The Environmental Protection Agency's environmental justice policy is having ``a terrible effect on economic opportunity'' by delaying such projects as Shintech Inc.'s proposed PVC plant in Louisiana, according to a top-ranking U.S. Chamber of Commerce official.
``Who wants this `justice' that deprives low-income workers and minorities good-paying jobs, a solid tax base in their communities, and investment?'' Thomas Donohoe, chamber president and chief executive officer, said in an Earth Day-related speech at stops April 21-24 in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco; Mobile, Ala.; and Dayton, Ohio. ``This is not justice—it's economic, social and environmental insanity,'' he said. ``Businesses will be left with no other option than to move jobs and opportunities out of the areas that need them the most.''
Meantime, Greenpeace representatives and Louisiana residents who live near the proposed Shintech plant met April 29 with members of Congress and the White House, pressing their claim that the site's location discriminates against African-Americans.
The Shintech plant — a $700 million project that would create 165 permanent jobs — has been delayed since environmental groups claimed its emissions would harm the Convent, La., area and its residents, most of whom are low-income minorities. Donohoe said manufacturing ventures in Chicago and Philadelphia also have been postponed by similar challenges.
Donohoe also used his Earth Day tour to make several requests of the federal government in its handling of environmental issues that affect businesses. Those included setting clear and realistic goals, using only the best science and most-effective technologies when making decisions, and asking federal regulators to view state and local government and the private sector as allies, not adversaries.
This final request ``requires a shift in the Washington-knows-best attitude,'' Donohoe said.
A new EPA procedure unveiled in February allows individuals in low-income or minority areas to file lawsuits against state and local governments related to environmental justice issues. The procedure also allows the EPA to require companies in such areas to limit the effects of their industry on the environment.
This policy, according to Donohoe, contradicts efforts made by Congress in the past decade to create empowerment zones and enterprise communities to help minorities and welfare recipients get into private-sector jobs.
EPA officials in Washington could not be reached for comment.
Greenpeace officials said they got support from Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., William Jefferson, D-La., John Lewis, D-Ga., Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. The group met with officials from the administration's Council on Environmental Quality and the President's Initiative on Race, according to Damu Smith, Greenpeace's southern regional representative.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said at an April 30 Greenpeace news conference that he planned to write a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner. It is ``almost like an iron law'' that dangerous plants are put in poor communities, he said.
But he stopped short of saying what he would do if the EPA allows the plant to be built. ``I haven't crossed that bridge yet,'' he said.
Greenpeace officials said an EPA decision is expected in June.
Plastics News Washington-based reporter Steve Toloken contributed to this story.