Environmental Poverty

Article excerpt

Convent, La., residents had high hopes for a plastics manufacturing plant proposed near their town. It would have meant some 165 new jobs at relatively high pay in an area with an historically high level of unemployment, an expanded tax base to support local schools and services and, more generally, an improved quality of life. Local councilmen unanimously voted to approve it. The local chapter of the NAACP supported it. The state of Louisiana provided tax breaks for the company to locate there.

Alas for Convent residents, the company announced last week that it was suspending plans to locate there following a long and expensive regulatory battle with environmental activists and the Environmental Protection Agency. Foes had opposed the plant on grounds that supposed health risks associated with the plant would disproportionately affect the town's poor and minority inhabitants. So they filed a civil rights suit to block construction. By dragging out the EPA permit process indefinitely, they got their wish.

So what are Convent residents supposed to do for employment in the meantime? They could move to Baton Rouge, where the company now plans to build the plant. Or they could, as one activist told Henry Payne of Scripps Howard News Service, go back to work on some of the "beautiful old plantations" in the area and contribute to a cultural tourism industry. Convent's populace is understandably less than enthusiastic about the idea. "That's horrible," one resident told Mr. Payne. "My parents were slaves on those plantations. These white opponents don't understand. We don't want to remember our past. We want a new future."

Now if a bank had decided not to locate in a predominantly minority area, it would have been accused of "red-lining," a shorthand expression for intentionally denying financial services to blacks, hispanics and others. …