In order to understand what types of issues the environmental justice movement addresses, it is important to understand the concept of environmental justice.
Understanding Environmental Justice
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes environmental justice 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.”
The agency acknowledges that there is currently a disparity between communities and that not everyone has the same protection from environmental hazards and toxins. Equal access to the decision-making process is also lacking in minority communities.
This can make it challenging for people of color and other minorities to have a voice and actively participate in measures that could help make their living environment a healthy one.
What Is the Environmental Justice Movement?
The environmental justice movement was initiated in the late 1960s by people who wanted to address the environmental hazards and dangers that impacted certain communities, namely those where people of color lived.
In the 1980s, studies such as “Toxic Waste and Race” confirmed that race played a large part when it came to living in proximity to toxic waste facilities and landfills. The report found a strong connection between race and the placement of toxic waste facilities. It was one of a few similar studies that helped mobilize the environmental justice group further.
In the early 1990s, mainstream environmental groups started to recognize the problem and began to focus more on environmental justice. The Office of Environmental Equity was also established during that time, officially acknowledging the need for change. The office later changed its name to the Office of Environmental Justice.
Under Bill Clinton’s presidency, environmental justice became government policy. The administration adopted new policies designed to prevent discrimination in federally funded programs dealing with environmental issues.
Environmentalism and Environmental Justice
Environmentalism and environmental justice should not be confused, as they are fundamentally different. While environmentalism deals with the damaging effects that humans have on the environment in general, environmental justice deals with the unjust burden that is overwhelmingly falling on minority communities.
Environmental justice has social justice at its foundation, and the civil rights movement provided heavy influence and inspiration. Environmentalism, on the other hand, is not primarily concerned with the effects that environmental destruction and harmful toxins have on humans. It tends to focus on preserving and safeguarding flora and fauna, plants and wildlife.
However, the two work together in some ways. Both aim to achieve a healthy environment and clean water and air for humans and animals alike. The environmental justice movement simply wants to ensure that all humans receive equal treatment, no matter what their skin color, their socio-economic status, or nationality may be. The movement wants to distribute the environmental advantages as well as disadvantages equally.
To achieve its goal, the environmental justice movement leans on the philosophy and work of environmentalism in bringing to the forefront how the destruction of the environment and living close to toxic waste sites or industrial facilities adversely impacts humans, particularly people of color, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP).
Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism Today
You may wonder whether the environmental justice movement is still relevant today. Unfortunately, although the fight for environmental justice has been ongoing for about 60 years, it is not over yet. Even today, communities where people of color and other minorities live suffer from environmental disadvantages to a much higher degree than white and affluent communities.
According to The Atlantic, environmental racism is persisting in today’s America. People of color and those living in poverty are more likely to breathe polluted air as well as live near polluters. Black people, according to the study referenced by The Atlantic, suffer up to 1.5 times more exposure to harmful particulate matter than white people. Lead poisoning may also affect black people at a disproportionately higher rate than those living in predominantly white communities.
Unfortunately, between 2016 and 2020, the federal government has walked back environmental protections. When we relax environmental protection and laws, the underprivileged communities suffer the worst effects, as they are currently more likely to live close to toxic sites and inner-city environments where traffic pollution is at its highest level. Arguably, the environmental justice movement is needed more than ever to address the unacceptable fact that your color or socio-economic factor can still determine whether you live in a healthy or unhealthy environment.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC Fights Injustice
We passionately fight for your right to live and bring up your children in a safe and healthy environment. We believe that any racial injustice has no place in today’s America, and this includes environmental racism and injustice.
If you have experienced environmental injustice and your loved ones or your entire community suffered harm as a result, you may have legal recourse and could hold those responsible to account.
Call Ben Crump Law, PLLC today for a free case evaluation with one of our team members at (800) 959-1444.