In February 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its Environmental Justice (EJ) Strategy as a way to meet the goals set down by Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations”.
This Executive Order charges each federal agency to make “environmental justice” a part of the department’s mission. The Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice referred to as the EJ IWG (Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group) was established in 1994 under Executive Order (EO) 12898 PDF (6 pp, 123K).
The EJ IWG was created to “guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities”. 17 federal government agencies and White House offices make up this working group. Each agency within this group must have its own Environmental Justice strategy and must issue annual reports on how that strategy has been implemented.
In August 2011, the DHS, like all the other federal agencies, signed the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898(EJ MOU)”. This memorandum requires the agencies to finalize an EJ strategy and release annual implementation reports. As required, the draft strategy was open to public comment for 30 days.
DHS addressed the required compliance by using the “National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended” in their strategy and published it in their 2012 annual report. It’s difficult to wade through the actual mission statement to grasp how exactly the DHS has interpreted its role in being compliant with the Environmental Justice mandate. It’s confounding for most Americans to see the correlation between environmental justice and protecting America from terrorists and other threats.
For that matter finding a direct correlation to most other federal agencies isn’t something most people find logical. What makes it even more confusing is the mention of climate change in the DHS report that seems like a far stretch as well.
DHS and Environmental Justice
Environmental Justice is defined as preventing the low income and minority populations from being exposed to harmful environments, such as allowing a waste dump site to be established within the population or harmful industries to operate within these communities.
DHS interprets its role in its Environmental Justice Strategy as:
“Our nation’s vision of homeland security is a homeland that is safe and secure, resilient against terrorism and other hazards – where American interests and aspirations, and the American way of life can thrive. In seeking to fulfill this vision, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) aspires to avoid burdening minority and low-income populations with a disproportionate share of any adverse human health or environmental risks associated with our efforts to secure the nation.”
Two DHS headquarters offices are leading the efforts for its Environmental Justice Strategy. These include the OCAO (Office of the Chief Administrative Officer) and the CRCL (Civil Rights and Civil Liberties). The 2012 DHS annual report states that it’s “Through FEMA, the agency helps ensure environmental justice in communities” by preparing or responding/recovering from emergencies or disasters.
The report further discusses how NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) OCAO also falls under the DHS oversight and therefore the DHS has oversight of the earliest stages of planning new policies, programs and activities by OCAO.
The DHS states this includes “asset management and of environmental and historic preservation planning and compliance. This is accomplished through integration of environmental justice in the process for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)”.
CRCL supports the mission by securing the Nation and also ensures that individual liberty, fairness and equality under the law are preserved. The CRCL’s role is “to integrate civil rights throughout the Department’s programs, including rights secured by Title VI”. The Executive Order (EO) 12898 of Title VI “prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance”.
Four Other Headquarters Involved
The report also states that there are four other headquarters directly involved that “provide critical support” for the OCAO and CRCL agencies for implementing the DHS Environmental Justice Strategy. These headquarters include:
–> Office of General Counsel: Offers guidance and reviews DHS environmental justice policy and compliance/implementation actions.
–> Management, Office of the Chief Financial Officer: Oversees the administration of grant programs through FAPO (Financial Assistance Policy Office).
–> Intergovernmental Affairs: Establishes and maintains relationship with “state, local and tribal governments to ensure DHS has given adequate consideration of environmental justice issues”.
–> Office of Policy: Ensures DHS policies receive support for “objectives and priorities set forth in the Environmental Justice Strategy”. The agency also provides “a source of integration and analysis of policies, including the context of environmental justice”.
All of these agencies play a role in ensuring that environmental justice is considered in the securing of the homeland without placing “disproportionate burdens on the health and environment of low income populations and minority populations”.
The far-reaching arms of the DHS seem to have grown longer with the EJ mandate as have all of the 17 agencies involved. While the goal may be to provide protection to low-income and minority populations, many opponents contend that EJ adds to big government and emboldens eminent domain laws to infringe on the rights of property owners.
Many claim this is exactly what happened in the case of Andrew Wordes who took his own life in 2009 rather than allow authorities to evict him from his home for keeping chickens in his yard. Known as the “Chicken Man”, this case is often cited when discussions turn to eminent domain and property rights of individuals.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Is the government just trying to save us from ourselves or are they using these laws for more sinister purposes?