A Brief History of Environmental Justice

Nationally the facilities where we dump
our garbage and process dangerous chemicals tend to be located in poor and minority communities. The people who live there have little or no protection from the industries around them. And things could get worse. So, there’s this idea of environmental justice. It’s pretty simple: Communities shouldn’t be forced to deal with more pollution because they belong to a certain race, national origin or income bracket. Yet, America has struggled over the years to implement any serious policy that actually protects these communities. So, let’s lay out the ways
the government has failed them. “We will not allow Warren County to become a dump site.” The fight for environmental justice took off in 1982 when residents of Warren County, North Carolina mounted mass demonstrations against a plan to dump contaminated soil in a landfill in their community. The EPA investigated four similar landfills in southern states and found that they were all located in
black or low-income neighborhoods. In 1987, the United Church of Christ Racial Justice Commission found that around the country, hazardous waste facilities were more likely to be located in mostly minority communities. Amid mounting proof, the federal government was forced to act. So, in 1992 President George H.W. Bush founded the Office of Environmental Justice inside
the EPA. Two years later, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to consider environmental justice in all of their policies, as well as extending civil rights protection to environmental discrimination. But Congress never passed a bill to make Clinton’s executive order law. Then came George W. Bush. His administration shifted the focus of the Office of Environmental Justice from protecting low-income and minority
communities to “all people,” Leaving vulnerable populations without a federal environmental advocate. “80% of New Orleans, including much of downtown, is under water.” Under Bush, many environmental civil rights claims were rejected or delayed for years. In 2009, after President Barack
Obama’s election, his administration recommitted to environmental justice. Generally speaking, in this country a lot of environmentally problematic facilities tend to be located in places where poor folks live. Yet, during the two years Democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the White House they didn’t file a single bill focused on strengthening environmental justice
protections. Passing major environmental legislation faded further when Republicans took control of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. Now, President Donald J. Trump is making good on his vow to weaken the EPA. “Environmental protection, what they do is a disgrace.” “Every week they come out with new
regulations.” “Who’s going to protect the environment?” “We’ll be fine with the environment.” “We can leave a little bit.” This budget–a 31% cut to the EPA, $2.6 billion cut away from the EPA, that’s what the president wants. As the EPA loses funding and regulations are rolled back, vulnerable communities may
very likely fall through the cracks. I’m Talia Buford. I’ll be covering these
communities and digging into systemic environmental injustice. If you have something to tell me, email me at [email protected]

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