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New Report Tracks Environmental Justice Movement Over Past 50 Years

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(Article changed on February 11, 2014 at 07:24)

HOUSTON, Texas -- On Tuesday dozens of environmental justice groups and coalitions from around the country will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations" signed by President Bill Clinton.

As part of the 20-year anniversary, a team of researchers from the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University released "Environmental Justice Timeline and Milestones, 1964-2014," a report that chronicles environmental justice milestones, accomplishments and achievements of the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States over the past five decades, beginning with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. After decades of hard work, struggle, and some victories along the way, the quest for environmental justice for all communities has yet to be achieved. Even in 2014, the most potent predictor of health is zip code. Race and poverty are also powerful predictors of students who attend schools near polluting facilities, the location of polluted neighborhoods that pose the greatest threat to human health, hazardous waste facilities, urban heat islands, and access to healthy foods, parks, and tree cover.

Transportation equity remains a major environmental justice and civil rights challenge.   The nation's transportation, energy, climate and disaster management policies have a long way to go to ensure just and equitable benefits accrue to low-wealth and people of color communities, while at the same time not allowing the negative impacts to flow disproportionately to these same communities. Environmental justice leaders want to see these gaps closed now and not have to wait another two decades.  

The Executive Order after twenty years and three U.S. presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama) has never been fully implemented.   Still, the environmental justice movement has made tremendous strides over the years.  Out of the small and seemingly isolated environmental struggles, emerged a potent grassroots community driven movement that is now a global movement.

In 1994, only four states (Louisiana, Connecticut, Virginia, and Texas) had a law or an executive order on environmental justice. In 2014, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have instituted some type of environmental justice law, executive order, or policy, indicating that the area of environmental justice continues to grow and mature.

In 1990, Dumping in Dixie was the first and only environmental justice book. In 1994, there were fewer than a dozen environmental justice books in print. Today, hundreds of environmental justice books line the shelves of bookstores and classrooms covering a wide range of disciplines. Environmental justice courses and curricula can be found at nearly every college and university in the U.S.

The number of people of color environmental groups has grown from 300 groups in 1992 to more than 3,000 groups and a dozen national, regional and ethnic networks in 2014.

Prior to 1994, only a couple of EJ leaders had won national recognition and awards for their work. In the past twenty years, more than two-dozen environmental justice leaders have won prestigious national awards, including the Heinz Award, Goldman Prize, MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award, Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leaders Award, and others. For example, Hilton Kelly, who directs Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA), won the 2013 Goldman Prize for his environmental justice work in addressing pollution near oil refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. And in 2014, Kimberly Wasserman Nieto of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) won the Goldman Prize for her collaborative work in shutting down the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago.

The movement is still under-funded after decades of proven work. This is true for private foundation and government funding. Overall, foundation and government funding support for environmental justice has been piecemeal.  Environmental funders spent a whopping $10 billion between 2000 and 2009. However, just 15 percent of the environmental grant dollars benefitted marginalized communities, and only 11 percent went to advancing "social justice" causes, such as community organizing.

After years of hard work, struggle, and some victories along the way, the quest for environmental justice for all communities has yet to be achieved. Even in 2014, the most potent predictor of health is zip code.   Race is still the most powerful predictor of locally unwanted land uses or LULUs and access to healthy foods.   The EPA's Plan EJ 2014 is a roadmap that will help the agency integrate environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities over the next 20 years. Because of the historic milestone, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February "Environmental Justice Month."  

 

www.drrobertbullard.com

Robert D. Bullard is Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers (more...)
 

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