Home > Uncategorized > WaPo Does Solid Reporting On The History Of Environmental Justice Movement

WaPo Does Solid Reporting On The History Of Environmental Justice Movement

Regulatory Failures Of Key NJ Officials Not Made Explicit

Christie Whitman and Lisa Jackson Both Failed At EPA EJ


Father of Environmental Justice Movement Speaks At Drew

I recently cancelled my subscription to The NY Times when my monthly charge quadrupled – apparently I had been paying a low promotional offer for many years.

In order to keep abreast of national debates, in lieu of The NY Times, I shifted to a low cost promotional (1 year) subscription to The Washington Post (WaPo).

Today the WaPo published a superb story on the history of the environmental justice movement – please read the whole thing:

I just want to make 2 NJ related points that are implicit in the WaPo story, so that NJ officials who failed to implement real environmental justice policies at US EPA are held accountable and the source of the failure is traced to failure to adopt and enforce regulations.

The WaPo reported:

After the summit, activists saw some progress in Washington. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush established the first EPA Office of Environmental Justice. Two years later, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order creating an environmental justice working group.

But there was no action from Congress. Later, President George W. Bush weakened the office, proclaiming that it should advocate for all Americans rather than concentrating on racial minorities disproportionately affected by pollution.

In 2004, the EPA inspector general took issue with Bush’s stance, and also found that the EPA had failed to incorporate environmental justice into its day-to-day decision-making. “It has not developed a clear vision or a comprehensive strategic plan,” the inspector general said.

In 2008, President Barack Obama revived the office’s original mission and put renewed focus on affected communities, though some activists argued the administration should have been more aggressive. President Donald Trump later tried to zero out the office’s budget.

There are significant issues that are ignore, obscured, and whitewashed in this overview. They must be mentioned.

I will limit my focus today on just NJ related issues.

I) Christie Whitman Failed At EPA

First of all, the WaPo fails to report that George Bush’s EPA Administrator was former NJ Governor Christie Whitman.

Whitman frisks black man in Camden during NJ State Police stunt

Whitman frisks black man in Camden during NJ State Police stunt

Whitman had her own racial problems here in NJ, see:

Second, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report that the WaPo provides a link to was scathingly critical of Whitman’s policies and performance at EPA. I encourage people to read this whole Report, a document that I admit I was not aware of until reading it today.

Suffice it to say that Whitman implemented Bush’s diversion criticized by the WaPo, by explicitly shifting the definition and focus of “environmental justice” from poor and minority communities (targeting race and income) to “all Americans”.  

That move destroys the fundamental concept of environmental justice.

Here it is in Whitman’s own memo: (Appendix B of the OIG Report): (emphasis mine):

The Agency defines environmental justice to mean the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies, and their meaningful involvement in the decision making processes of the government.

Whitman – like her predecessor and successors – completely evaded the critical issue of regulations – a remarkable evasion because EPA is a regulatory agency:

In the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Congress could not have been any clearer when it stated that it shall be the continuing responsibility of the Federal government to assure for all Americans “safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”

Integration of environmental justice into the programs, policies, and activities via Headquarters/Regional Office Memoranda of Agreements and Regional Office/State Performance Partnership Agreements is an Agency priority.

This language is intentionally misleading and a lie. Here’s why:

1. NEPA is a procedural statute with no regulatory teeth. It was never intended to address environmental racism. Citing it as supporting an EJ policy does nothing. And notice the “all Americans” diversion is repeated.

2. In integrating EJ into EPA “programs, policies, and activities”, note that Whitman does not even mention EPA “regulations”. Again, no teeth.

3. Note that Whitman relies on and cites “State Performance Partnership Agreements“.

Ive written many times about the origins and failures of EPA’s NEPPS program – it is not enforceable and was designed by the Neoliberal Clinton administration to skirt EPA federal oversight responsibilities as a concession to the Gingrich “Contract On America” Congress.

Whitman must be held accountable for this failure.

II) Lisa Jackson Failed At EPA

Camden EJ activist  press conference - Wolfe talks about Corzine policy on schools on toxic waste sites (2008?)

Camden EJ activist press conference – Wolfe criticizes  Corzine policy on schools on toxic waste sites (2008)

In a similar whitewash, the WaPo fails to report that Obama’s first term EPA Administrator was former NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson (who also served as Gov. Corzine’s Chief of Staff).

Jackson had little influence on NJ’s EJ policy, e.g. for an egregious example, see:

To their credit, the WaPo does suggest that Obama’s efforts were weak, by including this vague reference:

some activists argued the [Obama] administration should have been more aggressive.

So, I hit the link to see who “some activists” were and discovered a Report by the Center For Public Integrity (CPI):

Time and again, however, communities of color living in the shadows of sewage plants, incinerators, steel mills, landfills and other industrial facilities across the country — from Baton Rouge to Syracuse, Phoenix to Chapel Hill — have found their claims denied by the EPA’s civil-rights office, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News shows. In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the office has never once made a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

Wow, with a strong title and findings like that, it is remarkable that the CPI Report failed to name EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Again, we have not and won’t give Jackson a pass here. (see also):

And we have written about the same Title VI failure in NJ’s environmental justice policy and programs, see:

I wish I had known about the 2015 CPI Report at the time I wrote that post.

Regardless, given the EPA regulatory failure noted by the WaPo and the NJ DEP regulatory failures I have written about many times for many years, I am not optimistic about Biden’s new EJ initiatives or the current NJ EJ law.

Let’s hope that the WaPo story can encourage some intrepid NJ journalists to hold not only Whitman and Jackson accountable, but also investigate the current flawed Murphy EJ  legislation and the soon to be proposed DEP regulatory  program.

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