The causes of the environmental justice movement lie deep in the racial inequality that pervaded America in the 1960s and still rears its head today, 60 years later. The movement is addressing the burden of disadvantages (as well as the lack of advantages and amenities) that Black and poor communities throughout the United States have to endure.
Nobody wants a toxic waste facility in their backyard. However, disadvantaged communities even today often lack the political and legal power to fight the unjust distribution of toxic sites throughout the country. The environmental justice movement is utilizing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address this injustice and fight for environmental equality regardless of race, color, or national identity.
One aspect of the movement involves environmental justice lawyers, who seek to leverage legal power to bring about societal change. By supporting their clients, they aim to heal the root causes of environmental injustice.
Causes of Environmental Injustice in the United States
Even today, environmental injustice is not a thing of the past. There are several causes that contribute to the injustice suffered by minority communities, including:
- Lack of cheap land for industrial facilities or toxic waste sites
- Lack of political power and representation of minority communities
- The intentional neglect of minority and poor communities
- State or federal agencies failing to enforce environmental laws and regulations
- The need to dispose of toxic materials in urban areas
- Lack of monitoring of pollutants affecting the air, soil, and water
However, the environmental justice movement does not concern itself exclusively with the quality of our air, water, and soil, but also looks at other environmental factors unequally distributed amongst communities.
Black, minority, and poor communities can face several disadvantages in their living environments, such as:
- Inadequate access to healthy food
- Inadequate public transportation or road links
- Older and unsafe homes
- Playgrounds with lead paint
- No access to piped water
- Inadequate access to healthcare
- Lack of cultural institutions, such as libraries and museums
There are many other ways in which certain communities suffer from environmental racism and injustice. Such blatant inequalities contributed to the formation of the environmental justice movement.
What To Know About Environmental Justice and Its Principles
Knowing environmental justice history is key to understanding its principles. Efforts to challenge the status quo – which disproportionately impacted colored people – originated in the 1960s. These community-driven projects employed lawsuits, protests, and walk-outs to forward the environmental justice movement.
You may have these questions about the environmental justice movement in the U.S.:
Who Started the Environmental Justice Movement?
The environmental justice movement was pioneered by:
- Dr. Martin Luther King – renowned community organizer and Civil Rights activist
- Cesar Chavez – labor rights leader
- Robert Bullard – environmental justice leader and academic
While these figures notably impacted environmental justice history, countless clubs, organizations, and unions still support them.
What Are the Environmental Working Group’s Principles?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a community organization founded in 1993, developed a key set of environmental justice principles. Some of them include:
- Universal protection from toxic chemicals
- Equal participation in environmental policy-making
- Protection and compensation for those impacted by environmental racism
This document, which includes a total of 17 principles, was an important moment in environmental justice history. It was drafted at the National People of Color Environmental Leadership summit in 1991.
What Is an Environmental Justice Movement Example?
The water contamination crisis at Camp Lejeune, while not explicitly tied to issues of race, highlights the potential of the environmental justice movement.
From August 1953 to December 1987, service members stationed at Camp Lejeune faced exposure to contaminants in the water supply. Those affected suffered from:
- Birth defects
- Neurobehavioral disorders
- Other life-altering conditions
Legal frameworks currently prevent injured claimants from suing the U.S. government.
However, the U.S. government is working to pass the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. This act could allow people who got sick at Camp Lejeune to file lawsuits.
This example demonstrates how shifting legal frameworks can support the victims of environmental injustice. Lawsuits are potent legal tools that, when used correctly, can bolster the environmental justice movement.
Government Involvement in Fighting Environmental Racism
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is generally responsible for all matters to do with the environment, and this includes environmental justice. In particular, the Office of Environmental Justice, an arm of the EPA, is tasked with delivering the promise to “protect [the] environment and public health in minority, low-income, tribal and other vulnerable communities by integrating environmental justice in all programs, policies, and activities.”
Unfortunately, the EPA is in some ways comparable to a toothless tiger when it comes to fighting for environmental justice, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Critics have accused the agency of being unresponsive to complaints, particularly those filed under the Civil Rights Act, and rejecting certain communities’ appeals for help with their challenges of environmental racism.
In 2017, the United States, led by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement was drawn up between a number of nations in order to cut greenhouse emissions in an effort to stem global warming. Climate change can also affect minority communities disproportionately for many reasons.
Helping the Cause of Environmental Justice
Unfortunately, even though the environmental justice movement has been around for decades, it seems that we still have a long way to go to get justice for all. All communities deserve to share the advantages of our environmental surroundings, such as clean air, clean water, and unpolluted soil.
It should be in all our best interests to ensure that nobody has to suffer environmental hazards and toxic substances in close proximity, or in their drinking water and food.
Taking Action Against Environmental Racism
The cause of the environmental justice movement is as apparent now as it was 60 years ago. We all have a responsibility to fight environmental injustice. If some communities have the power and political backing to to say “not in my back yard,” so should others.
Communities of color and lower socioeconomic status must have support to claim their power by:
- Demanding a seat at the table to participate in local decisions
- Holding elected officials accountable for their failures
- Helping those directly impacted by toxic environments
- Getting involved and organized into groups of local activists
It is up to all of us to address environmental injustice as well as environmental issues. We only have one planet, and we are all in this together. Today, perhaps your neighbor or the community down the street is suffering, but tomorrow, it could be you.
Environmental destruction will eventually impact all of us, and we all have a role to play in fighting environmental hazards.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC Fights for Environmental Justice
If you, your loved one, or your community has suffered health problems due to environmental injustice, you have legal recourse and can speak to an environmental justice lawyer.
Nobody should suffer from the adverse effects on their health, as well as the reduced life quality that living in a toxic environment can cause, no matter what their financial background or the color of their skin. We will fight for your right to environmental justice.
Contact Ben Crump Law, PLLC today, and let one of our team members advise you on your next steps in a free consultation.