Clean air, pure water and untainted land are rights that should be enjoyed by every American, at least in theory. As the history of industrial and human development shows, the reality isn’t clear, or just. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it’s been the areas where the poorest, politically weakest segments of a population have lived and worked, or those most remote and isolated, that have been the most polluted.
Aiming to address the issue, former President Bill Clinton in 1998 issued Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” Twenty-five years on, President Barack Obama on Feb. 10 issued a proclamation commemorating former President Clinton’s executive order and renewed the federal government’s commitment to assuring environmental justice for all.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) in Denver on Feb. 11, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy followed through with her own reaffirmation on behalf of the federal agency she leads.
Environmental justice for all
Reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to environmental justice is not only much needed, but should be very welcome coming as it does in the wake of a coal industry chemical spill from a Freedom Industries’ plant into West Virginia’s Elk River, and the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history from a shuttered Duke Energy coal-fired power plant into North Carolina’s Dan River.
In reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to pursue environmental justice, Ms. McCarthy declared February “Environmental Justice Month” for EPA members and staff. The agency initiative will actually extend throughout 2014, with the EPA organizing and hosting activities that highlight and “celebrate the successes of many collaborative efforts across the country.”
In addition, beginning this month all EPA employees and staff will begin new environmental justice training. This month, the agency will publish its 2014 Progress Report on Plan EJ 2014.
In his Feb. 10 proclamation commemorating and reaffirming Executive Order 12898, President Obama pays homage to the citizen activists past and present who have exercised their rights to protest, drawn attention to miscarriages of environmental justice, and helped effect positive change.
“As we mark this day, we recall the activists who took on environmental challenges long before the federal government acknowledged their needs. We remember how Americans — young and old, on college campuses and in courtrooms, in our neighborhoods and through our places of worship — called on a nation to pursue clean air, water and land for all people.
“On this anniversary, let us move forward with the same unity, energy and passion to live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.”
For more on environmental justice, check out Skeo-3p’s extensive coverage of this very timely and important issue.
Image courtesy Flickr/Appalachian.voices