Duckworth Demands Answers from EPA on its Cancellation of Environmental Justice Trainings
[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the U.S. Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, today wrote to Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to express concern about the cancellation of environmental justice trainings, a decision that could have severe repercussions on low-income communities, communities of color and Tribal and indigenous communities that often bear the disproportionate burden of pollution that contributes to systemic disparities in access to clean air and water. The EPA halted these trainings in an effort to comply with a new memorandum from the Trump Office of Management and Budget prohibiting federal agencies from engaging in diversity and inclusion trainings that address pertinent race-related topics as well as a Trump Executive Order that further limits federal agencies, the Armed Services, contractors and grant recipients from addressing systemic racism through programs and trainings. The letter also asks the EPA to provide further information on how it is implementing the memorandum and Executive Order (EO). Duckworth was joined by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Co-Founder of the U.S. Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, and U.S. Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA-04), member of the U.S. House of Representative’s United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, on this letter request.
In part, the letter states: “Much of American history has been a fight to achieve our founding ideals of equality and justice for all people. Diversity and anti-racism trainings help Americans better understand our history of race and racism, the impact of that legacy on policy, and to identify tools to correct bias within both policy development and personal decision-making. Contrary to the sentiments expressed in the memorandum and EO, acknowledging our differences and seeking to truly understand the source of these differences is not divisive, but unifying. It helps all Americans, including Federal employees, to foster more inclusive environments and work to eliminate discriminatory behaviors.”
Duckworth co-founded the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus in April of last year to raise awareness of the many environmental and pollution issues that have created public health challenges, which disproportionately impact low income communities and communities of color. The caucus seeks to help those communities advocate for themselves with the federal government by providing expertise and assistance, generating legislation and organizing hearings and events. Duckworth brought Illinois-based environmental justice advocate Celeste Flores as her guest to this year’s State of the Union. She also chaired a Climate Crisis Committee Hearing earlier this month on understanding and addressing the national security risks of climate change.
Full text of the letter included below and here.
Dear Administrator Wheeler,
We write today regarding cancelation of diversity and anti-racism training in the Federal government. We are specifically concerned about the implications these cancelations have on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its mission to advance environmental justice.
On September 4, 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum prohibiting Federal agencies from engaging in diversity and inclusion trainings that address pertinent race-related topics, such as critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, and unconscious bias. This was followed on September 22, 2020 by a White House Executive Order (EO) further limiting Federal agencies, the Armed Services, contractors, and grant recipients from addressing systemic racism through programs and trainings.
The contention of the memorandum and EO that reckoning with a history of systemic racism would be un-American and divisive negates our Nation’s long-standing tradition of progress. Much of American history has been a fight to achieve our founding ideals of equality and justice for all people. Diversity and anti-racism trainings help Americans better understand our history of race and racism, the impact of that legacy on policy, and to identify tools to correct bias within both policy development and personal decision-making. Contrary to the sentiments expressed in the memorandum and EO, acknowledging our differences and seeking to truly understand the source of these differences is not divisive, but unifying. It helps all Americans, including Federal employees, to foster more inclusive environments and work to eliminate discriminatory behaviors.
These directives have particularly worrisome consequences when applied to the EPA, which has a responsibility to address environmental injustice. It is widely recognized that low-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal and indigenous communities bear a disproportionate burden of pollution, and that there are systemic disparities in access to clean air and water. Understanding structural differences is highly relevant to the EPA’s work to ensure equal protection from health hazards, and we are concerned that suspending trainings undermines the Agency’s mission. OMB’s memorandum and the EO are even more perplexing when you consider the previously proposed EPA budget cuts more than half (from $9.5 million to $4.7 million) of the funding for environmental justice enforcement.
Given our concerns with OMB’s memorandum and the EO, we request that EPA provide the following information and respond to the following questions:
- A list of all EPA activities that have been altered or canceled due to the September 4th Directive and September 22nd EO and a detailed reasoning of why the action was necessary for compliance.
- A list of any changes to related Agency policies that are an outgrowth of the September 4th Directive and September 22nd EO, and any structural and personnel changes that resulted.
- How will this guidance affect the recruitment and advancement of people of color within the EPA?
- All documents and communications to the Agency (or that are in the Agency’s possession) from any outside group(s) asking for or supporting these changes.
- All guidance distributed to any office or Agency subunit on these issues or on implementation.
- How does the EPA plan to reconcile these new directives with your promise to more effectively address the needs of communities facing environmental threats?
- How does the EPA plan to eliminate environmental injustice with a decisively smaller budget and without the ability to discuss race?
As our country continues to address the coronavirus pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting members of environmental justice communities, we believe that diversity and anti-racism trainings are needed now more than ever. To write off real differences in outcomes among demographic groups as merely divisive rhetoric represents a reckless refusal to do the job that the American people need and a dangerous minimization of the problem. We await your response. Thank you for your time.
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