Ideally, the process of moving a site onto the federal Superfund list would be solely related to assessing the severity the hazard posed to the surrounding the population (Maantay 2002:166). However, socio-cultural forces began to shape Superfund listing procedures. A population with an increase in minority population, families in poverty, or people without a high school diploma all lower the chances of Superfund listing (O’Neil 2007:1090). According to a study by O’Neil, a “10% higher minority population lowers the chance of a Superfund listing by 2%, whereas a 10% higher poverty rate lowers the chance of being listed by 13%” (O’Neil 2007:1090). He goes on the state that “a site with a $10,000 higher mean income has a 9% greater chance of making the Superfund list” (O’Neil 2007:1090). Thus socio-cultural factors such as race and class influenced the politics behind securing Superfund dollars in a manner to hinder poor and minority communities.
Yet the “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations” states that environmental justice and equality must become part of the mission of each federal agency (Clinton 1994). These agencies are required to incorporate programs and policies that identify and address issues that disproportionately impact minority and low-income populations (Clinton 1994). They develop these strategies by:
1. promoting enforcement of all health and environmental statutes in areas with minority and low-income populations;
2. ensuring greater public participation;
3. improving research and data collection relating to the health and environment of minority and low-income populations; and
4. identifying differential patterns of consumption of natural resources among minority and low-income populations.
(Executive Order 12898 1994)
EO 12898 is a federal response to the failings of the Superfund program, a program by which the EPA prioritizes its response to hazardous sites, in its attempt to regulate the market concerning the risk distribution of hazardous sites. Yet according to a report by the US Inspector General in 2004, the EPA’s use of EO 12898 has not satisfied its stated objectives as it “has not identified minority and low-income, nor identified populations addressed in the Executive Order, and has neither defined nor developed criteria for determining disproportionately impacted” (Martinez-Alier 2013:1).
EO 12898 fails to serve its function in several ways. Most notably is it own existence as subjugated to the changing political climates. During the Clinton era, the EO appeased two key constituencies – environmentalists and social justice activists – thus serving a greater political agenda and helping to satisfy campaign promises to vital partners. During the presidency of George Bush, its objectives all but vanished as it did not prove necessary to the administration’s direction. The Bush administration tended to favor regulations that privileged large industries such as big oil and stricter environmental protection polices would stand in opposition to those policies (Martinez-Alier 2013:1). In 2011, Barack Obama issued the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” which states that “all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and tribal communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the Federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work” (Martinez-Alier 2013:2). Ultimately though, EO 12898 lacks the clout to weather the political waves of ideological change.
EO 12898 also has limitations on it effectiveness in that it does not provide a right to a judicial review (Gerber 2002:47). Citizens trying to seek relief for environmental concerns based on injustices though the courts cannot rely on EO 12898. The presidential action lacks