For people of color and those who live in poverty, the scales of environmental justice tip steadily against their ability to live free from environmental and health hazards. The individuals who live in these communities do not have the same access to the healthy living, learning, and working environments that every other U.S. citizen enjoys and takes for granted.
An environmental justice lawyer can help balance these inequities by fighting to ensure that residents of minority and low-income communities receive and have a voice in the programs, policies, and activities that can protect their health and their environments.
What Is Environmental Justice?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice (EJ) 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.”
We can break this definition down to its two key elements and gain a deeper understanding of the scope of this issue.
In terms of “fair treatment,” environmental justice seeks to evenly spread the negative environmental repercussions that stem from commercial and industrial operations and governmental policies.
Too often, governments try to solve problems by taking the path of least resistance. The policies they implement to address the burdens of privileged, middle- and upper-class citizens serve to shift those burdens to low-income communities and to citizens of color. The same holds true for commercial and industrial operations, whose leaders cut corners and authorize other self-serving actions to plump up their bottom lines—all at the expense of these same, underprivileged areas.
By insisting on “meaningful involvement” of all the people of this country, EJ seeks to give the currently disenfranchised a voice in legal, regulatory, and policy decisions that stand to impact their health and/or the environments in which they live.
What Are the 3 Major Environmental Laws?
The three major environmental laws are the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act.
Clean Air Act – 42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. (1970)
The Clean Air Act (CAA) regulates air emissions from both mobile and stationary sources. This law gives EPA the right to create and control National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), aimed at protecting public welfare and health and regulating the release of hazardous air pollutants.
Clean Water Act – 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972)
The Clean Water Act (CWA) sets the format for the regulation of pollutant discharge into U.S. waters and for regulating surface water quality standards. The Act originated in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. It enjoyed a makeover of sorts in 1972 and was given a new name. The EPA established pollution control programs under the CWA to include such agendas as establishing standards for industry wastewater and drafting criteria recommendations for surface water pollutants.
Toxic Substances Act – 15 U.S.C. §2601 et seq. (1976)
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authorizes the EPA to demand record-keeping, reporting, and testing requirements, as well as restrictions connected to chemical substances. Specifically, the Act deals with such issues as the importation, production, use, and disposal of certain chemicals, such as:
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- Lead-based paint
A Brief History of Environmental Justice
Communities with a heavy concentration of minorities, which also happen to be low income, have long been the subject of environmental injustice. In the 1960s, fed up with enduring harmful pesticides in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Cesar Chavez led a group of Latino farmworkers in a fight for workplace rights. In 1967, black students in Houston marched in protest of a city garbage dump in the neighborhood that killed a child. The following year, West Harlem residents in New York City waged war against a community-based sewage treatment plant.
Matters came to a head, however, in 1982, when residents of Warren County, North Carolina protested plans to move soil contaminated with PCBS to the area. Activists tried to block the soil-filled trucks from entering the landfill, but they ultimately lost their fight. Still, the battle drew national attention.
In 1983, data requested by Congressman Walter Fauntroy and released by the General Accounting Office in 1983 verified that in three southeastern states, hazardous waste sites were disproportionately located within or near black communities. The United Church of Christ followed this data with its pivotal report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, authored by Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., which revealed that three out of every five black and Latinos in the U.S. lived near a toxic waste site.
A group of environmental leaders drafted a letter and sent it to the “Big 10” environmental groups, challenging them to address the problem of environmental injustice in the country. Hence, the Environmental Justice movement.
What Is the Environmental Justice Movement?
The environmental justice movement seeks to actively and positively respond to the problem of environmental racism and injustice. The movement connects with environmentalism, but the two differ from each other in significant ways, as explained by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), a peer-reviewed academic resource.
IEP explains that environmentalism tackles the problems that arise as a function of humanity’s negative effect on the environment. This movement focuses its lens on the impact that a sickly environment has on plants, animals, humans—the collective body of life that inhabits the earth.
The environmental justice movement, on the other hand, underscores the plight of communities that directly suffer the adverse effects of dangerous or unhealthy environmental conditions. The drivers of this cause understand that at the foundation of every form of environmental injustice lies a bedrock of socio-economic injustice and racism.
