Holder speaks at the White House’s environmental justice forum

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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Attorney General Eric Holder spoke Wednesday at the first-ever White House Forum on Environmental Justice, lauding efforts to integrate race, class and employment issues with environmental sustainability.

“As the leaders, respectively, of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources and Civil Rights Divisions, [Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno] and [Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez] have inspired their teams – as well as their colleagues across the Department – to make certain that environmental justice efforts are a top priority,” said Holder.

Once known as “environmental racism,” environmental justice — spearheaded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — now focuses on the particularly heavy burden minority and poor communities face in regards to pollution and unsustainable environmental polices.

Holder called Martin Luther King, Jr. the “father of environmental justice.”

The definition and efforts of the environmental justice movement, though, have expanded to include transportation, employment and even weatherization. Holder even cited a seemingly unrelated policy like Title VI, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as having the “potential to transform lives and strengthen communities” in regards to environmental justice.

Speakers at the forum also included Lisa Garcia, the EPA’s senior advisor on the environmental justice (Plan EJ 2014)  and the Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

“Years ago, they used to call it ‘environmental racism,’” said Solis. “That tone has changed, but the impact has not. It still affects disproportionately people of color.”

Solis cited the success of the green jobs training programs but said there were “a lot of people out there” who don’t want environmental justice to succeed and don’t want to “see us give our community the tools they need.”

Among those “people” may be Fox News, which recently reported that green policies were not as successful as had been hoped by the Obama administration in creating jobs. Since the White House’s initial push last year, only 24,500 green jobs have been create, according to a Fox News blog post.

Garcia is leading Plan EJ2014, the EPA’s “overarching strategy to expand the conversation on environmentalism and work for environmental justice.” Garcia said the Plan EJ 2014 project is bringing together regulators from across several government agencies, adding that she’s looking to make environmental justice the “core work” of the EPA.

According to the EPA’s website, Plan EJ2014  will “strengthen efforts under the five Cross-Agency Focus Areas” of rulemaking, permitting, compliance, community-based action and administration-wide action on environmental justice.”