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The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the “fair 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.” This means that no certain group of people should have to bear more negative consequences than others with regards to environmental problems or issues that arise from the operations of a city, state, or business. Furthermore, environmental justice looks for all people to be protected from hazards in the environmental or public health issues, no matter the color of their skin, income level, culture, or anything else.

Environmental Justice History in the United States

As one might be able to imagine, environmental justice has not always been something that the United States government has been involved with. In the early ‘90s civil rights and environmental activists started a movement. They were concerned that toxic waste facilities were so often placed near communities in which low income families resided, most of them minority-populated areas.

The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership summit was held in 1991, and the Office of Environmental Equity, a division of the EPA, was created the following year. In 1994 it was formalized when environmental justice was given a formal place within the United States government through the passage of Executive Order 12898.

Environmental Discrimination: Who is Being Discriminated Against?

The Environmental Justice Movement began because people felt like they were at a disadvantage when it comes to living in a healthy area because of the fact that they lived in certain areas. It became apparent that toxic waste facilities were more inclined to be found near these same certain areas, and the rest was history.

Many of the chief pioneers of the movement were minority groups. Asian, Latino, African-American groups and other minorities were those who were directly affected by a lack of attention to environmental issues that directly affected them. Since legislators do not live in or near the ghetto, such an issue of extreme concern had never been presented. The Environmental Justice Movement highlighted a concern and spearheaded action toward remedying it in a matter of years.

Environmental Justice Today

Since Executive Order 12898 was signed by President Bill Clinton, more attention has been paid to issues of environmental concern for everyone. Environmental justice is an ongoing battle, many cases of which have occurred over the past several years. Case studies are always being conducted on how environmental issues affect particular areas.

  • Del Ray Case Study—A case study of environmental issues in a certain Detroit neighborhood

  • Federal Highway Administration Case Studies—a list of case studies involved with the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration

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