100 days: Pollution threatens marginalized communities

Environmental justice concerns may not get the attention they deserve.

 

This Saturday will mark Trump’s 100th day in office. In collaboration with our partners at Climate Desk, we took a look at what his administration has accomplished and what the implications are for climate change and the environment out West and across the country.

This article was originally published by the Mother Jones, and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk Collaboration.

On Thursday, environmentalists and a handful of congressional Democrats gathered at the U.S. Capitol to launch the United for Climate Task Force, a new group for marginalized communities who are facing new threats to the air they breathe and the water they drink. It was Day 98 of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the timing doesn’t appear to have been an accident. As the president’s first 100 days in office draw to a close, environmentalists have grown increasingly alarmed at the administration’s efforts to eliminate regulations and cut programs that promote environmental justice.

From the start, the Trump administration made clear that it planned to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency. Most notably, the White House has proposed massive budget cuts that could fundamentally change the way agency operates. “Over the past few months we’ve seen how quickly this administration is rolling back progress we’ve made on the environment,” Rep. Pramila Jayapral (D-Wash.) said at the Thursday event. “Budget cuts to the EPA will devastate communities of color across the country.” Indeed, people of color and low-income communities face the highest risks from toxic spills, hazardous air, and dirty drinking water, according to the Center for American Progress.

Mustafa Ali, the longtime head of the agency’s Office of Environmental Justice, resigned in March. Ali, whose office was charged with reducing the disproportionate environmental dangers facing marginalized groups, told Mother Jones at the time that the administration’s actions sent “a signal that communities with environmental justice concern may not get the attention they deserve.” Weeks later, the Washington Post obtained a 64-page budget memo from the EPA detailing a slew of proposed cuts. They included the outright elimination of the environmental justice office.

In its rush to gut the EPA, the Trump administration also proposed eliminating two programs designed to limit children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which can cause brain damage. One program focuses on training workers in the removal of lead-based paint; the other is public education campaign about the risk. Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but it's still common in houses built before then and can be often found in poor and predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods. The EPA estimates that 38 million homes contain lead paint.

Protestors gather for the 2014 People Climate March.

The administration has also proposed cutting funding for the cleanup of Superfund sites, which are some of the most polluted places in the country. Those cuts could leave millions of people, many of them in marginalized communities, with little hope that the toxic waste polluting their neighborhoods will ever be removed. In East Chicago, where a Superfund site is causing multiple problems, activists were angered when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who visited the city earlier this month, failed to meet with residents and environmental justice groups about the cleanup and other environmental issues.

A hamstrung EPA is not the only concern of environmental justice activists. The White House dealt a particularly stinging blow to indigenous communities with the stroke of a pen. One of Trump’s first actions in office was signing an executive order to expedite the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The 1,172 mile-long pipeline will carry crude oil from North Dakota, through the Standing Rock Sioux’s land. If the pipeline were to leak, it could threaten the tribe’s water source. The tribe and its allies began fighting the pipeline’s construction in 2015 but faced a serious setback after Trump signed the order and a federal judge refused to halt construction. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the developers could keep some information about spill risks secret. North Dakota has averaged four pipeline spills per year since 1996.

Meanwhile, Congress has waged its own assault on environmental justice initiatives. Less than a month into Trump’s term, congressional Republicans voted to strike down an Obama-era rule intended to prevent coal-mining debris from polluting thousands of miles of streams. That pollution primarily impacts poor and rural Americans living in Appalachia. Trump eagerly signed the repeal legislation.

Despite these defeats, environmental justice advocates are digging in for a long fight. “There’s been a disparity of treatment,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said at the Thursday press conference. Communities of color, he added, “tend to be forgotten, and the well-being of this nation depends on the those communities.”

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac