Monday, December 27, 2010

Remembering 2010


Norris McDonald

2010 was a very interesting year.  But aren't they all?  This one though, had some very interesting moments.

January included my participation in the Black Enterprise Energy Forum.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson could not attend because she was attending the funeral of Vice President Joe Biden's mother.  Deputy Associate EPA Administrator Stephanie Owens substituted for her.

In February, I presented testimony at the EPA Ozone hearing. I also met with the White House Office of Management and Budget on the fly ash issue.

In April, I presented testimony at the EPA hearing on on natural gas hydraulic fracturing.  I also traveled to South Africa from April 4-April13. I attended a White House Great Outdoors Conference at the U.S. Department of the Interior.  President Obama spoke at the conference.  I participated in an environmental justice listening session sponsored by EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In May, I was a panelist at the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) annual conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I met Exelon CEO John Rowe and discussed the future of nuclear energy with him.  I presented a statement at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) public meeting in Buchanan, New York on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the license renewal for the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.  I present a statement at President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Power. I presented a presentation entitled, "Converting CO2 into Fuel" at the Environmental Justice in America 2010 Conference.

In June, I met with Florizelle Liser, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative, Executive Office of the President.

In July, I gave a statement at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation Cooling Tower Hearing in Buchanan, New York.

In August, I presented a statement at the EPA fly ash hearing. I presented testimony before the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

In September, I visited Port Gibson, Mississippi on the 1st scoping visit for the biomass-to-energy project.  I presented at statement at the EPA greenhouse gas hearing. 

In October, I visited Port Gibson, Mississippi on the 2nd scoping visit for the biomass-to-energy project.

In November, I visited Santa Catalina Island no the 1st scoping visit for a biomass-to-energy project.  I participate as a panelist at the National Black Chamber of Commerce Fall Summit.  We celebrated the Center's 25th anniversary on November 20th.

In December, I visited Port Gibson, Mississippi on the 3rd scoping visit for the biomass-to-energy project.  I participated in a Green DMV home weatherization project in Alexandria, Virginia.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Income Disparities In Asthma Burden and Care In California"

According to a new report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research entitled, "Income Disparities In Asthma Burden and Care In California," asthma is increasing in California. Between 2001 and 2007, the prevalence of asthma increased significantly and by 2007 nearly five million Californians had been diagnosed with this chronic condition. Although asthma occurs among Californians at all socio-economic levels, it disproportionately affects low-income Californians, who miss more days of work and school, are more likely to have frequent asthma symptoms, and are more likely to go to the emergency department or be hospitalized for asthma care.
Key findings of this report include:

Asthma is widespread and increasing in California

• Lifetime asthma prevalence has increased from 11.3% to 13% between 2001 and 2007 among California adults.
• Current asthma prevalence varies considerably by county, ranging from 6% in San Francisco County to 12.9% in Fresno County (among Californians age 1 and over).
 • Lake, Tehama/Glenn/Colusa, Sutter, Yuba, Contra Costa, Solano, Sacramento, Fresno, Kern, Merced,
Madera and San Bernardino counties all had current asthma rates significantly higher than that of the state.

Asthma disproportionately affects vulnerable Californians

• 8.7% of Californians with incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) have current asthma, compared to 7.8% of those with incomes at or above 400% FPL.
• 31.9% of low-income California adults with current asthma experience asthma symptoms at least once a week compared to just 19.3% of their higher-income counterparts.
• Low-income Californians with current asthma are more likely to be children and people of color.

Asthma impacts productivity of low-income Californians

• Low-income children with current asthma miss more than twice as many days of school due to asthma as higher-income children (2.8 vs. 1.3 days).
• Low-income adults with current asthma miss three times as many work days as higher-income adults (2.2 vs. 0.6 days).

Emergency department visits and hospitalizations due to asthma are higher among low-income Californians

• Among families with incomes below 200% FPL, 18.8% of adults and 23.9% of children went to an emergency department or urgent care facility in the past year because of their asthma, compared with just 8.8% and 12.5% of their more affluent counterparts, respectively.
• Hospitalization rates among low-income Californians with current asthma were more than five times higher than the rates among their high income counterparts (6.5% vs. 1% for adults and 5.8% vs. 1.1% for children).

Low-income Californians with asthma are more likely to be uninsured and lack access to appropriate asthma care

• 22.1% of low-income California adults and children with current asthma were uninsured all or part of the past year compared with 4.4% of higher-income Californians.

• Low-income California adults and children with current asthma are less likely to get an asthma management plan than higher-income Californians.
• Low-income Californians are more likely to have no usual source of care and have difficulty understanding their doctor.

