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Re: E-M:/ Environmental Justice in Michigan



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Enviro-Mich message from "Mark Richardson" <Mark.Richardson@co.macomb.mi.us>
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Tom:  This is a very fine letter.  Gov. Granholm has pledged to revitalize urban communities in the context of her land use strategy.  Surely, revitalization includes assuring acceptable environmental conditions in these communities.  Thanks.  Mark 

>>> "Tom Stephens" <tstephens@sugarlaw.org> 12/05/03 02:19PM >>>
December 3, 2003

 

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm                    Director Steven E. Chester
P.O. Box 30013                                                                      Michigan DEQ

Lansing, Michigan 48909                                                    Constitutional Hall

                                                                                                525 West Allegan

                                                                                                Lansing, Michigan 48913

 

AN OPEN LETTER 
REGARDING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IN MICHIGAN
 

Dear Governor Granholm and Director Chester:

 

            We are writing to call your attention to the deplorable, lack of meaningful policies or enforceable rules regarding issues of environmental justice in the State of Michigan.  We ask that you exercise your authority to take immediate actions to correct this deficiency.  We respectfully submit that continued inaction regarding the vital social issues of environmental injustice and environmental racism, an emerging area of modern civil rights law that demands the focused and systematic attention of responsible leadership, and serves the interests of neither the people nor the ecology of the State of Michigan.  Rather, Michigan should follow the example of other states such as California, New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey, by beginning to proactively develop environmental justice policies.  The continued lack of standards and policies designed to achieve environmental justice is intolerable from the standpoint of our society's evolving sense of minimum standards of justice, fairness, and decency.  Three major points about the current status, historical background, and necessary measures for moving toward the goal of environmental justice should be made:

 

1.       On September 30, 2003, in a long awaited decision in the case of 

Lucero v. Detroit Public Schools (the "Beard School" case),[1] the US District Court in Detroit affirmed that the legal and constitutional basis for environmental justice is alive and well.  The Court denied the Detroit Public Schools' motion to dismiss one of the only remaining federal environmental justice cases in the country.   The Court held that the Plaintiffs (students assigned to attend a newly constructed elementary school built on a known contaminated industrial waste site), stated valid legal claims under two federal civil rights laws: First, that the Federal Regulations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[2] are enforceable through the private cause of action created by the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 USC 1983; and second, that there is a viable cause of action under the substantive Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment for the violation of the Plaintiffs' right to personal security and bodily integrity.



        Three years ago, the Detroit Public Schools elected to build Beard School (now renamed the Roberto Clemente Academy) - one of the first newly constructed elementary schools in Detroit in decades -- on a contaminated site.  The school is located in the most highly concentrated Latino community in southeast Michigan, disproportionately affecting primarily Hispanic- and African-American children.  Parents in the community were outraged that the Detroit Public Schools elected to house their children on a former industrial site heavily contaminated with arsenic, lead PCBs, TCE and other toxins.  The recent decision is important to the people and to the children of Detroit, because it affirms the existence of legal protection for them from excessive and disparate environmental contamination where they live, work and play.

            

            In his previous role as lead counsel for the Defendant Detroit Public Schools in this case, DEQ Director Chester filed and actually argued in Court the Motion to Dismiss that has now recently been denied.  In his argument, Director Chester repeatedly stressed the position that issues of environmental racism and injustice should properly be addressed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  After the election of 2002, Governor Granholm and Director Chester are now in a position to actually do something about such situations, by promulgating, adopting and implementing meaningful environmental justice policies and enforceable standards.  Such historic measures are long overdue.  They would truly put the Great Lakes State in the forefront of contemporary efforts to preserve the quality of the natural and human environment for all people, to provide the courts with objective and meaningful guidance in resolving inevitable disputes, and to introduce much needed requirements of social justice into the procedures employed by Michigan government for achieving environmental quality and protection.  We respectfully suggest that the continued absence of such policy statements from the highest levels of Michigan government and from the top leadership of the traditional environmental movement is an indictment of the goals and vision of environmental protection in Michigan in the 21st century.  In terms of environmental justice, it is high time for responsible public officials to do the right thing.

 

2.       Unfortunately, as every Michigander who is knowledgeable regarding

issues of environmental justice and environmental racism knows all too well, the environmental justice record of the previous administration in Michigan under your predecessors, former Governor Engler and Director Harding, was a disgrace.  Time after time, they tried to sabotage the EPA's process of developing draft environmental justice guidelines, and they virtually eliminated meaningful public participation in the state's environmental permitting process, thus planting the seeds of future civil rights complaints.[3]  

 

            Especially in light of the previous administration's deplorable record on environmental justice issues, the development of meaningful environmental justice policies under the current state leadership is an extremely urgent matter of public policy, with widespread, deep and long-term implications for the ecology, economic development, social welfare, and political vitality of our State.

 

                        3.     No single group of people, and particularly no group identifiable by race, ethnicity, economic class, or social standing, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences from industry, commerce, or government actions and policies. Racial minorities and low-income people bear the brunt of pollution.  Environmental justice (EJ) refers to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people - no matter what race, color, national origin, or income level - in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.  It addresses environmental racism and injustice by preventing environmental harm before it occurs.   EJ issues cannot be addressed without first confronting racism.  Many of the differences in environmental quality between minority communities and non-minority communities result from institutionalized racism.  Environmental racism refers to any policy, practice, or directive (whether intended or unintended) that adversely affects individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color.  People of color are disproportionately affected by severe environmental pollution and too often live under totally unacceptable environmental conditions, that would never be tolerated by responsible state or local authorities in non-minority, middle class communities. 

 

We look forward to working with officials of your administration, toward the day when the environmental protection policies of the State of Michigan will truly provide Equal Protection of the Laws to all people.              

 

Very truly yours,

 

______________________                            ______________________

Julie H. Hurwitz                                                Thomas W. Stephens

Executive Director                                                Of Counsel



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[1] United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, No. 01-CV-72792-DT, September 30, 2003 (Hon. Denise Page Hood)  The undersigned serve as Plaintiffs' counsel in this case.

[2] Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination by any entity, including DEQ, that receives federal funds.

[3] Indeed, the environmental policies of the previous administration were so bad and unpopular that they played a significant role in the election of Governor Granholm, and they extended far beyond the area of environmental justice.  For further detail, see "Dereliction of Duty; How the Department of Environmental Quality Endangers Public Health," October 5, 2000.



    
Tom Stephens
Guild/Sugar Law Center
733 St. Antoine, 3rd Floor
Detroit, Michigan 48226 USA
(313) 962-6540
(Fax) (313) 962-4492
tstephens@sugarlaw.org


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