30 Oct 2000 October 30, 2000
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A recent survey of 69 environmental justice groups conducted by the National Center For Public Policy Research found that these groups believe that environmental laws are unfair to minorities and the poor because, although these groups are least able to pay, they must bear the greatest costs for adhering to those laws through lost jobs and higher prices. The groups, a diverse collection of African-American, Hispanic and Native American activist organizations, also said government should start considering the negative economic impact of proposed environmental laws on impoverished minorities.
These groups have identified themselves, to varying degrees, as concerned about environmental justice for minorities and the poor. The organizations are concerned that minorities not be inflicted with excessive environmental problems. But, as the National Center survey discovered, true environmental justice, according to these groups, also means taking into account the urgent need for economic improvement, better-paying jobs, educational opportunity and access to better health care.
When asked to rank their top public policy concern out of a list of six issues – education, health care, racism, economic advancement, environmental progress, crime – only 6% of environmental justice groups ranked the environment as their top priority. An overwhelming 91% of respondents ranked education, health care, fighting racism and economic advancement as more important than environmental issues.
Likewise, 72% of environmental justice groups disagreed with the idea that low-income communities should be deprived of jobs, higher incomes and other economic opportunities if that is necessary to enforce environmental laws and regulations. This concern for balancing economic issues with environmental concerns was reflected throughout the survey. For example, 57% of surveyed groups said that environmental goals must be balanced by concern for economic opportunities for the poor. This includes 20% who believe that minorities must be protected against costly environmental regulations that deprive them of much-needed jobs.
The need for introducing a sense of balance to environmental policy was of pre-eminent concern. When asked if environmental laws are applied unevenly such that minorities pay the greatest costs, in terms of lost jobs and higher prices, of environmental regulations, 63% agreed. In addition, 47% of environmental justice groups believe that environmental regulatory agencies are unsympathetic to the needs and concerns of the poor and minorities. 74% of environmental justice groups believe that government should be required to determine that proposed environmental laws would not have a disproportionate impact on minority and low-income communities before being adopted.
"Clearly, these poor and minority advocacy groups see environmental policy as being implemented without due concern for equally important economic and social needs," said John Carlisle, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Environmental Policy Task Force. "What this survey shows is that the time is long overdue to start balancing environmental goals with the poor’s urgent need for economic betterment."
Contact John Carlisle at The National Center For Public Policy Research at 202-507-6398 or [email protected].
African leaders are appealing to the United States government to ignore the misguided political protests against genetically-modified foods so that those afflicted with diseases and starvation on the African continent might have hope for the future. Project 21 members are supportive of these efforts to help blacks in Africa as well as educating all peoples of the world about the benefits of advancements in food technology.
A 1997 report by the World Bank and the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research estimated that biotechnology would increase agricultural production in the developing world by as much as 25%. In Africa, genetically-modified rice that is rich in Vitamin A could play a significant role in the fight to wipe out malnutrition among poor citizens. A modified banana is also being developed that will provide an affordable inoculation against hepatitis. Politically powerful opposition groups in Europe and North America, however, are trying to stop further biotechnical research and development. Opposition to biotech research was one of the causes of the radical protestors who tried to shut down the World Trade Organization in Seattle last year.
"I consider this opposition as elitism in its cruelest form since the poorest members of the population, blacks in particular, are going to suffer because of it," wrote Project 21 member John Meredith in a recent New Visions Commentary that was distributed by Project 21.
Hassan Adamu, the Nigerian Minister for Agricultural and Rural Development, echoed Meredith’s sentiments. In a Washington Post commentary published on September 11, Adamu wrote, "Millions of Africans – far too many of them children – are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Agricultural biotechnology offers a way to stop the suffering… To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong."
On August 21, Kenyan President Daniel T. arap Moi wrote to President Bill Clinton about providing Africa with new genetically-modified foods. Moi wrote, "Today, the international community is on the verge of the biotechnology revolution which Africa cannot afford to miss… Africa risks a biotechnology gap if we fail to participate in this project just in the same way that concern has been expressed about the digital gap in information technology, without which deliberate intervention may result in a further marginalization of our continent."