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Environmental Justice

As difficult as it is to believe, there are thousands of Americans without access to basic sanitation. This problem is especially acute in many rural areas around the country, where people are living without access to clean water or any type of modern sewage treatment. This situation exists  around the country, from the Rio Grande border areas, to remote reaches in the Rockies and Appalachians, to the Black Belt in the Deep South, to communities within a short drive of our nation's capital! Decentralized wastewater treatment not only has a critical role to play here, in many cases it may be the only available means of providing proper sanitation.

In its Plan EJ 2014, EPA sees environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies....Fair Treatment means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate burden of environmental harms and risks, including those resulting from the negative environmental consequences of industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or programs and policies." The agency interprets environmental justice as not only the consideration of how burdens are distributed across populations, but also how benefits are distributed, particularly with respect to populations that have historically borne an unfair portion of environmental harms and risks

Decentralized wastewater treatment systems can play a critical role in helping move Americans lacking basic sanitation into the 21st century. For communities which are too far removed for centralized sewage treatment to be practial, installation of decentralized wastewater treatment systems (and proper management regimes) can help to ensure that communities -- and especially the children living within them -- are able to enjoy improved health and a cleaner environment.

In addition, there are numerous economically disadvantaged communities around the country with failing wastewater treatment infrastructure. Whether it is a failing central sewage treatment plan or improperly functioning septic systems, members of these communities lack the financial resources to upgrade their facilities to contemporary standards, and as a consequence, face fines, civil penalties, and, in extreme cases, even criminal penalties.

Unfortunately, while EPA policies and practices encourage environmental justice, too few resources are available to make a meaningful impact on this problem. Implementing a decentralized wastewater treatment solution (or any other type of wastewater treatment solution for that matter) for a community with major sanitation problems is only feasible if adequate financial, human and other resources are directed toward it. Without Congressional action, however, it seems unlikely that such solutions will ever be within reach of those communities.