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Sunday, May 29, 2022

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

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

On the day of his arrival, the halls were almost empty. The students were sent home because the school’s water pressure was so low that even portable toilets couldn’t flush the water.

This and other scenes he witnessed as he traveled to low-income communities in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere, he said, prompted him to make some changes.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that it will step up monitoring and enforcement of federal air and water quality regulations, especially in communities of color that are disproportionately burdened by pollution.

“Having seen the situation with my own eyes, talking directly to members of the community, I am amazed when we get to this point — the point where children miss school days because of unsafe water,” Mr. Reagan said. He called the environmental conditions he witnessed in many parts of the country “unacceptable for the United States of America”.

President Biden has made addressing racial inequalities, including those related to the environment, a major part of his agenda. He convened an advisory board that included pioneers in the environmental justice movement. He directed agencies to include environmental justice in their decision-making. And he promised that disadvantaged communities would receive at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investment in climate and clean energy programs.

But recently Mr. Biden’s top environmental justice appointee, Cecilia Martinez, and another appointee, David Kiev, who has done outreach to environmental justice teams for the White House, have both left their posts.

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

Mr. Regan did not address the issue directly when speaking to reporters Tuesday, but said he felt indebted to marginalized communities where “people have waited long enough” for attention from the federal government. He’s spent the past year touring cities and meeting locals on what the Environmental Protection Agency has dubbed his “Journey to Justice” tour.

“I promise to make better people in communities who have suffered for too long,” Mr. Reagan said.

The agency will increase the number of unannounced inspections to keep polluting businesses “on their toes,” Mr. Reagan said, arguing that the Trump administration has not done enough such inspections. Monitoring of polluting industries dropped sharply in March 2020 when the Trump administration said those industries would not be held accountable if the pandemic made it difficult to comply with federal air and water pollution restrictions or hazardous waste management or safe drinking water requirements.

A spokesman for the US Chamber of Commerce, which represents major companies, declined to comment on the announcement. Senators Bill Cassidy and John F. Kennedy, both Republicans from Louisiana, where Mr. Reagan said he would focus some of the agency’s new powers and control, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Among the changes announced on 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 lifelong resident of St. John Parish, Louisiana and leader of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, was heartbroken when he described Mr. Regan’s visit to a region known as “cancer alley” due to high rates incidence of cancer. diseases, especially among blacks and low-income communities near petrochemical plants.

“We were so overwhelmed and overwhelmed by our attempts to protect ourselves, and we were attacked by those who were supposed to protect us,” Mr. Taylor said.

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

The agency also required the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. James County to install monitors along the “fence line” to determine the source of emissions on its premises. The plant uses the chemical chloroprene to produce a synthetic rubber known as neoprene, and residents have long complained that plant pollution causes health problems, including breathing problems and cancer. The company complied with the requirements, according to the EPA.

Jim Harris, a spokesman for Denka, said in a statement that the facility’s claims of harm are “simply not supported by science,” noting that the company is working with government regulators and the community and has invested more than $35 million. in chloroprene emission reduction technology. According to Mr. Harris, Denka has collected more than five years of air monitor data and “never found emissions above or even close” to the limit values ​​for chloroprene. He argued that long-term studies “clearly show” that surgeries “pose no cancer risk to workers or the surrounding population.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, a black-majority city where residents suffer from contaminated drinking water as well as chronic water outages, Mr. Regan said the EPA issued a non-compliance notice to the city for failing to repair water providing safe drinking water. in “timely business”.

Rev. James Caldwell, founder and director of the Coalition of Community Organizations, a non-profit advocacy group based in Houston, said he “actually shows up, comes into our communities to see, breathe and smell what we are talking about. for many years” was an important first step for an EPA administrator.

World Nation News Desk
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