The Relief Report ®


A newsletter covering regulatory reform efforts in Washington and across America, published by The National Center for Public Policy Research

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Issue #82 * October 27, 2000 * David A. Ridenour, Editor

SPECIAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISSUE

Contents:

The Time is Now for a New Environmental Justice Policy

Bill Clinton Makes Blacks Pay More at the Pump

 

The Time is Now for a New Environmental Justice Policy

When Select Steel Inc. proposed construction of a $175 million steel mill that would create 200 jobs in the economically-distressed community of Genesee County, Michigan, the majority of local residents welcomed the proposal. But thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) so-called environmental justice policy, which purports to protect minorities from being disproportionately affected by pollution, the company was forced to locate to a more affluent area last year - depriving economically-disadvantaged minorities of the opportunity to get high-paying manufacturing jobs.

When Select Steel announced its plan to establish a plant in Genesee County in 1998, an area whose residents have recently seen a drop in per capita income, a majority of residents wanted its $16-per-hour jobs very much. However, members of the local St. Francis Prayer Center, a religious organization, filed a complaint with the EPA in June, 1998 claiming that pollution from Select Steel would unfairly affect minorities since it would be in a neighborhood with a high minority population. But after discovering that the area surrounding the proposed plant actually consisted of an 84% white population, the EPA dropped the investigation. Undaunted, the activists appealed the EPA's decision. Frustrated by the delays, the company relocated the plant in Ingham County where unemployment is just 3.2% as compared to 5.6% in Genesee County.

Outraged Michigan politicians blasted the activists and the EPA's policy. Said Congressman James Barcia (D-MI), "I can't understand it. They just don't want economic development in Michigan." Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) wondered "how in heaven's name would the environment of this nation be improved?" by stopping the creation of jobs in depressed communities.

The environmental justice issue has been of growing concern to African-American leaders and businesses ever since President Bill Clinton signed an executive order on environmental justice in 1994 centering on the belief that minority and low-income communities suffer an unfair share of environmental problems. The executive order allows the EPA to deny environmental permits whenever it determines that pollutants will disproportionately affect communities with particular racial or ethnic characteristics.

But this policy is widely opposed by an array of minority advocacy groups, state and local officials and trade associations including the National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Black County Officials,National Council of Mayors, National Governor's Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These groups argue that the EPA's policy causes unnecessary, time-consuming and costly assessments that inhibit job creation. Harry Alford, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce, goes even farther to say, "The EPA is pimping the black community to further their own agenda of a pristine earth at the expense of our jobs." Ironically, the EPA's policy runs counter to the Clinton Administration's support for revitalizing economically-depressed urban areas through the federal "brownfields" program.

Brownfields are abandoned commercial and industrial properties located in distressed urban communities. According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report, redevelopment of 81,568 acres of brownfield sites could generate 550,000 jobs and up to $2.4 billion in new tax revenue for U.S. cities. Such redevelopment would help reduce the eight percent African-American unemployment rate and boost the median weekly income of African-Americans from its 1999 level of $445 as compared to $573 for non-Hispanic whites.

Due to the EPA's flawed environmental justice policy, companies like Select Steel are taking their business to other areas - often more affluent - where they can operate without interference by opposition groups claiming discrimination. Detroit's African-American Mayor Dennis Archer strongly condemns the EPA's environmental justice policy because it is "so vague and so broad that it nullifies everything that we have done to attract companies to our brownfield sites."

The Clinton Administration's environmental justice policy is an injustice because it does not balance environmental concerns with the economic needs of minorities. Contrary to what environmentalists may believe, African-Americans do not need special protection from economic improvement.

By Michael Centrone

 

Bill Clinton Makes Blacks Pay More at the Pump

With gasoline prices rising to well over two dollars a gallon in the Midwestern United States, America's love affair with the automobile may be headed toward a break-up. But before we ditch our wheels, we should first demand the government get rid of policies helping to drive up fuel prices.

Our biggest roadblock to reforming gas prices is Bill Clinton. Although he says he understands the needs of poor and minority citizens, his energy and regulatory policies hurt us more than any other segment of the population. And he has fought hard to protect these hurtful programs from attempts to repeal them.

We can't just blame the Arabs or the oil companies for gouging us. Much of the problem is the fault of overburdening taxes and government regulations that are driving the price of gas through the roof. Poor and minority consumers are being forced to spend a larger portion of their budgets to handle it than anyone else.

Unlike income taxes that take your money according to how much you earn, sales taxes make everyone pay the same rate. Billionaire Bill Gates pays the same taxes on a gallon of gas as a black single mother in South Central Los Angeles, but the single mom will be spending a substantially larger portion of her budget at the pump than Gates. The fact that so many independent truckers have been forced off the road because they cannot afford to drive proves how bad the problem is getting.

Federal and state gas taxes on a gallon of gasoline now average 43 cents a gallon. In the 1990s alone, gas taxes rose 16 cents a gallon. In addition, a federal mandate that gasoline contain the additive MTBE raises the cost by an additional ten cents. Not to scare anybody, but the Clinton Administration also signed the United Nation's Kyoto Protocol - to fight the unproven theory of global warming - that could potentially double the future price of gasoline! Congress has so far refused to ratify the Protocol, but the White House is still trying to force government compliance through executive action.

To combat current high gasoline prices, Indiana Governor Frank L. O'Bannon suspended his state's 5% sales tax for the summer. In Washington, however, Clinton and his supporters have fought attempts in Congress to repeal the 4.3-cent tax he imposed at the beginning of his presidency. Trying to spin the issue, the White House is blaming the oil companies for high prices. The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a formal investigation of high prices, but there's no denying that taxes and regulations are still an enormous chunk of the cost of every gallon we buy.

In addition to gas tax cuts, another way the government could ease high gas prices is to increase the oil supply by allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Only 2,000 acres of the 19 million-acre refuge - just over 0.01% - would be used and it could replace Saudi oil imports for 30 years. But the federal government won't allow it.

In 1995, Clinton Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt justified barring drilling in the ANWR, saying, "it doesn't appear that [oil] prices will [be] topping $30 [a barrel] in the foreseeable future. In fact, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Agency predicts oil prices will be only $19.13 by the year 2000." Last March, however, oil prices went over $34 a barrel. Still, the Clinton Administration is not willing to cut people a break by allowing drilling in the ANWR.

By the way, don't think we're just talking about gas prices rising. The trucks bringing goods to market are costing more to run, and this cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for clothes, food and other necessities. Once again, it will be the people least able to deal with these price hikes who will be reaching deeper into their budgets just to get by.

Unless the government changes its tune, we can expect to pay a lot more for a lot of things. The Clinton Administration's disregard for the more disenfranchised segments of the population shows that the President favors his policies over real people. So much for feeling our pain.

by Stuart Pigler



Editorial correspondence to The Relief Report should be directed to: The National Center for Public Policy Research * 501 Capitol Ct., N.E. * Washington, D.C. 20002 * (202) 543-4110 * Fax (202) 543-5975 * E-mail [email protected] * Web http://www.nationalcenter.org. Copyright 2000, The National Center for Public Policy Research. Coverage of meetings, activities or statements in the Relief Report does not imply endorsement by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints of material in the Relief Report permitted provided source is credited. To receive all National Center newsletters free by e-mail, visit http://www.nationalcenter.org or send an e-mail to: mailing [email protected].


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