Floor Statement by Congresswoman Pelosi

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Environmental Justice and Earth Day 1999

April 22, 1999

The environment we live in is not color blind, and yet much of the earth's pollution has settled on low-income and minority communities. This is the injustice to poor communities, already economically depressed, who are treated to yet another layer of impoverishment from the pollution that degrades their health, economic welfare and quality of life. These communities have a right to a clean and healthy environment just like all others in our society. Nevertheless, these communities have been left behind in the environmental movement. Next month, we will hold a Symposium on this issue.

Earth Day 1999 -- the last one we will witness in this century -- is an opportunity for all of us to try to end this type of discriminating pollution in this century. The impact on children in these communities can be devastating. This doll -- called a "Wasted Baby" -- represents a sick child. Mothers and grandmothers make these dolls in a Texas community to educate the public about the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals coming from hazardous waste facilities. Their children have suffered and this is a tangible way for them to tell the world.

Because of this concern and our responsibilities in Congress, I requested, along with other members here today, a General Accounting Office (GAO) study to review the federal data on environmental health and make recommendations to improve the collection, analysis, and accessibility of information. We asked the GAO study to focus on the disproportionate environmental health impacts on lower income communities and communities of color.

Some of my colleagues joined me, also, in sending a letter to Vice President Gore asking the Administration to increase the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to employ trained staff with a background in civil rights. This action would signal minority communities plagued by the pollution that undermines the health of their children and their hopes for economic opportunity that the federal government works to ensure that all civil rights are respected.

Environmental Justice will be a central human rights issue of the next century. It is also an issue of social equity. Of all children, those from lower income families face the greatest environmental health risks. A community that preserves its environmental health also provides the foundation for a healthy, stable society.

Earth Day reminds us that everyone has the right to live in an environment free of deadly pollutants and toxic waste, and every child has a right to be born free of exposure to toxic chemicals.

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