Daily Environmental Report noted earlier this week that Bob Perciasepe, EPA Depute Administrator, has told the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council that environmental justice is the “largest remaining challenge” that EPA must address systematically. This is not particularly surprising, since Lisa Jackson has made EJ a priority.
However, I was left nearly speechless by the statement in Daily Environment Report that Perciasepe indicated that
Polluted communities are also not likely to be targeted for business investment, meaning those communities have limited economic opportunities in addition to disproportionate pollution burdens.”
Once again, I’m left wondering what planet EPA is from. Those in the private sector would be stunned by linking the need for EJ with the need for more economic development in poor communities. EJ can be a real issue. Where racial minorities suffer disproportionate burdens because of their race, everyone should be concerned.
At the same time, however, EPA has to realize that EJ requirements are far more likely to retard economic development than encourage it. Where EJ concerns prevent economic development because organized groups label them as LULUs, or Locally Unwanted Land Uses, that may be an EJ success, but it doesn’t contribute to economic development. We can’t wave a magic wand and make the private sector want to site a nice clean office park in a distressed area, just because the residents would prefer that to some slightly messier use.
Even where properties are already contaminated, my experience is that EJ concerns are more likely to discourage redevelopment than encourage it. Brownfields properties are challenging enough without an additional layer of EJ review. One would think that anyone cleaning up contaminated property for almost any kind of economic development would be welcomed by the communities surrounding such properties. However, EJ requirements too often scare aware Brownfields developers. Again, this may be an EJ victory and it may be what the communities want, but to suggest that systematic integration of EJ issues into EPA’s programs will increase economic development in poor communities is, to put it gently, wishful thinking.