Over the past two decades, attention to the impact of environmental pollution on particular segments of society has been steadily growing. 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 has been prohibited. Regulations prohibit any entity that is 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, sex or national origin, including indigenous peoples. It does not matter whether the permit applicant intended to discriminate, or knew its action had a discriminatory impact. All that matters is that the action had any discriminatory effect. Environmental justice (EJ), environmental equality and environmental racism all have been used to describe a belief that poor and minority communities as well as indigenous people and their lands suffer greater exposure to environmental pollution than other communities; that these communities often bear a disproportionate share of the burdens and realize few of the benefits of living near industrial facilities; and that historically these communities have lacked the power or opportunity to participate in decisions affecting them.
EJ is not just an air, land and water issue. A company’s total impact on its neighboring communities - ranging from its emission reduction efforts to its local hiring and purchasing practices to the scope and focus of its contributions to the community - is now being examined by environmental justice advocates, the media and regulatory agencies.
Community groups have been formed all across the country to find solutions to environmental problems that have negative impacts on their affected peoples. While these groups originally formed in neighborhoods in response to a singular event such as the construction of a new incinerator, studies were initiated and found to show statistical relationships between racial/socioeconomic status and environmental risks.
Issues and concerns that EJ activists want addressed:
- The right to meaningful participation in decisions that affect their lives, property and the things their community values.
- Inclusion in facility decisions that affect them; dialogue with facility.
- Full compliance by facilities with all laws and regulations.
- Proof that products and processes are safe.
- Toxic use reduction.
- 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.
For access to vendors who may supply alternative materials and equipment, see the PNEAC Vendor Directory.
Environmental justice requirements have been inserted into land (waste), air, and water regulations or guidance. Additionally EJ guidance has been incorporated into enforcement and research activities.