As such, the work that environmentalists have done in their effort to solve their key issues of interest—preserving the earth’s air, water, land, and animals—serves up a base philosophy and knowledge about how the environment can be damaged. The environmental justice movement builds upon this work and finetunes it to reflect how this damage, in turn, harms the communities surrounding that environment.
Who Started the Environmental Justice Movement?
Robert Bullard’s work and efforts throughout the 1970s and 1980s earned him the unofficial title of the “father of environmental justice.” He has authored many books on the subject of environmental justice. In particular, his work underscores the problem of pollution in minority communities.
In the late 1970s, Bullard was a sociologist at Texas Southern University. While he was researching Houston’s problem with environmental racism, his wife, a lawyer, accepted a case, Bean vs. Southwestern Waste Management Corp., representing residents of a black middle-class neighborhood who were resisting the siting of a landfill in their community.
Bullard’s wife asked for his assistance in researching the case. Specifically, she was curious about the drivers behind the placement of a landfill in a minority neighborhood. Was it a coincidence? Or did it signify a pattern of discrimination? Bullard and his team of student-researchers reviewed some 40 years of Houston history through a “racial lens,” empowering the sociologist with the data that enabled him to tell the story of environmental justice.
Here is a snack-size look at what Bullard discovered:
- Blacks constituted 25 percent of Houston’s population during the reviewed time period.
- 82 percent of waste that companies dumped in the city wound up in black neighborhoods.
- All of the five city-owned landfills existed in black neighborhoods, and of the eight city-owned incinerators, all eight were located in black neighborhoods.
The lawsuit used civil rights law as its foundational argument against environmental discrimination. Bullard’s wife lost her case, but the matter ignited a passion in the sociologist. He committed himself to fully understanding the unjust manner in which communities of color suffered the bulk of pollution in the United States.
Early on, Bullard identified this practice as an extension of structural racism.
If you suffered environmental injustice, an environmental justice lawyer at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can represent you in your pursuit of justice. Call us today at (800) 959-1444.
What Is the Cause of the Environmental Justice Movement?
The environmental justice movement arose from a heightened awareness of the extent to which politically and economically disadvantaged communities were suffering the effects of environmental pollution. The movement seeks to right such modern ills as political and economic, social, and political marginalization of low-income populations and minorities. Activists also concern themselves with the realization that pollution continues to increase in communities, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
According to IEP, the environmental justice movement sprung as a hybrid from the assessment of racism during the Civil Rights movement and the economic analysis that accompanied the anti-toxics movement.
Early on, the rally behind the Environmental Justice movement did not take off with the full thrust of support from African Americans. At the time, they were keener on resolving local issues that centered on individual inequality. However, the 1980s ushered in new energy for environmental justice under the flag of the Civil Rights movement. In its revitalized form, the movement took on the identity of “environmental activism.”
This movement, according to IEP, attributes environmental injustice to the following causes:
- Institutionalized racism
- Commoditization of energy, water, land, and air
- Governmental policies and regulations that are unaccountable and unresponsive
- Lack of power and resources in impacted communities
- Ease with which regulatory loopholes enable continued victimization of affected communities
What Are the Concerns of the Environmental Justice Movement?
The Environmental Justice Movement immerses itself in several concerns. Members of this movement strongly believe in the “Polluter Pays Principle,” and they watch with dismay as those responsible for degrading the environment do so without accountability, no regard for who it harms, and with no apparent intent to make reparations for this damage.
Movement participants also focus on environmental racism and the seemingly insurmountable role that economics and politics play in the persistence of such inequities. They understand the economic motivations for the placement of hazardous waste sites and factories being sited in African-American, minority, and low-income communities, as these areas come at a much lower price tag.
They also meet with less resistance, as the members of this community have little to no political power or resources to combat these placements. Members of the Environmental Justice Movement do not view the exchange of economy for health—primarily that of disadvantaged community members—to be moral, and they strive to correct this problem.
The Environmental Justice Movement is keen to the role that race, social status, and economic well-being play in the imbalanced distribution of negative outcomes of industrial “progress” and consumerism. Activists involved in this movement focus on the underlying elements—starting with the socioeconomic status quo—that enable an otherwise unsustainable problem to persist.
Why Is Environmental Justice Important?
