POLLUTION LOCATOR|Environmental Justice - Background

Over the last two decades, issues of environmental justice have come to public attention and a substantial environmental justice movement has developed, with early attention focused on disproportionate impacts of environmental pollution on poor communities and communities of color in the United States. The extent of disproportionate impacts is a subject of debate, as are its causes. Growing concern over environmental justice has led to new policy initiatives and innovative scientific research.

Although disproportionate impact of environmental conditions (such as pollution) is one major concern of the environmental justice movement, it is by no means the only one. A
range of definitions of the term "environmental justice" is in current use, many of them covering a wider spectrum of concerns as well. It is important to recognize that the subject of environmental justice extends farther than the information presented on Scorecard.

Early ground-breaking studies on the siting of hazardous waste sites, conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office and the United Church of Christ, have been followed by distributional studies examining occupational hazards, air pollution, the location of large industrial and waste facilities, and discrimination in environmental regulatory enforcement activities. Researchers have largely limited their inquiries to evaluating differences in the location of pollution sources between communities, while placing less emphasis on evaluating the distribution of actual exposures, or potential health risks. While the evidence is not definitive,
much research suggests disparate impacts of environmental hazards among the poor and communities of color in some regions of the country. Scorecard offers an overview of environmental justice indicators, including the location of potentially hazardous facilities and waste sites as well as estimated lifetime cancer risks associated with outdoor hazardous air pollutants.

To learn more about these issues and support organizations working to address environmental inequalities in the United States, see our
resource list.

In February of 1994, President Clinton signed an
executive order that required all federal agencies to develop strategies for incorporating environmental justice concerns into their regulatory, policy-making and enforcement strategies. US EPA's Office of Environmental Justice is supposed to play a central role in coordinating inter-agency activities on the President's executive order. EPA also established the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). The objective of the Commission is to advise the Agency on how to incorporate environmental justice into the areas of environmental health research, enforcement and penalty assessment, public participation in rule-making, and facility siting decisions.

EPA's Office of Civil Rights administers the agency's compliance program under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in all programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Although Title VI itself prohibits intentional discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VI authorizes federal agencies, including EPA, to adopt implementing regulations that prohibit discriminatory effects as well as intentional discrimination. Frequently, discrimination results from policies and practices that on their face are neutral, but have discriminating effects. EPA has developed a Title VI Guidance for investigating complaints of discrimination in permitting decisions.

Analytical methodology: Rachel Morello-Frosch, Assistant Professor, College of Health and Human Services, San Francisco State University
Spanish version: Translation by InterCultura Bilingual Media