Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Helped ‘Plant the Seeds’ for ‘Environmental Justice Movement,’ Says Attorney General Holder

January 14, 2011 - 6:53 PM

(CNSNews.com) -- Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped “plant the seeds” of the “environmental justice movement,” which Holder called a “civil rights issue” that is a “top priority” for the Justice Department.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Civil Rights, in an Affirmative Employment and Diversity Staff event to honor Dr. King, Holder said: “Unlike [EPA] Administrator Jackson, I am old enough to have witnessed -- it’s sad but true. I am old to enough to have witnessed and experienced the remarkable progress that’s been made since the 1960s when Dr. King, in addition to his many other achievements, helped to plant the seeds for what would become our nation’s now-thriving environmental justice movement.”

Holder continued, “Dr. King did not have the chance to witness the impact of the movement that he began.  But he left with us the creed that continues to guide our work.  His enduring words, which he penned from a Birmingham jail cell, still remind us that, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

He also said, “Together we are approaching environmental justice just as what it is: It is a civil rights issue.  By examining environmental requirements in conjunction with our civil rights laws, I am confident that we can do a better job of assuring fairness and advancing justice.”

Later in his remarks, Holder cited a 2005 report based on EPA data which showed that African Americans were almost 80 percent more likely than white Americans to live near hazardous industrial pollution sites. He said issues like this still exist today.

“In 2011, the burden of environmental degradation still falls disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color, and most often on their youngest residents: our children, my children,” he told the audience at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.

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Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“This is unacceptable.  And it is unconscionable.  But through the aggressive enforcement of federal environmental laws in every community, I believe that we can – and I know that we must – change the status quo.”

Holder, the keynote speaker at the event which also featured EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, said “environmental justice” is also a “personal calling.”

“I want you to know that – at every level of the Justice Department, just like here at the EPA – this work is a top priority,” he said, adding,  “and, for me, it is also a personal calling,” he said.

After his speech, Scott Fulton, the EPA’s general counsel, and Dominique Lueckenhoff, the associate director of the Water Protection Division at the EPA, performed “Free at Last” for the audience, a gospel song written by Fulton, according to the event’s program.