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E&C Leaders Demand Answers for EPA’s Suspension of Environmental Justice & Racism Sensitivity Job Trainings

Sep 25, 2020
Press Release
The Committee Leaders’ Request Follows Announcement of a September 22 Executive Order Restricting Federal Trainings That Address Structural Racism

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY) wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler today demanding answers for EPA’s indefinite suspension of racism sensitivity training and an environmental justice speaker series.

EPA’s announcement that it was suspending the trainings came after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on September 4 directing federal agencies to end “un-American propaganda training sessions,” including those that reference “critical race theory” or “white privilege.”  Following that, the White House issued an executive order on September 22 further curtailing federal programs and trainings that address structural racism. The three lawmakers note that EPA’s indefinite suspension of these trainings conflict with the Agency’s own position on structural racism and its direct relevance to EPA’s mission.

“Where a person lives has a profound impact on the environmental conditions – good or bad – that they encounter. An understanding of the structural, and sometimes racial, influences on housing decisions is crucial to EPA’s environmental justice mission of ensuring equal protection from health hazards,” wrote Pallone, DeGette and Tonko.  “EPA itself recognized the importance of these issues when it previously advertised the speaker series, explaining that ‘addressing structural racism is indeed highly relevant to EPA’s mission and key to advancing the integration of [environmental justice].’”

The three Committee leaders point out that in 2018, EPA authored a study finding that Black Americans, regardless of income level, are exposed to 1.5 times more dirty air from soot pollution than the population at large.  This pollution is linked to premature death, heart disease and lung disease, including asthma and now COVID-19. Black Americans are also 75 percent more likely to live in areas with facilities that produce hazardous waste, making an understanding of structural racism integral to EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.

“We are concerned that EPA’s decision to suspend these events may undermine its mission by discounting the underlying factors, including systemic racism, that contribute to unequal environmental and health conditions,” the three Committee leaders continued.

The lawmakers requested that EPA provide additional information, including a description of all events and trainings that have been postponed or canceled since the OMB Directive and Executive Order, a rationale of why they meet those documents’ criteria, as well as the criteria used to identify any contracts for race-related trainings. The Committee leaders also requested that EPA staff brief the Committee on how the Agency plans to implement the new Executive Order and OMB Directive.

The full letter is available HERE.

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