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21.3.04

Environmental Justice Comes Back

Via folkbum, I discover that John Kerry's website has a whole page on environmental justice, lending some support to my prior feeling that, while Kerry may overall be an unprincipled weasel, the environment is one issue that he does actually care about independent of political calculations. The page promises:

... John Kerry proposed creating Environmental Empowerment Zones to ensure that environmental justice is considered in decisions that affect these communities and, more importantly, to empower communities from the ground up for positive change. By empowering local officials and citizen leaders, Environmental Empowerment Zones will overcome economic, civic and cultural barriers and help ensure that no community will be forced to live with a dirty and unhealthy environment.

... John Kerry will reinvigorate action on environmental justice at the federal level. He proposed creating a new Assistant Administrator position for Environmental Justice at the EPA and will revive the Office of Environmental Justice. Today, this office is under-staffed, under-funded, and undermined on a daily basis. Kerry will bring life back to this office so that it can serve as a resource and advocate for community activists all over America.

John Kerry will also build on President Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order to include environmental justice in laws, regulations and policies.


The page is explicit in linking health and environmental quality. Compare that to Bush's environment issue page. The introduction states that "The President favors common-sense approaches to improving the environment while protecting the quality of American life" -- as if environmental improvement and quality of life are opposed values. It's a pretty standard tactic, emphasizing the idea that environmental protection comes at a price, thus making weak action sound like a pragmatic compromise. In its discussion of brownfields -- a classic environmental justice problem -- there is a brief mention of health. But the emphasis is placed on the fact that brownfields are "eyesores" (feeding the idea that environmental protection is largely an aesthetic question). Bush also stresses that brownfields are "underutilized" -- that is, that the main problem is that there are chunks of land sitting idle. In a sense, this isn't entirely bad. It's interesting to note how the presentation of the brownfields question parallels Bush's larger environmental philosophy as described in a paper I wrote about Healthy Forests -- he believes that the role of government is to make land and resources more easily available to business. What's most important, though, is that the issue of economic productivity swamps any concern for local health impacts in the way that Bush frames his brownfield policy.

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