Environmental justice is a basic human right, and environmental injustice represents an abuse of human rights. When certain communities bear the brunt of the impact of environmental concerns—based on the race or low economic standing of its residents—it represents systemic racism toward these populations.
Colgate University’s Sustainability Office wrote about why we should care about environmental justice, based primarily on the ethical implications of this injustice. When one portion of the population enjoys the benefits of economic expansion and industrialization that come from exploiting natural resources, it is these minority and low-income communities that bear the health consequences—with absolutely no economic benefit that even begins to offset the damage done to their physical, emotional, and social health.
Every person and entity on the planet has a duty to progress in a manner that enables a safe, sustainable environment for everyone who lives here. Beyond the decisions to carpool and drink from paper straws, we must strive to be aware of how products are manufactured, where the manufacturing waste is discarded, where the products are discarded after being used, and whom, if anyone suffers any type of injury during the span of a product’s lifecycle.
The people who will be impacted by the plans put forth by another individual, corporation, or government should have a say in whether those plans should move forward—and how.
Let an environmental justice lawyer at Ben Crump Law, PLLC represent you in your pursuit of environmental justice. Call us today at (800) 959-1444.
What Are the Principles of Environmental Justice?
The Principles of Environmental Justice is a 1991 document that highlights 17 basic tenets of environmental justice. These principles are a result of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.
Delegates from the Leadership Summit met to deal with environmental issues that disproportionately affected Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous and Native communities within the United States and the rest of the world. Activists created a structure for addressing the political, social, ecological, and health-related ramifications of environmental policies on people of color.
With representatives from all over the world, including people from the United States, U.S. territories, associated free states, and neighboring countries, the Summit was essential for the Environmental Justice Movement.
The summarized Principles of Environmental Justice are as follows:
- The Movement acknowledged the sanctity of the Earth and all beings living on the planet, and this principle established the right to a world without environmental loss and destruction. Additionally, environmental policies and laws should be fair and not discriminatory.
- Safe air, water, and food are fundamental rights, and people have the right to protection from the effects of toxic environmental practices and policies. Delegates requested that companies stop producing harmful materials, and those who caused harm with this waste should be responsible for the damages.
- People have the right to medical care and payment for harm caused by harmful environmental policies or actions. People also have the right to protection from medical experimentation and testing, along with a right to informed consent and protection from those who would disregard these principles. These points established medical rights as part of environmental justice.
- One principle discussed the rights of Native Americans in the United States, including rights to treaties and sovereignty. Another principle acknowledged the wide, global right to self-determination of all beings and that environmental injustice committed by a government is in violation of human rights.
- Workers should also have protection from dangerous work environments, whether at home or at another location. The Summit also lists environmentally destructive corporations as another form of injustice.
- People have the right to be free from oppression, especially as they relate to harming the environment, land, and resources. People should have access to essential resources and should be part of environmental decisions within the community.
- The principles also called for respect and honoring of cultures while handling environmental issues. People should also have access to education that accounts for diversity while addressing issues in society and in the environment.
- The last point from the Principles of Environmental Justice stressed the importance of individual responsibility for the environment.
The original 17 points established rights for the social, political, environmental, and physical well-being of all people.
What Types of Problems Does Environmental Justice Help Solve?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) outlines the ways in which its environmental justice efforts strive to remedy the problems that cause low-income communities and communities of color to bear the lion’s share of the environmental hazards that surround us.
Policy Development and Dissemination
HHS aims to better apply environmental and health policies and statutes in communities with large minority and low-income populations, as well as Indian tribes. This effort would require that they promote within their policies the well-being of these populations that suffer disproportionately greater exposures to negative environmental conditions.
Education and Training
HHS’ environmental justice initiatives are also reaching out to not only the general public but also health professionals and human services providers. They are working to enable these groups to participate in the crafting and implementation of policies, programs, and activities that can ultimately affect populations that suffer the inequities of environmental injustice.
Research and Data Collection Analysis
HHS has also identified the importance of strong, accurate, and current research with regard to solving the problems of environmental injustice. The agency is committed to enhancing data collection efforts in communities most affected by these issues.
Finally, HHS believes that by enabling these affected groups to progress economically and socially, many of the underlying causal factors that facilitate the disproportionate exposure to environmental health hazards will fade.
