When most people talk about President Obama's influence on America, they mention reforming health care, repealing "don't ask, don't tell" or ending the war in Iraq.
But a nearly unknown executive order could have a greater impact on the future of America than all of those things combined, potentially giving the federal government power to control every project in the country.
The obscure memorandum of understanding, based on a long-forgotten executive order signed by President Clinton in 1994, marries the issues of environmentalism and social justice. The federal government can use the laws from one to control the other.
Seventeen federal agencies signed the Aug. 4, 2011, memorandum — a clear indication of its widespread implications. By signing it, “Each Federal agency agrees to the framework, procedures, and responsibilities” of integrating environmental justice into all of its “programs, policies, and activities.”
This integration was the topic of the State of Environmental Justice in 2012 Conference held April 5 in Crystal City, Va. The low-key conference featured speakers who are key players in the movement, offering a rare glimpse into how the federal government intends to use this new tool as an instrument of power and control over the lives of every American.
Environmental justice has already stopped transportation projects in their tracks by using Title VI, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial "discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Mr. Obama explicitly suggests using Title VI to achieve environmental justice in his memorandum.
“This is all about integrating environmental justice into the transportation decision-making process,” said conference speaker Glenn Robinson, director of the Environmental Justice in Transportation Project at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
The president had taken steps to integrate environmental justice into transportation even before he wrote the memo. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency joined with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation to create the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
This partnership, according to the "Environmental Justice and Sustainability Reference Deskbook," “marks a fundamental shift in the way the federal government structures its transportation, housing, and environmental policies, programs and spending” to include environmental justice concerns.
James Cheatham, director of the Office of Planning at the Federal Highway Administration, is listed as an environmental justice contact in this book, which EPA published in December 2010. At the conference, he explained that the movement's early focus on transportation was no accident.
“Transportation is that vital link that moves our economy one way or another,” he said.
But what do civil rights have to do with transportation projects? When combined with environmentalism, they can stop almost anything.