From: H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Published September 20, 2006 12:00 AM

EPA Inspector Criticizes Agency on Fairness of Reviews

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is not conducting required reviews to ensure that low-income and minority neighborhoods get the same environmental protection as other communities, its inspector general reported.

The report, made public Tuesday, says senior EPA officials have not required regional offices and department heads to conduct environmental justice reviews despite a requirement dating back to 1994.

A survey by the IG's office found 60 percent of the respondents -- regional offices and program departments -- had not conducted the reviews and 87 percent said they had not been asked to do them, according to the report.

Such reviews were required by an executive order President Clinton issued in 1994. It was reaffirmed by EPA administrators in 2001 and again last year, said the report by acting Inspector General Bill Roderick.

Until adequate reviews are conducted, "the agency cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations," the report said.

The EPA in its response to the report said the agency has made concerns about environmental justice an integral part of its activities as it enforces environmental rules and issues new regulations.

Jessica Edmond, the EPA's deputy press secretary, said the EPA "has an ongoing commitment to ensure environmental justice for all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income."

"EPA has developed a wide range of policies, programs and initiatives to address environmental justice concerns, from collaborative problem-solving and issuing grants to targeting enforcement actions," said Edmond.

But the agency said it agreed with the report's recommendations that called for clearer guidelines and plans for conducting formal environmental justice reviews to ensure the policies are achieving their intent.

A copy of the IG report, dated Sept. 18, was released Tuesday by Sen. John Kerry's office, which said the findings show the EPA is failing to protect minority and low-income communities.

Kerry, D-Mass., said the report shows "this administration couldn't care less" about minority and low-income neighborhoods that often are the site of industrial zones, refineries and power plants.

Source: Associated Press

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