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A Victory for Environmental Justice

In May of 2006, environmental justice advocates won an important victory to counter the EPA’s continued failure to integrate the environmental justice concerns of people of color and low-income communities in the agency’s programs. These communities often experience disproportionately high exposures from toxic waste, dirty air, polluted water, and other health hazards when federal environmental laws are not equitably implemented or enforced.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) offered an amendment to the EPA's budget, preventing the agency from spending any of its funds in any way that conflicts with a 1994 Executive Order (No. 12898) on environmental justice, or that delays its implementation. The Hastings amendment was specifically meant to address the EPA's attempt to reinterpret the 1994 Order so that it does not require the EPA to identify people of color and low-income communities most at-risk for higher than average pollution burdens. The amendment was accepted into the text of the bill, and was passed without a vote. The entire appropriations bill passed on May 18, 2006.

Today, people of color and low-income neighborhoods across the country continue to face disproportionately high levels of air and water pollution and exposure to toxic waste and other health hazards because federal environmental laws often are not fairly enforced. The Hastings amendment is just one of many resolutions needed to reform federal environmental and civil rights policy, but it is a significant development. The amendment’s success represents one of the few times that either body of Congress has specifically recognized and supported the 1994 Executive Order on environmental justice, and told the EPA that it must be followed.