The new EPA administrator in Region 9, Jared Blumenfeld, gave reporters a roundtable conference call today. The words "environmental justice" certainly appeared on the EPA's website before Obama got elected, but they didn't seem to hold the kind of sway Blumenfeld said he intends they will now.
Jared Blumenfeld, back in the SF days. Courtesy EPA.gov
Blumenfeld's brand new on the job. While working for the Department of the Environment in San Francisco, Blumenfeld helped create the city's solar mapping project, "to promote greater public awareness about solar potential in San Francisco and to facilitate greater solar usage among commercial and residential building owners." It'll be interesting to see how his aspirations translate into practice on this larger and more diverse playing field.
He didn't trash the previous administration – though he said enforcement was perhaps their (only) strong suit. And he said, slightly abstractly, that "communities across California and the West have been overpromised and under delivered and we need to do our part. If we can't deliver we shouldn't be promising and setting clear expectations."
Blumenfeld vowed to exercise "legal and moral authority to make sure that not only our agency and other federal agencies but state and local officials and companies seeking permits understand the needs of those communities." For those keeping track at home, moral authority seemed intended to convey an intent above and beyond not only what's been done before.
They're wasting no time. Blumenfeld's opening an investigation into birth defects among migrant workers in Kettleman City, best known to many of you as "that place on the sign on I-5."
Various environmental groups have raised environmental concerns about a dump near Kettleman City since three babies born in 2007 and 2008 died and several more were also born with cleft palates. Last week, those groups sued over the county's decision to permit expansion of that landfill.
Blumenfeld called it a "very vulnerable community at the confluence of large agriculture and pesticide use, heavy truck traffic, a chemical waste facility accepting PCBs and a proposed 600-megawatt power plant." And beyond that, Blumenfeld said, it's a community trying to get heard – which seems to be an additional distinguishing factor for other communities at risk. Something to keep in mind.
[Incidentally, this is an incredible site. I ran across it a few days ago, and I'm looking forward to talking to its creators sometime.]
In our local news, we focused on Imperial Valley & on the I-710 corridor. Blumenfeld spoke a little about the EPA's ability to work with international maritime groups and others to limit pollution and invasive species in harbors. It'll be interesting to see how far those conversations can go. You know, now that we're having them.