Saturday, February 04, 2012

DOE EJ Conference: Is It Needed?


By Norris McDonald

John Rosenthall and Melinda Downing are the principals behind the two environmental justice conferences scheduled for April.  Rosenthall originated and coordinated The Environmental Justice in America conferences for the past five years.  Downing is the U.S. Department of Energy's Environmental Justice Program Manager.  DOE also contributed to the Rosenthall coordinated EJ conference.  The two evidently 'parted ways' sometime last year and Downing apparently decided to organize a separate EJ conference the week after the original conference in April.

I have some questions and concerns about this situation.  Full disclosure: Rosenthall is an old friend and Downing is a professional acquaintance.  How and why did DOE decide to hold a competing conference?  Is the DOE conference an attempt to eliminate the original conference?  Although we cannot have enough EJ conferences, will it be a good thing if the DOE EJ conference ends up replacing the original EJ conference?  Is the DOE EJ conference the decision of one individual?  Should DOE funding be used to eliminate a grassroots EJ conference? 

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) that was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more or less replaced the grassroots organized environemental justice conferences (1992 and 2002).  It was not until Rosenthall organized The State of Environmental Justice In America Conference 2007 that the grassroots produced an annual conference.  The U.S. Department of Energy was one of other federal agencies to cosponsor and provide financial support for the grassroots EJ conference.  Now, evidently because she no longer chooses to work with Mr. Rosenthall, Downing commissioned a separate EJ conference. 

Is this efficient?  Will this be effective?  Is this the best use of government funds.  Will this give the DOE a bad image in the EJ community? Is this the way to demonstrate private sector job creation?  Two competing environmental justice conferences?  Can Rosenthall compete with a multibillion dollar federal agency?  Will other federal agencies support both conferences or eventually decide to just support the DOE EJ conference? 

I simply think it is the height of folly if a government employee's whim could lead to the demise of what has been a very successful environmental justice conference.

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