U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Raúl Grijalva hosted a panel discussion this week about environmental justice issues in New Mexico. Local speakers discussed a wide range of environmental issues during the panel, which was held in support of the Environmental Justice for All Act currently sitting in the House Natural Resources Committee.
“Race, poverty and the environment are increasingly recognized as interlocking issues,” said panelist Richard Moore, coordinator of the Albuquerque-based Los Jardines Institute. Moore described environmental racism as “the intentional targeting of communities of color and other communities for anything that they [wealthier communities] don’t want in their neighborhoods.”
“Low-income communities, especially people of color, are impacted by toxic pollution,” Moore said. “Children, the elderly and women—especially women of color—are paying the highest price from pollution as a result of increased work and health problems, and economic devastation.”
Haaland said COVID-19 pandemic has “put a spotlight on the legacy of environmental racism and injustice that has left frontline communities far more susceptible to that disease than others.”
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“For years, powerful elites have treated some communities as sacrifice zones.
Given how President Donald Trump has taken aim at the Environmental Protection Agency with regulatory rollbacks and deep proposed budget cuts, it may come as no surprise that the Office of Environmental Justice is on the chopping block. This tiny corner of the EPA was established 24 years ago to advocate for minorities and the poor, populations most likely to face the consequences of pollution and least able to advocate for themselves. It does so by acting as a middleman, connecting vulnerable communities with those who can help them. It heads a group that advises EPA officials about injustices and another that brings together representatives from other federal agencies and the White House to swap proposals. When it works, all the talk leads to grants, policies and programs that change lives.
After more than a decade of freelancing for magazines, newspapers and radio, I’m settling down. Beginning this month, readers of NM Political Report will start seeing more news stories about water, environmental justice, public lands, wildlife, nuclear waste, climate change and energy. As much as I have loved working with different editors and teams over the years, I am relieved that NM Political Report has decided it needs to be covering statewide environmental issues regularly. During a time when issues like climate change, water and environmental regulations have become increasingly important, newspapers nationwide have cut their science and environment beats. On top of that, strapped newsrooms often don’t have the resources—or the subscribers—to justify covering issues that are so important to rural communities.