Can a New EPA Database Reduce Environmental Injustice?
The New York Times reported yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out a new database that slices and dices demographic statistics like poverty and infant mortality rates along with an index of “pollution events.” The aim is to pinpoint communities bearing an unfair proportion of health problems related to environmental ones.
It’s been dubbed an “environmental justice initiative.” But it’s more about identifying places with the most environmental injustices. In communities already saddled with lots of pollution, the database could supply local activists with ammunition to block new power plants, garbage dumps, oil and gas depots, etc.
The story notes gaps in knowledge and scientific study that could undermine the tool’s usefulness. That doesn’t bode well for a related question: Will the EPA ranking system be precise and compelling enough to bolster grassroots legal challenges over such things as air pollution, contaminated water supplies and so-called “cancer clusters.” Increasingly, such suits are landing in courts in this country and abroad but judges and juries haven’t always bought arguments tying, say, a town’s cancer rate and a particular factory’s emissions.