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Environmental Justice Leaders CelebrateTwentieth Anniversary of Executive Order 12898

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On Tuesday February 11 groups from around the nation commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898,  "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations," signed by President Clinton.   Reactions from environmental justice activists, analysts and academics tended to view the Executive Order in a positive light even though it has never been fully implemented after twenty years and three presidents. The quest for environmental justice has often been compared to a marathon race as opposed to a sprint.

The leaders in 1994 preferred an environmental justice law to an executive order. This sentiment holds true today. However, Congress did not pass an environmental justice law then and it is not likely to pass one now. Nevertheless, there are some positive signs at the executive level.   EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February Environmental Justice Month. A ll EPA employees and staff now must complete new environmental justice training. Later this month the agency will publish its 2014 Progress Report on Plan EJ 2014, a roadmap that will help the agency integrate environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities over the next 20 years.

And on February 10, President Obama issued a proclamation commemorating and reaffirming Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898.   A passage from the proclamation reads:

"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."

As part of the twenty-year anniversary, researchers at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University issued a new report, Environmental Justice Milestones and Achievements: 1964-2014, that tracks   environmental justice over the past five decades, beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2. It is clear from the report that Environmental justice principles remain steeped in civil rights and human rights.

The report is dedicated to the memory of the many courageous warriors who gave their lives in the pursuit of environmental and economic justice over the past three decades and who are no longer physically with us today. While their numbers are countless, eleven extraordinary environmental justice warriors are called out by name: Dana Alston (Washington, DC), Luke Cole (San Francisco, CA), Jeanne Guana (Albuquerque, NM), Grover Hankins (Houston, TX), Harry Holt (Dickson, TN), Hazel Johnson (Chicago, IL), Edgar J. Mouton (Mossville, LA),  Patsy Ruth Oliver  (Texarkana, TX), Damu Smith  (Washington, DC); Emelda West (Convent, LA), and Margaret Louise Williams (Pensacola, FL). Their legacy remains alive and well in those who follow in their footsteps.

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Robert D. Bullard is Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers (more...)

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