Numerous studies have documented African Americans communities face a disproportionate share of environmental and health threats. It is for this simple reason the Environmental Justice Movement was born some three decades ago—a national movement born fighting environmental racism. Millions of African Americans look to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for equal environmental protection they have been denied by their state environmental agencies, many of whom have a long and sordid history of protecting polluters over protecting residents who live in industrial “sacrifice zones.” A weakened federal EPA is a recipe for disaster. Rolling-back or gutting environmental regulations is a roadmap for more trips to the emergency room for many Americans who live on the fenceline with polluting industries. We must resist all efforts to dismantle EPA and our nation’s environmental protection apparatus as if our lives depend upon on it—and they do.
In 2016, we have an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate some important environmental justice milestones and work on finishing other struggles. The Flint water crisis unfolding today provides a textbook case for why we must build justice and equal protection into environmental decision making. It’s time to stand with communities endangered by environmental injustice and the principle of profit over people. Let’s make 2016 the year of justice.
Comments by Robert D. Bullard at EPA Title VI Civil Rights Listening Session Houston – January 12, 2016
EPA holds Title VI Civil Rights listening session at Texas Southern University in Houston to get public comments on its proposed amendments to nondiscrimination regulation.
“Dumping in Dixie,” the first book to chronicle environmental justice struggles in the United States, turns 25. Although the book dealt with black communities in the South fighting against the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, residential apartheid and environmental racism, over the last quarter century “Dumping in Dixie” environmental justice framing has translated to larger race and class struggles in the United States and around the world.
A major study from Green 2.0 has once again brought national attention to the whiteness of mainstream environmental organizations. A major push is now underway to diversity these groups by adding more people of color to their boards and staff. However, diversifying white environmental organizations is only part of the solution. Diversifying funding to people of color and indigenous environmental organizations and institutions must be given equal weight in addressing current and future environmental challenges going forward as we transition to a majority people of color nation in the next thirty years.
A coalition of environmental and climate justice and civil rights leaders will hold a tribunal in Selma, AL on Saturday March 7 as part of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Jubilee Bridge Crossing. The tribunal will feature the testimonies of leaders from communities from across Alabama who will speak with jurists from around the country who are experienced in achieving environmental justice victories. The theme of the tribunal is “Change Is Gonna Come: Advancing an Environmental and Climate Justice Agenda in the South.” A strategy session will also be held to map out a “southern initiative” on climate justice.
The nation’s 104 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) play a significant role in training African Americans and other leaders of color in all fields. More than 80 percent of the HBCUs are found in the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic region of the United States. Many southern communities where HBCUs are located and where they draw the vast majority of their students are at ground zero in the fight for climate justice. Climate-related disasters in the southern U.S. have outnumbered those in other regions of the U.S. annually in both scale and magnitude by a ratio of almost 4:1 during the past decade. The southern region is vulnerable not only because of its physical location and but also because of its high prevalence of concentrated poverty, uninsured households, income and wealth inequality, health care disparities, and food insecurity, combined to create a perfect storm of vulnerability if and when natural and human-made disasters strike. Given the region’s unique history, a “southern initiative” is needed to address climate vulnerability and develop strategies for building just and resilient communities.
The Zero Waste Houston Coalition released a new report, “It’s Smarter to Separate: How Houston’s Trash Proposal Would Waste Our Resources, Pollute Our Air and Harm Our Community’s Health,” on the steps of City Hall. The report details environmental problems and challenges facing the One Bin for All experiment the City of Houston is considering to jumpstart its recycling program. It also documents the environmental justice and civil rights implications of the City giving preference to existing landfills for the location of its new One Bin for All waste facility. Houston since the 1920s has located its landfills, incinerators and garbage transfer stations exclusively in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods.
It has now been twenty years since President Bill Clinton signed the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” The Executive Order has survived three presidents. Although it has never been fully implemented, there are some positive signs at the executive level that environmental justice is back on the federal radar.
This Tuesday February 11 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton. Environmental justice leaders from all across the country will commemorate the historic signing of the Executive Order with mixed emotions. A team of researcher at Texas Southern University will release a new report, “Environmental Justice Timeline and Milestones, 1964-2014,” that tracks the Environmental Justice Movement over the past five decades, beginning with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The vast majority of environmental justice leaders two decades ago preferred to have environmental justice codified in law. However, that did not happen. They recognize the Environmental Justice Movement did not start with the Executive Order nor was it driven by government action. The 20-year commemoration is a time for grassroots-led movement leaders to reflect on how far they have come and where they are going.