Politics & Policy

New Leftist Meme: Blame Urban Riots on ‘Environmental Racism’

Riot police enforce a curfew in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Jason Miczek)
But Hillary would like the DOJ and the EPA to help end both, through more . . . regulation.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, you can bet that in the wake of the Charlotte riots, her Justice Department will ratchet up the micromanaging of local police departments. But the Black Lives Matter movement that Clinton embraces doesn’t stop with allegations that the police are killing innocent blacks.

Look for an Environmental Protection Agency controlled by Hillary to fully embrace the movement’s theory of “environmental racism,” which holds that minority communities are disproportionately exposed, either intentionally or unintentionally, to hazardous materials and waste facilities. That in turn is said to be a contributing factor to riots and urban unrest. Is my prediction implausible? In 2014, after the Ferguson riots, Deirdre Smith, an environmental activist, said, “To me, the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive.”

Smith is a law professor at the University of Maine and a strategic-partnership coordinator for 350.org, an environmental organization whose goal is to “reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere from >400 parts per million to below 350.” At 350’s website, Smith wrote: “Oppression and extreme weather combine to ‘incite’ militarized violence.” Not only are minority communities less able to cope with the effects of climate change, but “people of color also disproportionately live in climate-vulnerable areas,” she claims, which makes climate change, yes, a race issue. Smith failed to note that the weeks surrounding the Ferguson riots were only the seventh-warmest in the last 20 years.

In the 1960s, people who blew off the importance of riots as a result of “just the temperature” were thought to be Neanderthals. Gordon Lightfoot even had a song, “Black Day in July,” about the Detroit riots. The song included these lyrics: “And It wasn’t just the temperature / It wasn’t just the season.” Now leftists such as Deirdre Smith are resurrecting this idea.

And Smith is far from alone, Van Jones, who was President Obama’s “green energy czar” until he was forced to resign in 2009 after his past ties to the Communist party surfaced, has long blamed some of the problems in minority communities on “environmental racism.” So, too, has National Resource Defense Council president Rhea Suh, who last December linked the Ferguson violence with environmental racism: “I’ve seen firsthand the ways communities of color too often suffer first, and suffer most, from pollution that poisons our waters and air, our communities, and our food.”

Hillary Clinton has joined the parade. She showed up in April at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference to promise the creation of an Environmental and Climate Justice Task Force. Through this task force, the Department of Justice and the EPA would work together to address public-health concerns ranging from lead to mold and pesticides. As for climate change, a campaign memo on Hillary’s website that was released at the same time as her speech states:

Across America, the burdens of air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards are borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color. . . .  Simply put, this is environmental racism. And the impacts of climate change, from more severe storms to longer heat waves to rising sea levels, will disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, which suffer the worst losses during extreme weather and have the fewest resources to prepare.

One problem with all of these new excuses for expanding the regulatory reach of both Justice and the EPA is that the evidence for environmental racism is scant and circumstantial. Take last week’s report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which claims that the federal government is failing to protect minority communities from environmental racism. “In its report, the commission focused on coal ash dumps,” writes Nidhi Subbaraman, a science reporter for BuzzFeed. Subbaraman quotes the conclusion that Martin Castro, the commission’s chairman, reaches in the report:

I’m not certain if the Environmental Protection Agency is incompetent or indifferent when it comes to requiring environmental justice from polluters of minority communities, but whatever the case, the result is the same. The EPA has failed miserably in its mandate to protect communities of color from environmental hazards.

But the New American Civil Rights Project, a group of scholars and lawyers who question the race-based approach of many federal regulations, presented a powerful rebuttal to Castro. They note that Castro concludes that racial minorities are “disproportionately affected by the siting of waste disposal facilities.” But this conclusion had to be worded vaguely, they say, because the commission staff’s only independent research — which focused only on coal ash — tended to show that coal-ash disposal sites were disproportionately located near whites. This embarrassing result was downplayed in the commission’s report. Indeed, the report title was changed to delete the words “coal ash,” and the commission abandoned its original plan to focus specifically the EPA’s coal-ash policy.

The report includes a strong dissent from U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Gail Heriot. She notes:

The biggest take away from this report should be this: Coal ash landfills and ponds aren’t actually disproportionately located in the vicinity of racial minorities — at least not insofar as the Commission’s independent empirical research shows. Our research indicates that, if anything, coal ash landfills and ponds may be disproportionately located near whites. This research is broadly consistent with the findings of the EPA when it conducted similar research into coal-fired electric utility plants in 2010 and into surface impoundments and landfills in 2014.

She adds:

We must acknowledge and try to do something about legitimate grievances. But we must also be careful never to fan the flames of racial resentment by telling people they have been “targeted” on account of their race when it isn’t true.

Heriot’s warning is both timely and ominous. Already some leftists are tying together allegations of police misconduct with specious environmental causes. If Hillary Clinton wins, look for the rapid growth of a new legal industry in which the grievances of everyone from environmental extremists to Black Lives Matter will find a powerful new advocate in the Department of Justice. Under that regime, there would be virtually no limit to what power the federal government took on, riding roughshod over local communities nationwide.

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