Environment

Why EPA Cuts Represent Another Example of Environmental Racism

President Donald Trump's planned cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would disproportionately expose minorities and low-income Americans to the effects of pollution while gutting programs aimed at helping communities overcome these problems, according environmental activists. 

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Though EPA funding accounts for just .2 percent of federal spending, the administration is planning to slash the agency's budget by 25 percent and reduce the number of employees by 20 percent. Several of the programs that would be affected are designed to help underserved communities, including grants that fund water improvement efforts in Alaska Native communities and a program that enables minority-owned businesses to secure EPA supplies and services.

John Coequyt, campaign director of the environmentalist group Sierra Club, told ATTN: that the proposed elimination of the EPA's Environmental Justice program was a particularly troubling development. The program provides grants to "support and empower communities" developing solutions to local environmental and public health problems, according to the EPA website.

"When people talk about environmental racism, they talk about actions and policies that lead to pollution being shoved off to communities of color," Coequyt said. "There's lot of examples of that in the United States."

The White House did not respond to ATTN:'s request for comment on this story. 

But in this situation, Coequyt argued that the government is going beyond environmental racism.

"I actually think this budget cut is just straight up racist," he said. "They're going after the project that helps communities of color and just removing it. It obviously will have an environmental impact, but this isn't a situation where a community with less power is stuck with the pollution. This is a solution wherein the White House is deciding that it doesn't care about communities of color and isn't going to continue to fund the Environmental Justice program at EPA."

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The concept of environmental racism isn't new. The term broadly refers to the concentrated impact of pollution, contamination, and other environmental issues on communities of color. Some civil rights advocates argued that the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan — as well as the delayed state and federal response to the crisis — represented an example of environmental racism, whereby a mostly minority community was inadvertently exposed to dangerous levels of lead as a result of government cost-cutting efforts.

Environmentalist groups don't think the proposed budget cuts will pass muster in Congress, though.

Because many of the programs that would be impacted are connected to state-level programs that provide jobs and grants across the U.S., Coequyt doubted that lawmakers would approve such drastic budget cuts — despite Republican opposition to environmental regulations viewed as burdensome to the energy sector.

The complete budget has yet to be released, so details about the plan remain tentative.