Low-income Californians are more likely to encounter risk factors for asthma exacerbation

• Rates of exposure to second-hand smoke are more than three times as high among low-income Californians with current asthma compared to their higher-income counterparts (13.5% vs. 4%).

(UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Executive Summary)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Environmental Justice: A Conference Is NOT Making History


By Norris McDonald

Over about the past two decades, holding environmental justice conferences have been repeatedly described as historic.  I submit that holding a meeting, forum or conference is not making history.  It is holding a meeting, forum or conference.  On any given day in our nation's capital, there are hundreds of meetings, forums and conferences going on.  History is made when Congress passes a law, the president signs a bill into law or the Supreme Court makes a ruling.  The product of Washington, D.C. is the meeting. So although a meeting, forum or conference includes one of the three actions by one of our branches of government, it is not making history. So can we please stop describing virtually every environmental justice conference as somehow 'making history.' I submit that making history, in an environmental justice context, is passing legislation, preventing a minority community from being polluted, cleaning a site that threatens a community or relocating a community out of a toxic area.

Thankfully, the Environmental Justice in America Conference has not described itself as making history in each of its past four years.  It has provided a venue to address national environmental justice issues on an annual basis.  In essence, this private sector initiative has accomplished standardizing the process for addressing the issue.  The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) also provides a government platform for addressing EJ issues.  Another government platform is the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.  It is designed to coordinate the federal government response to environmental justice.  There are many entities addressing environmental justice, but there has been very little actual accomplishment, besides meetings, on the ground.

At the recent White House environmental justice conference, activists expressed frustration with the lack of 'on the ground' progress related to environmental justice.    However, without a national environmental justice law, Executive Branch agencies, the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice (12898) and Title 6 complaints are woefully inadequate in addressing environmental injustice.  AAEA is promoting the Environmental Justice Act of 2011 to address these inadequacies.

There is still much work to be done in addressing environmental justice issues.  I hope we can get more actual results 'on the ground' and maybe that will move us beyond considering conferences as making history.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sarah Palin and Environmental Justice

What is Sarah Palin's position on environmental justice?  She does not currently have a 'position' on the issue. So we can only speculate based on her current political philosophy and her positions on other environmental issues.

She is a self reliance Tea Party conservative and she will probably recommend some sort of private sector accomodation between affected communities and the industries identified as their polluters.  She will also make a cold political calculation as to whether she can flank President Obama on this issue (since it involves minorities and low-income people).  Of course, the easy path would be to take the 'low-income' route.  That way the racial component could be removed.  She has to think that she cannot compete with President Obama on the minority front.  We keep hope alive that she would compete though.  Nothing like good old American competition to get results.  Or she could do what some others do and go the Native American route. Or, the Eskimo route might be amenable to her.

But does she believe there is disparate environmental impacts based on race?  That is the core of the environmental justice issue.  And does she believe government has a role in addressing the disparity?  The White House had an environmental justice forum last week and activists participated from all over the country.  However, without a national environmental justice law, Executive Branch agencies, the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice (12898) and Title 6 complaints are woefully inadequate in addressing environmental injustice.  AAEA is promoting the Environmental Justice Act of 2011 to address these inadequacies.  We welcome the support of President Obama and Sarah Palin.

Governor Palin has some things in common with the environmental justice movement.  Both oppose Cap and Trade.  AAEA supports Cap & Trade and is one of the only entitites that has been consistently supportive of the program.  Palin is tough on Big Oil.  The EJ community would agree.  Palin supports alternative energy production (though she promotes all forms of domestic energy production).  That is clearly a position that is consistent with the EJ community.  Palin's family values could lead her to address the disproportionate asthma rates in minority communities. Her support of nuclear power and hybrid electric vehicles are complementary to mitigating smog.  It might not be a bad idea to lure more minorities to Alaska. There is a lot of land and resources up there and many opportunities.  We hope Sarah Palin will take up environmental justice as a cause.

Give us a call Governor Palin.  Todd Palin can give us a call too.  We would be very happy to discuss this issue with you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Michael Blake

Michael Blake, 27, is the Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement & Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Michael Blake
Blake worked on the Obama for America campaign, first as Deputy Political Director and Constituency Outreach Director in Iowa and as Deputy Director and Political Director in Michigan. Prior to that, Blake was the Director of External Affairs for the Michigan House of Representatives serving in Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon's cabinet. Before that appointment, Blake successfully co-organized three state house campaigns in the 2006 election cycle.

