Will we reverse the little progress we’ve made on environmental justice?
There is ample evidence that hazardous waste facilities, Superfund sites, sources of toxic air and water pollution, and other environmental nuisances are more likely to be located in poor and minority communities, and that these communities face disproportionate health risks as a result.
The EPA defines environmental justice as the “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” It was in 1994 that President Clinton issued an executive order in that directed the EPA and other federal agencies to integrate environmental justice considerations into their policies, programs and decision-making.
EJSCREEN provides information about the relationship between environmental risk and socioeconomic factors in local communities, providing officials (and the public) with a clear picture of vulnerabilities at different locations across the country.
In 2011, the EPA released its Plan EJ 2014, which was followed a few years later by EJ 2020 Action Agenda, a 5-year strategic plan for advancing environmental justice.
This also came into play when, for example, officials evaluated the costs and benefits of new regulations, monitored toxic pollutants outside refineries and set federal enforcement priorities.
The future of environmental justice policy at the EPA during the Trump administration is vulnerable to diminishment, if not outright reversal.
Most directly, the Trump administration has proposed to eliminate the Office of Environmental Justice.
Because major sources of pollution, such as power plants and oil refineries, tend to be located in poor and minority areas, any changes that result in more lax enforcement of environmental rules will disproportionately affect these communities.
At the same time, the Trump budget proposes cuts to the EPA’s grant programs to states, which will, in turn, weaken their enforcement capabilities to monitor pollution, carry out inspections or build legal cases against companies violating environmental laws.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.