Executive Order 12898
The Executive Order 12898 officially called “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” was signed by President Clinton in 1994 Eccleston, 2011).The main aim of the order was to tackle environmental and health consequences of the federal agencies’ programs and activities on minority and low-income communities (Emison & Morris, 2010). The ultimate goal of the order was to offer communities equal environmental protection. The order directed agencies under federal government to identify the disproportionate health and environmental effects of their actions and devise strategies for correcting the impacts (Newton, 2009). It granted minorities and poor people access to public information, unhindered participation and nondiscrimination in projects that concerns their environment and health. The order also established Interagency Federal Working Group on Environmental Justice as the advisory body to agencies implementing it (Gerrard & Foster, 2008). The group was expected to report to the President on the progress of execution of the order. The directive anchored environmental justice into federal policy.
O’Neil (2007) argues that the environmental justice issues became known in the United States at the beginning of the 1980s when minority communities and low-income groups began to raise complaints about environmental hazards around their neighborhoods. Research commenced on the issue, and after several pioneering studies done by agencies such as General Accounting Office, it was confirmed that minorities and low-income communities were disproportionately residing environmental hazards (Thomson, 2009). For example, a study by United Church of Christ (1987) established that race and socioeconomic status was a significant predictor of the location of hazardous waste facilities. For example, the Blacks and Hispanics were overrepresented in the residents living around, Emelle, a massive landfill in Alabama. The revelations that minorities and the poor frequently live near toxic wastes facilities sparked debate about environmental justice according to Campbell, Kim & Eckerd (2015). The dumping of toxic wastes in areas largely inhabited by the minority and low-income societies was mostly sanctioned by government agencies (Ciment, 2010). For example, the State of North Carolina in 1982 ordered the establishment of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in Warren, a country dominated by Blacks. The plan attracted demonstrations, and it is widely believed that environmental justice movements from the protests.
The environmental justice organizations in the 1980s became very vocal in articulating the health and environmental problems suffered by minorities residing near environmental hazards. Because of pressure from these groups, O’Neil (2007) argues that President Carter and the Congress came up with Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERLA). The law directed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify the dangerous, hazardous sites to be included in Superfund list. Once included in the list, EPA would then respond by cleaning and decontaminating the polluted sites. The parameters used for assessment of eligibility to Superfund list included health impacts, toxicity, and potential environmental risks.
In the 1990s, more environmental justice movements urged the federal government to adopt effective policies on what they called “environmental racism and discrimination” (Bell, 2014). In 1990, a team of scholars, EPA officials, and Congressional Black Caucus met to deliberate on environmental risk exposure to minorities and poor persons in the US (Ewall, 2012). Consequently, an Environmental Equity Working Group was founded. Following the recommendation of the group, EPA created Office of Environmental Equity in 1992 whose name was changed to Office of Environmental Justice in 1994. In the same year, President Clinton issued Executive order 12898.
The executive order 12898 came at a time when minority communities and persons from low-income communities were greatly exposed to health risks because of living in areas adjacent to hazardous waste landfills. For example, the area around Chemical Waste Management Landfill in was inhabited by 90% Blacks according to study carried out by the General Audit Office (Johnson, 2009). Other investigations done in Emelle also showed that the area was largely a home to low-income community (Taylor, 2014). The aim of the executive order signed by President Clinton in 1994 was to correct the environmental problems that have affected the minorities and the poor in a disproportionate manner. The problem was real, and there was a necessity to deal with it before it took a toll on the nation. The directive specified the communities affected and strategies to alleviate effects.
Hazardous wastes expose the minorities and the have-nots to grave health and environmental risks and problems. The wastes are often dumped on the ground, contaminate ground water (Bharucha, 2015), and cause diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Besides, the solid wastes and toxins may be washed to the rivers where they can be ingested by fish leading to death and disruption of food supply (Roberts, Teaf & Bean, 2009). Other wastes also emit radiations that can instigate the development of cancerous cells. The wastes may also have corrosive materials that react with skin. Lead from batteries is one of common mineral found in the wastes. Extended exposure to lead has been established to cause damage to organs such as liver and lungs as well as the nervous system. The health risk to lead exposure among children is high according to Smith, Grant & Sors, 2009). Besides, the landfills may also contain clinical wastes which have infectious elements such as pathogens. Pathogens can find their way into a person body through openings, inhalation or ingestion.
The health and environmental risks of living near hazardous wastes remain present among the minorities and low-income communities. Consequently, the executive order 12889 is still necessary today. Several recent studies (Mohai & Saha, 2007; Ulezalka, 2007; Downey & Hawkins, 2008) have proved that socioeconomic income and race-minority status is still a determinant of the location of a waste dumping ground. The order has helped addressed various environmental problems faced by the poor and minority communities in the US. However, according to Natural Defense Council (2017), communities continue to be at risk of contracting diseases from hazardous wastes that litter their neighborhoods.
Environmental justice means fair dealing with of all communities in environmental matters, policies, laws and regulations. There is growing evidence that minority and low-income communities are overrepresented in locations where landfills created state governments exist. Consequently, they have not been accorded justice in environmental issues. The communities continue to inhale, ingest or met toxins and pathogens residing in the wastes. As a result, they are overexposed to environmental and health risks which cause diseases and poor quality of life. The executive order 12898 issued by President Clinton over two decades ago was meant to solve these problems. It was intended to offer environmental protections to all shades of society in the US.
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