Let an environmental justice lawyer at Ben Crump Law, PLLC tackle the environmental justice problems you endured. Call us today at (800) 959-1444 for a free consultation.
What Causes Environmental Injustice?
The Vermont Journal of Environmental Law’s article “Getting to the Root of Environmental Injustice,” presents empirical evidence that environmental injustice stems from a variety of factors. The article’s author, Shea Diaz of the Georgetown Environmental Law Review, explains how all these factors work together in a complex mechanism that serves to undermine and abuse the residents of minority and low-income communities.
Big businesses specifically target poverty-stricken and minority-concentrated communities based on their inability to resist the placement of environmental hazards in their areas. Residents’ lack of “political capital” and resources paralyze them from affecting any influence over what happens in their own backyards.
Misguided Regulatory Policy
In an effort to minimize the risks of noxious facilities, regulatory agencies position these facilities in low-population density areas. The effect is that an increasing number of facilities wind up in these areas, creating a situation where vulnerable communities are subjected to a disproportionate amount of harm and injury from environmental hazards.
Unequal Regulation Enforcement
In these minority and low-income communities, regulators do not enforce environment initiatives with the same vigor as they would in whiter or more privileged areas. In some cases, politicians have been accused of relaxing such enforcement so they can profit from the relocation of industry to their jurisdictions.
Unequal Political Power
According to “The Pace of Progress at Superfund Sites: Policy Goals and Interest Group Influence,” in The Journal of Law & Economics, the median income of a community is an indication of its influence. Other measures of political power include the level of education and employment amongst residents. An area’s voter turnout also denotes greater political influence. Without the political power to resist the local siting of toxic plants, only communities that show strong pro-environment alignment stand a chance of fighting such siting.
Who Is Affected by Environmental Injustice?
An EPA study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that hazardous particulate air pollution disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Sadly, race, income levels, and poverty rates put these areas in the crosshairs for environmental injustice.
The impact these communities face range widely, depending on many factors, most especially, the source of the environmental problem.
In the case of particulate air pollution, the EPA reports that particle size influences the health risks for any instance of particulate air pollution. When large particles enter residents’ lungs or bloodstream, they can create serious heart and lung problems, such as:
- Decreased lung function
- Nonfatal heart attacks
- Premature death in individuals who suffer from lung/heart disease
- Aggravated asthma
- Heightened respiratory symptoms, including difficulty breathing and coughing
- Irregular heartbeat
According to the EPA’s report, older people, children, and individuals with heart or lung disease suffer the greatest risk of health problems from exposure to particulate pollution.
Although these groups bear the greatest burden of environmental injustice, when the environment suffers, everyone suffers.
Particle pollution depletes the soil of nutrients, affects ecosystem diversity, hurts farm crops, renders streams and lakes acidic, and alters the balance of nutrients in coastal waters.
What Are Some Examples of Environmental Injustice?
Environmental injustice thrives in every region of the country. It affects people every day—but most Americans never hear about these struggles. Examples of environmental injustice have been so appalling in nature that they have managed to make headlines and inspire outrage amongst people across the nation.
We shall review a few examples of environmental injustice here.
The residents of East End Pittsburgh live in a sadly underserved borough of Greater Pittsburgh. They fight the daily challenges that come with high-traffic density and a crumbling infrastructure, and they also suffer from poor air quality stemming from decades of industrial activity.
Adding to these concerns, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) tap water database published a report showing that Pittsburgh drinking water contains unsafe levels of 16 contaminants, many of which cause cancer, such as Bromodichloromethane, Bromoform, Chloroform, Chromium, Dibromochloromethane, Nitrate, and total trihalomethanes.
The Flint, Michigan crisis provides another story of environmental injustice. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tells the story in detail. In 2014, the cash-strapped City of Flint sought to save money by switching its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system of treated water to the water from the Flint River. This body of water contained over a century’s worth of waste from local industries. The river was heaped with various forms of runoff and toxins from nearby landfills.
