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.
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.
Foster Care | November 2013
State law now allows more kids to stay in foster care for an extra three years — until age 21. But many either refuse the help, or fail to qualify for it.
An investigation by KUOW in collaboration with InvestigateWest looks at why this transition to adulthood is trickier than expected – for foster kids, and for the state.
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.
Public Health | July 2013
Memory loss is one of the symptoms of dementia. So is wandering. Over the last five years, at least 10 people in Washington state have died after wandering away from where they live. It’s a problem that communities will have to confront as the population ages. But not all police departments are prepared for these kinds of incidents.
Wealth & Poverty | June 2013
Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million," write Lee van der Voo and The New York Times' Kirk Johnson.
But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened. Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Public Health | March 2013
As Washington state was on the cusp of finalizing new, stronger water pollution limits, Boeing and its allies intervened, all the way up Gov. Gregoire herself. Using newly released public records, InvestigateWest uncovers how business interests and their allies trumped the health of sport fishermen, tribes, and everyone else who reels in dinner from local waterways.
Wealth & Poverty | February 2013
“It was just common knowledge – when you turn 18, you’re done,” Sharayah Lane said. “After the checks stopped coming, we all went our separate ways."
End of the Line is a new series by Claudia Rowe asking what happens when teens get too old for foster care in Washington State.
Photo Credit: Jon Connell/Flickr