Term Paper: Environmental Justice

Pages: 20 (5141 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation - Environmental Issues  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] S. EPA "cannot lawfully issue a policy" extending Title VI civil rights law to pollution without congressional action. Under current law, continues the California letter, neither state nor federal agencies have the authority to "to deny permits based on the racial makeup of the area surrounding the facility." Furthermore, the "California Supreme Court has determined that hazardous waste laws do not preempt local land use authority." (Payne, 1998)

California EPA concludes that, without congressional action, the administration's unilateral re-interpretation of Title VI law would give the EPA "unfettered discretion to apply statistical data in any way it chooses, create risk assessments without peer reviewed standards, determine that all discharges create measurable disparate impacts by their very existence and treat people differently based on racial or ethnic grounds" ("Payne, 1998)

However, those on the EJ side of the issue have begun to build significant case history in which the environmental justice movement is acting on the basis of the well-being of the racial minorities they claim to represent. While the themes of environmental justice (EJ) and environmental racism (ER) strike an emotional chord with the American public, and the movement has found legal backing in Civil rights legislation, the consequences of several decisions based on EJ influence have negatively affected the very groups which the movement claims to support and protect. These sample cases will be covered at the conclusion of this paper.

Historical Accounts

Looking back at the history of the environmental justice movement, there seems to be no catalytic event that brought EJ issues onto the public limelight. Instead, each local initiative, mass protest, community meeting, or incremental lawsuit has helped nurture this movement, which essentially has created a bond among thousands of people who have engaged in local struggles. As recorded by an anonymous staffer of the Bush Sr. administration (1992): "Long simmering resentment in the minority and Native American communities about environmental fairness could soon be one of the most politically explosive environmental issues yet to emerge." (Lavelle and Coyle, 1992)

There are however, certain monumental events and a longstanding quiet social pressure that can be traced as having an enormous effect on community members, industry officials, legislators, and the overall movement.

In the summer of 1978, the media began to saturate the American public with startling stories of health hazards inflicted upon families in Niagara Falls due to a leaking toxic waste dump at Love Canal in New York. The cover of Time Magazine highlighted the issue of toxic chemicals which had leached into the water system, and how residents were being poisoned and demanded to be evacuated and relocated. Accounts of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects now had a definite source to blame. Love Canal is seen by many as the start of the environmental justice movement in that it focused national attention on the problem of environmental pollution. The subject continued to gain social and public momentum through the work environmentally conscious Hollywood stars, and was given another booster shot in the 1990' with the movie "Erin Brockovich. "

When the movement discovered it could attach its agenda to federally mandate equal protection under the civil rights legislation, the means for funding the war became the life blood which revived a struggling social consciousness. On a national and international level, pollution and environmental quality has been an issue which affects all citizens. But without federal laws to enforce the issue, environmental policy was simply a matter of a preferential pendulum which swung in the direction of whichever group had the strongest marketing firm, or lobby. Until the formal EJ movement congealed around the Civil rights legislation, the loudest group was most often the business and industrial organizations which influences public policy in the direction of their own benefits.

Major Players

At the present time, there are no national organizations which claim to be at the forefront of the EJ movement. The EJ issue is fought at the local level, and these organizations typically come into existence over a particular issue, plan, or local situation which they feel is in need of being addressed. So, the leaders are not national in scale. However, there are a number of local organizations which have positively affected the EJ agenda in their area, and with each success, these organizations take a step forward in power and profile.

The Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) has been existence for over 10 years. The ACE mission statement says:

ACE believes that with opportunities to participate in environmental decision making and access to the appropriate resources, residents - both youth and adults - can achieve lasting environmental, public health, and economic benefits. ACE is working in partnership with community organizations and residents to achieve environmental justice by:

Educating citizens on their rights and opportunities for involvement in environmental and public health decision making.

Developing the capacity of neighborhoods to take control over problems affecting their health and environment.

Creating systemic solutions to address the unequal distribution of environmental burdens and to promote safe, sustainable economic development." (Ace-ej.org, online)

Another organization is the Communities of a Better Environment (CBE). The CBE is an organization which serves a collection of communities in the Southern California region, and has identified this three fold purpose:

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) are an environmental health and justice non-profit organization, promoting clean air, clean water and the development of toxin-free communities. CBE's unique three-part strategy provides grassroots activism, environmental research and legal assistance within underserved urban communities. CBE directly equips residents impacted by industrial pollution with the tools to inform, monitor, and transform their immediate environment." (cbecal.org, online)

The Community coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ) is another organization based on the west coast. Centered in Washington State, and the Pacific Northwest, the organization also targets specific cites which are sources of pollution, and environmental hazards. The CCJE cites success in EJ issues, such as "We have successfully organized our communities to fight polluters such as the VA Hospital's medical waste incinerator in Beacon Hill, and industry in South Park. We have conducted training on how to alleviate indoor air pollution, and advocate for action on environmental injustice issues on the city, county, and state level." (ccej.org, online) Other organizations, such as the EcoNet, http://www.igc.org/home/econet//index.html, online) based in San Francisco and the Environmental Defense Center (edcnet.org, online), a law firm dedicated to issues of EJ, help local concerns become funded, and become a larger issue in the public viewfinder.

Assisting these local organization become of national influence are selected organizations which have become energized by the widespread strength of the national movement.

For example, Earth Share is a nationwide network of the country's most respected and responsible non-profit environmental and conservation organizations that have created Earth Share as a way of funding local causes. (earthshare.org, online) The members of the national organization work to promote environmental awareness and philanthropy through charitable workplace giving. Earth Share gives the individual an opportunity for to support hundreds of environmental groups at once through efficient, effective payroll deduction giving. They could be called the United Way of the EJ movement.

Also operating on a national level is the Environmental Background Informational Center (ebic.org, online). This national organization is an internet-based source of information for local and regional groups which are looking for data to support their causes. EBIC focuses their expertise on keeping the information supply lines open for the on going battles of EJ organizations.

Resulting Policies and Decisions

The United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice convened the first summit on EJ in 1991. "It was probably the most important single event in the environmental justice movement's history," said Beverly Wright, chair of the executive committee and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Xavier University in Louisiana. (Wakefield, 2003) The first summit established the platform for current EJ initiatives, and established the "17 Principles of Environmental Justice" which are used to guide policy and values. These values include:

1. Environmental justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.

2. Environmental justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.

3. Environmental justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.

4. Environmental justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.

5. Environmental justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.

6. Environmental justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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