The lack of sufficient testing and treatment of the water led to a wave of health issues for the city’s population, which comprised a majority of African-American residents, 45 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Foul-smelling, discolored water that tastes wrong streamed from home faucets for 18 months, plaguing residents with itchy skin, hair loss, skin rashes—even an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. People complained, but nothing changed. Only later did studies show that Flint children’s blood lead levels had tripled from drinking the contaminated water. Finally resolving to “treat” the problem, the city added chlorine to the water, which generated high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
University of Michigan researcher Paul Mohai called this disaster “the most egregious example of environmental injustice and racism in my over three decades of studying this issue.” The New York Times also referred to what happened in this Michigan community as “environmental racism,” posing the possibility that if Flint were a predominantly white, affluent town, matters would not have persisted as they did.
In the case of the Newark water crisis, NRDC alleges that the actions of city and state officials violate the Safe Drinking Water Act, and their breach resulted in some of the highest recently recorded levels of lead in Newark, New Jersey. According to the organization, more children from Newark have experienced lead poisoning than any other part of New Jersey. Tests conducted in 2016 revealed that 30 public schools contained elevated levels of lead in their water.
Cities are required by law to take action when lead levels in drinking water exceed 15 parts per billion (ppb). When Newark tap water samples were tested between 2013 and 2015, they revealed lead in excess of this amount. One area’s levels surpassed 19.3 ppb.
According to an H2M Associates report prepared for the City of Newark, the water supply suffered from a system that has long suffered disrepair, from outdated equipment that does not work—as well as systemic failures to conduct maintenance and routinely calibrate instruments.
Six months into lead monitoring, which began in 2017, 10 percent of the tested drinking water samples exceeded 27 ppb. Six homes in the city tested greater than 50 ppb. Lead levels exceeded federal limits for 18 continuous months. The Wanaque service area was especially hard hit.
A federal judge denied emergency motions to widen Newark’s filter program.
By December 2018, water lead levels skyrocketed, with 24 homes testing greater than 50 ppb. In 2019, it was discovered that the contaminants in the water supply were linked to cancer and possibly reproductive problems. In October 2019, the bottled water program was pulled except for a small set of residents.
University Park, Illinois
In June 2019, customers of University Park, Illinois’ water supplier received a notice that they were under a lead advisory and that it would be a few weeks before the tap water would be safe to drink without restrictions. As of July 2020, the lead advisory persists.
Upon investigation, the problem was determined to be “water chemistry interacting with lead solder” within the plumbing of homes that had been built prior to 1990. Although treatment looked promising at first, progress on the effort has stalled, according to the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the topic.
In their collaborative report “Watered Down Justice,” NRDC, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), and Coming Clean state they discovered a “disturbing relationship between sociodemographic characteristics—especially race—and drinking water violations. Violations of drinking water spiked in communities of color and low-income communities, as well as those with a greater number of non-native English speakers.
What Is the Difference Between Environmental and Social Justice?
Social justice strives to ensure that groups and individuals receive fair treatment and an equitable share of economic, environmental, and social benefits. This means that across differences in status and background, all people should experience a fair distribution of both the good and the bad that society generates.
Environmental justice, on the other hand, focuses strictly on the equitable distribution of the advantages and disadvantages that stem from the environment—encompassing their homes, work, schools, and other vital aspects of life. Regardless of race, economic status, or background, everyone should enjoy such environmental benefits like clean water and air, expansive greenspace, and so on. Similarly, the environmental burdens generated by industry, transportation, pollution—even natural disasters—should be equally distributed.
Both forms of justice highlight the concerns of groups, rather than individuals. Both are heavily influenced by issues of power, including the imbalance between the powerful groups who cause, enable, and/or benefit from environmental hazards and the powerless groups who suffer the health and financial consequences from these dangers.
In the early years of environmentalism, the cause was largely considered as a social issue. Gradually, it moved away from these roots and evolved into pet causes adopted by white, affluent groups who aimed to save endangered species of flora or fauna. In reality, however, environmental injustice is a social injustice, and the two shall always be linked.
What Is Environmental Racism?
Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate extent to which people of color are exposed to environmental hazards and health burdens. According to the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), these inequities can result from “conscious design or institutional neglect, actions and decisions.” Environmental racism embodies an injustice that communities of color have battled for decades.
NCCJ reports a series of sobering statistics that shine a light on the problem of environmental racism today:
- Over 50 percent of the individuals who reside within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities in this country are minorities., according to “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty.” This report analyzed data gathered over the course of 20 years.
