Environmental Racism??
Jude Wanniski
June 18, 1998


Memo To: Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, 15th District
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Eco-Justice in Detroit

The Science & Environmental Policy Project of Fairfax, Virginia, called this June 12 article in the Detroit News to my attention. I think you should be aware of it, Charlie, and bring it to the attention of the congressional black caucus. What we have here are the environmental loonies trying to protect inner-city residents from jobs they say pollute by eliminating the jobs. Remember we went through this shell game in the Carter administration, when the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Joan Claybrook, tried to close a Chrysler plant in Detroit on the grounds that the minivans it produced violated the Clean Air standards? The NAACP at the time broke ranks with the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition and joined Chrysler in fighting the Carter administration. Now the greenies are back in Detroit, this time dressing up their maniacal demands with fancy slogans, “Eco-Justice” and “Environmental Racism,” trying to persuade black folks to sit still while the federal government’s nitwit EPA Director, Carol Browner, comes in to clean up the plantation. Detroit’s Mayor Archer can spot the phoney-baloney. You should too.

"Save Detroit's Development and Minorities From Eco-justice"
by Bill Johnson

At the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual Mackinac Conference, Mayor Dennis Archer reiterated his concern that more expensive and time_-onsuming Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards could derail urban redevelopment efforts in Detroit's empowerment and renaissance zones.

These new rules, which combine pollution with alleged civil rights violations, also would kill new investment in industrial sites in other depressed Michigan cities. Business and industry should join the mayor in trying to force dubious "environmental justice" edicts into the dustbin of regulatory history.

"Environmental justice" and "environmental racism" are terms used by environmentalists and civil rights activists to draw attention to the purportedly disproportionate negative effects of pollution in poor and minority communities. These loosely defined catch phrases are associated with widely held accusations that federal and state governments conspire to permit greater pollution in impoverished minority communities than in affluent ones.

In 1994, President Clinton's executive order mandating stringent facility siting requirements was followed by an EPA definition of environmental justice as "the fair treatment of all races, incomes, and cultures with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws,  regulations and policies."

At the urging of eco-justice advocates, the EPA started combining the application of civil-rights law with environmental law to bolster discrimination claims. Complainants -- some financed by the EPA -- don't need to prove discriminatory intent. They only have to prove "discriminatory effect" when new facilities are sited in a given community.

That was the basis of a lawsuit filed by Chester (Pa.) Residents Concerned for Quality Living. The group claimed that since 1987, the Pennsylvania Department of  Environmental Protection issued permits for five waste facilities in Chester, which is 65 percent black. Only two sites were approved elsewhere in Delaware County, which, excluding Chester, is 91 percent white. The group did not allege that any state agency or state official intentionally engaged in race discrimination.

In 1996, a federal district judge threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the law requires citizens must prove discriminatory intent, not just discriminatory effect. However, the lawsuit was reinstated by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear it.

Much of the energy and passion infusing environmental racism is neither justified nor scientific. It has been alleged, for example, that Detroit and Los Angeles have more commercial hazardous waste sites in black neighborhoods than in other big cities. However, there is no evidence that state and federal officials deliberately sited dangerous projects near places where minorities cluster or intentionally overlooked regulatory violations in making siting decisions.

The charge that minority communities are being deliberately targeted is easy to make. But the problems the EPA says it wants to alleviate are elusive at best. No study has correlated pollution with actual health problems among minorities. Indeed, heretofore undisclosed documents obtained by The Detroit News' David Mastio reveal that EPA investigators have found more whites than blacks live around polluted sites on the nation's "Superfund" priority cleanup list.

Other studies show that shifts in population explain why minority populations are often found near waste-producing facilities. As the middle class moves out of cities -- which were often far more polluted in the bad old days of American industry -- poor minority populations move into vacated areas close to old plants and waste sites.

Requiring stricter permits can only contribute to further urban decline. First, they will impose higher costs on businesses looking to locate in areas where the need for investment and development is greatest. Second, they will eventually force more expensive methods of manufacturing products and services. Small businesses, which do not have economies of scale in
complying with environmental and other regulations, will be particularly hard hit.

Mandating race-based analyses of sites and limiting new permits in a city like Detroit could make it impossible to issue any permits. That could result in the further depression of land values and the continued out_migration of industry, jobs and tax base. The economic damage inflicted upon the city would surpass any conceivable environmental benefit.

Mayor Archer plans to ask the U.S. Conference of Mayors to endorse his resolution opposing the EPA's "environmental justice" rules. He is on strong grounds. Stopping this urban regulatory death knell can't happen soon enough.

Bill Johnson is a Detroit News editorial writer whose column is published on Friday. Write letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48226, or fax us at (313) 222-6417, or send anemail message to letters@detnews.com

Copyright 1998, The Detroit News