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Poisoned Communities Put Spotlight on EPA Region 4

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On Tuesday morning at 10:30am, October 27, environmental justice leaders representing fifteen environmentally impacted communities from six southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee) will meet in Atlanta with EPA Region 4 acting administrator A. Stanley Meiberg and senior staff to present documentation of environmental injustice, unequal protection, and failures on the part of the EPA and state environmental agencies to protect the health and environment of low-income and people of color communities. This is the first meeting of this type in Region 4 in more than a decade.

The EPA meeting is scheduled at the same time and just a few blocks away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Environmental Public Health Conference--where an expected 1,500 federal, state, tribal, and local public and environmental health professionals, academic researchers, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, representatives from communities and organizations, and policy and decision makers are "exploring new research and innovative practice in ecosystems and public health, healthy places and communities, sustainability, public health and chemical exposures," according to CDC's website.

Leaders from poisoned communities hope to communicate to the new EPA administration the deadly impact of environmental racism and for it to make the elimination of environmental hazards in low-income and people of color communities a priority. The community leaders will present the Region 4 acting administration with their own written reports and convey personal "horror stories" that highlight the devastating impact of toxic contamination and EPA's flawed protection model that appears to value good relations with state environmental regulators over enforcing the laws--allowing polluters to walk away in many cases unpunished. Some community leaders who are too sick to travel to Atlanta sent in written statements that will be read. All of the written reports will be emailed to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in Washington.

Now President Obama is set to select a Region 4 head, the community leaders want a new and different kind of regional administrator--one that will stand up against polluting industry and bullying states. They want someone who will initiate a strategic plan and timetable for implementing the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898; adopt targeted enforcement of environmental problems in at-risk communities; elevate environmental justice and equal protection as regional priorities with funding and staff support commensurate with the problem; make pollution prevention and risk reduction the dominant framework; and work in an interagency mode to ensure that historically underserved communities get their fair share of renewable energy, green jobs, and clean industries as the nation moves away from dirty polluting industries and nonsustainable development patterns.

Historically, regional administrators have served as a bridge between EPA headquarters and the state and local governments. While on the surface this traditional role may be appealing to state and local government officials who would move the center of power and authority away from Washington, DC to regional offices, it has been a disaster for African Americans and other people of color and poor communities.

The environmental justice delegation arriving in Atlanta are part of the 36 environmental justice, civil rights, faith, academia, and legal groups from all eight Region 4 states that signed a letter to Congressman John Lewis, longtime civil rights and environmental justice advocate, requesting him to call for an Inspector General or U.S. General Accountability Office (OIG) investigation of EPA Region 4 given its poor track record on environmental justice. The full letter can be found here.

A similar request was made to District of Columbia Delegate Walter Fauntroy more than twenty-five years ago, resulting in the landmark 1983 GAO report, Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities, that found clear racial bias in waste facility siting. Three-fourth of the hazardous waste facilities in the region were located in majority African American communities even though African Americans made up only one-fifth of the region's population. To view full text of letter click here.

The environmental justice leaders see aneed for an investigation of Region 4 enforcement, waste facility permitting, hazardous waste cleanup and disposal, and property assessments and relocation pre- and post the 1994 Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, given last eight years of the Bush Administration. More importantly, poisoned communities want change, not more of the same as in the case of the July 2009 EPA Region 4 approval the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decision to ship 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge by railcar from the mostly white east Tennessee Roane County to a landfill located in the heart of the Alabama "Black Belt," Perry County (69% African-American with more than 32% of its residents living in poverty) and to rural Taylor County, Georgia (41% of the population is African-American and more than 24% of residents live in poverty). The offer of pollution as a "pathway out of poverty" is unacceptable.

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These leaders are calling for fundamental change in Region 4, a problem region whose history is steeped in slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and resistance to civil rights and equal environmental protection. It is not an accident that the modern civil rights movement and environmental justice movement were born in the South. Nearly four decades of Region 4 harmful and discriminatory decisions have turned too many low-income and people of color communities into the dumping grounds, lowering nearby residents' property values, stealing their wealth, and exposing them to unnecessary environmental health risks.

