Thursday, March 09, 2017
Trump plans to eviscerate EPA's environmental justice work: WaPo, Mother Jones, Grist
As much of a token as it is, as powerless as it is, wasn't EPA's weak Environmental Justice (EJ) program (and its ambitious 2020 agenda) to be preferred. as against, well, nothing? We may find out soon, as the former EPA EJ Director, Mr. Mustafa Ali goes off to become VP of the Hip Hop Caucus, a group aimed at organizing young people to support civil rights and environmental protection. Hopefully, the surviving EPA EJ employees will document and disclose everything. Time, the law and the people are all on our side. But IF Herr Trump gets away with this:
1. Chalk up another win for Trumpery and the misguided kluckers and chumps who voted for it -- working class Tories, like those who voted in Margaret Thatcher.
2. Chalk up another loss for my all of my many beloved liberal friends who didn't hold their noses and vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the lesser of two evil candidates.
Remember, dear readers, decisions are made by people who show up. Keep showing up -- the EPA's current state is one of despair. So is FDEP and SJRWMD.
Ask questions. Demand answers. Make disclosures. Expect democracy.
The Washington Post
EPA environmental justice leader resigns, amid White House plans to dismantle program
By Brady Dennis
March 9 at 12:28 PM
A key environmental justice leader at the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned, saying that a recent budget proposal to defund such work would harm the people who most rely on the EPA.
Mustafa Ali, a senior adviser and assistant associate administrator for environmental justice, has served more than two decades at the agency, working to ease the burden of air and water pollution in hundreds of poor, minority communities nationwide. He helped found the EPA’s environmental justice office during the early 1990s and became a key adviser to agency administrators under Republican and Democratic presidents.
Ali’s departure, initially reported Thursday by InsideClimate, comes as the White House is seeking to close the agency’s Office of Environmental Justice. A budget proposal reviewed last week by The Washington Post would cut the agency’s overall budget by a quarter, leading to a 20 percent reduction in the workforce. It also listed the environmental justice program as among several dozen slated to lose all funding. The document stated that the new administration supports the idea of environmental justice but would eliminate that EPA office and “assumes any future EJ specific policy work can be transferred to the Office of Policy.”
[White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs]
Ali explained his departure in an interview Thursday, saying, “I never saw in the past a concerted effort to roll back the positive steps that many, many people have worked on though all the previous administrations. … I can’t be a part of anything that would hurt those communities. I just couldn’t sign off on those types of things.”
He added that it remains early in the Trump era and noted that each new administration sets its own priorities. Still, he said, “I hadn’t seen any positive movement in relationship to vulnerable communities … I hadn’t seen yet any engagement with communities with environmental justice concerns.”
In his resignation letter, Ali implored the agency’s administrator, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, to think twice before slashing EPA programs aimed at helping disadvantaged areas.
“When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1,400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most,” Ali wrote. “I strongly encourage you and your team to continue promoting agency efforts to validate these communities’ concerns, and value their lives.”
Environmental justice leaders have been skeptical of Pruitt from the start. The longtime EPA adversary repeatedly sued the agency in tandem with fossil fuel companies and other corporate interests, often arguing that the agency’s efforts to regulate pollution went beyond its legal authority.
[EPA chief’s climate change denial is easily refuted by the EPA’s website]
During his Senate confirmation process, Pruitt answered written questions from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). One of them read: “How do you define ‘environmental justice’? Do you think it’s a serious issue?”
“I am familiar with the concept of environmental justice,” Pruitt answered. “As I testified, the administrator plays an important role regarding environmental justice. I agree that it is important that all Americans be treated equally under the law, including the environmental laws.”
But Pruitt’s critics point to the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from oil and gas companies during his political campaigns over the years. He also led the Republican Attorneys General Association, which received substantial sums of money from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Murray Energy and other firms. Since arriving at the EPA last month, he has taken early steps to beginning rolling back Obama-era regulations on everything from methane emissions to vehicle fuel standards.
“The future ain’t what it used to be at the EPA,” Pruitt recently told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 25 in Oxon Hill, Md. (The Washington Post)
That’s a future for which Ali decided not to stick around.
