Over the past several decades, attention to the impact of environmental pollution on particular segments of society has grown. Since the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by programs or activities receiving federal funds is prohibited. Regulations prohibit any entity granted a permit to operate by U.S. EPA from acting in a way that has a disproportionate or discriminatory impact on people because of their race, color, income, or national origin, including indigenous peoples.
The EPA defines 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.”
Environmental justice (EJ), environmental equality and environmental racism are similar terms commonly used to describe a trend that lower income and minority communities as well as indigenous people and their lands suffer greater exposure to environmental pollution than other communities. These communities often bear a disproportionate share of the burden and realize few of the benefits of living near industrial facilities. Historically these communities have lacked the power or opportunity to participate in decisions affecting them.
EJ is not simply an issue of air, land, and water pollution. A company’s total impact on its neighboring communities – including its emission reduction efforts, local hiring and purchasing practices, and contributions to the community - is often considered by environmental justice advocates, the media, and regulatory agencies.
Community groups have been formed across the country to find solutions to environmental justice problems. These groups originally formed in neighborhoods as grassroots efforts in response to singular events such as the construction of a new incinerator. Many groups have expanded their focus to the overall environmental impacts their communities face.
Common Environmental Justice issues and concerns:
- The right to meaningful participation by communities in decisions that affect their lives, property and other community values.
- Community inclusion in facility decisions that affect them and open dialogue with the facility.
- Full compliance by facilities with all laws and regulations.
- Proof that products and processes are safe.
- Reduction of toxic chemicals used.
- Quality employment and advancement opportunities; minority representation in management.
- Worker protection. Adherence to regulations may not be enough to show adequate protection.
- More opportunities at facilities for local minority vendors and contractors.
- Compensation for declining property values determined at pre-plant levels, adjusted for inflation.
- Total emission reductions. A plant may be in compliance, but the load from all sources in the area should be considered when assessing risk and potential health effects.
Best Management Practices & Pollution Prevention
U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Justice has formed an advisory committee to the administrator. A subcommittee has been formed to focus on pollution prevention recommendations and programs that focus on EJ impacted groups/communities.
EPA’s Regional Environmental Justice Coordinators recommend the following communication techniques for working with environmental justice issues:
- Listen to what is said
- Take the community seriously. If you hear from a community resident that there is a problem, listen and see if you can help
- Make use of facilitators when groups bring a problem to a local meeting
- Identify and work with informal networks
- Get out early and talk with your community members
- Work with the media cognizant of the specific community in which you are seeking information
- Recognize that culturally diverse citizens are frequently not members of national environmental organizations and may need to be contacted through other more local means
- Hold workshops with local community leaders
- Build bridges for long term planning changes
- Be sensitive to working with culturally diverse groups. Each culture sees the issue differently.
- Involve both four year and two year academic institutions near the community, especially the Tribal Colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and institutions which serve Hispanic students and Asian students.
For access to vendors who may supply alternative materials and equipment, see the PNEAC Vendor Directory.
Environmental justice requirements are included in land (waste), air, and water regulations or guidance. Additionally EJ guidance has been incorporated into enforcement and research activities.