GOP accused of 'environmental racism'

House Republicans are being accused of “environmental racism” by an environmental group that argues GOP efforts to reform decades-old chemical laws would disproportionately harm minority groups.

At issue is draft legislation backed by Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusRyan picks his negotiating team for tax cut bill Overnight Energy: EPA to keep biofuel mandate steady | Ex-coal exec Blankenship cuts first Senate ad | House passes bill to clean up contaminated sites House passes EPA contaminated site clean-up bill MORE (R-Ill.) that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to focus on chemicals that pose the greatest risk to the public in enforcing environmental protections.

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Shimkus argues his bill would free up resources to focus on the most dangerous chemical threats, but the liberal Environmental Justice Health Alliance says it would end up hurting minority groups by moving resources away from policing the threats in their neighborhoods. That, in turn, would increase the risk that they could develop cancer, asthma, childhood leukemia, infertility and birth defects, among other health problems. 

In a press release, the group said the bill would promote what it called "environmental racism." 

“This bill harms communities of color disproportionately,” Michele Roberts, co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, said in an interview. “Most of these chemicals are either manufactured, stored in, or disposed of in primarily communities of color." 

Shimkus last week argued the bill would strengthen the chemical protections in the 1976 Toxic Chemicals Control Act by more effectively targeting the chemicals that pose the greatest risk to the public.

“The vast majority of chemicals are low priority, and we really want to free up the time and energy to focus on the more important chemicals,” said Shimkus, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Environment and Economy.

His office declined to comment on the Environmental Justice group’s comments.

Shimkus’s bill has faced widespread criticism from environmental groups and Democrats, who say they cannot support the bill as it is currently written.

Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, last week called the draft bill a "disappointment" and said it would "do more harm than good."

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance was joined Monday in the press release by several other groups, including the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

“Folks hurting from chemicals are also calling this the 'Poison Pill Bill,' because it guarantees that the chemical industry can keep poisoning people with harmful chemicals with no consequences,” said Juan Parras, executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.