Disastrous Response to Natural and Man-Made Disasters: An Environmental Justice Analysis Twenty-Five Years after Warren County

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. STUDIES IN FAILURE: FEDERAL AND STATE
     RESPONSES TO ENVIRONMENTAL EMERGENCIES
     A. Government Response to the PCB Threat in
        Warren County
        1. "Hunt's Dump"
        2. Why Warren County?
        3. The Warren County Siting Decision: A
           Symptom of a Larger Disease
     B. The "Dumping Grounds" in a Tennessee
        Town
        1. Why Eno Road?
        2. Treatment of the African American Holt
           Family
        3. Treatment of White Families in Dickson
           County
        4. Proximity of the Dickson County Landfill
           to Elected Officials' Homes
     C. Environmental Threats in post-Katrina New
        Orleans
        1. Cleaning Up Toxic Neighborhoods
        2. Katrina's Wake: Mountains of Trash,
           Contaminated Soil, and the Community
           Response
        3. Toxic FEMA Trailers
III. CONCLUSION

I.

INTRODUCTION

Historically, people of color communities have borne a disproportionate burden of pollution from landfills, garbage dumps, incinerators, smelters, sewage treatment plants, chemical industries, and a host of other polluting facilities. Many dirty industries have followed the "path of least resistance," allowing low-income and people of color neighborhoods to become the "dumping grounds" for all kinds of health-threatening operations. (1)

This paper provides an analysis of real-life examples of how government response to environmental emergencies is endangering the health and safety of vulnerable populations. The paper uses an environmental justice framework to examine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response to toxic contamination and man-made disasters in three communities: Warren County, North Carolina, Dickson, Tennessee, and post-Katrina New Orleans, Louisiana.

For decades, hundreds of communities from New York to Alaska have used a variety of tactics to confront environmental injustice. (2) It was not until 1990, however, after extensive prodding from grassroots environmental justice activists, educators, and academics, that the EPA began to take action on environmental justice concerns. (3) In 1992, under the George H. Bush Administration, the EPA produced Environmental Equity: Reducing Risks for All Communities, a report that finally acknowledged the fact that some populations shoulder greater environmental health risks than others. (4)

A few years later, in 1994, President William Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." (5) This Order attempted to address environmental injustice within existing federal laws and regulations. Additionally, the Order reinforced existing legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, which prohibits discriminatory practices in programs receiving federal funds, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a law that set policy goals for the protection, maintenance and enhancement of the environment. (6)

The Executive Order also called for the federal government to improve methodologies for assessing and mitigating impacts, including health effects from multiple and cumulative exposure and impacts on subsistence fishers and consumers of wild game. Moreover, the Order required the collection of data on low-income and minority populations who may be disproportionately at risk and encouraged participation of the impacted populations in the various phases of assessing impacts--including scoping, data gathering, analysis of alternatives, mitigation, and monitoring.

The EPA and FEMA are two of twelve federal agencies covered under the Executive Order. FEMA was founded in 1979 by consolidating the emergency management functions formerly administered by five different Federal agencies. FEMA was an independent Federal agency reporting to the President and was charged with planning for, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from natural and manmade disasters. …

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