Activists Meet With Feds Over Environmental Racism

By DIONNE WALKER

Associated Press Writer

Posted: Oct. 27 5:28 p.m.

Updated: Oct. 27 9:30 p.m.

ATLANTA — Environmental and racial justice activists from six states met with federal Environmental Protection Agency officials Tuesday to demand a revamp of the agency they accuse of overlooking years of chronic environmental missteps in minority communities across the South.

That includes the dumping of toxic chemicals into landfills and drinking water sources that are disproportionately in black, low-income communities, said Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University and author of several books on what’s been dubbed “environmental racism.”

Bullard, who led Tuesday’s meeting with EPA Region 4 Acting Administrator A. Stanley Meiburg, said his own studies have repeatedly shown that while environmental mishaps may occur throughout the country, they disproportionately occur in predominantly minority communities.

“It’s not random,” said Bullard, who led a predominantly black group that included community activists, environmental attorneys and families impacted by chemical waste.

They argued that EPA officials have been bullied into overlooking environmental transgressions, and demanded everything from apologies to families impacted by pollution to a floor-to-ceiling overall of the federal agency charged with protecting human health and the environment.

The demands come as President Barack Obama considers a permanent leader for the region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Activists have zeroed in on the region they claim is among the most impacted by pollutants like coal ash in the nation.

In a statement, EPA officials said there were “no immediate or simple answers” to the concerns raised Tuesday, but promised a commitment to examining “the disproportionate burden pollution has placed on vulnerable populations.”

“All Americans — regardless of race, age, income or gender — deserve a clean, healthy and livable community,” the statement read. “EPA is committed to this goal.”

But Bullard and others said they left with few direct answers and little hope that EPA officials were committed to major changes.

In a 2007 study, Bullard found that nationally, up to 56 percent of residents living within a 2 mile radius of commercial hazardous waste facilities were people of color.

Historically, power plants and factories have leaned toward building in low-income areas where land is cheaper and residents are perceived as less likely to put up a fight, according to Felicia Davis, an Atlanta-based activist with the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative.

She gave Early County, Ga., as an example: Activists there question a $2 billion plan to build the state’s first new coal-fired plant in more than two decades in the 49 percent black community, despite above-average air pollution there.

“We have communities where poor people are literally being dumped on,” Davis said.

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