Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $25,000 grant to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade for air-quality sampling, as part of an initiative which is funneling millions annually into local organizations for environmental justice.
According to the EPA, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has made environmental justice a priority at the agency, issuing millions of dollars to local and tribal organizations and making plans to reach their aforementioned end.
Due to its ambiguous definition, the amount of money distributed for environmental justice is difficult to track.
Many of these justice grants, however, have been issued through Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, which started in 1994 and has awarded more than $21 million in funding to 1,200 local organizations for environmental justice. In 2010, the Obama administration distributed $1.9 million, more than another year in over a decade.
At the beginning of this year, the EPA awarded another $7 million to “scientists around the country,” as part of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program, to study how pollution affects “poor and underserved communities.” (RELATED: Obama administration marches forward with green agenda despite Solyndra scandal)
“EPA made a public commitment in 2010 to take action to address contributors to disproportionate environmental health impacts,” said Dr. Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development in a statement. “This research could pave the way for more interdisciplinary work that is responsive to community concerns and environmental justice.”
In August, the EPA awarded $6.2 million to low-income neighborhoods in national environmental workforce development and job training grants “to recruit, train, and place unemployed, predominantly low-income residents in polluted areas.”
“We’re looking to the people and community organizations who know these areas best to find the places where green jobs and environmental protection are going to do the most good,” said Jackson in a statement. “Creating good green jobs proves that we don’t have to choose between cleaning up our air and our water or creating jobs in our communities. We’re showing that it’s possible to do both at the same time.”
On Wednesday the agency issued a new blueprint, called Plan EJ 2014, to make environmental justice a priority in its “programs, policies, and activities.”
“One could wish that we could wave a wand and mandate environmental justice everywhere, but instead what Plan EJ 2014 does is have specific steps that we’re committing to — to continue to put information out on how to write permits, how to do an EJ analysis quantitatively when you write a permit, or how to do enforcement to ensure that we’re concentrating on those communities that have disproportionate impact and that have been neglected,” Jackson told The Root in late August.
Conservatives have raised concerns, however, about whether these grants are truly a good use of taxpayer money and if the focus on environmental justice will just result in more red-tape and regulations — especially when the EPA already has a Civil Enforcement Division and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division “enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.”