EPA chief vows to ‘Do better’ to protect poor communities

WASHINGTON – Michael S. Regan, manager of the Environmental Protection Agency, went to Jackson, Miss., in November to discuss the city’s poor water quality at an elementary school where children are required to drink. bottled water and use of portable toilets outside the building.

The day he arrived, the hall was almost empty. Students were sent home because the water pressure at the school was so low that even portable toilets wouldn’t flush.

That scene and others he witnessed while traveling to low-income communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere prompted him to make some changes, he said.

On Wednesday, the EPA announced that it would strengthen oversight and enforcement of federal rules related to aviation and water qualityespecially in communities of color, which are disproportionately burdened with pollution.

Mr. Regan said: “Having witnessed the situation with our own eyes, talking directly with members of the community, we were startled when it came to this moment – the time when children have to miss school because of the lack of water. guaranteed. He called the environmental conditions he had witnessed in many parts of the country “unacceptable in the United States of America”.

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

But recently, Biden’s top environmental justice appointee, Cecilia Martinez, and another appointee, David Kieve, have been conducting outreach activities with environmental justice groups for the White House. , have all left their positions.

The departure has raised concerns about the future of Mr Biden’s environmental justice agenda.

Mr Regan did not directly address the issue on Tuesday in a call with reporters, but he said he felt an obligation to marginalized communities where “people have waited long enough”. to get federal attention. He has spent the last year touring towns and meeting with community members as part of what the EPA has called his Journey to Justice tour.

“I am committed to doing better because those in the community have been traumatized for so long,” Mr. Regan said.

The agency will step up unannounced inspections to keep polluting industries “on foot,” said Regan, asserting that the Trump administration has not conducted enough such inspections. Monitoring of polluting industries dropped sharply in March 2020 when Trump administration said Those industries will not be responsible if the pandemic makes it difficult to comply with federal limits on air and water pollution or requirements to manage hazardous waste or ensure safe drinking water. whole.

A spokesman for the American Chamber of Commerce, which represents large businesses, declined to comment on the announcement. Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, both Republicans of Louisiana, where Regan said he would focus some of the agency’s new oversight and compliance activities, also did not respond to requests for comment.

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

Robert Taylor, 81, a longtime resident of St. John, La., and leader of Concerned Citizens of St. disease, especially in Black and low-income communities near petrochemical plants.

“We were oppressed and beaten down by our efforts to protect ourselves, and we were attacked by people who were supposed to protect us,” Mr. Taylor said.

At the Parish of St. James and the Parish of St. John the Baptist, EPA plans to begin piloting air monitoring projects and making data available to the public. It also set aside $600,000 for portable air pollution monitoring equipment to be deployed in those parishes.

The agency has also asked the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. James installed screens along its “fence” to identify emissions sources at their site. The factory uses the chemical chloroprene to make a synthetic rubber called Neoprene, and residents have long complained that pollution from the factory has caused health problems including breathing problems and cancer. The company has complied, the EPA said.

Jim Harris, a spokesman for Denka, said in a statement that allegations of harm from the establishment were “simply not supported by science,” noting that the company has been working with agencies state and community management, and has invested more than $35 million. in chloroprene emission reduction technology. Denka has collected more than five years of data from air monitors and has “never detected emissions exceeding or even approaching” the limit for chloroprene, Harris said. He maintains that long-term studies “clearly show” activities that “do not pose a cancer risk to workers or the surrounding community”.

In Jackson, Miss., a predominantly black city where residents suffer from contaminated drinking water as well as chronic dehydration, Regan said the EPA issued a notice of non-compliance. city ​​manager for not repairing equipment to ensure safe drinking water. in a “timely matter.”

Father James Caldwell, founder and director of the Coalition of Community Organizations, a Houston-based nonprofit advocacy group, said it was “really showing up, coming to our community to see , breathe and smell what we’ve been talking about for years,” is an important first step for an EPA administrator. EPA chief vows to ‘Do better’ to protect poor communities

Fry Electronics Team

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