The head of the Environmental Protection Agency was in North Charleston on Monday as part of a fact-finding tour to see how residents are dealing with air, water and a variety of other environmental issues.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson toured the area and held a public forum where she said people appeared eager to make their voices heard when health concerns and hidden dangers are at play.
"They want more information," she said. "They want communication."
Jackson is making a tour of various districts around the country, including many that are facing environmental justice issues where people and industry live and operate in close proximity.
Accompanying her was U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The visit is part of an environmental justice tour put together by EPA and the Congressional Black Caucus.
At a public forum at North Charleston City Hall, Jackson said she was ready to hear comments on a wide range of topics, from traffic to sewerage and contamination. Many of the early comments seemed to focus on the railroads that cut through North Charleston. Residents say the lines are undermining the strength of their homes and foundations with the constant noise and vibration.
Jackson also toured an air-quality-monitoring station at Chicora Elementary School set up as part of a far-ranging project to monitor air pollutants and how they affect children, including from the chemicals chromium and magnesium. So far, the indicators have not found harmfully elevated quantities, a state health official said.
Clyburn, D-S.C., said that when a pollutant is found, it make more sense to address it financially quickly, saying lives and quality of life for entire populations are at stake. "If we don't pay to clean up the environment, we're going to pay for it later in terms of health care costs," he said.
As part of the tour, Jackson visited Columbia on Sunday where she disputed claims by some South Carolina leaders that new federal climate rules will hamstring the state's small businesses.
"Not while I'm head of the EPA," she said. "I don't know where that comes from, except that people are rightly afraid of stuff they don't understand."
Jackson was responding to criticism from leaders from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and state Attorney General Henry McMaster, who have said the nation's first greenhouse gas regulations on large industries also would apply to South Carolina businesses, such as restaurants and apartment complexes.
The new rules would require pollution control devices to curb greenhouse gas releases, a requirement that could cost industries millions of dollars. The EPA is expected to decide soon which industries will be affected.