Environmental Justice: What's EPA's Plan?
Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says all people deserve clean communities. Here's what she's done.
Lisa P. Jackson: I think we have made great progress, and we've done it at a time when people would like to argue that no one cares because they're worried about the economy. And yet we've seen community after community saying, "Of course we want jobs and economic prosperity, but we know what happens if someone's not there to protect our health, air and water at the same time."
It's been a two-way street. We are spending more time at EPA speaking to communities of color about these issues, but we are also spending more time listening and trying to incorporate their unique point of view into the issues we deal with.
TR: Last year you joined the Congressional Black Caucus for a multicity tour of communities burdened by environmental hazards, and promised to follow up with an action plan for each stop. What were some measurable changes that came as a result?
LPJ: Some of them were sort of qualitative changes -- better relationships between the community and local officials. In a couple of communities [in Savannah, Ga., and Mossville, La.] where they were doing Superfund site cleanups, the site managers hadn't really established relationships to hear the concerns of the black community. Now there are meetings where the community sits and goes over in detail engineering plans and community outreach plans.
We had another community [in Greenville, Miss.] with real concerns that Superfund contracting wasn't open to local black-owned small businesses, and we've changed our procurement requirements to make sure that the contract language seeks out those businesses to give them a fair shake.
We've also worked to bring our SmartWay initiative to reduce diesel emissions to port communities. A lot of communities of color are in urban areas around big ports with lots of bus and diesel traffic, and this program can make a tremendous difference.
TR: A major problem has always been where things are located -- elementary schools sited near diesel-spewing highways, for example, or toxic-waste sites in poor neighborhoods. Given the lack of EPA jurisdiction over city planning, what is the agency doing to protect people's health in those cases?