Menendez Denounces EPA's Disappointing Progress On Environmental Justice

Menendez Denounces EPA's Disappointing Progress On Environmental Justice

Senator pledges legislation to assist low-income, minority Americans pursue environmental justice

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today released a statement blasting the most recent report on environmental justice from the Environmental Protection Agencys inspector general which found that EPA was falling behind on doing environmental justice reviews of its programs. Menendez a long time advocate of environmental justice emphasized that this report is but another example of why he is committed to ensuring that all Americans are protected from harmful pollutants.

I was very disappointed to hear about the latest environmental justice report from the EPA inspector general, but not terribly surprised, Menendez said. It is the hallmark of this administration to say one thing and do another. That the EPA is still lagging behind on environmental justice reviews after not one, but two memoranda reaffirming their commitment to the issue could sadly have been predicted.

Environmental justice holds that Americans should not be disproportionately affected by environmental contamination as a result of their race, color, national origin, or income. An executive order signed by President Clinton in 1994 required every federal agency to make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing adverse environmental impacts that disproportionately affect minority and low-income populations.

During the current administration, EPA has issued two memos reaffirming the commitment of the agency to environmental justiceone in August 2001, and one in November 2005, which followed a March 2004 IG report that was critical of EPAs environmental justice activities.

This is an issue thats far too important to be ignored, particularly in New Jersey, Menendez said. Families should not be forced to breathe dirtier air, drink dirtier water or have their children play on more polluted fields just because they happen to live in a low-income or minority neighborhood. I intend to introduce legislation this week that will give people the right to sue under the Civil Rights Act when they are unfairly subjected to a disparate environmental impact a right that was taken away from them by a narrow decision of the Supreme Court in 2001. And I will continue to fight to force this administration to make environmental justice a priority.

The environmental justice movement suffered a setback in 2001 with the Supreme Court decision in Alexander v. Sandoval, in which the court decided, by a 5-4 majority, that the public does not have the right to bring disproportionate impact claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Individuals would have to prove there was intent to discriminate, which is far more difficult. Menendez intends to introduce legislation to correct this, and to ensure that everyone can enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards.

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