The Politics and Promotion of Environmental Justice

Our Leaders Speak... Sort Of

At an Earth Day observance in 2003, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) pledged to make "environmental justice" a top priority of his administration should he be elected president in the (then-upcoming) 2004 presidential election (a similar assertion can be found here).

Because there are diverse views on environmental justice that in practice can be both helpful and hurtful to minority communities as well as the economic prosperity of all Americans, The National Center for Public Policy Research and it's African-American leadership network Project 21 contacted Senator Kerry's presidential campaign and his Senate office to ask him to define his intentions with regard to environmental justice enforcement. He was also offered help in further developing his position on this important environmental and economic issue affecting minorities and the poor.

Here's what he told us:

nothing

After more than a year and numerous attempts, including formal letters to his office sent via FedEx, there has been no response of any kind from Senator Kerry or his staff.

In the interest of fairness, all the candidates for president were asked the same questions and offered the same assistance.

Here is what former senator Carol Moseley Braun (IL), retired General Wesley Clark, former governor Howard Dean (VT), Senator Bob Edwards (NC), Congressman Richard Gephardt (MO), Senator Bob Graham (FL), Congressman Dennis Kucinich (OH), Senator Joe Lieberman (CT) and the Reverend Al Sharpton had to say about their beliefs about and commitments to environmental justice:

nothing

We also asked the President of the United States. White House staff members told us by telephone that the President takes this issue very seriously, and told us to expect a formal reply to our letter from the EPA. Such a letter was received.

The EPA, responding on President Bush's behalf, wrote:

"On behalf of President Bush, I thank you for writing to inquire about environmental justice. Under the leadership of Administrator Mike Leavitt, EPA continues its commitment to 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. Environmental justice is achieved when everyone, regardless of race, culture or income, enjoys equal protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the government's related decision-making processes. You can be sure that EPA will continue to work hard to meet its responsibilities in this regard."

-Barry E. Hill
Director, Office of Environmental Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

We then decided to ask several congressional leaders who are key in the crafting of environmental policy to tell us what environmental justice meant to them and how they saw its place in the policymaking process.

Here is what they had to say:

"I am a strong believer in environmental protection that is based on sound science. Federal agencies should perform cost-benefit analyses to ensure that we are protecting the environment in a sustainable way that does not have a net effect of destroying jobs or otherwise hurting people. I am also sensitive to the need to ensure that environmental regulations do not have a disproportionately negative impact on African-Americans or other minority groups."

-Bill Frist, M.D. (R-TN)
Majority Leader, U.S. Senate

"I believe that environmental policies that disproportionately impact minority communities are unwise, unfair, and counterproductive. That is especially true of legislation to restrict carbon dioxide emissions to address anthropogenic "global warming," which has not been scientifically demonstrated, and which, as the Center for Energy and Economic Development recently found, would raise energy costs dramatically for minorities. I would commit to reviewing the economic costs of proposed environmental programs, to make certain they are not borne disproportionately by minorities, before supporting them I would support an executive order that would direct agencies to study ways to make certain the costs of federal environmental policies are not disproportionately borne by minorities."

-James Inhofe (R-OK)
Chairman, U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

"As the grandson of Portuguese immigrants who became successful cattle ranchers and chairman of a committee with broad jurisdiction over environmental regulations, I am painfully aware how federal environmental policies impact low income persons and minorities in America and throughout the world. The proposed Kyoto Protocol on global warming clearly illustrates this problem I learned that the average Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [beneficiary] in Belmont County, Ohio is a 73-year-old widow with a monthly income of $711. After meeting her routine expenses, she has $43 remaining each month in disposable income. Needless to say, she can ill-afford an increase in energy costs caused by the proposed Kyoto Protocol or other regulatory regime In short, people living on the edge of existence experience much distress when environmental policies increase their cost of living. I am committed to putting a human face on victims of these policies and crafting legislative remedies to help them."

-Richard Pombo (R-CA)
Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources

 
The Center for Environmental Justice is a joint program of Project 21 and the National Center's Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs

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