Failed Promises: Evaluating the Federal Government's Response to Environmental Justice. by David KoniskyNational Journal

Failed Promises: Evaluating the Federal Government's Response to Environmental Justice  

Ed. David Konisky MIT Press, March 2015

(MIT Press)WHAT IT'S ABOUT Under a 1994 executive order aimed at improving the government's track record on environmental justice, President Bill Clinton directed all federal agencies to consider how regulatory decisions on matters ranging from hazardous-waste disposal to transportation would affect health and the environment in low-income and minority communities, which typically bear an unequal share of pollution. Konisky—an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University—and his fellow contributors set out to assess how effective the directive has been, looking mainly at the EPA, which defines "environmental justice" as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." Konisky and his coauthors review each step in the agency's regulatory process, from standard-setting to enforcement, to see if the directive has helped. The results, they conclude, have been "disappointing." For example, Konisky's research with Christopher Reenock, an associate professor of political science at Florida State University, finds that enforcement of Clean Air Act regulations has been virtually unchanged in Hispanic and African-American communities; in fact, polluting facilities such as power plants and refineries near Hispanic communities saw slightly lighter enforcement after 1995. Recent EPA heads have highlighted environmental-justice concerns, but the book argues that meaningful progress has not yet come.  

TARGET D.C. AUDIENCE Environmental regulators; green groups; civil rights activists; community leaders. 

BEST LINE "Environmental justice challenges "¦ remain a pressing concern for the residents of many low-income and minority communities who rightfully worry that their health and general quality of life may be compromised by the environmental risks around them, and that government is not on their side when it comes to protecting them from these risks." 

TO BE SURE The book was published just before the EPA took some additional steps forward on the issue. In May, the agency finalized new guidance that goes beyond the directive to consider environmental justice and more explicitly lays out how employees should do so. This month, the agency also released a long-awaited interactive map to better inform the public about which communities are most affected by environmental hazards. 

ONE LEVEL DEEPER Activists will want to check out the chapter by University of Kansas professor Dorothy Daley and University of Michigan fellow Tony Reames, which high-lights the importance of public participation in achieving environmental justice and identifies the specific steps in the regulatory process—such as public hearings and filing comments on new rules—where community leaders and advocates can have the greatest impact.

THE BIG TAKEAWAY Top-down directives on environmental justice can raise awareness, but true change will require regulators to consider the specific problems of individual communities—and that will take a real commitment from agencies and local activists alike.

Failed Promises: Evaluating the Federal Government's Response to Environmental Justice  

Ed. David Konisky MIT Press, March 2015

(MIT Press)WHAT IT'S ABOUT Under a 1994 executive order aimed at improving the government's track record on environmental justice, President Bill Clinton directed all federal agencies to consider how regulatory decisions on matters ranging from hazardous-waste disposal to transportation would affect health and the environment in low-income and minority communities, which typically bear an unequal share of pollution. Konisky—an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University—and his fellow contributors set out to assess how effective the directive has been, looking mainly at the EPA, which defines "environmental justice" as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." Konisky and his coauthors review each step in the agency's regulatory process, from standard-setting to enforcement, to see if the directive has helped. The results, they conclude, have been "disappointing." For example, Konisky's research with Christopher Reenock, an associate professor of political science at Florida State University, finds that enforcement of Clean Air Act regulations has been virtually unchanged in Hispanic and African-American communities; in fact, polluting facilities such as power plants and refineries near Hispanic communities saw slightly lighter enforcement after 1995. Recent EPA heads have highlighted environmental-justice concerns, but the book argues that meaningful progress has not yet come.  

TARGET D.C. AUDIENCE Environmental regulators; green groups; civil rights activists; community leaders. 

BEST LINE "Environmental justice challenges "¦ remain a pressing concern for the residents of many low-income and minority communities who rightfully worry that their health and general quality of life may be compromised by the environmental risks around them, and that government is not on their side when it comes to protecting them from these risks." 

TO BE SURE The book was published just before the EPA took some additional steps forward on the issue. In May, the agency finalized new guidance that goes beyond the directive to consider environmental justice and more explicitly lays out how employees should do so. This month, the agency also released a long-awaited interactive map to better inform the public about which communities are most affected by environmental hazards. 

ONE LEVEL DEEPER Activists will want to check out the chapter by University of Kansas professor Dorothy Daley and University of Michigan fellow Tony Reames, which high-lights the importance of public participation in achieving environmental justice and identifies the specific steps in the regulatory process—such as public hearings and filing comments on new rules—where community leaders and advocates can have the greatest impact.

THE BIG TAKEAWAY Top-down directives on environmental justice can raise awareness, but true change will require regulators to consider the specific problems of individual communities—and that will take a real commitment from agencies and local activists alike.

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