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Environmental justice emerged as a concept in the United States in the early 1980s. The term has two distinct uses with the more common usage describing a social movement that focuses on the “fair” distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. The other use is an interdisciplinary body of social science literature that includes theories of the environment and justice, environmental laws and their implementations, environmental policy and planning and governance for development and sustainability, and political ecology.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as follows:
Environmental justice is 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. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation [sic]. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
Other definitions include: equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits; fair and meaningful participation in environmental decision-making; recognition of community ways of life, local knowledge, and cultural difference; and the capability of communities and individuals to function and flourish in society. An alternative meaning, used in social sciences, of the term "justice" is "the distribution of social goods".
Environmental discrimination is one issue that environmental justice seeks to address. Racism and discrimination against minorities center on a socially-dominant group's belief in its superiority, often resulting in privilege for the dominant group and the mistreatment of non-dominant minorities. The combined impact of these privileges and prejudices are just one of the potential reasons that waste management and high pollution sites tend to be located in minority-dominated areas. A disproportionate quantity of minority communities (for example in Warren County, North Carolina) play host to landfills, incinerators, and other potentially toxic facilities. Environmental discrimination can also be the placement of a harmful factory in a place of minority. This can be seen as environmental discrimination because it is placing a harmful entity in a place where the people often don't have the means to fight back against big corporations.
Environmental discrimination has historically been evident in the process of selecting and building environmentally hazardous sites, including waste disposal, manufacturing, and energy production facilities. The location of transportation infrastructures, including highways, ports, and airports, has also been viewed as a source of environmental injustice. Among the earliest documentation of environmental racism was a study of the distribution of toxic waste sites across the United States. Due to the results of that study, waste dumps and waste incinerators have been the target of environmental justice lawsuits and protests.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often used in lawsuits that claim environmental inequality. Section 601 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by any government agency receiving federal assistance. To win an environmental justice case that claims an agency violated this statute, the plaintiff must prove the agency intended to discriminate. Section 602 requires agencies to create rules and regulations that uphold section 601. This section is useful because the plaintiff must only prove that the rule or regulation in question had a discriminatory impact. There is no need to prove discriminatory intent. Seif v. Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living set the precedent that citizens can sue under section 601. There has not yet been a case in which a citizen has sued under section 602, which calls into question whether this right of action exists.
When environmentalism first became popular during the early 20th century, the focus was wilderness protection and wildlife preservation. These goals reflected the interests of the movement's initial, primarily white middle and upper class supporters, including through viewing preservation and protection via a lens that failed to appreciate the centuries-long work of indigenous communities who had lived without ushering in the types of environmental devastation these settler colonial "environmentalists" now sought to mitigate. The actions of many mainstream environmental organizations still reflect these early principles.
Numerous low-income minorities felt isolated or negatively impacted by the movement, exemplified by the Southwest Organizing Project's (SWOP) Letter to the Group of 10, a letter sent to major environmental organizations by several local environmental justice activists. The letter argued that the environmental movement was so concerned about cleaning up and preserving nature that it ignored the negative side-effects that doing so caused communities nearby, namely less job growth. In addition, the NIMBY movement has transferred locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) from middle-class neighborhoods to poor communities with large minority populations. Therefore, vulnerable communities with fewer political opportunities are more often exposed to hazardous waste and toxins. This has resulted in the PIBBY principle, or at least the PIMBY (Place-in-minorities'-backyard), as supported by the United Church of Christ's study in 1987.
As a result, some minorities have viewed the environmental movement as elitist. Environmental elitism manifested itself in three different forms:
Supporters of economic growth have taken advantage of environmentalists' neglect of minorities. They have convinced minority leaders looking to improve their communities that the economic benefits of industrial facility and the increase in the number of jobs are worth the health risks. In fact, both politicians and businesses have even threatened imminent job loss if communities do not accept hazardous industries and facilities. Although in many cases local residents do not actually receive these benefits, the argument is used to decrease resistance in the communities as well as avoid expenditures used to clean up pollutants and create safer workplace environments.
One of the prominent barriers to minority participation in environmental justice is the initial costs of trying to change the system and prevent companies from dumping their toxic waste and other pollutants in areas with high numbers of minorities living in them. There are massive legal fees involved in fighting for environmental justice and trying to shed environmental racism. For example, in the United Kingdom, there is a rule that the claimant may have to cover the fees of their opponents, which further exacerbates any cost issues, especially with lower-income minority groups; also, the only way for environmental justice groups to hold companies accountable for their pollution and breaking any licensing issues over waste disposal would be to sue the government for not enforcing rules. This would lead to the forbidding legal fees that most could not afford. This can be seen by the fact that out of 210 judicial review cases between 2005 and 2009, 56% did not proceed due to costs.
Viewing their communities as disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and disproportionately denied access to movements claiming to redress this, many organizations by and for racialized communities and low-wealth groups began to form in the 1970s and 80s to address environmental injustices. Their work has come to collectively form the backbone of the contemporary environmental justice movement, whose guiding principles were especially documented during the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Participants in this Summit established 17 particular Principles of Environmental Justice.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, activists participated in a social movement that created a unified atmosphere and advocated goals of social justice and equality. The community organization and the social values of the era have translated to the Environmental Justice movement.
The Environmental Justice movement and the Civil Rights Movement have many commonalities. At their core, the movements' goals are the same: "social justice, equal protection, and an end to institutional discrimination." By stressing the similarities of the two movements, it emphasizes that environmental equity is a right for all citizens. Because the two movements have parallel goals, it is useful to employ similar tactics that often emerge on the grassroots level. Common confrontational strategies include protests, neighborhood demonstrations, picketing, political pressure, and demonstration.
