EPA creates new office to advance environmental justice initiatives : NPR

Forty years after Warren County, N.C., residents marched to a landfill to try to stop dump trucks, the EPA is creating an office for advancing environmental justice. (Aired on ATC on Oct. 3, 2022.)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There’s a new office in the Environmental Protection Agency dedicated to environmental justice and civil rights. Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, says this office is needed to elevate the fight for poor, overlooked communities of color. If you think about this, it’s very often that a poor neighborhood is next to a factory or some other industrial site, just to give an example. Regan announced its launch in Warren County, N.C., the birthplace of the environmental justice movement. Leoneda Inge of member station WUNC reports.

LEONEDA INGE, BYLINE: It’s been 40 years since a small Black rural community stood up and laid down in the middle of the road to stop trucks from dumping PCB-contaminated dirt in their landfill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The protesters were told not to block the trucks. They are now lying in the streets now, blocking one truck moving on to the landfill. They’re refusing an order to move, and they are being arrested one by one.

INGE: In September 1982, the first group of Warren County residents would meet at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and walk the 2 miles to the landfill to try to stop the dump trucks. The story has been told several times in documentaries and on PBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We will not allow Warren County to become a dump site.

INGE: Dollie Burwell was a wife and a working mother in her 30s back then. Burwell was arrested at least five times for protesting the environmental injustice. She said it was clear her community was targeted because it was Black, poor and politically powerless. Today, Burwell is 74 years old and is often called the mother of the environmental justice movement. She recently retraced her steps to the landfill.

DOLLIE BURWELL: I was not trying to create a movement, really wasn’t. And – but to see, 40 years later, young people still fighting for environmental justice – I’m good to go now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL REGAN: I could not be prouder to announce that today, EPA is creating a new national office charged with advancing environmental justice and external civil rights.

(APPLAUSE)

…(read more).

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