For years, the group Mujeres de la Tierra (Women of the Earth) has kept an eye on the very large Inglewood oilfield in Los Angeles and tracked its effect on the predominantly Latino communities nearby. In Hazleton, Pa., the Environmental Integrity Project has launched a campaign to warn Latino immigrants about their vulnerability to the pollution from coal plant waste. And last week, the United Farm Workers pushed for stronger language in proposed rules on pesticide exposure information.
These groups’ longstanding environmental concerns are the sort that the Obama administration vows to address in a second-term effort to give priority to environmental justice.
On Wednesday, the EPA will commemorate two decades since former President Bill Clinton issued an executive order calling on agencies to address environmental justice. The Clinton administration said that low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and tribal lands had experienced disparities in environmental contamination and even pollution within their homes.
President Barack Obama renewed Clinton’s order earlier this month, calling together agencies to work on the issue after a 10-year lull. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in an interview with NBC News, said the administration and her agency want to give priority to communities that face disproportionate impact from environmental pollution.
McCarthy said she recognizes institutional racism has played a role in the challenges faced by some communities — in part, through historic covenants that steered polluting industries to ethnic neighborhoods — but said the focus now is not how did we get here, but “how do we get out of this?”