- Three out of every five African Americans in the U.S. reside in areas where uncontrolled toxic waste sites have been sited.
- People in the Bronx, New York who reside near noxious waste sites and industrial facilities suffered a 66 percent greater risk of being hospitalized for asthma. The case study that revealed this data also indicated that thirteen percent of these individuals were more likely to be minorities.
More than 11 percent of African American kids and four percent of Mexican-American kids suffer lead poisoning, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These numbers compare with just over two percent of white children who endure the same fate.
Is Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism the Same?
Although these two concepts are related, they are not the same. Environmental racism happens when people of color suffer a disproportionate impact of environmental hazards. Environmental justice represents a movement-driven response to this wrong.
Specifically, environmental racism encompasses the government regulations, institutional rules, policies, and decisions, as well as corporate decisions that take aim at certain types of communities when considering disagreeable use of land and when enabling slipshod enforcement of environmental and zoning laws. As a result of this racism, decisions are made—without the input or influence of minority community residents—that ultimately expose these individuals to an unfair and unhealthy share of toxic and hazardous waste and other environmental risks.
For decades, researchers have conducted studies proving that environmental racism poses a risk to the safety and health of our nation’s underrepresented and voiceless communities—which happen to be those that comprise people of color.
In keeping with our country’s constitutional focus on fundamental human rights, it is vital that we work to prioritize environmental justice issues to eliminate environmental racism.
If you have suffered the impact of environmental racism, an environmental justice lawyer at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can represent you in your pursuit of justice. Call us today at (800) 959-1444.
What Causes Environmental Racism?
Environmental racism addresses every way in which communities of color endure substantially more significant harm from environmental conditions. Some of the ways that environmental racism manifests are through waste disposal, toxic dumping, and industrial use of communities where mostly minorities live.
It includes higher exposure to emissions from ships, trucks, cars, and other transportation-related sources of pollution. Victims of environmental racism also live in much closer proximity to factories and power plants. The catastrophic outcomes of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina also tend to be more prevalent in largely black communities.
It becomes increasingly hard to dismiss the connection between environmental racism and racial segregation. With residential segregation, for example, people of color tend to be concentrated in communities. These communities generally lack any sense of financial or political power. Property values are lower, making them more attractive for purchase by corporations siting their next industrial operations. With more factories comes more pollution. With white, affluent communities fleeing urban areas, this leaves minority populations in the inner cities to suffer through the construction of massive freeway systems that suburban whites can use to travel to and from work.
With pollution and industrial activity suppressing the property values in inner cities, people of color are shut out from the opportunity to develop wealth or power from their ownership of these properties. Zoning and redlining and other political chess game maneuverings only exacerbate the problem.
What Is Environmental Equity?
Environmental equity refers to how the government responds to the demands placed on it by the Environmental Justice movement. Although the EPA and other government agencies talk the talk of the environmental justice movement—with their ideas about “fair treatment and meaningful involvement,” these entities have yet to accomplish the vision of the movement.
The people who commit to the Environmental Justice movement demand to see more than a reduction in pollution, for example. They want to see the effects of pollution go away for good. Specifically, they wait for the kind of change in which no single community or group bears the hardship of environmental disasters, hazards, or pollution. In their minds, the number or scale of one’s political connections should not determine how or whether an individual is kept safe from such conditions.
Environmental equity is the word these activists use to describe a world or country in which access to safe drinking water and clean, breathable air is provided to all—regardless of income, race, or zip code.
This vision will not become a reality, however, unless equity is established at the core of any effort to battle pollution, climate change, and poverty.
How is Pollution Related to Inequality?
The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality vigorously explores the connection between pollution and inequality. In their report “Inequality as Pollution, Pollution as Inequality,” the group quotes Indira Gandhi, who spoke at the 1972 International Environmental Summit in Stockholm. Gandhi said in her speech that “poverty and need are the biggest polluters.”
The study goes on to explain that environmental degradations continue to spike in developing areas of the world, such as forest cover depletion in Haiti. Because impoverished people across the globe cannot attain manufactured capital, natural capital represents the only “true wealth” of these populations. The more that this natural capital is chipped away—usually at the hands of the “haves” of society—the more surely these communities’ futures of poverty are cemented.