Just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s began in the South, the fight for environmental equity has been largely based in the South, where environmental discrimination is most prominent. In these southern communities, black churches and other voluntary associations are used to organize resistance efforts, including research and demonstrations, such as the protest in Warren County, North Carolina. As a result of the existing community structure, many church leaders and civil rights activists, such as Reverend Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, have spearheaded the Environmental Justice movement.
The Bronx, in New York City, has become a recent example of Environmental Justice succeeding. Majora Carter spearheaded the South Bronx Greenway Project, bringing local economic development, local urban heat island mitigation, positive social influences, access to public open space, and aesthetically stimulating environments. The New York City Department of Design and Construction has recently recognized the value of the South Bronx Greenway design, and consequently utilized it as a widely distributed smart growth template. This venture is the ideal shovel-ready project with over $50 million in funding.
Several of the most successful Environmental Justice lawsuits are based on violations of civil rights laws. The first case to use civil rights as a means to legally challenge the siting of a waste facility was in 1979. With the legal representation of Linda McKeever Bullard, the wife of Robert D. Bullard, residents of Houston's Northwood Manor opposed the decision of the city and Browning Ferris Industries to construct a solid waste facility near their mostly African-American neighborhood.
In 1979, Northeast Community Action Group, or NECAG, was formed by African American homeowners in a suburban, middle income neighborhood in order to keep a landfill out of their home town. This group was the first organization that found the connection between race and pollution. The group, alongside their attorney Linda McKeever Bullard started the lawsuit Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, Inc., which was the first of its kind to challenge the sitting of a waste facility under civil rights law. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was used many times to defend minority rights during the 1960s, has also been used in numerous Environmental Justice cases.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often used in lawsuits that claim environmental inequality. The two most paramount sections in these cases are sections 601 and 602. Section 601 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by any government agency receiving federal assistance. To win an Environmental Justice case that claims an agency violated this statute, the plaintiff must prove the agency intended to discriminate. Section 602 requires agencies to create rules and regulations that uphold section 601; in Alexander v. Sandoval, the Supreme Court held that plaintiffs must also show intent to discriminate to successfully challenge the government under 602.
Many participants in the Reproductive Justice Movement see their struggle as linked with those for environmental justice, and vice versa. Loretta Ross describes the reproductive justice framework as addressing "the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny" and argues this is inextricably "linked directly to the conditions in her community – and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access." Such conditions include those central to environmental justice—including the siting of toxic contamination and pollution of food, air, and waterways. Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook helps illustrate one link between reproductive and environmental justice when she explains, "at the breasts of women flows the relationship of those generations both to society and to the natural world. In this way the earth is our mother, grandma says. In this way, we as women are the earth." Cook founded the Mother's Milk Project in the 1980s to address the toxic contamination of maternal bodies through exposure to fish and water contaminated by a General Motors Superfund site. In underscoring how contamination disproportionately impacted Akwesasne women and their children through gestation and breastfeeding, this Project brought to the fore one of the many intersections between reproductive and environmental justice.
Among the affected groups of Environmental Justice, those in high-poverty and racial minority groups have the most propensity to receive the harm of environmental injustice. Poor people account for more than 20% of the human health impacts from industrial toxic air releases, compared to 12.9% of the population nationwide. This does not account for the inequity found among individual minority groups. Some studies that test statistically for effects of race and ethnicity, while controlling for income and other factors, suggest racial gaps in exposure that persist across all bands of income.
African-Americans are affected by a variety of Environmental Justice issues. One notorious example is the "Cancer Alley" region of Louisiana. This 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is home to 125 companies that produce one quarter of the petrochemical products manufactured in the United States. The United States Commission on Civil Rights has concluded that the African-American community has been disproportionately affected by Cancer Alley as a result of Louisiana's current state and local permit system for hazardous facilities, as well as their low socio-economic status and limited political influence. Another incidence of long-term environmental injustice occurred in the "West Grove" community of Miami, Florida. From 1925 to 1970, the predominately poor, African American residents of the "West Grove" endured the negative effects of exposure to carcinogenic emissions and toxic waste discharge from a large trash incinerator called Old Smokey. Despite official acknowledgement as a public nuisance, the incinerator project was expanded in 1961. It was not until the surrounding, predominantly white neighborhoods began to experience the negative impacts from Old Smokey that the legal battle began to close the incinerator.
Indigenous groups are often the victims of environmental injustices. Native Americans have suffered abuses related to uranium mining in the American West. Churchrock, New Mexico, in Navajo territory was home to the longest continuous uranium mining in any Navajo land. From 1954 until 1968, the tribe leased land to mining companies who did not obtain consent from Navajo families or report any consequences of their activities. Not only did the miners significantly deplete the limited water supply, but they also contaminated what was left of the Navajo water supply with uranium. Kerr-McGee and United Nuclear Corporation, the two largest mining companies, argued that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act did not apply to them, and maintained that Native American land is not subject to environmental protections. The courts did not force them to comply with US clean water regulations until 1980.
The most common example of environmental injustice among Latinos is the exposure to pesticides faced by farmworkers. After DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides were banned in the United States in 1972, farmers began using more acutely toxic organophosphate pesticides such as parathion. A large portion of farmworkers in the US are working as undocumented immigrants, and as a result of their political disadvantage, are not able to protest against regular exposure to pesticides or benefit from the protections of Federal laws. Exposure to chemical pesticides in the cotton industry also affects farmers in India and Uzbekistan. Banned throughout much of the rest of the world because of the potential threat to human health and the natural environment, Endosulfan is a highly toxic chemical, the safe use of which cannot be guaranteed in the many developing countries it is used in. Endosulfan, like DDT, is an organochlorine and persists in the environment long after it has killed the target pests, leaving a deadly legacy for people and wildlife.