EPA REGION 4 ACCOUNTABILITY MEETING AND PRESS BRIEFING SCHEDULE

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meeting with EPA Region 4 (61 Forsyth Street, Atlanta, GA) 10:30am -- 12:00pm

Press Briefing in front of EPA Region 4 (61 Forsyth Street, Atlanta, GA) 12:30pm -- 1:15pm

Region 4 Environmental Justice Leaders and Community Concerns

ALABAMA

Uniontown -- toxic coal ash is cleaned up in mostly white East Tennessee Roane County and shipped to a landfill 300 miles away in mostly black and poor Perry County Reverend James R. Murdock, President, Concerned Citizens of PerryCounty and Pastor, Living HopeMissionaryBaptistChurch, Uniontown, AL

Barbara Evans, Organizing Coordinator, Wildlaw, Burkville, AL

Lisa Evans, senior administrative counsel, Earthjustice, Marblehead, MA

Anniston -- lead and PCB contamination at two Superfund sites; David Baker, Community Against Pollution, Anniston, AL

FLORIDA

Tallevast -- beryllium contamination of small community from Lockheed Martin

Wanda Washington, resident and activist, Tallevast, FL

Sarah Schwemin, staff attorney, WildLaw, St. Petersburg, FL

Pensacola -- environmental and health concerns about EPA clean-up, relocation, and property appraisals at two Superfund sites (Escambia Treating Company and Agrico Chemical Company) that impacted local community resident; Francine D. Ishmael, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, Pensacola, FL

Fort Lauderdale -- failure of EPA Region 4 to adequately clean-up and community issues at the Wingate Superfund site, Deatra J. McCoy, Legal Environmental Social Justice, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Lake Apopka -- predominately Latino and African American farmworkers and rural residents are plagued with respiratory illness and skin conditions from dangerous fumigant pesticides; Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka, FL

GEORGIA

Athens -- toxic contamination at the predominately black Dunlap Road and Pittard Road communities, Jill McElheny, Vice Chair, Northeast GA Children's Environmental Health Coalition, Athens, GA

Charles Nash, Concerned Citizens of Dunlap Road, Athens, GA

Early County -- proposal to build the coal-fired Longleaf Energy station and the disproportionate impact it would have on communities of color and low-income communities; Justine Thompson, Executive Director, GreenLaw, Atlanta

Brunswick -- EPA refusal to test the Altama Elementary School that abuts the Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund Site, Daniel Parshley, Glynn Environmental Coalition, Brunswick, GA

MISSISSIPPI

Hattiesburg -- creosote contamination throughout the African Americans community; Sherri Jones, Founder and Organizer, Forrest County Environmental Support Team, Hattiesburg, MS

Columbus -- creosote contamination of an African American church property by Kerr-Mcgee; Reverend Steve Jamison, Pastor, MarananthaFaithCenter (Columbus, MS)

SOUTH CAROLINA

Williston -- private wells and drinking water contamination in small rural community; Rita Harris, Environmental Justice Coordinator, Sierra Club, Memphis, TN

TENNESSEE

Dickson -- white residents are told that water wells might be contaminated with trichloroethylene or TCE, "a likely carcinogen," black families were not notified, and are now suffering and dying from cancer. EPA Region 4, County and City of Dickson, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials debated the safety of the Harry Holt family well water and the nearby leaky Dickson County Landfill while the family drank contaminated water for twelve years; Sheila Holt Orsted, Tennessee resident and plaintiff in civil rights and environmental lawsuits to cleanup TCE contamination in Dickson, Tennessee.

Oak Ridge -- weapons contamination of "fenceline" residents of the all-black Scarboro community; Margaret L. Jones, Scarboro community resident, Oak Ridge, TN

Fredonia/Fayette County -- noncompliance with the National Environmental Policy and anti-discrimination provisions under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in assembling property and treatment of landowners; Gary Bullwinkel,Greater Fredonia Community for Environmental Justice, Fayette County, TN

 

www.drrobertbullard.com

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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