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Obama Administration Advances Efforts to Protect Health of US Communities Overburdened by Pollution

Obama Administration Advances Efforts to Protect Health of US Communities Overburdened by Pollution

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Federal Agencies Sign Environmental Justice Memorandum of Understanding

Building on its commitment to ensuring strong protection from environmental and health hazards for all Americans, the Obama Administration today announced Federal agencies have agreed to develop environmental justice strategies to protect the health of people living in communities overburdened by pollution and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were joined by agency heads across the Administration in signing the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU).

“All too often, low-income, minority and Native Americans live in the shadows of our society’s worst pollution, facing disproportionate health impacts and greater obstacles to economic growth in communities that can’t attract businesses and new jobs. Expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice are some of my top priorities for the work of the EPA, and we’re glad to have President Obama’s leadership and the help of our federal partners in this important effort,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Every agency has a unique and important role to play in ensuring that all communities receive the health and environmental protections they deserve. Our broad collaboration will mean real progress for overburdened communities.”

“All Americans deserve the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment. Too many low-income and minority communities shoulder an unacceptable burden of pollution, affecting the health of American families and the economic potential of American communities, and the country as a whole,” said Sutley. “The Memorandum of Understanding helps integrate environmental justice into the missions of Federal agencies, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring America truly is a country of equal opportunity for all.”

“Today’s memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice - that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives,” said Holder. “These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”

“Today, we understand better than ever that our health is not just determined by what happens in the doctor’s office.  It is affected by where we live, work, go to school and play, by what we eat and drink, and by the air we breathe,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius. “HHS is committed to working with our partners across government to build healthy communities, especially in those areas burdened by environmental hazards.”

“Every community deserves strong federal protection against pollution and other environmental hazards,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “The Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring environmental justice for all populations in the United States – including American Indians, Alaska Natives and rural communities who may be among the most vulnerable to health risks.”

“This agreement is an important step in furthering the Administration’s commitment to ensuring healthy communities for all Americans – free from environmental and health hazards,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The Department of Energy is aggressively investing in clean energy in order to improve the environment, strengthen the economy, save families money, and create the clean technology jobs of the future here at home.”

“No one should have to work in unhealthy or hazardous conditions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. “The Department of Labor is pleased to be part of this important initiative to ensure that vulnerable workers have access to information and can voice their concerns about their working environment.”

“Like so many things, environmental justice starts in the home, where families spend most of their time,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  “Whether it’s removing potentially dangerous lead-based paint from homes or helping to redevelop polluted brownfields, HUD is a critical part of the President’s plan to protect the health of people living in environmentally challenged parts of our country.”

Environmental justice means that all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and tribal communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the Federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps the Obama Administration has taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, Jackson and Sutley reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in more than a decade. In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events. Since her appointment, Jackson has also joined congressional leaders across the country to tour impacted communities and hear residents’ concerns.

The MOU advances agency responsibilities outlined in the 1994 Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” The Executive Order directs each of the named Federal agencies to make environmental justice part of its mission and to work with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJ IWG. The EJ MOU broadens the reach of the EJ IWG to include participant agencies not originally named in Executive Order 12898 and adopts an EJ IWG charter, which provides the workgroup with more structure and direction. It also formalizes the environmental justice commitments that agencies have made over the past year, providing a roadmap for agencies to better coordinate their efforts. Specific areas of focus include considering the environmental justice impacts of climate adaptation and commercial transportation, and strengthening environmental justice efforts under the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The MOU also outlines processes and procedures to help overburdened communities more efficiently and effectively engage agencies as they make decisions.

The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.

Read the EJ MOU: http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/publications/interagency/ej-mou-2011-08.pdf

More information on the EJ IWG: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/ej/interagency/index.html

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