Memphis City Council reversed course on an ordinance to promote environmental justice, in addition to protecting public health and the environment. The ordinance had been on hold from previous council meetings dating back to April, though it was on its third and final reading when it was withdrawn during Tuesday’s meeting. No discussion or explanation accompanied the announcement of the ordinance’s withdrawal.
Ordinance No. 5782 concerned the groundwater in the Memphis Sand Aquifer that supplies drinking water for Memphis. Council members Edmund Ford and Jeff Warren sponsored the ordinance.
The preamble blamed racial, ethnic, and economic inequalities for the disparate concentrations of environmental hazards. As such, the ordinance declared that any new developments shouldn’t have any kind of adverse impact on minority, low-income, or marginalized communities.
“[P]atterns of racial, ethnic, and economic inequality in the United States have resulted in the inequitable geographic concentration of potential environmental hazards, [therefore] the Memphis City Council has determined that this increased level of oversight must also ensure that new development in the City does not cause adverse impacts on the minority populations, low-income populations, and neighborhoods historically burdened by environmental pollution,” read the preamble.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice factors the impact of environmental laws, regulations, and policies on various demographics like race, national origin, and income. The state of Tennessee further defines environmental justice as fair treatment and equal opportunity to participate in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
The withdrawn ordinance specified that all consideration of exemptions to prohibited uses must analyze any potential for the development to cause disproportionate, adverse impacts on populations considered minority, low-income, or historically burdened by environmental pollution. If any disproportionate impact on those populations were predicted, the city couldn’t approve the application.
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