Residents of cities along the US-Mexico border are also affected. Maquiladoras are assembly plants operated by American, Japanese, and other foreign countries, located along the US-Mexico border. The maquiladoras use cheap Mexican labor to assemble imported components and raw material, and then transport finished products back to the United States. Much of the waste ends up being illegally dumped in sewers, ditches, or in the desert. Along the Lower Rio Grande Valley, maquiladoras dump their toxic wastes into the river from which 95 percent of residents obtain their drinking water. In the border cities of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, the rate of anencephaly (babies born without brains) is four times the national average.
States may also see placing toxic facilities near poor neighborhoods as preferential from a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) perspective. A CBA may favor placing a toxic facility near a city of 20,000 poor people than near a city of 5,000 wealthy people. Terry Bossert of Range Resources reportedly has said that it deliberately locates its operations in poor neighbourhoods instead of wealthy areas where residents have more money to challenge its practices. Northern California's East Bay Refinery Corridor is an example of the disparities associated with race and income and proximity to toxic facilities.
It has been argued that environmental justice issues generally tend to affect women in communities more so than they affect men. This is due to the way that women typically interact more closely with their environments at home, such as through handling food preparation and childcare. Women also tend to be the leaders in environmental justice activist movements. Despite this, it tends not to be considered a mainstream feminist issue.
In its 2012 environmental justice strategy documents, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated an ongoing desire to integrate environmental justice into its core mission, internal operations and programming. It identified ambitious timeframes for action and promised improved efforts to highlight, track and coordinate EJ activities among its many sub-agencies. Agency-wide the USDA expanded its perspective on EJ, so that in addition to preventing disproportionate environmental impacts on EJ communities, USDA voiced a commitment to improve public participation processes and use its technical and financial assistance programs to improve the quality of life in all communities. In 2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized the USDA's focus on EJ in rural communities around the United States. USDA funds or implements many creative programs with social and environmental equity goals, however it has no staff dedicated solely to EJ, and faces the challenges of limited budgets and coordinating the efforts of a highly diverse agency.
The USDA is the executive agency responsible for federal policy on food, agriculture, natural resources, and quality of life in rural America. The USDA has more than 100,000 employees and delivers over $96.5 billion in public services to programs worldwide. To fulfill its general mandate, USDA's departments are organized into seven mission areas:1) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; 2) Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services; 3) Food Safety; 4) Marketing and Regulatory Programs; 5) Natural Resources and Environment; 6) Research, Education and Economics and; 7) Rural Development.
In 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." Executive Order 12898 requires that achieving EJ must be part of each federal agency's mission. Agency programs, policies and activities can lead to health and environmental effects that disproportionately impact minority and low-income populations. Under Executive Order 12898 agencies must develop strategies that identify and address these effects by:
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that federal funds be used in a fair and equitable manner. Under Title VI any federal agency that receives federal funding cannot discriminate. Title VI also forbids federal agencies from providing grants or funding opportunities to programs that discriminate. An agency that violates Title VI can lose its federal funding.
Following E.O. 12898 and USDA's initial EJ strategic plan, USDA issued its internal Environmental Justice Department Regulation (DR 5600-002) in 1997. Although the definition of EJ was undergoing updates in 2012, DR 5600-002 defines environmental justice as "to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, all populations are provided the opportunity to comment before decisions are rendered on, are allowed to share in the benefits of, are not excluded from, and are not affected in a disproportionately high and adverse manner by, government programs and activities affecting human health or the environment." Patrick Holmes, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA, notes that this definition will be broadened in 2012 so that EJ also includes efforts to improve quality of life in all communities. In other words, USDA will consider EJ to include avoiding adverse impacts and ensuring access to environmental benefits. Further, DR 5600-002 identified USDA's goals in implementing Executive Order 12898 as:
DR 5600-002 is "intended only to improve the internal management of USDA," and although it described concrete, mandatory actions by the agency, it did not establish new rights or benefits enforceable in court. In April 2011, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has stated a more concrete priority to fulfill its mission of environmental justice in rural areas.
In compliance with the August 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898 (MOU), USDA released a final Environmental Justice Strategic Plan: 2012 to 2014 on February 7, 2012 (Strategic Plan), which identifies new and updated goals and performance measures beyond what USDA identified in a 1995 EJ strategy it adopted in response to E.O. 12898. In the same week, it also released its first annual implementation progress report (Progress Report), as the MOU also required. The Secretary's message accompanying the Strategic Plan described two immediate tasks: 1) each agency within USDA is required to identify a point of contact for EJ issues, at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level; and 2) each agency must develop its own EJ strategy prior to April 15, 2012, and begin implementing it as soon as possible. As of May 2012, it did not appear that such strategies had been made public, although sub-agencies provided internal reports to the USDA's EJ steering committee on April 9, 2012, according to Holmes. The Secretary's message contained strong language that, "Given that USDA programs touch almost every American every day, the Department is well positioned to help in [the environmental justice] effort." USDA has determined that it can achieve the requirements of the Executive Order by integrating EJ into its programs, rather than implementing new and costly programs. The agency took this same approach in an EJ strategy it adopted in 1995. In some areas, such as agricultural chemicals and effects to migrant workers, USDA reviews its practices to identify potential disproportionate, adverse impacts on EJ communities, according to Blake Velde, Senior Environmental Scientist with the USDA Hazardous Materials Management Division. Generally, USDA believes its existing technical and financial assistance programs provide solutions to environmental inequity, such as its initiatives on education, food deserts, and economic development in impacted communities, and ensuring access to environmental benefits is the focus of USDA's EJ efforts.
Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Harris Sherman is the political appointee generally responsible for USDA's EJ strategy, with Patrick Holmes, a senior staffer to the Under Secretary, playing a coordinating role. Although USDA has no staff dedicated solely to EJ, its sub-agencies have many offices dedicated to civil rights compliance, outreach and communication and environmental review whose responsibilities incorporate EJ issues. The Strategic Plan was developed with the input of an Environmental Justice Working Group, made up of staff and leadership representing the USDA's seven mission areas and the SES-level contacts, which were appointed in early 2012, serve as a steering committee for the agency's efforts. The Strategic Plan is organized according to six goals, which were purposefully left broad, and lists specific objectives and agency performance measures under each goal. The details and specific implementation of many of these programs and the performance measures are left to the departments and sub-agencies to develop. The six goals are to:
The Strategic Plan also lists existing programs that either currently support the goal, or are expected to in the future. According to Holmes, some of the challenges of the Strategic Plan process have stemmed from the diverse programs and missions that the agency serves, limitations on staff time, and budgets.
The Strategic Plan requires that EJ must be integrated into the strategies and evaluations for sub-agencies' technical and financial assistance programs. It also emphasizes public participation, community capacity-building, EJ awareness and training within the USDA.
A stated goal of USDA's Strategic Plan is to expand public participation in agency activities, to enhance the "credibility and public trust" of the USDA. Specifically, the agency will update its public participation guidelines to include EJ, beginning this process by April 15, 2012. The Strategic Plan emphasizes capacity-building in EJ communities, and includes objectives that emphasize communication between USDA and environmental justice communities, including Tribal consultation. Sub-agencies must announce schedules for training programs in EJ communities and to develop new, preliminary outreach materials on USDA programs by April 15, 2012. An additional performance standard is to encourage EJ communities to participate in the NEPA process, an effort the Strategic Plan requires on or before February 29, 2012, although the Strategic Plan does not articulate a standard by which this could be measured. The Strategic Plan also reiterates compliance with the Executive Orders on Tribal consultation and outreach to non-proficient English speakers, and seeks more diverse representation on regional forest advisory committees. [community participation, outreach].
Generally, the USDA's process for developing the Strategic Plan demonstrates a commitment to public involvement. The USDA EJ documents are currently housed obscurely within the Departmental Management section of the USDA website, under the Hazardous Materials Management Division, although the agency plans to update its entire site in 2012 and create a more robust EJ page. The Strategic Plan was released in draft form in December 2011 for a 30-day public comment period, and responses to general types of comments received are in the Progress Report, although the comments themselves are not online. The Secretary's message accompanying the Strategic Plan requests that organizations and individuals to continue to contact USDA with comments on the Strategic Plan and to identify USDA programs that have been the most beneficial to their communities. The agency has a dedicated email address for this purpose. Agency leadership has asked its sub-agencies to prepare responses to additional comments that have been received, and the agency will release an interim progress report, prior to winter 2013. [community participation, outreach, education]
The Strategic Plan also seeks to increase the awareness of environmental justice issues among USDA employees. The Strategic Plan does not list any existing programs in this area, but does list a series of performance measures going forward, most of which must be met by April 15, 2012. The measures include environmental justice trainings, new web pages, and potential revisions to staff manuals and handbooks. Sub-agencies began reviewing their existing training in 2012 and in their April 9, 2012 reports to the USDA EJ steering committee, sub-agencies were asked to describe their goals for enhanced EJ training. This internal, educational undertaking appears to be new in the 2012 Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan targets Responsible Officials, meaning office and program managers, for the trainings, as well as the SES-level points of contact required by the Secretary's message. [education, study, compliance and enforcement]
The EJ Strategy tasked each sub-agency with developing its own EJ strategy document by spring 2012, although as of May 2012 the sub-agencies were still in an evaluation stage and had not issued final documents. For many sub-agencies, the 2012 process has been their first focused assessment of their EJ impact and opportunities. Going forward, sub-agencies will submit twice-yearly reports to NRE about their implementation of the Strategic Plan's goals; the first of these was due April 9, 2012, and as of May 2012, the USDA's EJ steering committee was evaluating the first reports.
As part of its effort to ensure that EJ communities have the opportunity to participate in USDA programs, the Strategic Plan requires each sub-agency to set measurements through which it can track increased EJ community participation in USDA technical and financial assistance programs. This must be done by April 15, 2012. As of late April 2012, the sub-agencies were still in the process of describing a baseline of current activities and determining the metrics to evaluate improvement, such as staff time, grant funding or increased programming. The ultimate metrics are likely to be somewhat subjective, and must be flexible given the broad range of undertakings by the sub-agencies. Also related to evaluation, the Strategic Plan requires the sub-agencies to determine an effective methodology with which they can evaluate whether USDA programs have disproportionate impacts. [study, redressing environmental racism, compliance and enforcement]
USDA has had a role in implementing Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign in tribal areas, by increasing participation by Bureau of Indian Education schools in Federal nutrition programs, in the development of community gardens on tribal lands, and in the development of tribal food policy councils. This is combined with measures to provide Rural Development funding for community infrastructure in Indian Country. [children's issues, education, diet, grants, Native Americans, public health].
