In 2011, an explosion at a Carbide chemical plant on the Ohio River killed two workers, and hundreds in the surrounding community were treated for exposure to the toxic gases that were released. The plant was located in Rubbertown, Kentucky, a community where more than 70 percent were people of color and 22 percent lived below the poverty line. Although the enormity of the disaster was obvious, for some it symbolized the reality that many poor and minority communities live in harm’s way. Just as insidious is the cumulative effect of exposure to routine environmental hazards. This was the subject of a 2012 NAACP report that focused on the twelve coal-fi red power plants with the highest toxicity of emissions. The report determined that more than 2 million people lived within three miles of those twelve facilities, that they had a per-capita annual income of $14,626, and that three-quarters of that population were people of color. 1

In the heyday of Congressional environmental activism, major statutes were enacted to preserve wilderness and to control water and air pollution. These were major concerns for a broad cross section of the public, and they came to embody “the environment” to lawmakers. The less visible problem of toxic waste would be tackled later in the decade. Absent from the agenda for at least another decade were questions about environmental risk and equity: how pollution affected specifi c communities and groups defi ned by race and class. Presidential leadership and activism by the executive branch were required before the problem of environmental justice was legitimated. In the face of legislative gridlock, Bill Clinton used a series of executive orders to advance an environmental equity agenda. He also took the initiative and introduced initiatives that combined public-private partnerships with traditional regulations to control toxic pollution. The Bush/Cheney Administration expanded on these innovations, forging new partnerships and emphasizing voluntary standards while downplaying traditional regulations to such an extent that entire categories of toxic pollution were barely touched by federal regulation by the end of his presidency. Thus, the Obama Administration was preoccupied mainly with introducing traditional regulatory mechanisms to replace the voluntary initiatives of the Bush years. This chapter examines the effect of presidential administration on environmental

equity. I distinguish between the problems of hazardous waste and pollution policies that subject entire communities to elevated risk. From hazardous waste siting and cleanup to air pollution hot spots, presidential initiatives have shaped recent policies toward the distribution of environmental risk.