at the DEP’s own map and see for yourself how urban NJ was sacrificed:
All of these serious environmental justice and urban problems were not taken on by Lisa Jackson, and all got worse. See: DEP seeks cover on Fast Track
The Jackson NJ record does not bode well for EJ issues at EPA under her leadership.
See Dr. Sheats’ (commenter #16) comments on the DEP RGGI program proposed rule:
122. COMMENT: The commenter generally opposes carbon trading as a method to address climate change and states that RGGI gives little consideration to environmental justice issues.
Carbon trading does not address reductions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Carbon trading does not ensure emissions reductions in or near overburdened environmental justice communities and does not ensure that its operation will not create pollution “hot spots” in or near environmental justice communities. Carbon trading, by distributing allowances to emit carbon dioxide, creates a property right to the atmosphere and a right to pollute that should not exist. Carbon trading, by allocating carbon allowances primarily to large prior pollution emitters, does not distribute allowances in the fairest and most equitable manner possible. Carbon trading may result in only a minimal reduction of carbon dioxide emissions or no reductions at all, because too many allowances are allocated and may not be the policy that will achieve emissions reductions in the shortest time frame. Carbon trading may not provide the necessary incentives to achieve a fundamental change in energy utilization and may result in windfall profits to polluters. Carbon trading may necessitate the creation of a bureaucracy to administer the sale and trading of allowances that may tend to be opaque and prone to fraud. (16)
123. COMMENT: The CO2 Budget Trading Program rules should include a mechanism that ensures reductions of greenhouse gas co-pollutant emissions by facilities located in or near environmental justice neighborhoods. New Jersey should develop and pursue policies that will simultaneously reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, fine particulate matter (PM) and fine PM precursors. If the State chooses not to use RGGI to actively achieve co-pollutant emissions reductions, then it should at least ensure that RGGI results in carbon dioxide emissions reductions in and near environmental justice communities. (16)
124. COMMENT: The CO2 Budget Trading Program rules do not ensure that emissions reductions will occur at any specific location. The location of emissions reductions are important because even though carbon dioxide emissions may not have a local effect, carbon dioxide co-pollutants such as fine PM and its precursors do have detrimental local health effects. (16)
125. COMMENT: The Department should include ambient air monitoring for other criteria pollutants in overburdened environmental justice communities in the CO2 Budget Trading Program rules to ensure that the program does not detrimentally affect air quality in these communities. A portion of the ambient air monitoring system should be community-based. (16)
126. COMMENT: RGGI should include a mechanism that ensures community residents and community groups the ability to challenge CO2 allowance trades and CO2 allowance auction purchases that they reasonably believe have the potential to detrimentally affect the air quality of their community. The commenter offered to share with the State details of a proposal that would give residents such a mechanism to challenge CO2 allowance purchases and trades. (16)
127. COMMENT: An “Environmental Justice” committee should be formed to address and oversee environmental justice aspects of RGGI. A committee should be formed to address environmental justice issues related to the proposed rules and strong consideration should be given to forming an analogous committee for the entire RGGI program. At a minimum this committee should include paid staff funded by proceeds from the CO2 allowance auction. (16)
RESPONSE: The comments are outside the scope of the proposed rules. However, the Department is concerned about environmental justice issues and minimizing environmental impacts to low-income communities and people of color. The Department is open to engaging in ongoing discussions with the commenter to discuss environmental justice concerns related to Department greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy and the operation of the CO2 Budget Trading Program.
[DEP] RESPONSE: The comments are outside the scope of the proposed rules. The Department acknowledges that ambient air monitoring for criteria pollutants is useful for promoting community involvement and for looking at spatial variability in ambient air quality as well as in addressing pollutants with localized impact. However, this type of monitoring is probably not appropriate for the application referenced by the commenter in evaluating any changes in local ambient air quality as a result of the CO2 Budget Trading Program rules. The annual utilization of individual electric generating facilities varies widely for a number of reasons, including fuel prices, electricity demand, and wholesale electricity prices. As a result, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine the specific impact of the CO2 Budget Trading Program rules on individual facility dispatch and emissions in relation to other variables that impact operations and emissions. In addition, local air quality is also a function of ambient weather conditions and emissions from sources that would not be subject to the CO2 Budget Trading Program, which would add a further layer of complexity to such an endeavor. ”
54. COMMENT: One hundred percent of CO2 allowances should be auctioned. The current proposed rules will probably require about 70 percent of carbon allowances to be auctioned and allow approximately 29 percent to be sold to co-generation facilities at a fixed, relatively low, price. The environmental justice community urges the State to auction 100 percent of the allowances. (16)
99. COMMENT: RGGI should not allow emissions offsets, partly because the difficulty in verifying that an offset project emits fewer emissions than a more “traditional” pollution source would and that these emissions reductions satisfy the additionality requirement. If offsets are allowed, in addition to the requirements contained in the CO2 Budget Trading Program rules, they should be restricted to a location that is in close proximity to the facility seeking the offset to ensure the same communities that would have benefited from emissions reductions from the facility will benefit from the offset. They should also achieve the same emissions reductions in greenhouse gas co-pollutants that emissions reductions from the facility would have achieved.
112. COMMENT: A significant portion of the generated revenue from the auction of CO2 allowances should be invested in urban areas in order to provide financial support to low-income residents adversely affected by increases in the price of nergy caused by climate change policies. Revenue should also be used to support energy conservation and renewable energy projects in a manner that will create employment and other economic opportunities for local residents, reduce emissions of fine particulate matter and its precursors, and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. (16)