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is working to update its policy on protection and management of Native American Sacred Sites, an effort that has included listening sessions and government-to-government consultation. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has also consulted with Tribes regarding management of reintroduced of species, where Tribes may have a history of subsistence-level hunting of those species. Meanwhile, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is exploring a program to use meat from bisons raised on Tribal land to supply AMS food distribution programs to Tribes. [Native Americans, diet, subsistence, community participation]
The Intertribal Technical Assistance Network works to improve access of Tribal governments, communities and individuals to USDA technical assistance programs.
The Progress Report highlights the NRCS Strike Force Initiative, which has identified impoverished counties in Mississippi, Georgia and Arkansas to receive increased outreach and training regarding USDA assistance programs. USDA credits this increased outreach with generating a 196 percent increase in contracts, representing more than 250,000 acres of farmland, in its Environmental Quality Incentives Program. [economic benefit, equitable development, grants, outreach, ej as evaluation criteria] NRCS works with "private landowners protect their natural resources" through conservation planning and assistance with the goal of maintaining "productive lands and healthy ecosystems." NRCS has its own civil rights compliance guidance document, and in 2001 NRCS funded and published a study, "Environmental Justice: Perceptions of Issues, Awareness and Assistance," focused on rural, Southern "Black Belt" counties and analyzing how the NRCS workforce could more effectively integrate environmental justice into impacted communities. [compliance and enforcement, redressing environmental racism, grants, study, ej as evaluation criteria]
The Farm Services Agency in 2011 devoted $100,000 of its Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program budget to improving its outreach to counties with persistent poverty, including improving its materials and building relationships with local universities and community groups. [economic benefit, equitable development, grants, outreach, ej as evaluation criteria]
In addition, USDA's Risk Management Agency has initiated education and outreach to low-income farmers regarding use of biological controls, rather than pesticides, for pest control, efforts that the agency believes are valuable in the face of climate change. [climate change, agricultural chemicals, education]
A 2011 MOU between a USDA sub-agency, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society that aims to increase the number of Native Americans entering the FSIS career path; [education, community participation, economic benefit, green jobs, Native Americans, diet, interagency collaboration]
A partnership between APHIS and the Rural Coalition (Coalicion)--an alliance of regionally and culturally diverse organizations working to build a more just and sustainable food system. The partnership focuses on outreach, fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, farmworker working conditions, environmental protection and food safety. [agricultural chemicals, community participation, diet, economic benefit, outreach, improving health and safety, ej as evaluation criteria]
USFS is also funding pilot initiatives, such as its Urban Water Ambassadors, summer internship positions for youth who coordinate and implement urban tree planting projects. In 2011, USFS provided a grant to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that funded 14 summer jobs for youth in Baltimore to work on urban watershed restoration programs. [community participation, green jobs, mapping, water]
USFS has established several Urban Field Stations, to research urban natural resources' structure, function, stewardship, and benefits. By mapping urban tree coverage, the agency hopes to identify and prioritize EJ communities for urban forest projects. [community education, mapping, diet, improving health and safety, ej as evaluation criteria]
Another initiative highlighted by the agency is the Food and Nutrition Service and Economic Research Service's Food Desert Locator. The Locator provides a spatial view of food deserts, defined as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. It also shows, by census tract, the number and percentage of certain populations, such as children, seniors, or households without a vehicle, with low access to grocery stores. The mapped deserts can be used to direct agency resources to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other food assistance programs, according to Blake Velde, an agency scientist and spokesperson on EJ issues. [diet, mapping, improving health and safety, study, ej as evaluation criteria, services and data available to others]
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has placed a clear emphasis on supporting EJ in rural areas. Although "often the highest profile battles on [environmental justice] issue[s] are waged in at-risk neighborhoods in major cities or at Superfund sites located near populated urban and suburban areas" Vilsack highlighted the often overlooked rural areas where environmental justice is largely ignored.
Through its Rural Utilities Service, the USDA supports a number of Water and Environmental Programs. These programs work to administer water and wastewater loans or grants to rural areas and cities to support water and wastewater, stormwater and solid waste disposal systems, including SEARCH Grants that are targeted to financially distressed, small rural communities and other opportunities specifically for Alaskan Native villages and designated Colonias.; In his speech, Secretary Vilsack said that the USDA funded 2,575 clean water projects in rural areas during a two-year period to address problems ranging from wastewater treatment to sewage treatment. [water, land use, compliance and enforcement, improving health and safety, pollution cleanup, ej as evaluation criteria]
The USDA also supports the Rural Energy for America Grant Program. This program provides grants and loans to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to finance renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.[grants, economic benefit, ej as evaluation criteria]
In 1997 the USDA promulgated a departmental regulation providing "direction to [sub-]agencies for integrating environmental justice considerations into USDA programs and activities" (DR 5600-002). Issuance of this regulation was a primary goal of USDA's 1995 EJ strategy document. DR 5600-002 includes guidelines for consideration of EJ in the NEPA process, but also stated that "efforts to address environmental justice are not limited to NEPA compliance." It requires evaluation of activities for potential disproportionate EJ impacts, outreach, and performance-metric based evaluation and reporting on sub-agencies' implementation of EJ goals. DR 5600-002 is a forward-looking, permanent directive that applies to all USDA programs and activities. It was not published in the Federal Register as a formal rulemaking and does not create a private right of action or enforcement tool. A Strategic Plan goal is to update this regulation, as well as other departmental regulations and policies on EJ. According to USDA, the EJ definition in DR 5600-002 will be modified in 2012—EJ to include measures to avoid disproportionate negative impacts as well as quality-of-life improvements that the agency believes can benefit impacted communities.
