Biden’s Environmental Justice Initiative is Especially Beneficial to New Jersey

NJ State Senator Mike Doherty says that President Donald Trump made a good decision to call off an air strike on Iran.

Throughout my seven decades of life, like most participants in the political process, I have at various points changed my thinking on key issues.  I have always taken inspiration from the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  This has resulted in my willingness to read works taking positions with which I disagree and keeping an open mind.

There is one issue, however as to which I have maintained a firm and unwavering position.   It is my commitment to combat systemic racism against African-Americans, which has existed since they first arrived in America as slaves in 1619.

The most widely discussed manifestations of systemic racism in America today are racist voter suppression and police brutality.  Environmental racism, however, is the manifestation of systemic racism which has done the most serious and long-lasting damage to its victims.

And the existence of environmental racism is impossible for anybody to deny, perhaps even for New Jersey State Senator Mike Doherty, who gave a remarkably offensive and inappropriate speech on 9-11 denying the existence of systemic racism.

“Environmental racism” can best be defined as the disproportionate environmental harm to people of color resulting from governmental practices, including 1) the carrying out of governmental functions or 2)  the permission of government given to private industry to carry out environmental practices that are deleterious to the health of the residents of abutting African-American neighborhoods.  “Environmental justice” refers to policies that have as their objective the elimination of environmental racism.

The most prominent example of environmental racism in the course of governmental projects involves the siting of garbage disposal incinerator projects and municipal landfills near African -American neighborhoods, and conversely, the siting of parks and recreational areas near white neighborhoods.  This is an all-too common practice in American cities.

The archetypal example of a governmental public servant environmental racist was Robert Moses, the autocrat who dominated New York City in the mid-20th Century.  Full disclosure:  I do have a personal animus towards Moses, resulting from his forcing my all-time favorite sports team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles as a result of his obstructing the Dodger plans to build a new stadium for themselves in Brooklyn.

But the more serious reason for my anathema to Moses was his construction of expressways like the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which cut through and destroyed African-American neighborhoods in the South Bronx.  The health of the remaining African-American residents was adversely affected by the noise and deteriorated air quality resulting from the Expressway vehicular traffic.

Moses was the quintessential racist urban planner, and his indifference to the welfare of the citizens of color in the path of his expressway bulldozers was replicated by other urban planners throughout America.  I always recommend to classes I teach on state and local government the Robert Caro biography of Moses, The Power Broker.

The environmental racism practiced by private businesses abutting African-American neighborhoods involves permission of government to both use toxic chemicals in the production process and release pollutants into the air and water.  Environmental racism results in fossil-fueled power plants and refineries being disproportionately located in black neighborhoods, leading to poor air quality and in the present era putting African-Americans at higher risk for the Coronavirus.

This environmental harm to our citizens of color from toxics like lead results in damage to their genetic system, impairing not only their mental and intelligence functions but those of their offspring as well.  This was conclusively documented by the renowned scientific journalist, Harriet Washington in her 2019 landmark book, A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind.

My service as United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Regional Administrator in the administration of George W. Bush heightened my sensitivity to environmental racism.  Among my activities in this regard were 1) the reopening of the cleanup of a Superfund toxic waste dump abutting a community of color, a cleanup that had never been properly completed; and 2) the closure of a filthy urban coal-fired plant whose air pollution was causing asthma in children.

Given New Jersey’s large African-American population and its substantial proportion residing in urban areas, environmental justice will continue to be a leading issue in New Jersey.

There has never been a more anti-environmental presidential administration than that of Donald Trump.  He came into office with the desire to abolish the EPA, and his racism made him totally adverse to any concept of environmental justice.  Under Trump, EPA, with its massive deregulation, became a tool of the leading polluters of America.  Trump’s status as a climate science denier makes him totally unfit to meet the challenges of the future resulting from climate change, including the massive fires presently on the West Coast, the major increase in flooding expected next summer on the East Coast, and the hurricanes in the South.

By contrast to Trump, Joe Biden has had a long and intense commitment to the environment.  It was a surprise to nobody when he recently proposed his two-trillion-dollar climate change proposal, with its emphasis on infrastructure and clean energy.

In itself, the enactment of the climate change proposal is essential for New Jersey’s environmental future.  The continuously rising sea level due to climate change threatens New Jersey’s shore towns with the most destructive floods in the state’s history.  The Biden proposal plus effective international cooperation is the only hope for America averting destructive fire and floods from coast to coast.

