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Public Statements

Introduction of Environmental Justice Act

Location: Washington, DC



* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, today I am again introducing the Environmental Justice Act.

* I am proud that Congresswoman HILDA SOLIS and Representative ROB ANDREWS are joining me as original cosponsors of this bill. Representative Solis and I introduced a similar bill in the 108th Congress.

* Reintroduction of the bill reflects continued concern about the way federal actions have had disproportionately adverse effects on the health, environment and quality of life of Americans in minority and lower-income communities.

* Too often these communities--because of their low income or lack of political visibility--are exposed to greater risks from toxins and dangerous substances because it has been possible to locate waste dumps, industrial facilities, and chemical storage warehouses in these communities with less care than would be taken in other locations.

* The sad fact is that in some eyes these communities have appeared as expendable--without full appreciation that human beings, who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, are living, working, and raising families there.

* This needs to give way to policies focused on providing clean, healthy and quality environments within and around these communities. When that happens, we provide hope for the future and enhance the opportunities that these citizens have to improve their condition.

* Our bill would help do just that. The bill essentially codifies an Executive Order that was issued by President Clinton in 1994. That order required all federal agencies to incorporate environmental justice considerations in their missions, develop strategies to address disproportionate impacts to minority and low-income people from their activities, and coordinate the development of data and research on these topics.

* Although federal agencies have been working to implement this order and have developed strategies, there is clearly much more to do. We simply cannot solve these issues overnight or even over a couple of years. We need to ``institutionalize'' the consideration of these issues in a more long-term fashion--which this bill would do.

* In addition, just as the current policy was established by an administrative order, it could be swept away with a stroke of an administrative pen. To avoid that, we need to make it more permanent--which is also what this bill would do.

* It would do this by statutorily requiring all federal agencies to--make addressing environmental justice concerns part of their missions; develop environmental justice strategies; evaluate the effects of proposed actions on the health and environment of minority, low income, and Native American communities; avoid creating disproportionate adverse impacts on the health or environment of minority, low-income, or Native American communities; and collect data and carry out research on the effects of facilities on health and environment of minority, low-income, and Native American communities.

* It would also statutorily establish two committees:

* The Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group, set up by the Executive Order to develop strategies, provide guidance, coordinate research, convene public meetings, and conduct inquires regarding environmental justice issues; and

* A Federal Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, appointed by the President, including members of community-based groups, business, academic, state agencies and environmental organizations. It will provide input and advice to the Interagency Working Group.

* In a nutshell, what this bill would do is require federal agencies that control the siting and disposing of hazardous materials, store toxins or release pollutants at federal facilities, or issue permits for these kinds of activities to make sure they give fair treatment to low-income and minority populations--including Native Americans. The bill tells federal agencies, ``In the past these communities have endured a disproportionate impact to their health and environment. Now we must find ways to make sure that won't be the case in the future.''

* For the information of our colleagues, here is a short analysis of the bill: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ACT

* Summary: This bill would essentially codify a Clinton Administration Executive Order which directed a number of federal agencies and offices to consider the environmental impact of decisions on minority and low-income populations.

* Background: On February 11, 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, ``Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.'' The President also issued a corresponding Memorandum to all federal departments and agencies further explaining the order and how the agencies should implement it to address environmental justice issues. The Order and Memorandum called for the creation of an interagency working group to provide guidance on identifying disproportionate impacts on the health and environment of minority and low-income populations, develop strategies to address such disproportionate impacts, and provide a report on that strategy. Since the order was promulgated, the affected agencies have developed reports and strategies.

* Need for the Bill: Although federal agencies and offices have been complying with the Executive Order, disproportionate impacts related to human health and the environment still exist for many minority and low-income communities. These impacts must be addressed over the long term. In addition, due to the lack of resources and political clout of many of these impacted communities, vigilance is required to make sure that disproportionate impacts are reduced and do not continue. As the effort to date has been primarily administrative based on the presidential order and memorandum, these strategies need to be incorporated into the routine functioning of federal agencies and offices through federal law.

* The bill--

* Requires federal agencies and offices to: include addressing environmental justice concerns into their respective missions; conduct programs so as not to create disproportionate impact on minority and low-income populations; include an examination of the effects of such action on the health and environment of minority and low-income populations for actions that require environmental analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act; create an environmental justice strategy to address disproportionate impacts of its policies and actions, and conduct and collect research on the disproportionate impacts from federal facilities.

* Creates an Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group to develop strategies, provide guidance, coordinate research, convene public meetings, and conduct inquires regarding environmental justice issues.

* Creates a Federal Environmental Justice Advisory Committee composed of members of community-based groups, business, academic, state agencies and environmental organizations which will provide input and advice to the Interagency Working Group.


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