The Strategic Plan also has established a performance standard requiring that existing and new USDA regulations are evaluated for EJ impacts or benefits. Sub-agencies are required to develop a process for this evaluation by April 15, 2012. This performance standard reflects a requirement in DR 5600-002 that required the USDA departmental regulation on rulemaking, DR 1521-1, to be revised to require an EJ evaluation in the rulemaking process. As of 2012, DR 1521-1 requires that a cost-benefit analysis of major human health, safety and environmental regulations include analysis of risks to "persons who are disproportionately exposed or particularly sensitive," although DR 1521-1 does not mention EJ or impacts to minority or low-income communities explicitly. [Land Use - permitting, community participation, compliance and enforcement, study]
The Strategic Plan sets an enforcement-specific goal, which includes objectives to "effectively resolve or adjudicate all environmental justice-related Title VI complaints" and to include environmental justice as a key component of civil rights compliance reviews. Agencies are also required to identify an assessment methodology by April 15, 2012, which can be used to determine whether programs have disproportionately high and adverse environmental and human health impacts. The NRCS has published and updated a Civil Rights Compliance Review Guide, which guides the NRCS Civil Rights Division's review of the compliance with Title VI and 12898 in the agency's state offices, field offices and other facilities. The guide was updated in November 2011 and it does not mention EJ explicitly. However, the Strategic Plan identifies the NRCS compliance review and other outreach and research programs as supporting its EJ enforcement goals. [compliance and enforcement]
The 1997 Regulation, DR 5600-2 required USDA sub-agencies to develop their own NEPA environmental justice guidance documents. The sub-agencies have done so, with some additional details, such as a reminder that the EJ community should be involved in identifying the alternatives, suggested stakeholders and resources, and guidance to hold meetings at times when working people can get to them, and to translate notices. When DR 5600-02 is updated as required by the Strategic Plan, changes could be made to the NEPA section of the Regulation. The Strategic Plan sets a performance standard to encourage interested environmental justice communities to be involved in the public participation process for NEPA documents, although the Strategic Plan does not require updates to the NEPA portions of DR 5600-02.
Although the USDA has integrated EJ into each step of the NEPA process as required by Executive Order 12898, many of the NEPA documents completed by the USDA include only cursory analysis of environmental justice effects. This analysis most often includes a rote paragraph as to what Executive Order 12898 requires and a quick conclusion that the agency action does not affect minority and low-income populations. Some examples where the USDA included more in-depth analysis are:
The USDA does not have any permitting initiatives specific to EJ.
The USDA has an Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights whose mission it is to provide leadership and direction "for the fair and equitable treatment of all USDA customers."
In 2003 the USDA revised DR 4300-4, internal regulations requiring a Civil Rights Impact Analysis of all "policies, actions or decisions" affecting the USDA's federally conducted and federally assisted programs or activities. The analysis is used to determine the "scope, intensity, direction, duration, and significance of the effects of an agency's proposed ... policies, actions or decisions." USDA's departmental regulation on EJ, DR 5600-002, required DR 4300-4 to be revised to "require that Civil Rights Impact Analyses include a finding as to whether proposed or new actions have or do not have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on the human health or the environment of minority populations, and whether such effects can be prevented or mitigated". Although DR 4300-4 was revised in 2003, the revised regulation does not explicitly require a finding on adverse environmental or health impacts. [study, compliance and enforcement]
Right to know, in the context of United States workplace and community environmental law, is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living.
After the Bhopal disaster, where a Union Carbide plant released forty tons of methyl isocyanate into the atmosphere in a village just south of Bhopal, India, the U.S. government passed the Emergency Planning and Right to Know Act of 1986. Introduced by Henry Waxman, the act required all corporations to report their toxic chemical pollution annually, which was then gathered into a report known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).
The Corporate Toxics Information Project (CTIP) was founded on the guidelines that they will "[develop] and [disseminate] information and analysis on corporate releases of pollutants and the consequences for communities". The overarching goal was to help take corporations into account for their pollution habits, by collecting information and putting it in databases so to make it available to the general public. The four goals of the project were to develop 1) corporate rankings, 2) regional reports, based on state, region, and metropolitan areas, 3) industry reports, based on industrial sectors, and 4) to create a web-based resource open to the entire population, that can depict all the collected data. The data collection would be done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and then analyzed and disseminated by the PERI institute.
One of the biggest projects of CTIP was the Toxic 100. The Toxic 100 is an index of the top 100 air polluters around the United States in terms of the country's largest corporations. The list is based on the EPA's Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI), which "assesses the chronic human health risk from industrial toxic releases", as well as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which is where the corporations must report their chemical releases to the US government. Since its original publishing date in 2004, the Toxic 100 has been updated five times, with the latest update in 2016.
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In recent years environmental justice campaigns have also emerged in other parts of the world, such as India, South Africa, Israel, Nigeria, Mexico, Hungary, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. In Europe for example, there is evidence to suggest that the Romani people and other minority groups of non-European descent are suffering from environmental inequality and discrimination.
For further information, see Environmental racism in Europe
In Europe, the Romani peoples are ethnic minorities and differ from the rest of the European people by their culture, language, and history. The environmental discrimination that they experience ranges from the unequal distribution of environmental harms as well as the unequal distribution of education, health services and employment. In many countries Romani peoples are forced to live in the slums because many of the laws to get residence permits are discriminatory against them. This forces Romani people to live in urban "ghetto" type housing or in shantytowns. In the Czech Republic and Romania, the Romani peoples are forced to live in places that have less access to running water and sewage, and in Ostrava, Czech Republic, the Romani people live in apartments located above an abandoned mine, which emits methane. Also in Bulgaria, the public infrastructure extends throughout the town of Sofia until it reaches the Romani village where there is very little water access or sewage capacity.
