Mustafa Ali, former head of the EPA's Office of Environmental Justice program, resigned on Thursday; image courtesy of Chris Cruz, Environmental Change and Security Program

The long-time head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s program for protecting minorities from pollution, Mustafa Ali, publicly resigned from his post on Thursday.

Ali, a 24-year EPA veteran, elected to leave the agency amid talk of his division being defunded. The Environmental Justice initiative was put in line to be axed after Donald Trump proposed reeling in regulations on industrial waste.

The current presidential administration has not been kind to the EPA as a whole. News media had reported that federal workers were crying as they clocked into work after the inauguration, wondering whether or not they’d still have jobs in the coming months.

President Trump is expected to slash the agency’s budget by a quarter and cast away a fifth of the EPA’s workforce.

The Office of Environmental Justice was among the first to be targeted by proposed cuts. A dozen other programs are slated for closure.

However, the budget document recommending the financial revisions claimed Trump was fully supportive of Ali’s division. In it was written that, despite the elimination, “any future EJ specific policy work can be transferred to the Office of Policy.”

Mustafa Ali gave an interview on Thursday, in which he gave an overview of his initiative’s goals as well as a rationale for his departure.

“I never saw in the past a concerted effort to roll back the positive steps that many, many people have worked on through all the previous administrations,” he said. “I can’t be part of anything that would hurt these communities. I just couldn’t sign off on those types of things.”

The Washington Post reported that Ali also asked Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, “to think twice before slashing EPA programs aimed at helping disadvantaged areas.”

Pruitt is the former Attorney General of Oklahoma. His appointment to become chief of the Environmental Protection Agency garnered controversy. Pruitt, when he was still working in Middle America, had filed numerous pieces of litigation and forwarded policy proposals drafted by oil companies and heavy industry.

Despite the noble mission of the Office of Environmental Justice, not everyone has been pleased with its endeavors to help the disadvantaged.

NBC News ran an article in 2015 about the Office’s failure to intervene in the case of ravenous insects.

Residents of a mostly African-American neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had approached the EPA in a last-ditch effort to hold the city’s North Wastewater Treatment Plant accountable. Residents were so bothered by the presence of “sewer flies” that one man posted a sign in his yard warning, “Beware of attack fly!”

The citizens sent in appeals and complaints to the EPA four times; the EPA, in turn, rejected their case four times.

The Office of Environmental Justice was sued five times in 2015 for “failing to finish investigations pending for more than a decade.” In 17 years, a minority of cases which the EPA chose to investigate were concluded with any action being taken against the offending city. Within nearly two decades and out of about 250 cases, only nine were resolved in favor of local communities and plaintiffs.

Children sit and stand near packages of bottled water for distribution in Flint. The EPA attracted both praise and criticism for its part in assisting with the crisis’ management; photo courtesy of Getty Images

Nevertheless, the agency made its presence known in Flint during the water crisis and has been actively involved in keeping pollution and litter-dropping industries away from residential areas. As critical as NBC and other outlets have been of the Environmental Justice initiative, it has rung in some successes.

Mustafa Ali, the 24-year former head of the program, has said he’s accepted a position as vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit focused on promoting social justice and raising awareness of climate change.

“I’ve seen too much over the years to allow there to be any rolling back,” Ali said at his resignation conference. “Sometimes people forget that we’re talking about folks lives. If we do our job properly, it can be a huge benefit.”


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