Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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Environmental Justice Must Be Considered in Every Decision, Says EPA Administrator

Dilshanie Perera

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and 1986 Princeton alumna Lisa Jackson discussed the future of environmentalism during her lecture at the Woodrow Wilson School on Princeton University’s campus last Friday.

A recipient of a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University, Ms. Jackson had previously worked for the EPA, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, as well as serving as chief of staff to Governor Jon Corzine before being nominated to head the EPA by President Barack Obama on December 15, 2008. She is the first African American to lead the agency.

Having grown up in the Upper Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Ms. Jackson began her talk with a description of Hurricane Katrina as “one of the worst environmental disasters this country has seen,” noting that “many of the people hit hardest by it were African American, or poor, or both.”

Other issues related to the environment and people’s lives (for instance, lead in the soil, or toxic chemicals in the water) plague a number of places across the country, Ms. Jackson reported, adding that disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected.

“We cannot stand by and let these injustices occur any longer,” Ms. Jackson said. “We need to elevate environmental justice, and spread it out so it’s a mainstream, bipartisan issue.”

In matters of the environment, Ms. Jackson observed that “we need to push for the right to let science have its say before politics,” adding, “We need to rise above partisanship. If we’re slipping in the polls, we can’t ask clean air to wait.”

Advocating for a shift in how we consider the environmental movement, Ms. Jackson said that it is “not just about protecting the wilderness, or saving the ice caps, but about protecting people where they live, and where we live. We have to meet people where they are.”

“We have to go to every community,” she said, emphasizing that “issues of environmental protection are their issues. Our work is their work.”

A new, inclusive approach to environmentalism is essential to achieving the changes necessary to improve the environment and the quality of people’s lives, according to Ms. Jackson. “I get as many letters from people in so-called ‘red states’ as I do from people in so-called ‘blue states,’” she noted, saying “I don’t expect all of our support to come from people who label themselves as environmentalists.”

As for the current fiscal climate, Ms. Jackson observed that “our economic future and our environmental future are inextricably linked.” Green jobs need to be created in places where “both the ‘green’ and the ‘job’ are absolutely vital,” she added.

Characterizing environmental protection as a “force multiplier,” Ms. Jackson said that sound environmental policy and practice benefits other aspects of society including education, health, the economy, and communities. Likewise, she noted that unchecked pollution, or litter that is not addressed, can only lead to more pollution and litter.

“No one owns the term ‘environment’ anymore,” Ms. Jackson remarked. “Environmental justice is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins; we need to factor it into every decision.”

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