Via Inside EPA
The Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA) says EPA rebuffed its request to meet with Administrator Michael Regan on his environmental justice (EJ) tour through southern states this week, including a Nov. 16 stop in New Orleans, saying the administrator “did not have time.”
Greg Bowser, LCA’s president and CEO, is also strongly defending the environmental performance of the state’s industrial sector in advance of potential criticism from Regan, who embarked on his weeklong “Journey for Justice” tour to show that EPA is serious about bringing environmental justice (EJ) to underserved and overburdened communities by visiting select areas in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
“Louisiana’s industrial sector has made significant progress in our collective aim to reduce emissions, invest in cleaner technology and support a dynamic workforce across the state,” Bowser says in a statement provided to Inside EPA. “In the last  years alone, the chemical industry in Louisiana has reduced emissions by 75 percent.”
He adds that the group expects the progress to continue and welcomes Regan “to our state and hope that he is able to recognize the truth beyond the misperceptions loudly voiced through the megaphone of a small group of political protestors -- the facts just do not support the rhetoric.”
For example, the rates of cancer in the state’s industrial corridor “are even with or below the state average of cases,” Bowser says. “My hope is to work with the EPA, not against it, beyond the noise to support our communities so that we can have a clean, flourishing Louisiana for our future generations.”
An LCA spokesman adds that Bowser “attempted to schedule a meeting with [EPA] while they were here and was told they did not have time.”
EPA did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
But one industry attorney says many businesses in the South are “nervous” about Regan’s tour and what the administrator might say. “People are anxious and find it a little troubling that he is only meeting with affected” communities.
The attorney points out there is “no law” defining environmental justice. And it is difficult for regulators to require permitted entities to provide additional protections -- beyond complying with existing standards. “What kind of extra level of protection can you give if you are located in an EJ community? Can you be denied a permit because they think you should be permitting a facility somewhere else? There are a lot of questions and not many answers.”
In fact, officials in Michigan are raising similar types of questions and asking EPA for guidance on how to lawfully include additional protections in industrial permits in EJ areas.
State officials wrote a Nov. 15 letter to Regan notifying the administrator that the state issued a permit for a controversial asphalt plant in an EJ community -- despite an unprecedented agency request to consider relocating the plant. The officials want the agency to review the permit conditions to determine whether they are adequate.
The state also asks EPA to convene a summit with state and federal leaders to address these issues as well as “challenges and opportunities related to addressing cumulative risks.”
Further, EPA officials including Office of Environmental Justice director Matthew Tejada are openly raising questions about the limits of EPA’s authority, including over local land use disputes, gentrification and other issues linked to pollution, cleanup and redevelopment in communities near Superfund sites.
‘What’s Going To Be The Plan’
Additionally, one EJ advocate says that while Regan’s tour of the South is welcome -- particularly by community members on the ground -- “we’ve already taken a number of administrators to some of these areas. So the most important thing is, after you see these really egregious things you’re going to see, what’s going to be the plan to eliminate the impacts going on in these sacrifice zones?”
The source adds that the real question for Regan is “how will you move resources, enhance enforcement actions and make sure the folks who have often been the ones polluting our communities will be held accountable?”
The answers could include enhanced monitoring, additional dollars for inspectors as well as addressing cumulative impacts. “The big thing is going to be around cumulative impacts and protocol,” the source says.
Further, the source says Regan must be “able to marshal the resources of the agency and convince folks” at the White House and elsewhere in the Biden administration “that the work is needed,” and that it should extend beyond EPA and into housing, transportation and public health.
A tour such as Regan’s that also included other cabinet heads could “truly be transformational,” according to this source, because it would demonstrate “that there is a holistic strategy” for addressing “multiple sets of impacts.”
Regan’s Nov. 16 schedule for day two of his “Journey to Justice: Real EJ Conversations on Your Corner,” included an EJ roundtable at the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice; in New Orleans a tour of St. John the Baptist Parish Community and a tour of the St. James Parish Community.
Regan was also expected to discuss measures addressing EJ in the infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed Nov. 15 as well as related provisions of the “build back better” bill still pending before Congress.
- Dawn Reeves