Comment Time: Environmental Justice and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

During the past year or so, the MPCA has held a series of meetings with “Environmental Justice” (“EJ”) “stakeholders.” I’ve attended many but not all of those meetings.  The PCA has also assigned a person full time (Ned Brooks, to work on developing an Environmental Justice “Framework” for the agency.  My sense is that Mr. Brooks has worked diligently to incorporate views from within and without the MPCA.

The MPCA has developed a draft document that is probably fairly close to what it envisions adopting, and is holding a “stakeholder” meeting tomorrow, May 8th.  the PCA also intends a public comment period of some sort–details not yet sorted out.

So the point of this post is to encourage people to review the document and provide input either through me or directly to Ned Brooks, or to the Commissioner of the MPCA, John Stine ( or otherwise.

A little background:

“Environmental Justice” in official form formally began with an Executive Order of President Bill Clinton dated February 11, 1994, which essentially says that the U.S. Civil Rights act applies to environmental regulatory activities, including state regulatory programs delegated or funded by the U.S. federal government.

“… each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations … .”

Since then, the actual history of “EJ” has been pretty mixed.  It has often provided a powerful analytical tool for communities to use to understand how they are being screwed over.   On the other hand, few agencies–21 years later!–have adopted policies that go beyond feel-good language to establish laws, policies, and procedures that truly empower individuals and communities.  Too often people have been encouraged to rely on “EJ” arguments rather than doing the political organizing needed to exercise real power over their situation.

I have tried to make the point that if the MPCA, or any other entity, is going to be a credible advocate for Environmental Justice, it needs to walk the talk in all it’s activities.  For example, it makes no sense to advocate for Environmental Justice with one hand while promoting garbage incinerators with the other.

So I would encourage people to review the MPCA draft with these questions in mind

  • “Does this go beyond feel-good language?”
  • “Does it offer my community real help, real empowerment, in resisting activities that harm our health or quality of life?”


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