Environmental Justice

hazy orange skies with pollution

Environmental Justice recognizes the direct link between economic, environmental, and health issues.  It is the fair and equitable 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. Fair treatment means that no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations; and policies. Meaningful involvement requires effective access to decision makers for all, and the ability in all communities to make informed decisions and take positive actions to produce environmental justice for themselves.

When talking about fair treatment, it is important to understand the difference in equality versus equity.  Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.  Not all communities have equal resources due to factors such as systemic racism, economic disparity, and access to infrastructure.  Understanding the difference between health equality and health equity in public health is an important first step to ensure that resources are directed appropriately — as well as supporting the ongoing process of meeting people where they are.  A pivotal next step should include the concept of liberation. Liberation or liberatory practices strive to remove the source(s) of inequity and address the systematic barriers that create and maintain inequalities.

solar panels in lush green field
Daisy with petals of various colors

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.  Environmental racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that disproportionately impact communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities of color being exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race. Environmental racism is caused by several factors, including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas, and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color. Evidence has shown communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries.