Environmental Justice is the right to a decent, safe quality of life for people of all races, incomes and cultures in the environments where we live, work, play, learn and pray. Environmental Justice emphasizes accountability, democratic practices, equitable treatment and self-determination. Environmental justice principles prioritize public good over profit, cooperation over competition, community and collective action over individualism, and precautionary approaches over unacceptable risks. Environmental Justice provides a framework for communities of color to articulate the political, economic and social assumptions underlying why environmental racism and degradation happens and how it continues to be institutionally reinforced.
Environmental racism refers to any environmental policy, practice or action that negatively impacts communities, groups or individuals based on race or ethnicity.
Examples of Environmental Racism include:
- Targeting communities of color for the continued siting of polluting facilities, such as incinerators, oil refineries, power plants, landfills and diesel bus stations. Studies confirm that toxic or dangerous facilites in the United States are more likely to be located in a community of color (African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Latino or Asian American and Pacific Islander) than in a white community.
- 71% of Oakland’s occupied housing units and 58% of Richmond’s occupied housing units are contaminated with lead-based paints.
- Exposing workers and surrounding communities of color to hazardous conditions and life-threatening chemicals, such as agricultural pesticides, cancer-causing solvents in electronic assembly plants and poorly-ventilated sweatshops.
- Creating land-use policies and conditions that uproot working-class communities of color from neighborhoods.
- In Oakland 45% are forced to move, while 40% in Richmond are forced to move as well.
- Excluding or restricting the participation of people of color from decision-making bodies with responsibilities in the areas of environmental policies, programs and permits.
The Environmental Justice Movement has grown tremendously throughout the U.S. as a multi-issue and multiracial effort. The first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 marked the start of the national and international environmental justice movement, and in October 2003 the Second Summit was convened. At the heart of Summit I were discussions about the ways in which communities of color throughout the nation are disproportionately impacted and bear the brunt of harmful environmental atrocities. There was also the agreement that federal agencies charged with enforcing civil rights laws failed to consider these forms of discrimination.
Participants recognized the need to create a grassroots movement that would address the implications of environmental racism. The platform on which the environmental justice movement was built emerged from the conference. The Principles of Environmental Justice were established and now guide environmental justice values and policy.