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black-studentSince Canada usually follows the US on environmental matters, it’s exciting to see that significant improvements  have begun in US environmental enforcement. US EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has signalled a renewed emphasis on “environmental justice”, the exposure of poor and minority communities to much higher levels of industrial pollution. More generally, she  has promised a much more stringent enforcement policy, and has received the resources to do it. The US EPA enforcement budget is a record $600 million, much of which she is using to increase enforcement staff.

Administrator Jackson is also placing much higher emphasis on transparency in administrative action. A particularly important precedent is being set in a Michigan case dealing with  dioxin contamination caused by Dow Chemical. For example, Jackson has promised to give the public unprecedented access to EPA’s closed-door negotiations with Dow:

We will provide information to all stakeholders about the topics that will be the subject of negotiations with Dow. We will further explain these topics at the upcoming community meeting prior to beginning further negotiations. There are already many useful documents available on EPA’s Web site, including the actual December 2008 proposed agreement and the model agreements that are the basis of the December 2008 proposed agreement. We will also provide progress updates on the Web site during the negotiations. In addition, before the parties sign any agreement, EPA will provide the draft for public review and consider public comments before making a final decision.

We can expect Canadian NGOs and residents of contaminated neighbourhoods to demand the same level of  transparency here.

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