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Earth Day at Forty Still Leaves "Dirty Dumping in Dixie" Practices in Place

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Robert Bullard       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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On April 22, 2010, the nation celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. Much has been achieved in environmental and public health protection over these past four decades. However, much work remains, especially in terms of achieving equal protection and equal enforcement of our environmental and energy laws. In the real world, all communities are not created equal. If a community happens to be poor, black or a community of color, or located on the "wrong side of the tracks," it received less protection than communities inhabited largely by affluent whites in the suburbs.

Let us not forget that the long march to equality for people of color predates the first Earth Day. Two years before the first Earth Day, in April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis, Tennessee to lead an environmental and economic justice protest march on behalf of striking sanitation workers. He was assassinated in Memphis that same year.

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Today, we hear a lot of talk about CO2, greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for reducing our carbon footprint by investing in a clean energy economy. Dirty coal-fired power plants are a major source of CO2 but also a major contributor of other pollution, including NOx, SO2, CO2, PM10, VOCs, acid gases, lead, and mercury. Dirty coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives each year.

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While renewable energy is being encouraged as the preferred clean strategy, dirty and "risky" energy plants and disposal facilities are being sent to African American communities. A form of "energy apartheid" has blocked millions of poor people and people of color from the green economy. EPA Region 4, eight states in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee), best illustrates these Dumping in Dixie practices that have continued unabated over the past four decades.

It is no accident that the modern civil rights movement and environmental justice movement were born in the South. Four decades of EPA Region 4 harmful and discriminatory decisions have turned far too many black communities into the dumping grounds for risky polluting facilities, risky technologies, and dirty energy plants--lowering nearby residents' property values, stealing their wealth, and exposing them to unnecessary environmental health risks.

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The nuclear power industry is reinventing itself. Three decades after the last nuclear power plant was commissioned in the U.S., 21 companies have indicated they want to build 34 new reactors. Not surprising, this nuclear power resurgence is heavily concentrated in the southern United States, raising environmental injustice concerns and charge of environmental racism around plant siting. The NRC has already awarded $20 million to 60 universities for scholarships and faculty recruitment and retention to ramp up new nuclear development. Yet, no viable alternative has been found to permanently dispose of or store the 70,000 tons of radioactive waste now stored on site at more than 100 nuclear plants across the country, with 2,000 tons added each year.

Georgia's mostly African American and poor communities are being targeted for risky nuclear power and dirty coal fired power plants. Such facilities are often hyped as providing jobs for local residents. However, most studies show that poor communities get few jobs at these plants are stuck with pollution and poverty. Poor black residents get more promises than jobs--and they get sick. The first nuclear power plant to be built in decades is being proposed with an $8.3 billion loan guarantee in Burke County, GA. The loan guarantee will help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in the mostly African American Shell Bluff community, a residential area built during the "Jim Crow" era. The two new reactors would each produce 1,000 megawatts, and would work with two existing reactors at a site near Waynesboro, GA (62.5 percent black). Burke County, GA is 51.1 percent black. The next three nuclear power plants in the queue are projects in southern Maryland, San Antonio, and Fairfield County, S.C.

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Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)

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