Biden Administration Launches Office of Environmental Justice | News, Sports, Jobs

WARRENTON, North Carolina — President Joe Biden’s top environment official traveled Saturday to what is widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement to unveil a national office that will hand out $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities burdened by pollution.

Forty years after a predominantly black community in Warren County, North Carolina rallied against the hosting of a hazardous waste landfill, Michael Regan, the first black man to serve as a trustee of the ‘Environmental Protection Agency, announced that it is dedicating a new level of leadership to the environmental justice movement they have sparked.

The Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights — made up of more than 200 current staff in 10 regions across the United States — will merge three existing EPA programs to oversee part of the Democrats’ $60 billion investment in environmental justice initiatives created by the Inflation Reduction Act. The president will appoint a deputy administrator to lead the new office, pending Senate confirmation.

“In the past, many of our communities had to compete for very small grants because the EPA pot of money was extremely small,” Regan said in an interview. “We’re going from tens of thousands of dollars to developing and designing a program that will distribute billions. But we are also going to make sure that this money goes to those who need it most and to those who have never had a seat at the table.

Biden has championed environmental justice as a centerpiece of his climate agenda since his first week in office, when he signed an executive order pledging 40% of the aggregate benefits of select federal clean energy investments to underprivileged communities overwhelmed by pollution. .

Now, Regan said, this new office weaves environmental justice into the fabric of the EPA’s core, equating it with other higher offices like air and water, and cementing its principles in a way that will survive administration.

In 1978, North Carolina designated Warren County, a small, predominantly black farming community along the Virginia border, as a disposal site for dirt trucks containing highly carcinogenic chemical compounds that subsequently contaminated the water supply.

When the first trucks arrived in town in 1982, hundreds of residents flooded the streets, blocking their way to the dump. Although they were unable to end the operation after six weeks of nonviolent protests and more than 500 arrests, their efforts were hailed by civil rights leaders as the impetus for an uprising. against environmental racism in minority communities.

Wayne Moseley, 73, was one of the first protesters arrested on the first day of the protest. The Raleigh resident traveled to Warren County to walk on behalf of his mother, whose health prevented her from participating. He called Saturday’s ceremony “a return to basics” for himself and many other protesters he hadn’t seen in 40 years.

“We became a family, neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor – we were all one”, Mosley said. “The state was determined to put this dump here. I knew we couldn’t stop it, but we could raise the consciousness not only of the state but also of the nation.

Dollie Burwell, a protest leader known in the community as “the mother of the movement”, honored the bravery of his late daughter Kimberly Burwell, who was just 8 years old when she joined her mother on the front lines.

“She stood up and led so many children in the protests,” Burwell said of her daughter at the ceremony. “She was not afraid of being arrested. But she was afraid her family and friends would get cancer. soil carcinogens.

Government officials have routinely targeted low-income communities of color like Warren County for hosting hazardous waste facilities since the early 1900s. And the neglect of critical infrastructure in predominantly Black communities, ranging from Flint, Michigan , in Jackson, Mississippi, led to problems still visible today.

An April study by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found that the majority of black and Latino neighborhoods that scored low in a discriminatory federal housing program known as redlining were home to two times as many oil wells as majority white communities. According to the Clean Air Task Force, black Americans are 75% more likely than white Americans to live near a plant or factory and nearly four times more likely to die from exposure to pollutants.

The Reverend Dr William Barber II, a prominent social activist and poor campaigner, said he viewed Regan’s announcement as “a great starting point” and will continue to demand more of the Biden administration.

“Our votes are not support. Our votes are our demands,” Barbier said in an interview. “It’s about a lifestyle against a disability, because when you poison the land and the water, you harm people’s daily lives.”

“I take all of these experiences (from my childhood) and relate them to the president’s vision,” said Regan. “We take this opportunity not only to pay tribute to those who came before us, but we build on the work they started. We stand on their shoulders and strive for greater heights.

With just 45 days to go until the midterm elections, Regan is among several Cabinet members visiting North Carolina this month to promote the president’s accomplishments, including visits by Vice President Kamala Harris on Sept. 1 and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen next Tuesday in Durham. Democrats have set their sights on the Southern swing state as a potential revival in the tightly divided U.S. Senate and other key offices.

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