A billion-dollar environmental justice wake-up call in Jackson

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Two years after the murder of George Floyd sparked big promises from corporate boards and political leaders to address systemic racism, an environmental justice crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, is a reminder of its persistence. More than 140,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom are black,do not have drinking water after a water treatment facility was damaged by severe flooding in late August. A similar outage occurred last winter when a storm caused water pipes to burst and freeze. These types of incidents are likely to become more frequent as the climate crisis intensifies. Infrastructure historians and expertstold the Washington Post that water is rooted in racism. Beginning in 1970, federal courts forced schools in Jackson to desegregate and white families began to flee the city, reducing the tax base and public funding for infrastructure upgrades, said Robert Luckett, a professor of history at Jackson State University. Jackson has since lost about 40,000 residents. Meanwhile, majority of Mississippi elected officialswho decide how to distribute state and federal resources have been white. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is black, said so.could cost up to $1 billionto repair the city’s water system. Some of the funding could come from the nearly $430 million Mississippi is set to receive under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which Congress passed last year. President Joe Biden has put environmental justice at the top of his agenda and pledged to direct 40% of climate investments to disadvantaged communities. After disasters, federal aid has consistently favored wealthy white homeowners over communities of color and poor Americans,according to the analyzesofFederal Emergency Management Agency programsaimed at helping people rebuild themselves. Black Americans are alsomore likely to live near oil and gas facilitieschemical plants and other industrial sites that expose them to toxic air and water pollution. to environmental racism, Laura Sutphen, managing director of Golin’s social impact and inclusion practice, told Insider. The public relations company has identified 150 senior executives in the United States andsurveyed them online from late May to early June. The vast majority said businesses should address environmental justice, but they were unsure how to define it. More than half said the movement was about justice for the planet, prosecuting companies that have harmed the environment or deforestation. Almost half did not think this effort would improve the lives of marginalized or low-income communities. If they think it’s all about justice for plants and trees, and don’t recognize that climate change and pollution are having outsized impacts on communities of color, it makes sense that they didn’t think environmental justice would make a tangible difference in those communities, Sutphen said. Sutphen added that the C-suites do not link diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to environmental goals, but treat them as separate issues. She suggested companies hire a third party to assess how their hiring practices and supply chains affect communities of color, including where raw materials come from and where manufacturing plants are located. Are they in low-income communities where tax breaks are greater, but negatively contribute to air pollution? This is where you start, Sutphen said.

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