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Environmental Justice Panel

Wednesday, June 3, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Mike Ewall
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UDC's Environmental Law Society (ELS) held its 3rd Annual Environmental Justice Panel on April 21st, 2009 -- the day before Earth Day -- bringing attention to environmental racism issues in the DC area. ELS President, Erik Pinsonnault, '09, moderated the panel. 

ELS member Mike Ewall, '11, opened the panel discussion up with a new revelation about DC's contribution to environmental racism. While DC's municipal solid waste (trash) has largely gone to a variety of Virginia landfills, as of a few months ago, 70% of DC's trash has been started going to the trash incinerator in Lorton, VA -- in a census tract where there the African-American population is 2-3 times the national average. Incinerators are far worse for the environment than landfills and are vigorously opposed by the environmental justice movement. DC's waste is first brought to the Fort Totten transfer station in northeast DC before going to Lorton -- disproportionately impacting black communities at each step, then generating toxic air pollution that blows back toward the DC area. Waste thrown away in DC isn't the only environmental justice problem. Every time we turn on the lights, we're polluting the low-income, minority residents in Anacostia where one of DC's most local power plants is located at Benning Road.

Dr. Bill Hirzy, Vice-President of Union of Staff Scientists at U.S. EPA and professor at American University, kicked off the panel's presentations with a discussion of water fluoridation. As it turns out, water fluoridation is also an issue of environmental racism, since urban communities are the most likely to be fluoridated, and the chemical and biological effects of fluoride (and associated lead poisoning) hit blacks and Hispanics the hardest. The chemicals used in water fluoridation are hazardous wastes from the phosphate fertilizer industry, not pharmaceutical grade fluoride as is used in toothpaste.

Richard Condit, Esq., director of the Government Accountability Project's clinic at UDC, presented next. Prof. Condit is teaching UDC's new Environmental Law and Justice course, started in the Summer 2009 session. He discussed the upcoming course as well as background on the environmental justice movement, which the movement defined in the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, where they codified the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice.

Kari Fulton, Youth Organizer for the Environmental Justice & Climate Change Initiative, capped off the panel by explaining her work with students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As part of the Energy Action Coalition -- a coalition of 50 organizations working with students and youth on energy and climate change issues in the U.S. and Canada -- Kari has been an important part of bringing youth of color into the movement for climate justice.

During question and answers, many great concerns were raised, particularly on the issue of the Environmental Protection Agency's role. Panelists were quite skeptical of whether the Obama administration would provide a major change from the Clinton and Bush administrations, which were largely hostile to environmental justice concerns. Panelists made clear that it is grassroots pressure that makes change and that even good people within the EPA cannot do good work without public support, due to the corporate influence over government agencies, which requires conscientious EPA workers to have to become whistleblowers when ordered to take actions that are not protective of public health and the environment.

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