March 30, 2011

Environmental Justice in Mississippi

Posted on March 30, 2011 by John Milner

On April 1, 2011, the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources will hold a national symposium on environmental justice and the law at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford, MS. The Symposium will bring together representatives of academia, government, the private bar, nongovernmental organizations, and the corporate sector to discuss the evolution of efforts to more effectively address the conflicts that can arise around industrial facility operations and siting and community needs.

Conflicts regarding facility operations and environmental justice were recently highlighted at the Mississippi Legislature. On January 24, 2011, Rep. Gregory Holloway, Chair of the House Forestry Committee, chaired a hearing at the Mississippi Legislature on environmental justice for affected communities in Mississippi. Holloway called the hearing at the request of Sherri Jones, Coalition of Communities for Environmental Justice.

Jones said she believes Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) failed in its prior assessment of a proposed site because pollutants are still present on the “old” agriculture site. After researching the work of MDEQ across the state, Jones claims that many sites are cleared by MDEQ when, in fact, the sites are still full of harmful pollutants. Tracy McGaugh, Professor of Touro Law Center in New York, explained that she came to Jackson, Mississippi at her own expense in order to help the people in contaminated communities receive the environmental justice they deserve.

Aware of the growing need for transparency and community input, MDEQ has created a new office at the agency, the Office of Community Engagement. The goal of the Office of Community Engagement is to build effective relationships and partnerships with internal and external stakeholders. For example, in 2010, the Office of Community Engagement hosted over 70 face-to-face meetings representing environmental justice communities. The Office of Community Engagement has implemented the “Gulf Coast Environmental Initiative” to ensure environmental justice is considered throughout the natural resource damage assessment process in the state following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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