As is often the case with movies, where good scenes can be chopped from a film before its release, there are times when choice bits get left on the cutting room floor as a newspaper article makes its way to print.
Such was the case in a recent MT piece ("Justice delayed," April 25), which looked at a new report that found slow progress for those fighting environmental racism over the past 20 years. What didn't make it into that article was discussion of a document that has been sitting on Gov. Jennifer Granholm's desk for more than a year, a document that proponents say, if implemented, could dramatically improve a situation where people of color are disproportionately the victims of polluting industry.
To address that problem, Michigan environmental justice advocates and other greenies began meeting with representatives of industry and business. Also at the table were the heads of key state departments. Steve Chester, director of the state's Department of Environmental Quality, coordinated the whole effort.
For a year and a half, all these folks convened on a monthly basis to hash things out. Among those hip-deep in the process was Donele Wilkins, executive director of the nonprofit Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.
"There were definitely times when people wanted to walk away from the process, but we endured," says Wilkins.
Finally, a detailed plan was presented to Granholm in February 2006. Essentially, it advocated that she sign an executive order that would make addressing environmental justice a priority for all state agencies that could affect the issue. There would be other actions as well, including giving residents in affected areas more of a say over what types of facilities are allowed to locate in their neighborhoods.
"We went through some really difficult conversations," says Wilkins about efforts to create such a plan among a diverse group of stakeholders. "But we came up with something we all felt we could be comfortable with."
Granholm, says Wilkins, promised to take quick action. Then she stalled. By the time election time rolled around, Granholm, locked in a tough fight, apparently didn't want to be put in the position of having to defend anything the opposition could mischaracterize as a job-killing endeavor.
Following the election, says Wilkins, she was told by the guv's people that the passage of Proposal 2 which prohibits the state from engaging in "programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes" caused the Jenster to back off her commitment.
It seemed an odd dodge. And Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokesgal, says she can't say why things were delayed before. But now, says Boyd, all the guv's attention is focused on the state's budget crisis.
"But," she says, "that doesn't mean we're turning our backs on the issue of environmental justice."
Try telling that to Donele Wilkins.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]