Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Environmental Racism in the News ...

David Pace of the Associated Press writes:

An Associated Press analysis of a little-known government research project shows that black Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.

Residents in neighborhoods with the highest pollution scores also tend to be poorer, less educated and more often unemployed than those elsewhere in the country, AP found.

"Poor communities, frequently communities of color but not exclusively, suffer disproportionately," said Carol Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration when the scoring system was developed. "If you look at where our industrialized facilities tend to be located, they're not in the upper middle class neighborhoods."

This really isn't news, but should receive greater play and focus now that AP has paid enough attention to produce an analysis. Definitely, it's a topic worth much weight in further exploration, and government response to it has been non-existent. A broader response from environmental groups and advocates is always scattered and we see little breathed about it throughout the African American political establishment or the Black press. We've noted before in this blog of our concern that lack of collective concern for major environmental issues from leading organizations and others within the Black political community is particularly dangerous. One can argue that lack of such focus was a factor leading to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina - some of which were preventable if officials and politicians at all levels of government had given more consideration to environmental variables. But, if largely African American communities in locations like New Orleans had been effectively organized and informed about those variables long before Katrina, perhaps we would have seen a more positive or less destructive outcome.

Upon reading this blog, some readers may dispute our use of the term "environmental racism," since this AP report is not directly asserting that term. It's simply presenting the data collected and reporting on different perspectives. But, environmental racism also suggests indifference and inaction. The Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund definition reads: "any government, institutional, or industry action, or failure to act, that has a negative environmental impact which disproportionately harms - whether intentionally or unintentionally - individuals, groups, or communities based on race or colour." One might correctly assume the "failure to act" in assessing the following quote from Deputy EPA Administrator Marcus Peacock:

"We're going to get at those folks to make sure that they are going to be breathing clean air, and that's regardless of their race, creed or color," said Peacock. Peacock said industrial air pollution has declined significantly in the past 30 years as regulations and technology have improved.

Since 1990, according to EPA, total annual emissions of 188 regulated toxins have declined by 36 percent.

Still, Peacock acknowledged, "there are risks, and I would assume some unacceptable risks, posed by industrial air pollution in some parts of the country."

Peacock's statement is telling in that it basically admits the EPA will do little about it. Contrary to Peacock's unnecessary and irrelevant conservative party line talking point on race relations, we don't think the purpose of the findings is to further emphasize (or inflame) the contemporary racial divide. It simply introduces findings that portray a disturbing correlation between where people live and where high concentrations of pollution flourish. It just so happens that a disproportionate amount of those affected are African American. A ranking EPA official's dismissal of that finding is alarming considering the prevalence is so high.