2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Impact of Pollution on Minority Neighborhoods


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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY)
Clinton, Solis Introduce Legislation to Address Unfair Impact of Pollution on Minority Neighborhoods
Location: Washington, DC
Press Release

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) announced the introduction of the Environmental Justice Renewal Act. The legislation championed by Senator Clinton and Congresswoman Solis will increase the federal government’s efforts in addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental pollution upon racial and ethnic minority and low-income populations.

“Last year, I was proud to chair a Senate hearing on environmental justice issues. I heard from communities across the country about the pollution they faced, and the way that exposure to these pollutants jeopardized the health of far too many members of communities of color. The federal government must not stand idly by while millions face pollution in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods,” said Senator Clinton. “I am proud to join Congresswoman Solis to introduce this critical piece of legislation to once again ensure our government takes action to remedy the unequal environmental burdens faced by low-income and minority communities.”

“For far too long federal agencies have disregarded the health of minority and low-income communities, choosing instead to reinterpret the Executive Order so that it fits the policies they want to promote,” said Congresswoman Solis. “Coupled with the Environmental Justice Act of 2007, this legislation will help protect minority and low-income communities facing cumulative toxic exposures. With this legislation, we can help empower communities without a voice to protect their health and welfare.”

The Environmental Justice Renewal Act will address the inaction of the Bush Administration on environmental justice issues by strengthening the federal infrastructure to address environmental justice and codifying the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. It will expand existing grant programs and create new grant opportunities to help community-based groups and states address environmental justice, and will require the EPA to engage in additional outreach at the community level, and create the position of Environmental Justice Ombudsman to investigate the agency’s handling of environmental justice complaints. Finally, it will increase accountability by requiring routine, independent evaluation of the government’s actions to reduce and eliminate the disparate impact of environmental pollution upon minority and low-income communities.

The environmental justice movement first came to the forefront more than 25 years ago, as residents in the predominantly African-American Warren County, North Carolina, protested the placement of a toxic waste landfill in their community. In 1994 the Clinton Administration released Executive Order 12898, titled “Federal Actions To Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” which directed federal agencies to account for the ways in which their activities would impact low-income and minority communities.

Under the Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back many of the gains made during the 1990s, and have downplayed the disproportionate impact of environmental problems on lower-income and minority communities. Reports from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the Government Accountability Office, have noted that the EPA has not consistently integrated environmental justice into its day-to-day operations, nor have they considered it in making rules that protect families from environmental degradation and pollution.

Groups supporting the legislation include the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ReGenesis, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and WE ACT For Environmental Justice.

Senator Clinton has been a strong supporter of efforts to improve the environmental health of minority and low-income populations. As Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, she held the first-ever Senate hearing on environmental justice in July, and is cosponsor of the Environmental Justice Act of 2007. She has introduced legislation to improve federal efforts to track and research the links between chronic disease and environmental hazards, as well as multiple bills to address asthma and lead poisoning, conditions which have a disproportionate impact in minority communities.

In 2000, Congresswoman Solis became the first woman to receive John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues in California and her relentless, successful struggle to protect the families of the San Gabriel Valley against harmful toxins. Congresswoman Solis is the first Latina to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she is Vice Chair of the Environment and Hazardous Materials (EHM) Subcommittee. From 2003-2006, she served as the Ranking Democratic Member of the EHM Subcommittee. Congresswoman Solis fought to ban pesticide testing on pregnant women and children and is also the author of H.R. 1103, the Environmental Justice Act of 2007. This legislation would codify Executive Order 12898, the Executive order on Environmental Justice.

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