It’s day 42 of my365 Days of Living Deliberately blog, and it is the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898 – Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. According to EPA, Executive Order 12898 “was issued by President William J. Clinton in 1994. Its purpose is to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.”

Additionally, “The E.O. directs federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law. The order also directs each agency to develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice. The order is also intended to promote nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information and public participation.”

I know that this Executive Order 12898 has benefited many communities in the U. S., but what I learned from direct experience with the Warren County PCB landfill debacle is that this executive order didn’t apply.  In fact, when it comes to environmental justice for the county that is credited with having launched the environmental justice movement, not only has there been no justice, but there has been outright obstruction of justice, and this obstruction has occurred by state and EPA officials with the help of local officials and politicians, particularly Dollie Burwell, who served as Warren County’s Democratic Register of Deeds, as a Field Representative to Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Eva Clayton, to U.S. Congressman Frank Ballance (who served four years in jail for fraud and more), and to U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield for whom she still works.

During part of the decade-long PCB landfill cleanup process, as Dollie Burwell served as a co-chair of the Joint Warren County/State PCB Landfill Working Group along with Ken Ferruccio, her democratic party, partisan allegiance and her loyalty to her party chief, Governor Hunt, helped her to obstruct justice for Warren County in a clean up that was dragged out as independent scientists were let go for telling the truth about the failures of the PCB landfill and as a cleanup finally occurred that was half the projected original price tag and that was conducted without citizen input and qualified independent scientific  oversight, both which are necessary components of environmental justice.

Burwell’s obstruction of justice is described by Eileen McGurty who writes in Transforming Environmentalism: Warren County, PCBs, and the Origin of Environmental Justice, “For Ferruccio, ‘the state and federal government would continue to control the decision-making process through their state co-chair and through their NEJAC affiliated local cochair [Burwell]….The Citizen Advisory Board in Warren County [The Reduced PCB Working Group] is simply a function of the federally institutionalized environmental justice community, centralized…through NEJAC.'”

Part of why Burwell felt she could blatantly obstruct justice for Warren County and protect the interests of the state were that she felt empowered by her position as a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) which was a result of Executive Order 12898.

It is no surprise to me that the state and the EPA’s narrative of Warren County’s environmental justice movement continues to be a lie perpetrated by Dollie Burwell with the help of democratic politicians and with the help of the EPA environmental justice community. She continues to help the county, state, and federal government cover up the failures of the PCB landfill and the PCB and dioxin contamination that occurred and that spread outside of the landfill  by proposing to put a park and recreation center on the PCB landfill site. In fact, if you go to the following EPA link, you will find a power-point presentation by Dollie Burwell titled “WARREN COUNTY, NC PAST AND PRESENT: A Story of Community Involvement and Empowerment” where she continues to work with the EPA to obstruct justice for Warren County. 

The following is Burwell’s conclusion to her power point presentation:
“The detoxification of the PCB Landfill was completed ten times cleaner than the federal standards.”  This statement is an outright lie.  The cleanup was less than half the projected price of $24 million, which means Warren County did not get a stringent level cleanup. Plus, there was no qualified independent scientist to oversee the process nor independent labs used to verify the cleanup levels.
“The community was equally involved in every decision from the selection of technology to selecting contractors for the cleanup.”  This statement is also a bold-faced lie.  Citizens and their independent scientists were manipulated, lied to, kept in the dark continually, and obstructed at every possible turn.
“Challenges of trust and credibility between community members and state officials were met though mutual respect for each other and joint decision making„.”  This is another outright lie.  It was evident that citizens could not trust state officials or Burwell who even went so far as to keep Warren County citizens from learning about the leaking landfill when she told PCB Working Group members that they didn’t need to inform the public about the landfill failures in the local paper “because my people don’t read.”

“A community working jointly with a state that dumped on it produced a model for community empowerment and involvement.”  Burwell is not speaking honestly.  What she really means to be saying is that working with state officials empowered her career.
“The Warren County PCB Landfill site was rededicated to the Environmental Justice Movement and the county government officials have agreed with the community to turn the former PCB Landfill site into a park and recreation facility.”  Again, this is an outright lie. The community has never agreed to putting a park and recreation facility on the landfill site, and it never will, though Burwell and county officials attempted to make this goal part of the 2012 30th anniversary celebration of the 1982 PCB environmental justice movement, a celebration that Ken and I could not participate in because it was promoted by local, state, and EPA environmental justice officials whose goal has been to cover up the failures of the “dry-tomb” and to capitalize on and rewrite the grassroots environmental justice history.

In Transforming Environmentalism, McGurty quoted Ken Ferruccio on the sticky subject, putting it this way: “It is therefore to the economic advantage of the NEJAC nexus to link environmental problems to environmental racism as a rationale for justifying minority control of alleged liberation mechanisms [i.e. The PCB Working Group]…[and] polluters are protected and environmental problems perpetuated in exchange for trickle-down economic and political benefits to minority leaders.”

Clearly, my experience with the EPA’s division of environmental justice has been a terrible one, but I am not saying that all EPA officials are unjust and that all minority communities with pollution problems have been treated as badly as has Warren County been treated.  But the PCB story has always been especially complicated since the perpetrator of the injustice is not a commercial industry but the state itself, the state led by the most powerful governor in North Carolina history.

So, the EPA brazenly continues to flaunt its false Warren County environmental justice narrative through Burwell on its own web site, and Executive Order 12898 continues to be a ruse for Warren County.

For more on Burwell’s obstruction of justice, click here to read Jim Warren’s 1998 letter to Burwell. Warren served as a member of the PCB Working Group and was (still is) Director of NC WARN (The North Carolina Waste Awareness Reduction Network).