EPA unveils new environmental justice office

The new Office of Environmental Justice and External Citizens’ Rights will merge three existing EPA programs.

WARRENTON, NC — President Joe Biden’s top environmental official Saturday visited the site widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement to unveil a national office that will distribute $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities who are affected by environmental pollution.

Forty years after a predominantly black community in Warren County, North Carolina, protested against the construction of a hazardous waste site, Michael Regan, the first black person to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that he would devote a new leadership role to it the environmental justice movement they ignited.

The Bureau of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights — currently made up of more than 200 employees in 10 U.S. regions — will bring together three existing EPA programs to oversee a portion of Democrats’ $60 billion investment in environmental justice initiatives funded by the… Inflation Reduction Act were created. Pending confirmation by the Senate, the President will appoint an Assistant Administrator to lead the new office.

“In the past, many of our communities have had to compete for very small grants because the EPA’s fund was extremely small,” Regan said in an interview. “We’re going from tens of thousands of dollars to developing and designing a program that will distribute billions. But we will also be sure that money will reach those who need it most and those who have never sat at the table.”

Biden has championed environmental justice as a centerpiece of his climate agenda since his first week in office, when he signed an executive order pledged 40% of total profits from certain federal clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities overwhelmed by pollution.

Now, Regan said, this new office ties environmental justice into EPA’s core fabric, putting it on par with other top offices like Air and Water, and cementing its principles in ways that will outlast the administration.

North Carolina designated Warren County, a small, predominantly black community along the Virginia border, in 1978 as a dumping ground for truckloads of soil laced with highly carcinogenic chemical compounds that later contaminated water supplies.

When the first trucks rolled into town in 1982, hundreds of residents flooded the streets, blocking their way to the landfill. Though unable to shut down operations after six weeks of nonviolent protests and more than 500 arrests, their efforts have been hailed by civil rights activists as sparking a global uprising against environmental racism in minority communities.

Wayne Moseley, 73, was one of the first protesters to be arrested on the first day of the demonstration. The Raleigh resident commuted to Warren County to march on behalf of his mother, whose health prevented her from attending. He called Saturday’s ceremony “a homecoming” for himself and many other protesters he had not seen in 40 years.

“We became a family, neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor – we were all one,” Moseley said. “The state was hell-bent on bringing this landfill here. I knew we couldn’t stop it, but we were able to raise awareness not just for the state, but for the nation.”

Dollie Burwell, a protest leader known in the community as “the mother of the movement,” honored the courage of her late daughter Kimberly Burwell, who was just 8 when she joined her mother on the front lines.

“She stood up and led so many kids to the protests,” Burwell said of her daughter during the ceremony. “She wasn’t afraid of being arrested. But she was afraid her family and friends would develop cancer from carcinogenic compounds in the soil.

Since the early 20th century, government officials have routinely targeted low-income Black communities like Warren County for housing hazardous waste facilities. And the neglect of critical infrastructure in predominantly black communities from Flint, Michigan to Jackson, Mississippi has led to problems that are still evident today.

An April study by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found that a majority of black and Hispanic neighborhoods that received low scores in a discriminatory state housing program known as redlining had twice as many oil wells as majority whites communities. According to the Clean Air Task Force, black Americans are 75% more likely than white Americans to live near a factory or plant and are nearly four times more likely to die from exposure to pollutants.

Rev Dr William Barber II, a prominent social activist and leader of the Campaign for the Poor, said he viewed Regan’s announcement as “a great starting point” and will continue to demand more from the Biden administration.

“Our votes are not support. Our votes are our demands,” Barber said in an interview. “This isn’t about right versus left, it’s about right versus wrong. This is about lifestyle versus disability, because when you poison land and water, you harm people’s everyday lives.”

Regan, who is from Goldsboro, North Carolina, said he grew up around local civil rights activists like Barber and Burwell — the early inspirations for his work at the EPA.

“I take all of these experiences (from my childhood) and connect them to the president’s vision,” Regan said. “We take this opportunity not only to honor those who have come before us, but we build on the work they started. We stand on their shoulders and try to reach higher heights.”

With just 45 days to go before the midterm elections, Regan is among several cabinet members visiting North Carolina this month to promote the president’s accomplishments, including visits to Durham by Vice President Kamala Harris on September 1 and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen next Tuesday. Democrats have targeted the southern swing state as a potential successor in the tightly-divided US Senate and other key offices.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/biden-administration-environmental-justice-office/507-23461c41-14ee-484e-9aeb-d20393a77292 EPA unveils new environmental justice office

Alley Einstein

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