FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Toxic Air in Black America

by EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON

Environmentalists hit the roof in 2002 when President Bush announced his Clean Sky Initiative. The initiative would not clean the skies but dirty them further. It would allow corporations to dump tons more toxic pollutants in the air, delay or exempt enforcement of smog and soot pollution standards, and gut EPA pollution enforcement powers. Though the initiative is stalled in Congress, Bush did an end around and used an administrative order to weaken enforcement.

That virtually assures that blacks, especially poor blacks, will breather dirtier air. This has had dire health consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly warned that blacks are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher air pollution levels and suffer higher rates of respiratory and blood ailments than whites, and suffer more deaths. The Bush administration defends its contempt for the lungs of the poor by saying that race should not be as issue in the battle against toxic pollution, and that it will protect all groups against environmental damage. The Bush record shows that it has done just the opposite.

A recent Associated Press survey of government data found that in 19 states blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to live in neighborhoods where pollution posed a severe health hazard. Despite the severe health risks that toxic damage poses in these neighborhoods, the residents have gotten very little attention or support from environmental groups. But the fight against environmental racism is a civil rights battle, and a fight to save black lives. That battle should fully engage civil rights and environmental groups. Black residents in some cities have screamed just as loudly as white, middle class homeowners and urban conservationists about hacked up parkland, toxic dump sites, waste incinerators, garbage dumps, recycling centers, contaminated sewage sites, and power plants in their backyard. They label this racially-warped policy, “PIBBY” or, put it in blacks backyard.

In 1979, Houston city officials tried to dump yet another toxic waste site in a black neighborhood. This time the homeowners and residents fought back. They filed and won the first major lawsuit against the dumping of a waste facility in an urban neighborhood. Their action transformed the fight for environmental justice into a health and a civil rights issue. Since then blacks have marched, demonstrated, filed lawsuits, been jailed, and held local and national conferences, to denounce environmental degradation of their neighborhoods. In a milestone report on race and toxic wastes in 1987, the Commission for Racial Justice, a church-based civil rights advocacy group, revealed that blacks are far more likely than whites to live near abandoned toxic waste sites, waste landfills, and sewer treatment plants. They prodded former President Clinton in 1994 to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to intensify efforts to determine the harm toxic waste plants and sites wreak on urban communities.

A decade later, the Government Accounting Office found that all of the offsite hazardous waste landfills in nine Southern states were situated in or in close proximity to black neighborhoods. This environmental racism outraged black environmental activists.

Meanwhile, Bush has done everything he could to scrap the Clinton rules, and corporations and public officials have dutifully taken their cue and tossed more pollutants into the air and water. The courts haven’t helped. Residents in poor, highly toxic neighborhoods can sue polluters under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but they must prove intentional discrimination. This is virtually impossible to prove. The Supreme Court has ruled that private citizens can’t sue to enforce federal environmental regulations that ban discrimination. The EPA has moved with glacial speed to investigate complaints of environmental pollution, and has been even more reluctant to take strong action against polluters. In one two-year stretch from 2001 to 2003, the EPA settled only two cases against corporate polluters. There’s little evidence that the agency’s settlement scorecard has gotten much better since then.

The damage from official neglect of the problem has been profound. Toxic eyesores disfigure black neighborhoods, degrade property values, and discourage public and private investment in those neighborhoods, and that in addition to the grave health risks that toxic pollution poses to the residents.

Corporate and industrial polluters get away with their toxic assault on low-income, black neighborhoods by skillfully twisting the jobs versus environment issue. They claim that the choice is between creating more jobs and business growth and economic stagnation. Their economic black mail works since few politicians will risk being tagged as anti-business. They gamble that poor, blacks and Latinos, many of whom do not own their homes, and vote in far smaller numbers, are less likely than politically connected white, middle-class homeowners to squawk at putting a hazardous plant or toxic waste site in their neighborhood.

Many officials will eagerly waive requirements for environmental reports, provide special tax breaks, and even alter zoning and land use requirements to allow them to set up shop in these underserved neighborhoods. They’ll get it with the full blessing of the Bush administration, but let’s hope not with Congress.

EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON is a columnist for BlackNews.com, an author and political analyst.

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Louis Proyect
The Witchfinders
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
David Yearsley
On the Road to Rochester, By Bike
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail