The Environmental Protection Agency plans Creation of a new office to combat environmental racism — that is, the global warming and pollution that disproportionately affects black and low-income communities in America.
Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, the new office will have a $3 billion block grant for climate and environmental justice.
The announcement was made Saturday by Michael Regan, the EPA administrator and the first black man to head the agency, as well as environmental justice and civil rights leaders in Warren County, North Carolina.
“From day one, President Biden and the EPA have been committed to making progress on environmental justice and civil rights, and ensuring underserved and overburdened communities are at the forefront of our work.” said Regan in a statement. “With the creation of a new national program office, we are embedding environmental justice and civil rights in EPA’s DNA and ensuring that people who have struggled to address their concerns see action to solve the problems they have faced for generations.”
Our new Office of Environmental Justice and External Citizens’ Rights will dedicate more than 200 EPA employees at our headquarters and in 10 regions to solving environmental challenges in communities that have been underserved for far too long. pic.twitter.com/QuyfQRXcRD
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) September 24, 2022
History of Environmental Racism in America
Environmental racism has been rampant in America for decades; the creation of redlining 1933 is considered one of the most important causes of environmental racism.
During the height of the Great Depression, redlining districts were created to provide housing for white, middle-class families struggling due to housing shortages.
However, the development of this program neglected all other families, pushing many black communities into urban housing projects and areas with polluting industries.
This program lasted 40 years, but its effects are still visible today.
One of the prime examples of black and other non-white communities being pushed into polluted areas is Cancer Alley.
What used to be called “plantation land”, The area along the Mississippi River in Louisiana was home to pristine mansions and plantations where enslaved African Americans were forced to labor in the blazing sun in the 19th century.
Now, the black community in Louisiana continues to suffer, just in a different way. According to the United Nationsthere are currently around 150 oil refineries, ethane cracker (plastics) and chemical plants along Cancer Alley.
The health side effects of the pollution industry have already caused an epidemic in Louisiana Investigators at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic Association of air pollution in the state with high rates of cancer, particularly in the area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Cancer Valley.
Water crises across America are linked to environmental racism
On April 25, 2014, the Water Crisis in FlintMichigan, sparked statewide concerns about environmental racism, with the majority of affected communities being Black or low-income families.
According to US censusAt about the time of the crisis (the census reports 2 years later in 2016), Flint was 57% black, 37% white, 4% Latino, and 4% mixed race.
The water crisis was caused by an attempt by Flint officials to convert the city’s water supply as a low-cost strategy to save money for the struggling community. When they made arrangements to switch the water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority, they used the Flint River as a temporary water source.
However, in the process, dangerous levels of lead leaked into the water supply. By May, local residents were complaining about brown water coming out of their taps that looked and smelled bad, but most of those complaints were ignored by officials.
By August, E. coli and coliform bacteria had been found in Flint’s water supply.
Eventually, a leaked memo came out from the EPA warning residents about the lead in the water supply
When officials addressed the issue overwhelmingly a year later, in October 2015, damage to the city’s water mains was already severe, forcing the then mayor, governor, and president to declare a state of emergency in Flint.
Alternative water supplies were then distributed to residents – many had to rely on bottled water and filters.
The aftermath of the water crisis lasted about two years, and residents depended on bottled water until 2017, when most of the city’s water mains were renewed and replaced. Still, most members of the Flint community continue to distrust the tap water that comes out of their faucets.
Last, The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi a few weeks ago has brought to light new concerns about environmental racism.
Residents for years majority black community (83%) in Jackson were dealing with an unclean water supply.
Even before the new crisis, residents were struggling with burst water pipes, leaking sewage, brownish water in their toilets and faucets, and developing skin rashes from bath water.
According to MSNBCbetween 1980 and 2020, Jackson’s population had fallen by more than 25% due to unaddressed access to clean water and other city issues.
In late August 2022, water, which was already a major concern, became a bigger concern when the OB Curtis Water Plant failed due to severe flooding in the Pearl River.
Since the incident, residents have been living on bottled water distributed by the federal government, military and volunteers, unsure when clean water will come out of their sinks.
Our self-contained AWG system in service with the Texas Armed Forces in Austin, Texas. The system we will be using in Jackson, Mississippi is the latest water generator I have designed for home emergency and commercial use. https://t.co/WDNUiz9JdE#Water pic.twitter.com/Lf3bWOg1QH
— Moses West Foundation (@MWestFoundation) 09/16/2022
But just as residents saw the signs of dirty water early on, so did community officials who tried to troubleshoot and repair the water system before disaster struck.
Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba had spoken to Lt. gov. Delbert Hosemann on fixing faulty infrastructure in Jackson.
“I sat down with the lieutenant governor to discuss Jackson’s infrastructure issue,” Lumumba said. “We had a conversation that lasted about an hour and a half and he asked everyone to leave the room just to say, ‘Mayor, you have to give me my airport and I see it for about $30 million. So I’m not just supposed to be stupid, I’m supposed to be cheap, right?”
The conversation turned to a controversial legislative proposal to give Flint control of the Hand Mississippi’s Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport—which Flint acquired in 1958—to regional legislatures; a subject that is significantly less important and necessary in Flint.
Instead of fixing the already failing water infrastructure in the community, officials ignored complaints and focused on less common issues that would benefit white Mississippi lawmakers — 70% of them are white.
And now the parishioners continue to suffer from their inaction.
EPA on combating environmental racism
Just a few weeks after the Jackson Water crisis drew attention to issues of environmental racism in marginalized communities, EPA announced in late September the creation of a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights.
The new national office will integrate three smaller, mid-level offices on environmental justice, civil rights, and conflict prevention and resolution into one senior office, which will be advised by a Senate-approved deputy administrator reporting directly to the agency.
US President Joe Biden is expected to nominate a candidate for the position at a later date. The office is expected to employ 200 people in Washington and in EPA’s 10 regional offices, and will receive $100 million in federal funding.
Establishing an office for environmental justice and external civil rights is one of the Biden administration’s biggest efforts to address the pollution problem that marginalized communities continue to be unjustly exposed to.
Regan explains that the office will help ensure a clean future for victims of environmental injustice that will hopefully have a lasting impact.
“It will improve our ability to incorporate justice, civil rights and environmental justice into everything we do.” said Rain. “It will be a reminder of the agency’s commitment to bringing justice and justice to all and ensuring that no matter who sits in the Oval Office or heads the EPA, that work continues long beyond all of us to be on the front lines and at the center.” to stand by everything this agency does.”
Editor’s note: The opinions of the authors expressed here are their own and not those of Impakter.com — In the post photo: Flint, Michigan Water Tower. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.