6 Former EPA Administrators Call For Agency “Re-Set;” As EJ Orgs Sue Chicago For Environmental Racism

This week, six former Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it is time to conduct a sweeping overhaul of the agency.  They called for a “reset” to move the “EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead. The nature of the environmental and health challenges our nation faces have changed. Fifty years ago, pollution was visible and unrelenting throughout our country. Today, less visible but equally dangerous environmental hazards threaten communities in ways that differ from place to place, person to person.”  And yesterday, environmental justice organizations and other community leaders in Chicago filed a lawsuit accusing the city of environmental racism by systematically siting heavy industry in poor and minority neighborhoods rather than in wealthy ones.

Why This Matters:  The “formers” who come from both political parties are right.  Our 50-year-old system of pollution protection laws, regulations, and agencies is outdated and ineffective to fight the pollution and climate challenges we face today and going forward.  The lawsuit filed in Chicago proves the point.  Despite having the most comprehensive environmental laws in the world, our country, and particularly frontline communities in rural and urban areas, are suffering due to unacceptable levels of pollution.  It is time to renovate and reimagine — we must do better.

A New and Improved EPA 

A group of 500 “alums” of the EPA wrote a report containing a comprehensive and detailed set of recommendations for setting new directions at EPA. The former Administrators endorsed the report’s 6 major recommendations, including that the agency should conduct its scientific and economic analysis free from political interference, incorporate environmental justice in every aspect of its work in order to address and resolve inequitable environmental conditions, and focus on the most significant and pervasive public health and environmental risks. They cited lack of resources as one of the major reasons for EPA’s inability to meet today’s challenges and argued that EPA’s budget was more than 50% higher under President Reagan than it is today.

Current Administrator Andrew Wheeler criticized the group and dismissed their recommendations, saying through a spokesman that he would not be taking advice from former agency leaders who “botched” environmental matters during their tenures. Carol Browner, the Administrator during President Bill Clinton’s years, said that the agency is supposed to protect public health and the environment, but in “the last few years, the agency has been derailed from that mission.”

Chicago Community Leaders Sue For Justice

The lawsuit filed in Chicago by community groups was prompted by a recent decision by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to relocate a recycling facility from the city’s wealthy Lincoln Park neighborhood to southeastern Chicago.  E&E News reported that the “Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and People for Community Recovery say the move is just the ‘latest example’ of Chicago officials helping to eliminate industrial facilities from the posh Lincoln Park neighborhood and ‘relocating the displaced industries into concentrated areas already overburdened.'”  The recycling facility, according to E&E, has “a long-standing history of pollution, according to the complaint. In May, there were two explosions at the recycling plant, one of which “knocked out” pollution control equipment that had been installed in response to an EPA enforcement action.”

To Go Deeper:  Read the statement signed by the former Administrators here.

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