The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requesting public input on a precedent-setting effort to evaluate environmental justice concerns raised by a Bush-era loophole that stripped federal oversight of companies that handle 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste each year.
The waste is generated by steel, chemical and pharmaceutical companies and mostly affects low-income communities and communities of color where waste dumps are often situated.
EPA will discuss the preliminary plan for the environmental justice analysis with the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council at the council’s national public meeting on Jan. 28 in New Orleans.
"This is the first time the agency will conduct a comprehensive environmental justice analysis — although these reviews were first ordered by President Bill Clinton," said Abigail Dillen, an attorney for Earthjustice. "This process is likely to become a template for future analyses. We look forward to participating in this process and are pleased the EPA is involving important stakeholders and advocates for environmental justice."
Even though the EPA is reconsidering the Bush era rule change, it remains in effect in the interim and three states are already making use of it. According to an analysis by Earthjustice that will be presented in New Orleans, 23 facilities in Iowa, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are already operating under the exemption. A basic investigation of the facilities shows that at least six of them are chronic violators and 19 are in communities that are predominantly low-income or of color.
"Disadvantaged communities face an increased risk from exposure to this hazardous waste," said Dr. Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. "Involving representatives of this community in the process is needed to create an unbiased plan that assesses the impact of this loophole on all communities."
"It is imperative that those who stand to be most directly affected by the operations of these hazardous waste recycling businesses are involved in analyzing and commenting on this draft policy," said Vernice Miller-Travis, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities. "A fundamental tenet of environmental justice is that these communities speak for themselves and voice their concerns directly to the federal government. This upcoming public dialogue is their opportunity to be heard."
Individuals unable to attend this dialogue in person in New Orleans on January 28th, may comment on the record via e-mail. Submit written comments to RCRAfirstname.lastname@example.org, Attn: Docket ID EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0315. Interested stakeholders can also attend a second public meeting on the proposed environmental justice plan to be held on February 23, 2010 at the EPA Potomac Yard Conference Center in Arlington, VA.