Letter to John F. Kerry
April 28, 2003


April 28, 2003

The Honorable John F. Kerry
U.S. Senate
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Kerry:

As members of the national advisory council of the African-American leadership network Project 21, we were interested to learn of your recent remarks on the topic of environmental justice.

We share your commendable commitment to making certain that all Americans, regardless of color and economic status, receive equal benefits from our environmental policies.

Project 21, through its Center for Environmental Justice, has reviewed numerous environmental and regulatory policies from an environmental justice perspective, and not long ago completed a nearly two-year econometric analysis of the impact of smart growth policies on minority homeownership rates.

Our work on environmental justice is made public in the form of opinion pieces and interviews. Our environmental justice work is published in the form of op-eds or cited by the mainstream or minority press an average of 30 times per month - recently, for example, in the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So that we might accurately discuss and/or refer to your position, we are writing to clarify your point of view on one aspect of the environmental justice issue that rarely receives the attention we believe it is due: that of black and other minority communities bearing a disproportionately high share of the economic costs of environmental policies.

Our studies have revealed that black and other minority households at times bear a disproportionately high share of the economic burden for environmental laws and regulations. In other words, on average, blacks and Hispanics at times bear a greater per capita share of the economic burden for environmental protection than do non-Hispanic whites.

We do not believe that this unfortunate circumstance is always or even frequently the result of aggressively racist intentions. Rather, we believe it is neglect: when environmental programs are planned, insufficient care is taken to assure that the economic burden for the policy, if any, is not disproportionately borne by minorities.

When smart growth policies are designed, for example, we support a greater consideration of the importance of protecting the ability of blacks and Hispanics to afford homes. We do not believe that most Americans wish to, nor do we need to, undermine minority homeownership in order to have livable communities.

Because of our concerns, we are writing to you today to clarify your position on several straightforward aspects of the environmental justice issue. We would very much appreciate a response to these questions:

1) Does your commitment to environmental justice include the belief that minorities should not pay a disproportionately high share of the costs, if any, for environmental protections?

2) Have you or your staff ever conducted, or encouraged/directed others to conduct, a review of the economic impact upon blacks, Hispanics and/or other minorities of any environmental policies already in effect? If so, would you be willing to share the results of any reviews with us?

3) As part of your commitment to environmental justice for minorities, would you be willing to commit to reviewing the economic costs of proposed environmental programs, to make certain they are not borne disproportionately by minorities, before supporting them?

4) Would you support a presidential executive order, perhaps modeled after President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice, that would direct agencies to study ways to make certain the costs of federal environmental policies are not disproportionately borne by minorities?

We hope you agree with us that black and Hispanic Americans, who historically have had a lower per capita income than other Americans, should not bear a greater per capita share of the economic burden for environmental protections than white, non-Hispanic Americans.

We would greatly appreciate a response to our questions, which may be directed to the attention of our staff director, David Almasi, for distribution to us.

We thank you for your kind attention to this issue.

Sincerely yours,

Members of the Project 21 National Advisory Committee

Edmund Peterson, Chairman
Arlington, Virginia

Jerry Brooks
Portland, Oregon

Eric Carter
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Richard Dimery
Ft. Worth, Texas

Michael King
Austell, Georgia

Kevin Martin
Baltimore, Maryland

John Meredith
Arlington, Virginia

Geoffrey Moore
Roselle, Illinois

Bob Parks
Athol, Massachusetts

Ak'bar Shabazz
Atlanta, Georgia

Kimberley Jane Wilson
Alexandria, Virginia


The Center for Environmental Justice is a joint program of Project 21 and the National Center's John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs

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