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Hope and change, or power and control?


The marriage of environmentalism and civil rights has created a perfect storm of regulatory power that has the potential to control or kill any project anywhere in the United States. For the Obama administration, it is not enough for federal agencies to simply solicit the viewpoints of minority and lowincome groups before undertaking a new project. An agency must prove it did all it could to try to convince these groups to participate or potentially face civil-rights charges and a loss of funding. These requirements based on a little-known executive order issued during the Clinton administration are part of President Obamas focus on environmental justice, which is meant to ensure 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, according to the definition provided in a guidebook published by the Environmental Protection Agency in July 2010. An example: In 2008, Southern Migrant Legal Services complained to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry that 14 migrant workers suffered coughing, headaches, stomach aches and skin rashes after exposure to pesticides. LDAF said it would have to interview the workers at its ofce in Baton Rouge, and that it would provide an interpreter if necessary. But most of the migrants had either returned to Mexico or could not make it to Baton Rouge for other reasons, so SMLS led a Title VI complaint alleging that requiring in-person interviews created a disparate impact

against migrant agricultural workers based on their national origin. Title VI is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal nancial assistance. In the 2011 memorandum of understanding that Mr. Obama issued on environmental justice, he explicitly suggests using this act in order to advance a radical environmental agenda. The EPA agreed with SMLS. It allowed the Louisiana agriculture department to settle the case out of court as long as the department agreed to a host of commitments in accordance with the requirements of Title VI, including allowing interviews about pesticide complaints to be conducted by telephone, and conducting at least four outreach sessions about pesticide exposure throughout the state each year. A representative from each group signed the agreement in December 2011. The EPA deemed the LDAFs existing methods of pesticide outreach to be insufcient. In this case, the marriage of environmental justice to Title VI gave the federal government power to dictate a minimum number of meetings that a local forestry department must conduct to inform migrant agricultural workers of the risks of pesticide exposure. At the State of Environmental Justice 2012 Conference, held in April in Crystal City, Va., speakers explained how the meaning-


Day laborer: A man pulls plastic from elds as he tries his hand at eld work in Steele, Ala.
ful involvement requirement of the presidents environmental justice initiative increases the federal governments role in local activities. Conference speaker Marc Brenman, a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Transportation, explained how it works in the transportation industry. If an MPO [Metropolitan Planning Organization] doesnt perform outreach to its population in a way that that population understands, that could well be a separate violation of Title VI right there, Mr. Brenman said. Its the responsibility of the MPO to know its demographics and to know the people in its service area and to perform that outreach in a way they understand. Paul Driessen, a senior fellow at the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a nonpartisan think tank based in Bellevue, Wash., says the propensity for control is exactly why he worries about environmental justice regulations. I have a real problem with groups that seize on a particular nice-sounding term and use it to advance an agenda [. . .] that I nd unfairly and excessively commands many communities. Theyre terms that they use that sound good. Everybody wants to be socially responsible, he said. And yet it has the potential to be misused, to be used in a way that advances a particular political agenda. David Almasi, executive director for the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., said this desire to be socially responsible makes the movement much more powerful. Theyre pushing environmental justice not, in my opinion, as a way to help a minority community, but as a way to play the race card and make their arguments harder to ght, he said. Mr. Brenman explained how all government agencies are now held accountable to EPA for each and every one of their projects. He explained that it is now considered federal policy to undertake a social equity impact analysis before a federal agency takes on any new project, and that study must contain the documented inclusion of minority and low-income populations in the study and decision-making process. And, as evidenced by the Louisiana case, the EPA has nal say in deciding whether any local project meets this burden of adequate outreach. Another speaker at Aprils environmental justice conference, Kim Lambert, environmental justice coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, readily admitted that environmental justice makes every local action the business of the federal government. So what the agencies are basically required to do is please integrate EJ in your programs, policies, procedures, and activities. Thats a close relationship with federal government. You are supposed to be engaged from the very beginning. [. . .] Every program and policy and procedure that is on every federal website, youre supposed to be engaged. Ms. Lambert reminded conference participants that having the Department of Interior involved in the rst place gave the environmental justice movement a lot of power. Fish and Wildlife [. . .] the National Park Service, and [. . .] Bureau of Land Management those are three agencies under the Department of Interior. We own most of the lands in the United States, including the White House and all national monuments. So keep that in mind, she said.


Field workers pick onion bulbs on a Vidalia onion farm in Lyons, Ga.