Black Group Opposes Civil Rights Commission Environmental Justice Report

Commissioners of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 17, 2003 to vote on the endorsement of a staff report that proposes changes to the federal government’s “environmental justice” policy. Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 say the proposals will hurt the nation’s economy and put poor and minority citizens who are supposed to be protected by these policies at further disadvantage. The report also overlooks how government regulations can impose undue burdens on these same at-risk communities.

“Environmental justice” policy is supposed to ensure that all communities receive equal environmental protection regardless of race, income or culture. Liberal environmentalists, however, often characterize it as a struggle against businesses seeking to force unwanted industrial sites on poor and minority communities. In holding these views, they often overlook the economic needs of these same communities.

Project 21 members suggest commissioners vote against endorsing the report and request a new report creating a productive balance between environmental goals and economic needs.

“While I do believe a difficult and fragile balance between economic development and environmental justice must be maintained, we can no longer deny the economic benefits industry provides to minority communities,” said Project 21 member and government affairs consultant Gregory Parker. “San Antonio, Texas would be without an estimated 2,000 new jobs and $800 million dollars in revenue if local elected officials bowed to environmental justice pressures and steered the Toyota plant from its current development site in the southern, mostly minority portion of the city.”

The report is unjustifiably critical of brownfields reform, an environmental justice success story. Brownfields reform eases the regulatory burden on the redevelopment of blighted urban properties by not holding new owners responsible for the unlawful acts of past owners. The opening of a Home Depot in Harlem that created 400 jobs is criticized in the report for favoring manufacturing over “clean industry” such as schools.

“I have personally seen the benefits of brownfields reform,” said Project 21 member Richard Fair, a former Urban League employee in Toledo, Ohio. “The environmental clean-up industry is giving people in our community a chance to make $15 to $25 an hour, further their education and build a career. What upsets me is that people opposed to reform are saying it uses poor blacks to do the work that whites will not. I wonder how they expect these people to provide for their families with the low pay of other jobs in the area.”

The report also fails to take into account the negative economic effect of government regulations. Studies show that regulations can raise consumer prices, eliminate minority jobs and hurt the homeownership opportunities for minorities, the poor and young families. These concerns are not raised in the report as environmental justice threats.

Project 21 director David Almasi has just completed a National Center National Policy Analysis paper on the topic, Civil Rights Report Wrong on Environmental Justice Priorities, available online at

Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at

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