And the two-fold environmental justice component of the proposal is of special benefit to the Garden State.  First is the establishment of an environmental and climate office at the US Justice Department.  Having worked with Justice Department attorneys on environmental justice matters, I can emphatically say that they are the best in the field.

Second, the initiative entitles disadvantaged communities to receive 40 percent of all clean energy and infrastructure benefits.  It is virtually a certainty that many New Jersey communities will qualify.

The administration of Governor Phil Murphy has had a clear and unwavering commitment to environmental justice.  With the election of Joe Biden this November and the enactment of his climate change proposal early next year, Phil Murphy will have a well-funded environmental justice federal partner.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

Listen to Alan’s most recent podcast:

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  • Kathleen Demarest

    True, Alan Steinberg.
    I am an ardent believer of environmental justice.
    As a former educator of primary school children (40 years),
    I care deeply about the health of the children of our state and of our country
    I would like to add: where are the animal factory farms located?
    They are located in rural areas near the homes of low income residents.
    The air quality and stench of the waste lagoons are so pervasive,
    so overpowering the children can not play out doors.
    When you are struggling to survive, you do not have the energy
    or the power to combat this outrageous injustice.

    I, also, highly recommend Harriet A. Washington’s book on
    Environmental Racism..

  • De rebbeh

    On a day in which the world was turned upside down, the day that Donald J. Trump, to whom Alan Steinberg owes his life, did what no other American president was able to do in the previous 68 years, which was to bring us actual, real life, heretofore impossible Middle East peace, Mr. Steinberg, who supposedly loves Jews and Israel (but not really), diverts his dwindling audience toward another anti-Trump screed of lies, this time on the environment. I have to give him credit, though, he’s still hanging on to his prediction of a Biden election, although the PhD candidates in psychology who are following Mr. Steinberg on the road to Trump’s victory for their doctoral thesis have taken note that he no longer refers to it as a “landslide.” That’s a start. Although it would be more appropriate to talk today about the prospects of a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump, let’s descend into the Steinberg morass for a moment to briefly point out that (1) the Biden climate proposal is in fact the AOC climate proposal, i.e., the Green New Deal, which will bring our economy and life to a screeching halt. Which is in fact the objective. (2) The wildfires out West are simply the result of decades of forest management negligence by Democrats, at the insistence of those same climate radicals. Want proof? All the wildfires occurring right now in Washington STOP DEAD at the Canadian border. What? There’s no climate change in Canada? (3) Climate nut-jobs who went hysterical after Hurricane Katrina, claiming these will get more frequent and more violent, have yet to explain why there was not a single hurricane that hit the US mainland for the next 10 years. Oh wait, never mind, I know the answer – the same reason for extraordinarily COLD weather some winters – it’s the result of climate change! Isn’t it nice to own every result? Heads I win, tails you lose!

    Alan’s Uncle Alter, heroic veteran, is looking down and wondering how his beloved nephew, who only four years ago supported the supposed climate denier Ted Cruz for president, joined the very forces of fascism Alter was fighting against in WWII.

  • Bruce Todd

    If one looks at the cities that have been the recent centers of rioting, higher rates of Coronavirus infections and deaths, unemployment, rampant death by addiction and gunfire, they were all former industrial centers where people had flocked to for the high wage skilled and semi-skilled jobs that could afford them and their families upward mobility. Gone for the most part are the Kennedy type Democrats whose calls for the New Frontiers of Space to be conquered by rapid technological innovation and application. Leaving that type of identity behind and trying to replace it with windmills and solar, can neither power us to the Moon and Mars, nor sustain growth, nor develop here on Earth that which will require the energy-flux density that only advanced nuclear and thermonuclear energy can supply. Failing to massively invest in infrastructure for decades has left us with deteriorated bridges and tunnels that alone if put end to end, would cross the country three times. A 21rst Century high speed rail system of at least the level of a required 40,000 miles, means trillions of capital investment, instead of continuing to bail out another financial crash now estimated to be a bubble today of more than several magnitudes greater than what bowled the world over in 2007-2008. This among other pressing issues like our military industrial complex spokesmen like Mike Pompeo, who seem to relish “Going Abroad To Look For Monsters” as President John Quincy Adams identified as the War Party of his day, now instead requires our and other nations Presidents and Leaders to adjourn through the United Nations or other forums to meet and sit and discuss the relevant solutions.

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