PHOENIX – Poor and minority communities have long suffered from a disproportionate share of harmful environmental problems, such as contaminated water and polluted air.
And one Indiana University associate professor fears those environmental justice issues will only get worse under President Donald Trump.
David Konisky, who researches politics and public policy and focuses on environmental justice issues, said President Barack Obama had started making progress on the issues. But they don’t seem to rank high under the new Trump administration, he said.
“Following the election of president Trump and the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the (Environmental Protection Agency), these positive developments are at risk of being reversed,” he wrote in an article published in The Conversation. “There is a clear signal being sent in the proposed budget.”
Under Trump’s proposed budget, the environmental justice program within the EPA could see a decrease of funding of 78 percent, dropping its financial resources from $6.7 million to $1.5 million, according to an article in The Oregonian.
Konisky told News21 that the proposed move could hurt communities often targeted because of race or socioeconomic status.
When it comes to water quality specifically, Konisky said progress has been uneven – especially for “communities of color or low-income where the investments or the politics” are not evenly spread.
He said while it’s important for the federal government to address environmental justice issues, the states must step up their efforts when the federal government lags.
But it’s not just about the environment, he said.
“It speaks to economics,” he said. “It speaks to social structures. It speaks to politics. And this is frankly what makes it so challenging for an agency like the EPA or a state environmental agency.
“These are public health agencies. It is their mission to protect human health and the environment.”
He said community and nonprofit organizations also play an influential role in advocating for changes in the places that need the most help.
“There is a very active environmental justice community,” Konisky said. “Often these are grassroots neighborhood-based organizations where what they lack in financial resources, they make up for with their commitment and their passion and sort of the social capital that they bring in their organization to fight back.”
Officials should focus on proper implementation and enforcement of policies moving forward, he said. However, he said environmental justice issues tends to be complicated.
“When we have so many different governments who are responsible for that, you are likely to get some differences in outcomes because of implementation strategies,” Konisky said. “I actually think we don’t know enough about what works and what doesn’t work, and that’s something which I think certainly requires more attention.”