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Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training

Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training
© Bonnie Cash

Three House Democrats are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to postpone a training that was part of a series on environmental inequity faced by communities of color and low-income communities last month. 

The EPA’s decision to put off the event came in response to a White House memo telling agencies to “cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund...divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoDrug overdose crisis worsens in shadow of COVID-19 pandemic Key House Democrat urges 'economywide' approach to climate change Reversing the Trump administration's numerous harmful efforts to censor science MORE (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble House Democrats press Facebook on role as a 'breeding ground for polarization' COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge massive supply increase MORE (D-Colo.) wrote to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA sued by environmental groups over Trump-era smog rule Environmental groups sue over federal permit for Virgin Islands refinery OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE on Friday expressing worry about the impact this decision will have on the agency. 

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“We are concerned that EPA’s decision to suspend these events may undermine its mission by discounting the underlying factors, including systemic racism, that contribute to unequal environmental and health conditions. Environmental justice trainings are fundamentally intertwined with EPA’s responsibility to advance clean air and water for all Americans, and therefore these training sessions should not be canceled,” they wrote. 

The decision followed the memo from earlier this month, which asserted that unspecified press reports indicated taxpayer dollars were being spent on training where employees “are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism.’”

In addition to telling the agency to cease and desist, it also told them to identify contracts or spending relating to any training on topics such as white privilege. 

EPA spokesperson James Hewitt told The Hill in an email that Pallone is “conflating two separate issues for political purposes as the [White House] directive aims to ensure we are appropriately using taxpayer money.”

“The Trump administration is committed to helping environmental justice communities that have long been ignored by previous administrations,” Hewitt said. 

The lawmakers asked the agency to provide a description of all EPA events or trainings that were paused or canceled because of the memo, as well as any contracts that it identified as possibly falling under the memo.