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Thank You, Lisa Jackson

May 9, 2009

Yesterday, Lisa Jackson, the first African-American to head the EPA, spoke about the importance of environmental justice—addressing the systemic environmental issues that disproportionately harm the poor—in a speech at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School:

Jackson said that long-term environmental issues can devastate a community if left unchecked, leading to a cycle of pollution and poverty in the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

“If there is unchecked pollution, if there is littering, then that will lead to additional pollution, additional littering,” said Jackson. “Businesses won’t invest in that community, not even if you pay them to do so.”

Jackson also said that President Obama would reject the “false choice” between the economy and the environment, and said that the president would see the environmental sector as an economic opportunity.

“The opportunities are there to create green jobs,” said Jackson, “in places in our county where both the green and the job are absolutely vital.”

While her focus is on the United States, it is also important to remember that environmental justice is a global issue. The shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh damages both the environment and the health of its impoverished employees. The poor are likelier to live in structures that are not designed to withstand storms that global warming intensifies. Environmentalism, as Ms. Jackson recognizes, is about saving people, especially those without the wealth to escape the worst effects of ecological destruction.

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