“I’ve seen too much over the years to allow there to be any rolling back,” he said. “Sometimes people forget that we’re talking about folks lives. If we do our job properly, it can be a huge benefit. If not, it can have big ts.”
Michelle Roberts, national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, said Thursday that Ali “played a significant role on the issue of environmental justice” by advocating within the EPA on behalf of low-income Americans and those of color. “People were able to have a seat at the table” though Ali’s work, Roberts said, noting that he also helped provide the grants and technical resources that allowed communities to show how they were being disproportionately affected by pollution.
Ali pressed for President Obama to issue a 2013 executive order that improved chemical plant safety, Roberts noted, and served as a crucial intermediary between the town of Mossville, La., and the company building a major plant nearby.
It is unclear whether the proposed cuts will remain in place when the White House releases its budget blueprint in mid-March, and any reductions would have to be approved by Congress through the appropriations process.
Ali also helped shape one of the last major EPA initiatives under the Obama administration — an “EJ 2020 Action Agenda” that would direct more enforcement resources to pollution-affected communities, focus on eliminating disparities in drinking water and air quality around the country and consider environmental justice issues in the agency’s rulemaking and permitting approaches. There have been few indications that the new administration intends to follow through on that plan.
Ali has taken a job as senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit civil and human rights group that tries to foster grass-roots activism among younger Americans through hip-hop music and cultural events. “As one of the leading voices in the social justice movement, he has shown himself to be an extraordinary leader throughout his career and has a proven track record,” the group’s president, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., said in a statement.
On Thursday, Ali made his first public appearance for the group at an environmental justice conference in Flint, Mich., home to a poor community nearly three years into a crippling water contamination crisis.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
EPA's Environmental Justice Head Resigned After 24 Years. He Wants to Explain Why.
"To move backwards didn’t make any sense."
MAR. 9, 2017 3:02 PM
Mother Jones Magazine
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office on Environmental Justice submitted his resignation on Tuesday. First reported by InsideClimate News, the resignation of Mustafa Ali comes as the Trump administration considers layoffs and budget cuts at the EPA that, if enacted, would eliminate the environmental justice budget and cut funding to grants for pollution cleanup.
Ali, a founder of the program in 1992 who has worked there since, told Mother Jones he resigned because he was concerned the administration's proposals to roll back its environmental justice work would disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. "That is something that I could not be a part of," Ali says.
"Each new administration has an opportunity to share what their priorities and values are," he says, adding that he has "not heard of anything that was being proposed that was beneficial to the communities we serve. To me that was a signal that communities with environmental justice concern may not get the attention they deserve."
The office, created during the George H.W. Bush administration, defines its mission as reducing the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people by integrating these concerns into all of the EPA's decision making. Since its founding, the office has distributed $24 million in grants to 1,400 communities.
In his resignation letter, Ali attempted to make the case for the Office of Environmental Justice by appealing to Pruitt's interest in economic growth. He described what happened in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which received a $20,000 grant from the EPA to address the community's abandoned dump sites that were leaching toxic chemicals. The mostly low-income, African American residents of the region experienced high rates of cancer and respiratory disease. Local black leaders leveraged that grant into $270 million from investors and the government to revitalize the city, "creating jobs and improving their environments through collaborative partnerships," Ali wrote. "When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most."
Ali spoke to Mother Jones from Flint, Michigan, where he was attending a two-day environmental justice summit in the city that famously confronted an environmental crisis when the community's drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead. He says he will continue the work he has focused on for 25 years as the new senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit that organizes and recruits activists to promote social justice, including on climate change. "I want to make sure I am investing my time and talents in a place that is going to be supportive of that work," he says.
Ali hopes his resignation will bring attention to the effects on low-income and marginalized communities of the new administration's program cuts and loosened regulations.
During his confirmation hearings, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that he is "familiar with the concept of environmental justice" and acknowledged that the "administrator plays an important role regarding environmental justice."
"Under his leadership, he has the ability to move to the next level if he chooses to," Ali says. Environmental justice leaders "have dedicated decades to trying to gain traction and make progress. We've done some of that, and to move backwards didn't make any sense to me."