[StBernard] DOJ attorney says feds' focus on environmental justice is 'reinvigorated'

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Feb 10 23:05:06 EST 2011

DOJ attorney says feds' focus on environmental justice is 'reinvigorated'
2/10/2011 6:28 PM By Alejandro de los Rios

Department of Justice attorney Patrice Simms told a gathering of defense
lawyers in New Orleans today that the federal government's focus on
environmental justice has become "reinvigorated."

"We stand at the threshold at a new chapter in our efforts of creating
environmental justice as a reality," Simms said during a speech before a
DRI-sponsored toxic tort conference.

Simms outlined the history and values of environmental justice from when it
was conceived in the 1970s, to the direct federal mandates issued to pursue
environmental justice in the 1990s, and the government's recent renewed
commitment to the cause.

Simms serves as deputy assistant attorney general to the DOJ's Environment
and Natural Resources Division (ENRD).

As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency and Simms, the underlying
principles of environmental justice "is the fair treatment and meaningful
involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or
income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of
environmental laws, regulations and policies."

Simms said that the pursuit of environmental justice has been pushed through
studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s showing that a disproportionate
amount of low-income and minority neighborhoods were being discriminated
against or felt discriminatory effects from corporations violating EPA

In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12898 which
prioritized environmental issues in low income and minority neighborhoods.
Simms said that, under President Barack Obama, environmental justice has
once again become a key federal issue.

"Things are happening," Simms said. "The inter-agency working group has
become reinvigorated."

Simms pointed out that the DOJ relies "on our clients to adjust our
priorities and, in that sense, we are not in control of our own docket."

He went on to explain that federal agencies like the EPA are charged with
identifying, investigating and referring cases to the DOJ.

The EPA and the ENRD are both working to further integrate environmental
justice policies and principles into their work, Simms said.

The EPA will be doing it by calling for greater strategies to incorporate
environmental justice, as well as looking into permanent policy and
rule-making with environmental justice in mind, he said.

According to Simms, the DOJ has also made environmental justice a priority
and is coordinating the ENRD with its Civil Rights division to incorporate
environmental justice into litigation and policy work.

Some of the examples Simms pointed to, where environmental justice
principles were implemented, included a case in which the EPA entered into a
consent decree with the city of Kansas City, Mo., requiring the city to
spend $2.5 billion to improve its sewer system.

In that case, it was found that the most antiquated pipes that caused sewage
to back up in basements were concentrated in the lower-income and minority
sections of Kansas City.

The city was required to direct at least $1.6 million to immediately improve
the sewage system in the areas affected most.

Another consent decree the EPA reached recently was with Murphy Oil.

In that case, Simms said, the oil company was required to improve its
pollution-prevention systems at refineries in Wisconsin and Louisiana. The
order also mandated that Murphy Oil place air quality monitors by its
refineries that broadcast air pollution levels live to a Web site.

"It is our duty to vigorously pursue the enforcement of environmental law,"
he said. "But we will work with you to pursue solutions that are mutually

Simms said that companies should confront environmental issues within their
communities head on and that a "good relationship with your community makes
good sense."

He said that corporations should employ the same tactics as the federal
government in engaging community leaders and working to make sure their
concerns and values are heard and considered.

"No effort to address the issue of environmental justice can be made
successfully without the proactive involvement by industry," Simms said.
"This is a view shared by the Department of Justice, EPA and leaders in the
environmental justice community."

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