Lead image: EJScreen Snapshot of Baton Rouge, LA under the Environmental Justice Indicator: Number of facilities within 5k with potential chemical accident management plans.
There have been a number of conversations lately on the national level about Environmental Justice (EJ) and the new tools (particularly EJScreen) and strategies (EJ 2020) that aim to address EJ issues. Many of these conversations have specifically invited community groups and interested parties to the table for the EPA to introduce the new resources, and provide a space for comments. There is a genuine interest to explore if those tools and strategies:
1) reflect what is happening on the ground, 2) protect the right people, and 3) will support outcomes that stymie the perpetual exploitation of marginalized groups.
Without getting into the nitty gritty of these new resources and what they do (although I’d highly recommend taking a look at them), one interesting sidebar is in the relationship of this broader topic to states, Louisiana for example.
To say that Louisiana is a hot spot for EJ issues is an understatement. Zooming into this map from EJAtlas.org, it’s easy to see why these conversations are so important here.
Disclaimer: the information on this map depends on the information the group receives from partners and collaborators.
States are federally required to include environmental justice considerations in legislation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Yet, in a cursory search of the Louisiana DNR and the DEQ sites and policies, the only mentions of “Environmental Justice” is in comments they have received in response to public hearings…am I missing something? In a state where EJ issues are some of the most prevalent in the country, state regulatory agencies have been evading the issue.
In a webinar on the EPA Federal Interagency Agency Working Group (EJ IWG), there was discussion on Title VI, and Executive Order 12898, yet when faced with the question “Is there anything that dictates that states must recognize EJ issues in their policy?” The answer is: “well it’s different state to state.”
The federal government is doing interagency work but when it’s doesn't bring state accountability, where should people turn for answers on community EJ issues that are embedded in state policies that don’t protect people? Faced with this question, the EJ IWG answers that there is a hotline (800.962.6215, open 8-5:30pm ET) where people on the federal level will respond, and that they are working on providing trainings on the state level, building networks there and bringing in organizations. They are even taking public comments via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
But “EPA is required, by law, to implement a program in states that have never assumed responsibility for programs in the first place.” (EPA and the State's: Environmental Challenges Require a Better Working relationship, Steve Elstein, Eugene Wisnoski, Lisa Pittelkau. 1995) Maybe they are looking in on it, and at least there are conversations surrounding a “Louisiana Environmental Justice Collaborative Action Plan” -draft- by the EPA.
But where is the state?