Profile: Environmental Justice Comes Naturally to New EPA Region 9 Administrator


SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 27, 2010 (ENS) – Jared Blumenfeld, the newly appointed director of the U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest region, Region 9, is pledging to make life difficult for polluters, especially those who despoil the environment in underserved and vulnerable communities.

“I will be a tireless advocate for equity,” said Blumenfeld at a roundtable discussion Tuesday. “The quality of your environment cannot be dependent on the color of your skin, the size of your bank account, whether you were born on tribal lands or in a gated community, whether you live on a small island or in a big city. Environmental justice cannot be an afterthought – it must be central to how we think and what we do so that we can offer meaningful assistance to communities that have been left behind.”

His emphasis on environmental justice is part of the Obama administration’s move to focus the agency’s work on these issues.

Promising to utilize all available legal, regulatory, and enforcement tools, and the best available science, to help communities, Blumenfeld said he will work with the central California community of Kettleman City, which has had a cluster of facial birth defects, infant deaths and other health issues.

Blumenfeld affirmed EPA’s commitment to cooperate with state, federal and local partners to assess all of the environmental stressors affecting this rural community of about 1,500 mostly Spanish-speaking residents located off Interstate 5 about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Kettleman City is affected by industrial agriculture and pesticide use, heavy truck traffic, and a chemical waste disposal facility that accepts PCBs. In addition, 600-megawatt power plant is now proposed in the vicinity.

Residents suspect the birth defects are linked to the operations of the Chemical Waste Management facility, which is set to be expanded to take waste from large population centers, including Los Angeles. Residents are suing the Kings County Board of Supervisors challenging its approval of the expansion.

“These families are looking for answers, and collectively as public agencies it is our responsibility to help come up with those answers,” said Blumenfeld. “We are engaging with those agencies and community members in order to understand and address public health and environmental issues in Kettleman City.”

Blumenfeld comes to the job from his position as director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, which provides environmental policy guidance to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors.

An attorney, Blumenfeld was the Director of the San Francisco Department of Environment for eight years from 2002, serving as the primary environmental decision-maker for 28,000 city staff and a $6.5 billion budget. He also managed the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department which oversaw 242 parks and recreational centers like Golden Gate Park, Candlestick Park, and Harding Park PGA golf course. He biked to work most days and earned a reputation as an administrator who understands sustainability on a personal level.

He is a founder of the Business Council on Climate Change, an organization that unites local businesses to confront climate change, and he crafted the city’s plastic-bag ban and mandatory composting laws.

As director of the San Francisco agency, he also focused on environmental justice, working with residents and businesses, other city agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community groups to promote the issues of air quality, food availability, renewable energy systems, sustainable land use, and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

As EPA regional administrator, Blumenfeld’s emphasis on environmental justice is in line with current priorities across the agency. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the first African-American EPA head, has made promoting environmental justice and expanding the conversation on environmentalism one of the seven key priorities of her tenure.

Speaking Monday at the Conference on Environmental Justice, Air Quality, Goods Movement and Green Jobs in New Orleans, where she once lived in a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Jackson said, “for too long, environmentalism has been seen as limited, in many ways, as an enclave for the privileged.”

Jackson said the agency’s role is “to communicate, clearly, the many ways people’s stake in the environment is greater than they may realize.”

Jackson said, “environmental challenges in our neighborhoods hold back economic growth. Poison in the ground means poison in the economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. And unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investments. And in many neighborhoods, visible environmental degradation compounds other problems.”

Blumenfeld said Tuesday that he will “revolutionize” the way the EPA operates by moving resources into “forgotten” areas, including urban communities, the U.S.-Mexico border communities and tribal nations.

His new area of responsibility extends to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and over 140 Tribal Nations.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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