EPA under Biden recommits to protecting Black and Brown communities from pollution

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The agency is working to reverse Donald Trump's disastrous anti-environment agenda.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced several actions designed to protect minority communities from the effects of pollution in multiple states. The agency, led by Administrator Michael S. Regan, nominated by President Joe Biden, committed to the actions after what it called a "Journey to Justice" tour of cities with large minority populations.

The agency announced it would use its legal authority to make unannounced inspections of facilities like chemical plants, industrial sites, and refineries that are suspected of creating pollution that may cause problems for residents living nearby. The agency said it would use EPA-owned airplanes as well as mobile inspection units on the ground to monitor pollution levels in those areas.

The agency also announced it had issued a notice of noncompliance to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, for failing to repair water equipment. Problems with the city's water delivery system have recently led to school cancellations due to low water pressure. In December, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba described the outages as part of a "cycle of humiliation within our community." Black residents make up 82% of Jackson's population.

In New Orleans — a city that is nearly 60% Black — the federal agency said it would pilot an air pollution monitoring project and invest $600,000 in related equipment. And in Texas, the EPA said it would support efforts to raise concerns about the danger posed by emissions of ethylene oxide, a hazardous air pollutant that has been connected to cancer and birth defects.

The agency's actions reflect Biden's past commitment to promoting environmental justice. While he was running for president in 2020, Biden's campaign outlined a plan "to secure environmental justice and equitable economic opportunity" for "communities of color and low-income communities" that "have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades."

Biden promised that if he was elected, his administration would act to "hold corporate polluters responsible for rampant pollution that creates the types of underlying conditions that are contributing to the disproportionate rates of illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 among Black, Latino, and Native Americans."

On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order that made environmental justice a priority for government agencies. This move represented a sharp reversal of the policies of former President Donald Trump's administration, which pursued a campaign of environmental deregulation that largely favored U.S. energy companies' profits over public health concerns about pollution.

Despite research showing that the impact of pollutants has had a disproportionately high effect on minority communities, Trump's EPA chose not to prioritize the issue, and in 2017, Trump proposed eliminating $6.7 million in funding for the agency's Office of Environmental Justice.

Trump's EPA czar, Scott Pruitt, pursued an agenda of environmental deregulation throughout his time in office by pushing to delay or roll back rules governing methane leaks and lead content in paints. Pruitt resigned in 2018 amid a flurry of corruption accusations, but the Trump administration continued pursuing its agenda of environmental deregulation through the end of Trump's presidency.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.