Upcoming Event National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program Leaders from various sectors will engage in 3 days of free exchange of new ideas and new approaches to environmental justice. This interactive training session will feature voices of experience, research, discussions, and thought-provoking dialogue. The program format will feature needs and challenges of communities, governments, municipalities, tribes, faith-based organizations, and others with an interest in environmental matters and environmental justice. It will highlight programs and collaborations that work, as well as initiatives that are not successful. Learn More
LATEST VIDEO: Administrator Lisa Jackson's Final Message on Environmental Justice
20th Anniversary of Environmental Justice
In support of the upcoming 20th Anniversary of EJ, watch the newest video. The latest addition is a powerful video from Edith Pestana, Administrator of the Environmental Justice Program for the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Edith talks about the importance for local, state and Federal employees to get out and visit communities where they work, live and play.
Watch EPA’s Newest Video in our 20th Anniversary Series from Omega Wilson
Watch EPA’s newest video in our 20th Anniversary video series. Our latest addition is a powerful video from Omega Wilson of the West End Revitalization Association, who talks about the importance of having basic amenities for every community. Click here to watch it and here to read his blog!
FWS employees teach children about wildlife. Credit: LaVonda Walton / USFWS
The exact start of the environmental justice movement in American is not clear. Local groups have complained about unwanted land used for decades. Prior to the early eighties, these local protests were considered isolated and protesting communities were complaining by themselves and not associated with other similarly situated in other communities.
This isolated protesting all changed in early 1980s and the environmental justice movement became a national social and racial protest that galvanized communities across country seeking social justice and environmental protection.
The initial environmental justice spark sprang from a Warren County, NC protest. In 1982, a small, predominately African-American community was designated to host a hazardous waste landfill. This landfill would accept PCB-contaminated soil that resulted from illegal dumping of toxic waste along roadways. After removing the contaminated soil, the state of NC considered a number of potential sites to host the landfill, but ultimately settled on this small African-American community.
In response to the state’s decision, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others staged a massive protest. More than 500 protesters were arrested. While the Warren County protest failed to prevent the siting of the disposal facility, it did provide a national start to the environmental justice movement.
Following the Warren County protest, people in poor minority communities created groups to fight the environmental burdens they claimed:
Resulted from being targeted by industry for activities that threaten the environment (e.g., use, storage and disposal of toxic chemicals); and
Produced high rates of environmental illness.
Another key event in the history of environmental justice is the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Representatives from hundreds of communities across the country came together in Washington, DC to focus national attention on what they perceived as a national problem – targeting minority communities. This summit was the first attempt to convene a large number of communities together to discuss the common interests and to seek a common solution.
The Federal Government Response
In 1994, Executive Order 12898 “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Communities.” The Order directed federal government to make environmental justice a part of the federal decision-making process an integral part of their missions and to establish an environmental justice strategy. Specially, the Order directed federal agencies to:
Make achieving environmental justice part of its mission to the greater extend practical and permitted by law by identifying and addressing high and adverse human health of
environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities of minority, low-income and tribal communities.
Develop an environmental justice strategy that lists programs, policies, planning and public participation processes, enforcement and/or rulemakings, related to human health of the environment that could be revised to (1) promote enforcement of all heath and environmental statutes in areas with minority populations and low-income populations; (2) ensure greater public participation; (3) improve research and data collection relating to the health of an environment of minority populations and low-income populations; and (4) identify patterns of consumption of natural resources among minority populations.
Include the Strategy, where appropriate, a timetable for undertaking identified revisions and consideration of economic and social implications of the revisions.