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Hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health on Environmental Justice


Location: Washington, DC

Senator Clinton: Welcome to the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health Oversight Hearing on EPA's Environmental Justice Programs. I would like to thank all of you for joining us today, and especially those who have traveled from communities in New York, Louisiana, California, Tennessee, South Carolina, many, many places around our country.

Community groups from across America, from Alaska to New York, submitted statements about their difficult pursuit of environmental justice, and if there is no objection I would like to include their written statements as testimony in the record of this hearing. And I hear no objection.

Today's hearing represents the first Senate hearing in history devoted to environmental justice. One only needs to look at the statements submitted by concerned citizens and community organizations -- ranging from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, to the Farmworker Support Committee, to the Sierra Club, to so many others--to understand the critical importance of this issue to so many of our fellow citizens.

These personal stories and community challenges represent a record of injustice; record of children growing up with asthma that keeps them home from school, suffering from lead poisoning that harms their ability to learn and reach their God-given potentials; record of families living within steps of toxic waste facilities; neighborhoods where polluted air poses health risks.

I'm entering these statements into the record because they remind us that this is an issue that touches millions. Today, millions live in fear that the air is unsafe to breathe, water unfit to drink, their home unhealthy to raise their children in. And we know that these are predominantly communities of color and low-income populations. Therefore, I think it is imperative that we understand we have a moral duty to act.

A 2005 Associated Press analysis of EPA air data found that African Americans were 79 percent more likely than their white counterparts to live in an area where the levels of air pollution posed health risks. About one half of lower income homes in our nation are located within a mile of factories that report toxic emissions to the EPA. Hispanic and African American children have lead poisoning rates that are roughly double that of their white counterparts. This is a particular problem in many parts of my state and in older communities across our country where the housing stock is older and, unfortunately therefore, more prone to produce unacceptable levels of lead in children's blood. Asthma rates in East Harlem, New York, a predominantly lower income community of color, Hispanic and African American, are among the highest in the nation.

I have proposed several pieces of legislation to address these environmental injustices and to help those living with the consequences. When Congress passed the Brownfields Law, I included a provision to target funding to communities with higher incidences of diseases such as cancer. My Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act of 2007 would help to make more than 80,000 homes safe from lead each year, nearly ten times the capacity of current federal efforts. My Family Asthma Act, to strengthen our study of environmental pollution linked to asthma, would help patients better manage the disease. I'm proud of my bipartisan work on environmental justice, and proud of the work of the Clinton Administration.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration required all federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their mission and created an Interagency Workgroup on Environmental Justice to coordinate justice activities. Throughout the Clinton Administration the EPA worked to develop and carry out the mandate that environmental justice was not just a rallying cry but a real priority of our nation.

This is not and should not be a Democratic or Republican priority. In fact, under the first Bush Administration, the EPA released several reports on what was then known as environmental equity, now called environmental justice.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this bipartisan priority stops at the steps of the White House under this President, who for six-and-a-half long years has allowed ideology to trump science and evidence and permitted politics to make decisions.

The current administration has taken us backwards and it is millions of low-income families and citizens of color who pay the price. The EPA has refused to recognize the crystal clear evidence: your income and your skin color is a good indication of how clean your air will be when you take a breath.

The EPA has failed to take action on environmental justice and rolled back many of the gains that we made during the 1990's. Documents from the EPA administrators from 2001 and 2005 downplay the disproportionate impact of environmental problems on lower-income and minority communities.

The Interagency Working Group formed by the executive order is idling, maintaining only programs started during the Clinton Administration. The National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, which used to meet on at least an annual basis, has not convened for a full public meeting since 2004 according to the EPA's website.

The agency's failures were catalogued in a report released earlier this year by the United Church of Christ. This report, called Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, states that the environmental justice movement faltered and became invisible at the EPA under the George W. Bush Administration.

A 2004 report from the EPA's Office of the Inspector General found the following: EPA has not fully implemented executive order 12898--the order issued by President Clinton--nor consistently integrated environmental justice into its day to day operations.

In 2005, the wholly non-partisan Government Accountability Office released a report titled, EPA Should Devote More Attention to Environmental Justice When Developing Clean Air Rules. The GAO concluded that the agency has failed to consider environmental justice in making rules that protect families from environmental degradation and pollution.

In 2006, the Office of the Inspector General released another report on the EPA's environmental justice record, concluding that EPA senior management had not sufficiently directed program and regional offices to conduct environmental justice reviews.

Under the Bush Administration, the EPA has not lived up to its mission to protect health and the environment. Far too many Americans with lower incomes or from communities of color do not have equal access to protections that safeguard health, well being, and the potential of children and families. It's separate, it's unequal, and it's wrong.

As I said at the outset, this hearing is a first, in and of itself. The first Senate hearing devoted exclusively to environmental justice programs. But in my view, it is just a first step.

We have a lot more work to do on this issue, as we will explore in today's hearing. But I want to let everyone who is here today, who is watching on the web, who has submitted testimony, I am committed to working with you, along with my Chairwoman Senator Barbara Boxer to restore environmental justice as a priority at EPA.

I am announcing two follow-up steps to this hearing. First, I will be introducing legislation to address some of the environmental justice concerns we have identified.
The legislation will increase federal accountability by making sure the environmental justice working group addresses environmental justice concerns that cross agencies and issues, such as housing and transportation.

Second, we want to help build community capacity through a grant program to help communities engage in this kind of local multi-agency work, building on a pilot program initiated under the Clinton Administration.

Third, we want to provide access to experts by establishing an environmental justice clearinghouse to help connect communities with technical experts who can help them address their environmental justice issues.

Finally, I want to announce that I will be holding a Superfund oversight hearing in my subcommittee this fall. This is something that Senator Boxer and I both think is a critical priority.

She has been a champion of Superfund cleanup and dealing with these environmental justice issues for as long as she has been in public life. She was the first person who memorably said that when it comes to protecting the health of our children from pollution, we can not think of children as miniature adults. They are much more susceptible to things like asthma, lead poisoning, and so much else.

So I am delighted to be able to convene and chair this subcommittee hearing. I especially want to thank my Chairwoman Senator Boxer, because Senator Boxer's leadership on this committee is a breath of great fresh air. We are dealing with issues that need to be addressed, and under her leadership we are going to make progress in a bi-partisan way dealing with the environmental and health issues confronting Americans.

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