The European Union is trying to strive towards environmental justice by putting into effect declarations that state that all people have a right to a healthy environment. The Stockholm Declaration, the 1987 Brundtland Commission's Report – "Our Common Future", the Rio Declaration, and Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, all are ways that the Europeans have put acts in place to work toward environmental justice. Europe also funds action-oriented projects that work on furthering Environmental Justice throughout the world. For example, EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade) is a large multinational project supported through the FP7 Science in Society budget line from the European Commission.[further explanation needed] From March 2011 to March 2015, 23 civil society organizations and universities from 20 countries in Europe, Africa, Latin-America, and Asia are, and have promised to work together on advancing the cause of Environmental Justice. EJOLT is building up case studies, linking organisations worldwide, and making an interactive global map of Environmental Justice.
Sweden became the first country to ban DDT in 1969 due to the efforts of women protesting its usage in forests. In the 1980s, women activists organized around preparing jam made from pesticide-tainted berries, which they offered to the members of parliament. Parliament members refused, and this has often been cited as an example of direct action within ecofeminism.
Whilst the predominant agenda of the Environmental Justice movement in the United States has been tackling issues of race, inequality, and the environment, environmental justice campaigns around the world have developed and shifted in focus. For example, the EJ movement in the United Kingdom is quite different. It focuses on issues of poverty and the environment, but also tackles issues of health inequalities and social exclusion. A UK-based NGO, named the Environmental Justice Foundation, has sought to make a direct link between the need for environmental security and the defense of basic human rights. They have launched several high profile campaigns that link environmental problems and social injustices. A campaign against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing highlighted how 'pirate' fisherman are stealing food from local, artisanal fishing communities. They have also launched a campaign exposing the environmental and human rights abuses involved in cotton production in Uzbekistan. Cotton produced in Uzbekistan is often harvested by children for little or no pay. In addition, the mismanagement of water resources for crop irrigation has led to the near eradication of the Aral Sea. The Environmental Justice Foundation has successfully petitioned large retailers such as Wal-mart and Tesco to stop selling Uzbek cotton.
In France, numerous Alternatiba events, or villages of alternatives, are providing hundreds of alternatives to climate change and lack of environmental justice, both in order to raise people's awareness and to stimulate behaviour change. They have been or will be organized in over sixty different French and European cities, such as Bilbao, Brussels, Geneva, Lyon or Paris.
Under colonial and apartheid governments in South Africa, thousands of black South Africans were removed from their ancestral lands to make way for game parks. Earthlife Africa was formed in 1988 (www.earthlife.org.za), making it Africa's first environmental justice organisation. In 1992, the Environmental Justice Networking Forum (EJNF), a nationwide umbrella organization designed to coordinate the activities of environmental activists and organizations interested in social and environmental justice, was created. By 1995, the network expanded to include 150 member organizations and by 2000, it included over 600 member organizations.
With the election of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994, the environmental justice movement gained an ally in government. The ANC noted "poverty and environmental degradation have been closely linked" in South Africa.[attribution needed] The ANC made it clear that environmental inequalities and injustices would be addressed as part of the party's post-apartheid reconstruction and development mandate. The new South African Constitution, finalized in 1996, includes a Bill of Rights that grants South Africans the right to an "environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being" and "to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures that
South Africa's mining industry is the largest single producer of solid waste, accounting for about two-thirds of the total waste stream.[vague] Tens of thousands of deaths have occurred among mine workers as a result of accidents over the last century. There have been several deaths and debilitating diseases from work-related illnesses like asbestosis. For those who live next to a mine, the quality of air and water is poor. Noise, dust, and dangerous equipment and vehicles can be threats to the safety of those who live next to a mine as well. These communities are often poor and black and have little choice over the placement of a mine near their homes. The National Party introduced a new Minerals Act that began to address environmental considerations by recognizing the health and safety concerns of workers and the need for land rehabilitation during and after mining operations. In 1993, the Act was amended to require each new mine to have an Environmental Management Program Report (EMPR) prepared before breaking ground. These EMPRs were intended to force mining companies to outline all the possible environmental impacts of the particular mining operation and to make provision for environmental management.
In October 1998, the Department of Minerals and Energy released a White Paper entitled A Minerals and Mining Policy for South Africa, which included a section on Environmental Management. The White Paper states "Government, in recognition of the responsibility of the State as custodian of the nation's natural resources, will ensure that the essential development of the country's mineral resources will take place within a framework of sustainable development and in accordance with national environmental policy, norms, and standards". It adds that any environmental policy "must ensure a cost-effective and competitive mining industry."
In Australia, the "Environmental Justice Movement" is not defined as it is in the United States. Australia does have some discrimination mainly in the siting of hazardous waste facilities in areas where the people are not given proper information about the company. The injustice that takes place in Australia is defined as environmental politics on who get the unwanted waste site or who has control over where factory opens up. The movement towards equal environmental politics focuses more on who can fight for companies to build, and takes place in the parliament; whereas, in the United States Environmental Justice is trying to make nature safer for all people.
An example of the environmental injustices that indigenous groups face can be seen in the Chevron-Texaco incident in the Amazon rainforest. Texaco, which is now Chevron, found oil in Ecuador in 1964 and built sub-standard oil wells to cut costs. The deliberately used inferior technology to make their operations cheaper, even if detrimental to the local people and environment. After the company left in 1992, they left approximately one thousand toxic waste pits open and dumped billions of gallons of toxic water into the rivers.
