Environmental Justice and the E.P.A. Environmental justice has slowly gained consciousness of the American people, from racial events in the 1960s and 1970s to the confrontation of this issue by national environmental leaders. It became a real issue, with true roots and a real name, in North Carolina’s Warren County in 1982. National black leaders were protesting what they called an unfair siting of a waste facility — in a depressed area. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., defined environmental justice as “racial discrimination in environmental policymaking, enforcement of regulations and laws, and targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and siting of polluting industries.” This definition has since been broadened to other minorities, and to the poor as well. Some examples of environmental injustice include the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) theory, in which many black, poor, and/or minority communities bear the brunt of the rest of America pleading for the right to not have a landfill or toxic waste site in their neighborhood.
Many blacks stood up during these times and claimed discrimination because it would affect their status in housing, social mobility, and employment opportunities. A neighborhood in Houston went to court in 1979 in a civil case, suing under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming discrimination due to lack of environmental justice. Slowly, but surely, things have changed, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has offered quite a few things to remedy this problem. To ensure that environmental justice is carried out, the Office of Environmental Equity was created within the EPA in 1991. For starters, this office is looking into “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana.
For the preparation of then-incoming EPA Administrator Carol Browner (an alumnus of the University of Florida), an introductory packet describing and entailing the history and potential solutions of environmental injustice was produced by activists and national environmental and social leaders. The EPA Office of Civil Rights started to investigate environmental justice under the aforementioned Civil Rights Act of 1964; it was suggested that procedures be carried out in a non-discriminatory manner. Once Browner was in office, she claimed that environmental justice would be one of four key issues that would be addressed during’s Clinton’s first term of office. In summation, the struggle has been slow, painful and tiresome, but even in the fight for keeping our earth clean and our public healthy, there can be fairness in the ugly world of racism and discrimination.