Fribliss

EPA official resigns, explains why cutting his department will cost us all in the future.

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The head of the EPA’s environmental justice program has handed in his resignation letter.

Mustafa Ali at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Photo from the Wilson Center/Environmental Change and Security Program.

Mustafa Ali — who helped found the office in 1992 under George H. W. Bush — resigned as the head of the environmental justice program in a letter dated March 7, 2017.

The justice program was created to ensure all people had equal access to a clean and healthy environment, regardless of race, national origin, or income. However, a recent budget proposal from the Trump administration would cut the EPA’s funding by a quarter overall and get rid of the justice program altogether.

“I never saw in the past a concerted effort to roll back the positive steps that many, many people have worked on … I can’t be a part of anything that would hurt those [disadvantaged] communities. I just couldn’t sign off on those types of things,” the Washington Post quoted Ali as saying.

But before he left, Ali penned a letter to the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, imploring Pruitt to think before slashing funds. The full text of Ali’s letter was tweeted by Emily Atkin, a staff writer at The New Republic.

Here are four key points from Ali in that letter:

1. “Communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous populations are still struggling to receive equal protections before the law.”

Those communities are more likely to be affected by air pollution, crumbling water or sewage infrastructure, hazardous waste, and lead in the water.

That last one rings especially true, given that Flint, Michigan, still doesn’t have clean water (and now they must now pay for that water again, even though it’s still unsafe to drink without a filter).

Flint water protester in 2016. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

2. “I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help most.”

Communities speak for themselves, Ali says and notes that some of the best results have come from working collaboratively with local communities through grants and programs. Administrators just have to listen. But cutting out the small grant and collaborative problem-solving programs that formed the backbone of this relationship could silence these people’s voices.

“I strongly encourage you and your team to continue promoting agency efforts to validate these communities’ concerns, and value their lives,” Ali wrote.

3. “Any cuts to this program will increase the public health impacts and decrease the economic opportunities.”

Flint residents holding up contaminated water during a news conference. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

“One of the points that you shared with staff in your recent town hall was that you were looking for opportunities to balance the environment and the economy,” wrote Ali. “There are countless examples of how the local communities vision for revitalization have grown into productive collaborative partnerships.”

He also pointed out that the program makes good economic sense. In 2016, Brownfields revitalization (cleaning up formerly contaminated sites) leveraged more than $16 for every dollar the EPA spent and created eight-and-a-half new jobs for every hundred million spent.

4. “The upcoming choices you make will have significant impacts on the public health and environment of our country.”

He ended his letter with a reminder: “Administrator Pruitt, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring people together, to ensure that all communities have safe places to live, learn, work, play and pray,” he wrote. “I wish you well as you move forward on protecting the public health and environment of our nation, as you help make the American Dream a reality for all.”

And he’s right. Environmental protections affect everyone who lives in our country, but the proposed budget cuts could defang anti-pollution measures, blindfold our watchdogs, and stifle clean-up measures. Restoration along the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, the San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound could be slashed or completely eliminated.

Without strong protections, it’s hard to see how Pruitt could live up to the legacy Ali is leaving behind.

Ali is moving to a job as senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit that gets younger Americans involved in grass roots activism.

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