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EPA looks at effects of waste plants on minorities, poor

The agency is reviving a Clinton-era executive order that required federal agencies to consider the effect of their policies on disadvantaged communities

July 27, 2009|Amy Littlefield; Bettina Boxall;

The Environmental Protection Agency is focusing on the effect of hazardous waste recycling plants on minorities and low-income communities.

The move hearkens back to a Clinton-era executive order that required federal agencies to consider the effect of their policies on disadvantaged communities. Although the Bush administration largely ignored the mandate, Obama-appointed EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson has promised to analyze those effects.

Under the Bush administration, hazardous waste recycling plants had a free pass to process more than 1 million pounds of toxic material without federal oversight. In Los Angeles and other areas, such plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities largely populated by non-whites, maps created by Earthjustice show.

Hundreds of hazardous waste recycling facilities in the United States, including 29 in California, have been classified as "damage cases" based on factors such as soil and water contamination that cause lasting health and environmental effects on the areas that surround them.

Earthjustice said the federal agency's decision to consider race and class in relation to hazardous waste plant locations marks a "sea change" for the EPA. But some environmental justice advocates point out that the inequality continues.

For example, coal ash from a spill in east Tennessee in December has been relocated to areas largely populated by African Americans in Alabama and Georgia, said Robert Bullard of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

"Shipping toxic waste to communities of color is not green," Bullard said. "It's mean and it's unjust and some of us think it should be illegal."

-- Amy Littlefield

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California forests reap stimulus funds

National forests in California collected $76.7 million in economic recovery funding this week to pay for an array of building and trail maintenance projects.

The money is part of the latest round of stimulus funding announced by the U.S. Forest Service which will get a total of $1.15 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The $76 million is more than any other state received in this round. It will finance trail repairs and improvements to among other things, picnic areas, sewage facilities and administration buildings.

A solar energy system will be installed at the San Dimas Technology and Development Center.

Earlier awards to California forests included $31.3 million for hazardous fuel projects to reduce the wildfire threat and $25 million for road maintenance and decommissioning.

The Forest Service, which manages more than 190 million acres nationally -- nearly 21 million of them in California -- has a huge maintenance and repair backlog for both roads and buildings.

The agency is so desperate for maintenance funds that a few years ago forests started selling unneeded buildings and sites to raise cash.

-- Bettina Boxall

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Pesticides hurt frogs in Sierra

A new study adds to the evidence that Central Valley pesticide use is jeopardizing Sierra Nevada frog populations. In laboratory experiments, Pacific tree frog and foothill yellow-legged frog tadpoles were exposed to two commonly used agricultural insecticides, chlorpyrifos and endosulfan.

Both proved toxic. Endosulfan, used on fruits and vegetables, was especially damaging to the tadpoles, which developed abnormalities and growth problems, according to a study published in the August edition of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The yellow-legged frog, whose populations are in worse shape than the tree frog, was the more sensitive of the two.

"Exposure to chlorpyrifos and endosulfan poses serious risk to amphibians in the Sierra Nevada Mountains," concluded the study's authors, Donald W. Sparling of Southern Illinois University's Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and Gary M. Fellers of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecology Research Center.

Wind blows pesticide residues from the San Joaquin Valley into the mountains, where the chemicals break down more slowly because of cooler temperatures.

Pesticides have been detected in the Sierra's air, snow and water.

-- Bettina Boxall

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Read more on The Times' environmental blog: www.latimes.com/greenspace.

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