Environmental Justice at the Forefront

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, Feb. 18, 2005 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Cal/EPA has been undertaking an effort to integrate "environmental justice" (EJ) into their policies and regulations. This effort stems from a series of ten bills which began with the chaptering of SB 115 authored by Senate Member Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) in 1999. This bill defined "environmental justice" in statute and required Cal/EPA to develop a model environmental justice mission statement for its boards, departments, and offices.

The 17-member EJ Advisory Committee, including community, environmental, business and government representatives, met on February 15th to finalize their recommended language on the Precautionary Approach, cumulative impacts and other issues. The definitions will likely have long standing influence on the manner in which all environmental regulations are developed, enforced and pursued in the future.

Environmentalists attended in force both the February 15th meeting and the Cal/EPA Interagency Hearing the following day intended to adopt language. Both meetings were exceedingly contentious.

Business interests were drowned out at the Advisory Committee meeting. The final vote was nine to four in favor of creating a more onerous standard for environmental regulations by removing the threat of "serious and irreversible harm" as a trigger for using the precautionary approach and adding socio-economic factors (such as lack of health insurance, emotional stress, dilapidated housing, crime, vermin, and nutrition) to the definition of multi-media cumulative impacts.

Although business interests were outnumbered ten to one at the Interagency Hearing, the term "serious" was reinserted in the Precautionary Approach definition. Further work will be required to agree upon a definition for "serious". On the other hand, the addition of socio-economic factors remained in the multi-media impact definition.

The two definitions now read:

* Precautionary Approach means taking anticipatory action to protect public health or the environment if a reasonable threat of serious harm exists based upon the best available science and other relevant information, even if absolute and undisputed scientific evidence is not available to assess the exact nature and extent of risk.

* Cumulative impacts means exposures, public health or environmental effects from the combined emissions and discharges, in a geographic area, including environmental pollution from all sources, whether single or multi-media, routinely, accidentally, or otherwise released. Impacts take into account sensitive populations and socioeconomic factors where applicable and to the extent data are available.

There will be additional meetings on these subjects in Sacramento and throughout the state.
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