There is a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice as the Trump administration peels away rules designed to protect clean air and water, say political leaders, academics and activists
by Oliver Milman in New York
The Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations has intensified a growing civil rights battle over the deadly burden of pollution on minorities and low income people.
Black, Latino and disadvantaged people have long been disproportionately afflicted by toxins from industrial plants, cars, hazardous housing conditions and other sources.
But political leaders, academics and activists spoke of a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice as the Trump administration peels away rules designed to protect clean air and water.
“What we are seeing is the institutionalization of discrimination again, the thing we’ve fought for 40 years,” said Robert Bullard, an academic widely considered the father of the environmental justice movement.
“There are people in fence line communities who are now very worried. If the federal government doesn’t monitor and regulate, and gives the states a green light to do what they want, we are going to get more pollution, more people will get sick. There will be more deaths.
Activists and some in Congress now view the blight of pollution as a vast, largely overlooked civil rights issue that places an unbearable burden on people of color and low-income communities.
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, recently said: “Civil rights have to include, fundamentally, the right to breathe your air, plant tomatoes in your soil. Civil rights is the right to drink your water.
“If your children don’t have access to clean air and water, all the ideals we preach in this country are a lie. Environmental justice must be at the center of our activism in our fight to make real the promise of America.”
Last month, Booker unveiled new legislation, supported by a group of senators including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, that he said would help eliminate environmental injustice. The bill would require federal agencies to address the issue, force authorities to consider existing pollution when allowing new industrial facilities and hand individuals the power rto use the Civil Rights Act to sue over pollution.
Mustafa Ali, who helped create the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) office of environmental justice and worked there for 24 years, told the Guardian he’s been alarmed by proposed EPA budget cuts and the federal government’s heavily-criticized response to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, which was struck by Hurricane Maria in September.
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