Despite its importance in environmental policy, there is no single legal definition of environmental justice. However, the key themes that connect environmental justice are equal protection, community involvement, and a healthy environment for all. The US Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as fair treatment and participation for all people, regardless of race, national origin, or other demographics. Environmental justice is also crucial in the enforcement of environmental laws.
The roots of environmental justice are deeply rooted in social and civil rights movements. For example, the Environmental Justice Movement was born in the early 1980s in North Carolina out of a local dispute over toxic waste dumping. It argued that environmental problems could not be solved without addressing the root causes of social injustices.
Environmental justice advocates call for tighter regulation of oil and gas facilities to reduce air pollution. Oil and gas facilities emit large amounts of methane, a significant contributor to climate change. Air pollution from these industries also increases the risk of respiratory illnesses and cancer. The effects of these pollutants are disproportionately concentrated in minority and low-income communities.
The environmental justice movement was started in 1982 when protests in Warren County, North Carolina, were organized by residents of color. Since the dump was near a majority-Black community, the protests were widely heard and eventually resulted in legislation that included environmental justice. The environmental justice movement became part of the social justice and environmental movements.
Many environmental injustice issues stem from the fact that people who live in vulnerable communities often bear a disproportionate amount of the burden of pollution and contamination. The effects of environmental injustice are felt in real people’s lives. For example, children in poor communities tend to be exposed to higher lead levels in drinking water, and they may also develop asthma from contaminated water or mold-filled schools. It’s no wonder environmental justice has a central place in the American political landscape.