In particular, the authors continue, the socioeconomic deprivation of disadvantaged and minority communities—combined with exposure to greater levels of pollution—translate to scenarios of deeply impaired health.
If you endured pollution compounded by inequality, an environmental justice lawyer at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can help you pursue justice. Call us today at (800) 959-1444.
How Does Globalization Affect Environmental Justice?
With the supercharged flow of information, goods, and services around the world comes ever-increasing changes in the environment. Global commerce is changing the face of the planet in profound ways—none of them good. The entities engaging and profiting in commerce—and therefore degrading the planet—are the politically empowered and/or financially motivated/privileged members of society. They leave the socioeconomically disadvantaged counterparts to suffer the consequences.
Consider the following effects of globalization and their impact on environmental justice:
- Food supplies and biodiversity are threatened by the exploitation of aquatic ecosystems.
- Access to water, quality of land, security of food, and biodiversity are declining from the increased temperature of the earth’s surface.
- Freshwater has become increasingly harder to access. Contaminated water serves as the chief environmental cause of illness and death among humans.
- Every year, more than two million people die from complications related to air pollution—both indoor and outdoor.
- Low-income communities bear an unfair share of the adverse effects of environmental change.
In Millennium Ecosystem Report, Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-being (Statement of the MA Board), more than 1,000 experts from almost 100 countries worked together to assess the state of the exosphere. Their report concludes with the finding that almost two-thirds of the world’s life-supporting ecosystems are being used in an unsustainable fashion or have been degraded.
Specifically, the government enables the EPA to execute its mission by empowering it with the following environment-related roles:
- Issuing licenses
- Standard setting
- Awarding grants
- Evaluating actions proposed by federal agencies
- Permitting facilities
The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) connects EPA efforts with other agency agendas by helping it to integrate environmental justice into programs, policies, and activities. To a finer point, OEJ is challenged with the mission of helping the EPA ensure public health and environment in low-income, minority, tribal, and at-risk communities by weaving environmental justice into all activities, policies, and programs.
How Do I Advocate for Environmental Justice?
Environmental justice is a massive issue, but if every individual were to play a part in advocating, we could right the wrongs and put ourselves on a healthier, fairer, more humanitarian path than that which we now traverse.
There are many ways in which you can advocate for environmental justice.
Speak Up for Equitable Policies
Stay abreast of public policies that your elected officials attempt to implement. If they satisfy the needs and wants of the community, support them. If they will harm local neighborhoods, work to defeat them. When your voice falls on deaf ears, hold officials accountable.
Help Elevate Public Education and Participation
An educated community enjoys greater power to shape their neighborhoods than those that do not know what is happening around them. Do your part to inform, and then encourage participation from community members to fully equip them to protect their rights to a healthy and safe environment.
Search for local or national environmental justice organizations whose missions speak to your heart. Join their fight with a passion.
The more people who speak out against local violations of environmental justice, the louder the voice of protest—and the harder to ignore. Pull together a group of people in your community to address environmental justice infractions. Work collectively to develop a campaign or other plan of action.
Get the Right People at the Table
As we have read again and again, one contributing factor to environmental justice is the lack of power held by residents in communities of color and those dampened by low-income. Fight to break down the barriers for the currently powerless to get a seat at the table where decisions about the local environment are made.
Tell Their Stories
People do not respond to issues. They respond to human stories. If you encounter someone who has lived the experience of daily environmental injustice, trumpet their tales for all to hear. Call your local television news station. Post on social media. People want to do the right thing. When enough people—or the right people—hear what you have shared, the wheels of change will be set in motion.
Work with an Environmental Justice Lawyer
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Martin R. Castro, Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights wrote that the EPA’s definition of environmental justice recognizes the issue as a civil right. He further stated that “racial minorities and low- income communities are disproportionately affected by the siting of waste disposal facilities and often lack political and financial clout to properly bargain with polluters when fighting a decision or seeking redress.”
An environmental justice lawyer exists to level the playing field and give suppressed, voiceless individuals and communities a chance to right the wrongs they have suffered as the result of environmental injustice.
If you or your community has suffered harm or injury from environmental injustice, call Ben Crump Law, PLLC today at (800) 959-1444.