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The EPA’s Foot Dragging Yet Another Example of Systematic Oppression of the Voiceless

July 7, 2016

The NYTimes editorial on the EPAs foot-dragging on the civil rights complaints regarding the location of refineries and hazardous waste disposal is yet another example of how governments take advantage of neighborhoods who have no voice because they have no wealth. The opening paragraphs of the editorial define the problem:

An oil refinery in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Beaumont, Tex. A hazardous waste disposal site in Chaves County, N.M., a largely low-income, largely Hispanic area. Two power plants in Pittsburg, Calif., where most of the residents are from minorities.

These facilities were the subject of civil rights complaints filed with the Environmental Protection Agency more than 10 years ago. The complainants in most of them are still waiting for decisions.

The editorial then explains how the appeal process is supposed to work… and how it really works:

Under the rules, the E.P.A. is supposed to decide within 20 days of a complaint whether to investigate, and to issue a preliminary finding within 180 days. But in practice, the agency takes an average of 350 days just to determine whether it will investigate, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, and a number of investigations by the agency have been open for years. The office has dismissed or rejected more than 90 percent of the complaints it has received and has never made a formal finding of discrimination.

The siting of refineries and waste sites that pollute the air are classic NIMBY (not in my back yard) issues… but their siting in poor neighborhoods is no different and arguably less insidious that the siting of charter schools in poor neighborhoods. When an ugly and/or smelly enterprise is needed to sustain our life style that enterprise is seldom located in an affluent community. Refineries, large scale solar arrays, warehouses, and wind farms are placed in neighborhoods or communities who will not launch campaigns to fight against them forcing the further degradation of those areas.

Similarly, the promotion of charter schools as the solution to “failing public schools” occurs in poor neighborhoods. Well funded districts like Scarsdale and Bronxville are not the targets of privatization; underfunded schools in urban neighborhoods are. And the impact is more insidious than the installation of a refinery or waste disposal site because when charter schools are offered the funding for public schools is degraded and the engaged parents withdraw their children from the public schools to enroll in charters. The net effect is to co-opt the engaged parents at the expense of the voiceless and disengaged parents and to co-opt the civil rights element of funding by “solving” the problem of inequitable schooling through “the magic of the marketplace”.

62 years ago the Supreme Court put an end to separate but equal. The children today are still waiting to see the results of that decision…. and charter schools are NOT the solution.

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