01 Apr 2004 Elitist Environmentalists Say “No Thanks” to New Jobs, by Kevin Martin
Jobs are a hot political issue these days.
While technical support and textiles jobs continue to be “outsourced” to foreign workers in countries like China and India, we must not forget that over 300,000 new jobs were created in America just this past March. America’s economic growth is tied to trade relationships abroad. It’s a give-and-take global relationship. A protectionist trade policy only hurts our long-term prospects for prosperity.
Levi Strauss may no longer make jeans in the United States, but foreign automakers like Mercedes, Nissan, BMW and Honda all now have factories in the American South. And this is just scratching the surface of foreign investment in the American workforce.
While outsourcing is a term that’s on everyone’s lips, there’s little concern over something called “environmental justice.” It’s a policy advocated by elite environmentalists, and it is killing job prospects in minority communities. If outsourcing is considered bad, environmental justice is much, much worse and could lead to further outsourcing totally unrelated to trade policy.
In 1996, Shintech Inc. – a Japanese chemical company – wanted to build a $700 million facility in Convent, Louisiana to make the polyvinyl chloride that is used in building materials, upholstery and clothing. Shintech promised to hire hundreds of area residents for the construction of the plant and provide $500,000 in local job training. After the plant was built, it would employ 165 people with salaries beginning at $12 an hour – twice the average wage area residents made working in the region’s sugar cane fields.
Shintech was never able to build the plant in this poor, job-starved community. Despite strong local support among residents, politicians and the NAACP, EPA officials in Washington, D.C. – at the urging of environmentalists – denied Shintech a permit based on concerns about environmental justice.
Environmental justice policies are supposed to keep businesses from inflicting a “disparate impact” on minority communities, but this vague definition does not weigh the costs against the benefits of introducing a job-producing industry to a poverty-stricken area. To the elitists in the environmental movement, it’s a black and white issue where businesses are guilty until proven innocent. In reality, it’s about black and white jobs. Those people who need jobs the most often find their prospects gloomier after environmental justice concerns are raised.
Former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer has complained that the EPA’s environmental justice policies are “so vague and so broad that it nullifies everything that we have done to attract companies.” It seems activists are willing to make an issue out of just about everything. When a formerly blighted neighborhood in Harlem was cleaned up and a Home Depot that created 400 area jobs moved in, it was criticized by environmentalists because it wasn’t a “clean industry” like a school and increased area truck traffic.
President Bush has endured harsh criticism for his administration’s stance on outsourcing, but it’s important to know his likely opponent this fall has heartily embraced the elitist definition of environmental justice.
At an Earth Day event in 2003, Senator John Kerry – the likely Democratic nominee for president – said: “For too long, polluters thought they could get away with breaking the law as long as it was in someone else’s backyard. Those days need to end. Under a Kerry administration, no community will have their environment overlooked. They will have the power to fight back.”
Wrong-headed environmental justice policies encourage companies to outsource. Rather than deal with stricter and costlier American regulations, it’s cheaper to abandon factories here and start fresh abroad. That’s already happening. In the case of Shintech, environmental justice enforcement discouraged a foreign company wanting to work with American labor.
In 2000, The National Center for Public Policy Research surveyed 69 community-level environmental groups about “environmental justice.” When presented with the choice between jobs and justice, 72 percent didn’t think jobs or wages should be sacrificed to achieve environmental goals. Likewise, 57 percent said environmental goals must be balanced with economic opportunity.
Environmental goals are important, but they cannot come at the expense of people and their livelihoods. Environmental justice polices, as advocated by the environmental elite, will hurt our national economy and our community.