Environmental justice gets its due along the Duwamish
March 20, 2011
By Carol Smith
Environmental justice is an old mandate getting a new life under Lisa Jackson, the first African-American head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental justice refers to the fair treatment of all communities when it comes to enforcing environmental laws and protecting them from health and environmental hazards. It was first made a federal priority with a 1994 Executive Order intended to right inequities in minority and low-income communities that were experiencing a disproportionate share of the nation’s environmental hazards. The order, signed by President Clinton, tasked all federal agencies with incorporating environmental justice into their decision-making processes.
But the mission languished for the next several decades.
A 2007 study by Sandra George O’Neil published in Environmental Health Perspectives, for example, concluded that inequities had not only persisted, but also escalated in the intervening years with fewer polluted sites located in minority and low-income communities being designated for Superfund cleanup funds, compared with those in wealthier areas.
That study along with criticism of the Superfund program by the Government Accounting Office and the U.S. Office of the Inspector General galvanized a call to reform the approach to environmental justice among federal agencies.
Under the Obama Administration, the EPA along with other federal agencies has a strict new edict to take justice into account. Jackson has assumed a high-profile role in evangelizing for environmental justice. She is mid-stream in a well-publicized “Environmental Justice Tour” that is taking her around the country visiting communities beleaguered by toxic waste.
And that in turn has invigorated communities with a new enthusiasm that raising their voices will make a difference.
In Wilmington, a community much like South Park, but next to the Port of Los Angeles, community activists raised the alarm about diesel truck emissions and succeeded in halting a planned port expansion until the port took steps to reduce the air pollution near area schools.
The Port of Seattle has followed suit with a plan to ban trucks made before 1994.
Resident of South Park and Georgetown have also succeeded in getting diesel trucks to quit idling on neighborhood streets and instead use a designated parking lot.
Residents in the Duwamish communities have successfully lobbied for more studies to look at the impact of air toxics on their health, and demanded more transparency and access to inter-agency communication that affects them.
They also successfully fought off a bid to put a new garbage transfer station in Georgetown, arguing it would add risk to an already over-burdened area.
Officials at EPA Region 10 in Seattle are trying to take growing community demands for environmental justice into account, said Suzanne Skadowski, who coordinates community involvement and public information for the effort. EPA has increased its community outreach efforts to listen to concerns from all the affected populations.
The EPA has worked to try to provide information in culturally sensitive ways and multiple languages.
But an internal review of its environmental justice efforts, completed about a year ago, shows the agency is still grappling with how to reconcile the increasing community demands for comprehensive cumulative “impacts analysis” with the EPA’s statutory constraints.
Regulators in Seattle may get some clues from California’s state EPA, which is tackling this issue. The California Environmental Protection Agency has begun work on new guidelinesto help communities evaluate cumulative exposures. That effort is being closely watched by other regions, including Seattle’s, as a possible blueprint for how best to analyze the multiple loads borne by communities with complex environmental exposures and social risk factors.
At the same time, the effort under way to deal with these issues along the Duwamish is also being watched by other regions. In February, EPA officials from Seattle traveled to Alaska for a regional meeting to share some of their experiences with policy makers from other regions.
All regions have had to do recent evaluations of their efforts to comply with the environmental justice executive order, but the Duwamish evaluation was among the most comprehensive, said one of those involved in doing it.
The review cited the EPA’s multi-lingual outreach activities, its use of neighborhood activist groups to help explain information to community members, and its use of a fish consumption framework based on tribal consumption as examples of how the agency is working to incorporate environmental justice into its policies.
The community and tribes have already had a significant influence on the early cleanup efforts, the report said.
Public Comment Opportunity:
The public comment period on sediment cleanup alternatives at the Boeing Plant 2 cleanup location along the Duwamish Superfund site is open from March 29-May 28.
The EPA will host a public meeting at the South Park Community Center on Wednesday, April 27 from 6-9 pm. During the meeting people will have the opportunity to hear what the cleanup alternatives are, ask questions, and provide feedback that they may have about the cleanup options.
Environment | November 2014
It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the Duwamish River. But how clean is clean? And who decides?
Robert McClure looks at how lobbyists and community groups have squared off over the health of the waterway and its neighborhoods.
Photo: Paul Joseph Brown/ecosystemphoto.com
Trafficking | October 2014
Authorities say organized gangs increasingly are trafficking children for sex in the Northwest, and even cooperating with each other to stymie police.
Meanwhile in Portland, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has become the third most prolific nationally in securing indictments for trafficking children and adults for sex.
Photo: Oregon DOT/Flickr
Minimum Wage | August 2014
"Everyone is aware that passing a $15 an hour minimum wage was historic," an advisor to Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council told InvestigateWest. "But if we cannot enforce that, we haven't accomplished much."
Based on a review of more than 20,000 wage theft complaints, hundreds of pages of reports and more than a dozen interviews, "Stolen Wages" shines a light on the dark world of pay violations in Seattle and across Washington.
Infrastructure | May 2014
Party politics have thwarted bridge safety improvements, and an investigation drags on to decide how the trucking company, its escort car and the state may share blame. Yet a new mapping tool for truckers may offer hope, Jason Alcorn reports.
Infrastructure | May 2014
Portable, modular or relocatable classrooms — whatever you call them — are a necessity for cash-strapped schools.
But many portables become permanent fixtures, in place for decades at a time. Costly and insufficient, these aging structures burden the grid, frustrate teachers and administrators and compromise student health.
Environment | April 2014
Energizing our world with wood sounds so natural. And it has quickly become a multibillion-dollar industry as governments including British Columbia and the European Union turn to biomass to replace dirty old coal. Yet what we found when we dug into the coal-vs.-wood debate will surprise you.
Public Health | April 2014
We update our 2013 series on Washington’s estimated fish consumption rate with news of a private meeting where Gov. Jay Inslee and his advisers wrestled with how much to protect business versus consumers when it comes to water pollution in the fish we eat.
Consumer Safety | April 2014
Manufacturers put a warning sticker on every ATV sold: The vehicles aren't meant for roads. But a push to allow just that is rolling out across the country. Washington and three other states passed new laws in 2013, among 22 states to allow or expand ATV access to roads since 2004.
Wealth & Poverty | December 2013
It's the unexpected catch in catch-share programs: A federal program that was supposed to help preserve and enhance the fishing economy in Kake, Alaska, has instead helped cause a severe decline. Meanwhile, 50 miles southeast, the town of Petersburg is booming.
The third part in our trilogy of fish stories examines the consequences catch-share policy where it was born, even as the model has been established in 14 other U.S. fisheries, encompassing dozens of species ranging from New England scallops to Pacific sole.
Public Health | September 2013
Of the roughly 50,000 kids who will attend Seattle schools this fall, nearly 2,000 will hit the books in classrooms within 500 feet of Interstate 5, InvestigateWest has found. This despite a body of evidence dating back decades that highway air pollution can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.
From Seattle to Spokane, what can be done to make sure schools are healthy places for kids?
Photo: John Marshall JHS, 1963. SPSA 108-97.