With the deadline for public comment approaching, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was in Baton Rouge this week to explain and take comments about a plan to get environmental justice concerns better included in federal work.

The draft plan, open for comment until July 7, lays out EPA’s five-year strategy to get environmental justice more integrated in permits, enforcement and other activities.

Environmental justice is the term used to describe getting a more even playing field for communities that have historically found themselves under-represented when industries like landfills, chemical plants or refineries have moved into an area.

Arturo Blanco, director of the Region 6 Office of Environmental Justice, Tribal and International Affairs, explained the draft plan builds on the foundation of previous environmental justice initiatives and includes three main goals. The goals include getting environmental justice better integrated in all EPA work, working with partners to get better results in communities and being able to demonstrate progress.

“Without your help, we’re not going to get there,” Blanco told a small gathering of Louisiana environmental organization leaders Monday.

Wilma Subra, technical advisor for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, outlined some concerns Louisiana groups want to make sure are included, or retained, in the plan. Those recommendations include making sure native people, not just federally recognized tribes, would be part of the process and getting EPA more involved with the programs the states have taken over administrating like the Clean Air Act.

“This has been a huge issue since the early 1980s,” Subra said. “You can have the best regulations, but they don’t exist if they’re not enforced.”

She said the rank and file employees of state Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources are doing their jobs, but at some point up the chain of command, decisions run into politics.

In addition, Subra said too often the environmental impacts of a particular project only focus on one or two elements, when it’s the cumulative impacts that are the greater risk.

Other concerns raised were the need to better quantify the increase cancer incidents some communities say they’re facing, getting better response time to communities when there is a pollution release and for better community involvement.

“Sometimes I think the process is too sanitized,” said Stephanie Anthony, director at the Louisiana Democracy Project based in Baton Rouge. “There may be a process that looks good on paper, but are they efficient.”

Gen. Russel Honore said the local response is something communities that fit into the environmental justice category need. Currently, it takes multiple calls to multiple people to get a response and there has to be a better way.

“We are the chemical corridor in America,” Honore said. “You almost need a sub-office in Louisiana.”

Comments are due July 7, revisions will be made and the hope is the plan will be ready to put into action by the end of summer. More information on the plan and how to comment is available at https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice.

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