EPA chief pledges to 'do better' to protect poor communities from environmental harm

WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, in November to discuss the...


WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, in November to discuss the city’s poor water quality at an elementary school where children must drink bottled water and use portable toilets outside the building.

The day he arrived, the hallways were largely empty. The students had been sent home because the water pressure at the school was so low that even portable toilets couldn’t flush.

This scene and others he witnessed as he traveled to low-income communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere inspired him to make changes, he said. declared.

On Wednesday, the EPA will announce that it will step up monitoring and enforcement of federal rules regarding air and water quality, especially in communities of color, which are disproportionately burdened by pollution.

“Seeing the situation for myself, speaking directly to community members, it’s surprising to get to this point – the point where children are missing days of school because the water is unsafe” , said Mr. Regan. He called the environmental conditions he witnessed in many parts of the country “unacceptable in the United States of America.”

President Biden has made addressing racial disparities, including those related to the environment, a central part of his agenda. He convened an advisory council made up of some of the pioneers of the environmental justice movement. He called on agencies to integrate environmental justice into decision-making. And he promised that disadvantaged communities would receive at least 40% of the benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy programs.

But recently, Mr. Biden’s lead environmental justice appointee, Cecilia Martinez, and another appointee, David Kieve, who had done outreach with environmental justice groups for the White House, both quit. their post.

The departures have raised concerns about the future of Mr Biden’s environmental justice agenda.

Mr. Regan did not address the issue directly on Tuesday in a call with reporters, but said he felt obligated to marginalized communities where “people have been waiting long enough” for attention from the federal government. . He has spent the past year visiting cities and meeting community members on what the EPA has called its Journey to Justice tour.

“I am committed to doing better for people in communities that have suffered for too long,” said Mr. Regan.

The agency will increase unannounced inspections to keep polluting industries “on their toes,” Regan said, saying the Trump administration hasn’t done enough such inspections. Monitoring of polluting industries dropped sharply in March 2020 when the Trump administration said these industries would not be held liable if the pandemic made it difficult to meet federal air and water pollution limits or requirements for managing hazardous waste or ensuring safe drinking water.

Among the changes announced Wednesday, the EPA said it would increase the number of air pollution inspectors and use new monitoring methods like a new aircraft that uses sensors and software to detect emissions in real time.

Robert Taylor, 81, a longtime resident of St. John Parish, Louisiana, and leader of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, became emotional as he described Mr. Regan’s visit to the area known as of “cancer alley” due to high rates. disease, especially among black and low-income communities near petrochemical plants.

“We had been so oppressed and beaten down by our efforts to try to protect ourselves, and we were being attacked by those who were supposed to protect us,” Mr Taylor said.

In St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes, the EPA plans to initiate pilot air monitoring projects and make the data available to the public. It also provides $600,000 for the deployment of mobile air pollution monitoring equipment in these parishes.

The agency also required the St. James Parish Denka Performance Elastomer plant to install monitors along its “fence line” to identify the source of emissions at its site. The factory uses the chemical chloroprene to make the synthetic rubber known as neoprene, and locals have long complained that pollution from the factory has caused health problems, including breathing difficulties and cancer.

The company has complied, the EPA said. Denka could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a majority-black city where residents have suffered from contaminated drinking water as well as chronic water outages, Regan said the EPA issued a notice of non-compliance with the city ​​for failing to repair equipment to ensure safe drinking water. in a “timely affair”.

Reverend James Caldwell, founder and director of the Coalition of Community Organizations, a Houston-based nonprofit advocacy group, said: “In fact, he shows up, comes to our communities to see, breathe and feel. what we talked about. about for years,” was a major first step for an EPA administrator.

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Newsrust - US Top News: EPA chief pledges to 'do better' to protect poor communities from environmental harm
EPA chief pledges to 'do better' to protect poor communities from environmental harm
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