Blake is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism from Northwestern University. He is also an alumnus of the Yes We Can political training program in Washington, D.C. He started his political career as an assistant for Illinois State Senator Jeff Schoenberg. (The White House)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First White House Environmental Justice Forum

Environmental Leaders, Cabinet Secretaries to Participate

On December 15, Obama administration officials will convene the first-ever White House Forum on Environmental Justice. Environmental leaders from across the country will attend the day-long forum featuring EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

This forum will focus on the Obama administration’s commitment to ensuring that overburdened and low-income communities have the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment. The event will bring together environmental justice and community leaders, cabinet members, and senior officials from federal, state, local and tribal governments for a discussion on creating a healthy and sustainable environment for all Americans.

Administrator Jackson also will host an online question-and-answer session to engage with the public on the subject of environmental justice. The White House forum and the question-and-answer session will be streamed live at

Information on the forum agenda is below.

WHO: Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency;

Eric Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice;

Ken Salazar, Secretary, U.S. Department of Interior;

Hilda Solis, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor;

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;

Steven Chu, Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy

Janet Napolitano, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

WHAT: White House Forum on Environmental Justice

WHEN: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. (EST)

WHERE: South Court Auditorium, Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, DC 20500

Questions will be taken from viewers at


10:00 a.m. Opening Plenary Session Lisa Jackson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

10:20 a.m. Green Jobs, Clean Energy Session featuring opening remarks by Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor and Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy

11:40 a.m. Legal Framework for Advancing Environmental Justice Session, featuring opening remarks by Eric Holder. U.S. Attorney General

1:50 p.m. Healthy Communities and Place-based Initiatives Session, featuring opening remarks by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

3:15 p.m. Climate Adaptation Session, featuring opening remarks by Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security

4:25 p.m. Closing Session

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

President Obama Signs Claims Resolution Act of 2010

Bill Provides Billion Dollars for Discrimination Against Black Farmers

Signing Ceremony at the White House
South Court Auditorium
5:34 P.M. EST

Remarks by the President at Bill Signing For The Claims Resolution Act


First, for many years African American farmers claimed they were discriminated against when they applied for federal farm loans -- making it more difficult for them to stay in business and maintain their farms. In 1999, a process was established to settle these claims. But the settlement was implemented poorly and tens of thousands of African American families who filed paperwork after the deadline were denied their chance to make their case.

And that’s why, as senator, I introduced legislation to provide these farmers the right to have their claims heard. That’s why I’m proud that Democrats and Republicans have come together to lay this case to rest. And that’s why I’m proud that Secretary Vilsack and everybody at the Department of Agriculture are continuing to address claims of past discrimination by other farmers throughout our country.

I want to thank once again all those members of Congress. We got a lot of members here -- the Congressional Black Caucus, who I know worked the Pigford issue tirelessly. We’ve got, as I said, Democrats and Republicans who were supportive of this issue for so long. This is one of those issues where you don't always get political credit, but it’s just the right thing to do. And I couldn’t be prouder of you.
President Barack Obama joined by Members of Congress
 and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar,
 and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.,
signs the Claims Resolution Act Bill of 2010
 in the South Court Auditorium of the White House Dec. 8, 2010.
 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

House Passes Claims Settlement Act of 2010

Senate Approves Settlement For Black Farmers

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Darryl Fears: Environment Reporter for The Washington Post

Darryl Fears is reporting on environmental issues for The Washington Post newspaper. Congratulations Mr. Fears.  We are sure you will bring an interesting perspective to environmental reporting.  He is covering the Chesapeake Bay and has published several articles.  We are delighted that the newspaper for our nation's capital is giving this veteran reporter an opportunity to branch out.  We are also delighted that they did not limit him to the designated area for blacks working on environmental and energy issues: weatherization.

Mr. Fears got our attention with his excellent coverage of Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and her No Fear Act saga.  He also did an excellent job in chronicling the final days of Damu Smith, a legend in the environmental justice movement who died of colon cancer in 2006.  We noted during these episodes that these vitally important environmental issues and people would not have received coverage in The Washington Post if Mr. Fears had not stepped up to the plate.  Environmental reporters for The Washington Post simply did not cover environmental issues that involved Black people.  Of course, with the election of President Obama and with Lisa P. Jackson as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Post environmental reporters were forced to start including blacks in their coverage.

Darryl Fears
Darryl Fears covers affordable housing and poverty for The Washington Post. He previously worked on the national desk, covering race, diversity, immigration, politics and criminal justice policy, and helped launch the "Being a Black Man" series.

Before arriving at The Post, Fears worked for the Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal Constitution and Detroit Free Press. He is a graduate of Howard University.  (The Washington Post, DC Wire)