South Korea has a relatively short history of environmental justice compared to other countries in the west. As a result of rapid industrialization, people started to have awareness on pollution, and from the environmental discourses the idea of environmental justice appeared. The concept of environmental justice appeared in South Korea in late 1980s.
South Korea experienced rapid economic growth (which is commonly referred to as the 'Miracle on the Han River') in the 20th century as a result of industrialization policies adapted by Park Chung-hee after 1970s. The policies and social environment had no room for environmental discussions, which aggravated the pollution in the country.
Environmental movements in South Korea started from air pollution campaigns. As the notion of environment pollution spread, the focus on environmental activism shifted from existing pollution to preventing future pollution, and the organizations eventually started to criticize the government policies that are neglecting the environmental issues. The concept of environmental justice was introduced in South Korea among the discussions of environment after 1990s. While the environmental organizations analyzed the condition of pollution in South Korea, they noticed that the environmental problems were inequitably focused especially on regions where people with low social and economic status were concentrated.
The problems of environmental injustice have arisen by environment related organizations, but approaches to solve the problems were greatly supported by the government, which developed various policies and launched institution. These actions helped raise awareness of environmental justice in South Korea. Existing environment policies were modified to cover environmental justice issues.
Environmental justice began to be widely recognized in the 1990s through policy making and researches of related institutions. For example, the Ministry of Environment, which was founded in 1992, launched Citizen's Movement for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) to raise awareness of the problem and figure out appropriate plans. As a part of its activities, Citizen's Movement for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) held Environmental Justice forum in 1999, to gather and analyze the existing studies on the issue which were done sporadically by various organizations. Citizen's Movement for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) started as a small organization, but it is keep growing and expanding. In 2002, CMEJ had more than 5 times the numbers of members and 3 times the budget it had in the beginning year.
Environmental injustice is still an ongoing problem. One example is the construction of Saemangeum Seawall. The construction of Saemangeum Seawall, which is the world's longest dyke (33 kilometers) runs between Yellow Sea and Saemangeum estuary, was part of a government project initiated in 1991. The project raised concerns on the destruction of ecosystem and taking away the local residential regions. It caught the attention of environmental justice activists because the main victims were low-income fishing population and their future generations. This is considered as an example of environmental injustice which was caused by the execution of exclusive development-centered policy.
The construction of Seoul-Incheon canal also raised environmental justice controversies. The construction took away the residential regions and farming areas of the local residents. Also, the environment worsened in the area because of the appearance of wet fogs which was caused by water deprivation and local climate changes caused by the construction of canal. The local residents, mostly people with weak economic basis, were severely affected by the construction and became the main victims of such environmental damages. While the socially and economically weak citizens suffered from the environmental changes, most of the benefits went to the industries and conglomerates with political power.
Construction of industrial complex was also criticized in the context of environmental justice. The conflict in Wicheon region is one example. The region became the center of controversy when the government decided to build industrial complex of dye houses, which were formerly located in Daegu metropolitan region. As a result of the construction, Nakdong River, which is one of the main rivers in South Korea, was contaminated and local residents suffered from environmental changes caused by the construction.
Environmental justice is a growing issue in South Korea. Although the issue is not yet widely recognized compared to other countries, many organizations beginning to recognize the issue.
Environmental discrimination in a global perspective is also an important factor when examining the Environmental Justice movement. Even though the Environmental Justice movement began in the United States, the United States also contributes to expanding the amount of environmental injustice that takes place in less-developed countries. Some companies in the United States and in other developed nations around the world contribute to the injustice by shipping the toxic waste and byproducts of factories to less-developed countries for disposal. This act increases the amount of waste in the third world countries, most of which do not have proper sanitation for their own waste much less the waste of another country. Often, the people of the less-developed countries are exposed to toxins from this waste and do not even realize what kind of waste they are encountering or the health problems that could come with it.
One prominent example of northern countries shipping their waste to southern countries took place in Haiti. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had ash from the incineration of toxic waste that they did not have room to dump. Philadelphia decided to put the ash into the hands of a private company, which shipped the ash and dumped it in various other parts of the world, outside of the United States. The Khian Sea, the ship the ash was put on, sailed around the world and many countries would not accept the waste because it was hazardous for the environment and the people. The ship owners finally dumped the waste, labeled Fertilizer, in Haiti, on the beach, and sailed away in the night. The government of Haiti was infuriated and called for the waste to be removed, but the company would not come to take the ash away. The fighting over who was responsible for the waste and who would remove the waste went on for many years. After debating for over ten years, the waste was removed and taken back to a site just outside Philadelphia to be disposed of permanently.
The reason that this transporting of waste from Northern countries to the Southern countries takes place is because it is cheaper to transport waste to another country and dump it there, than to pay to dump the waste in the producing country because the third world countries do not have the same strict industry regulations as the more developed countries. The countries that the waste is taken to are usually impoverished and the governments have little or no control over the happenings in the country or do not care about the people.
Many of the Environmental Justice Networks that began in the United States expanded their horizons to include many other countries and became Transnational Networks for Environmental Justice. These networks work to bring Environmental Justice to all parts of the world and protect all citizens of the world to reduce the environmental injustice happening all over the world. Listed below are some of the major Transnational Social Movement Organizations.
In Sweden, feminists prepare jam from berries sprayed with herbicides and offer a taste to members of parliament: they refuse.
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