Friday, April 29, 2011

Vilsack: Environmental-justice interests should pay more attention to rural America

Rural areas are too often overlooked in conversations about environmental justice, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the State of Environmental Justice conference in Atlanta Thursday. "Environmental justice is generally defined as the concern that certain communities, especially those with large minority populations, are more likely to be exposed to environmental perils than wealthier and whiter areas," John McArdle and Emily Yehle of Environment and Energy Daily reports. "But often the highest profile battles on that issue are waged in at-risk neighborhoods in major cities or at Superfund sites located near populated urban and suburban areas."

"If anything, I don't think people understand the scope of environmental justice," Vilsack said in an interview after his speech. He said rural issues are overlooked because 84 percent of Americans live in cities and suburbs. "We don't want to forget those 16 percent" in rural communities, he said. The Department of Agriculture has funded 2,575 clean water projects in the last two years to address problems ranging from wastewater treatment to sewage treatment, Vilsack said.

"That tells me there is extraordinary need in rural America for clean water," he told the reporters. "That's all about environment and it's clearly about justice because if you don't have clean water, you don't have economic opportunity and that's so often forgotten." Like many federal programs the Obama administration's efforts to address environmental justice are complicated by the budget situation, Vilsack said. "There is still going to be money in these [environmental justice] programs and the challenge will be for us to make sure that we properly prioritize," he said. (Read more, subscription required)

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