Saturday, January 19, 2013

EPA: a Highly Principled Agency

Many thanks to John Parker for alerting me to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) request for comments on its published draft principles for advancing environmental justice among Indian tribes and other indigenous groups.  Below are my comments, just sent to EPA, along with the URLs by which you, too, can access the principles for review.

I am writing to comment on the Indigenous Peoples Environmental Justice Principles and Sub-Principles you recently published on the Worldwide Web, per the instructions in your "outreach letter" ( and

You asked that we respond to five questions, arrayed below with my responses.

Question 1: Do the introduction and background sections clearly explain the rationale (etc.)?

Answer: More or less, but they convey no evidence of appreciation for the urgent needs that exist for actually addressing the concerns of indigenous people about impacts on their environments, which are being effectively ignored by most if not all agencies of the U.S. government (presidential, secretarial, and other official rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding).

Question 2: Are the draft principles and sub-principles the appropriate approach….?

Answer: No. The principles and sub-principles are so vague and abstract that they provide no basis upon which anyone can develop expectations about actual EPA actions. They strike me as a smoke-screen, designed to avoid and deflect criticism rather than actually to accomplish anything.

Question 3: What, if any, changes … should be considered?

Answer: Cut the self-congratulatory gobbledigook and give us some assurance that EPA will actually use its authorities to do something. Particularly in its role vis-à-vis federal agency compliance with NEPA, EPA could do a great deal of good for indigenous people and their environments by vigorously promoting EJ principles and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (neither of which need further definition, thank you). You ought to develop the staff and other resources to do this, and get on with it, rather than wasting your time and the taxpayers' money formulating and reformulating abstractions.

Question 4: What recommendations do you have on how to best implement these principles…?

Answer: Stop splitting infinitives, but beyond that, see above.

Question 5: How should progress and success be measured?

Answer: They can’t be, because the principles and sub-principles are too vague and abstract. You could do almost anything short of flooding Indian Country with toxic wastes and still be “successful” under these principles.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Thomas F. King

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