Several individuals, primarily people of color, who wanted to address environmental injustice, started the environmental justice movement. Environmental justice leans heavily on the principles of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination of any person based on their color, race, sex, religion, or national origin.
The environmental justice movement essentially wishes to remove the unfair treatment of black and other minority communities when it comes to protection from environmental health hazards. It also aims to give those from underprivileged communities equal access to the decision-making process that can ensure healthy environments.
The environmental justice movement seeks to end environmental discrimination and racism. Toxic waste and industrial facilities are often close to communities where people of color or those with a lower income live. This places the health burden unfairly on those communities, while others in more affluent and white neighborhoods enjoy the advantages connected to these practices of environmental injustice.
One of the most influential studies drawing attention to the fact that toxic waste sites are typically close to minority communities is “Toxic Wastes and Race” from 1987. The report concludes that the types of communities most affected by proximity to toxic waste sites include populations of:
- African Americans
- Hispanic Americans
- Asian Americans
- Pacific Islanders
- Native Americans
The study asserted that African Americans were most affected by living close to toxic sites, followed by Hispanics, and then other minority groups. While poverty did contribute to living in such communities, the study identified race as the number one factor for living close to toxic waste sites.
The report also states that many of those in these communities were completely unaware of these toxic sites. The Toxic Waste and Race report was one of the first studies of this kind, delving into environmental injustice on a national level. It provided much momentum to the environmental justice movement in the late 1980s. It set the stage for some major changes on the local and federal levels, including the formation of the Environmental Equity Workgroup in 1990.
Dr. Robert Bullard and the Environmental Justice Movement
While several people started the environmental justice movement long before his involvement, Dr. Bullard played a crucial role in helping to propel the movement forward in the 1990s. He is, therefore, sometimes mentioned as one of the founders of the environmental justice movement. He is also known as the “father of environmental justice,” according to his website.
His wife, Linda McKeever Bullard, worked as an attorney, and he conducted research for her litigation efforts. Dr. Bullard studied the spatial distribution of municipal solid waste facilities in Houston, Texas. Linda McKeever Bullard suspected that racial disparities may play a role in the distribution of municipal waste sites. Shockingly, Dr. Bullard’s research confirmed that all landfills and incinerators in the area were near black neighborhoods.
The lawsuit relying on his research, Bean v Southwestern Waste Management Corp., was one of the first in the U.S. to charge environmental discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unfortunately, Linda McKeever Bullard lost her case, and Southwestern Waste Management Corp. won. However, the case served to highlight the plight of many black communities.
Dr. Robert Bullard also published various books on the topic of environmental justice, including the influential work called “Dumping in Dixie” in the 1990s. The book deals with economic, health, and environmental disparities in communities.
The Office of Environmental Justice
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) founded the Environmental Equity Workgroup to address the disadvantages of those living in communities carrying the lion share of the environmental health burden. Within the first two years of its existence, the agency produced a report entitled “Reducing Risks for All Communities.”
In November 1992, the EPA established the Office of Environmental Equity based on recommendations from the Environmental Equity Workgroup. The name later changed to the “Office of Environmental Justice.” The Office of Environmental Justice, among other activities, established a small grants program that provides financial help to organizations identifying environmental health issues and seeking to involve local communities with finding solutions.
However, the EPA is not entirely free from criticism when it comes to enforcing environmental justice equally amongst the communities in this country.
Contact an Environmental Justice Lawyer
Environmental justice is a fundamental right that should extend beyond color or race. We all equally deserve access to a clean environment for us to enjoy, and for our children to grow up in without any undue risks to their health.
If you suffered environmental injustice, contact us. We will hear you out, take your concerns seriously, and together look for a solution. We can discuss any options that you might have to hold a responsible party to account for any harm that you or your family, or indeed your entire community, may have suffered.
Call Ben Crump Law, PLLC now for a free consultation with one of our team members: (800) 959-1444.