endenvironmentalracismOn the first day of the E.J. fellowship, we got a crash course on the subject by Johns Hopkins University professor Eileen McGurty, author of the book, “Transforming Environmentalism: Warren County, PCBs and the Origins of Environmental Justice.”

In 1978, residents of the predominately black Warren County in North Carolina were devastated when they learned that the state planned to build a landfill in their community to hold forty thousand cubic yards of soil that was contaminated with PCBs from illegal dumping. The community responded to the state’s plans with a four-year resistance, ending in a month of protests with over 500 arrests from civil disobedience and disruptive actions.

“This was the first time national civil rights groups protested an environmental issue,” McGurty said. “Environmental justice shouldn’t be a luxury, it is a right. But back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this was a new concept.”

Today, there are calls again to make the green movement “black” again.

From L.A. Watts Times

…But there is another trend, too. Black is the new green. The American environmental elite is an increasingly racially diverse place.

President Barack Obama appointed sister Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He tapped grassroots, green-jobs brother Van Jones as special adviser to the White House. And his Labor Secretary, Hilda L. Solis, is a Latina with a record of championing green jobs and environmental justice. Black women like Majora Carter and Beverly Wright are at the forefront of regional environmental advocacy. And in his chairmanship of the National Wildlife Federation, Jerome Ringer has integrated even the conservation arm of environmentalism, which is historically devoid of racial minority leadership.

Even the first lady is encouraging kitchen-table environmentalism with her advocacy of local organic food and home-based gardening.

With this growing diversity of green leadership, it is harder than ever to claim that America’s racial minorities care little about environmental issues. For decades, ordinary citizens of color have become environmental activists when they organized to resist the toxic waste dumps in their neighborhoods, to force regulation of polluting industries in fence-line communities, and to bring attention to the negative health impact of particulate emissions near their homes.

But these largely decentralized, locally led movements were rarely understood as central to the conservation and climate-change environmentalism that dominated federal policy and the national imagination. So despite their efforts, the contributions of black, brown and poor communities have often been ignored in the story of a greening America.

The diverse new environmental leadership certainly changes this, but it remains to be seen whether a more racially diverse leadership creates a different kind of American environmentalism…

Despite President Obama’s efforts to make the country more sustainable, one of the first major complaints about his green policy seems to be coming from other black environmentalists.

From African American Environmentalist Association:

The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) say Barack Obama led the charge last year to pass a bill allowing black farmers to seek new discrimination claims against the Agriculture Department when he was a senator. NBFA also says that as president, his administration so far is acting like it wants the potentially budget-busting lawsuits to go away. John Boyd, right, head of the National Black Farmers Association, which has organized the lawsuits cannot figure out why the president wouldn’t want to implement a bill that he fought for as a U.S. senator. NBFA notes that Congress has bailed out Wall Street auto makers and America’s top banks.

At issue is a class-action lawsuit known as the Pigford case. Thousands of farmers sued USDA claiming they had for years been denied government loans and other assistance that routinely went to whites. The government settled in 1999 and has paid out nearly $1 billion in damages on almost 16,000 claims. Farmers, lawyers and activists like Boyd have worked for years to reopen the case because thousands of farmers missed the deadlines for participating. Many said the filing period was too short and they were unaware of the settlement until it was too late. The cause gained momentum in August 2007 when Obama, then an Illinois senator, introduced Pigford legislation about six months into his presidential campaign. Although the case was hardly a hot-button political issue, it had drawn intense interest among African-Americans in the rural South. The proposal won passage in May as sponsors rounded up enough support to incorporate it into the 2008 farm bill.

The potential budget implications were huge: It could easily cost $2 billion or $3 billion given an estimated 65,000 pending claims. With pressure to hold down costs, lawmakers set an artificially low $100 million budget. They called it a first step and said more money could be approved later. But with 25,000 new claims and counting, the Obama administration is now arguing that the $100 million budget should be considered a cap to be split among the successful cases. The position — spelled out in a legal motion filed in February and reiterated in recent settlement talks — would leave payments as low as $2,000 or $3,000 per farmer. Boyd, with Senator Obama at left, noted that Obama’s legislation specifically called for the new claimants to be eligible for the same awards as the initial lawsuit, including expedited payments of $50,000 plus $12,500 in tax breaks that the vast majority of the earlier farmers received…

Developing story…