The struggle for environmental justice in the United States began to grow in the 1980s when activists started fighting to end the inequities faced by residents of low-income communities, often minorities, many of whom bear a disproportionate burden of environmental health hazards. In February 1994 the environmental justice movement came to national prominence when President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which focuses federal agency attention on this area of concern.
Environmental justice continues to grow in public awareness; today, news reports routinely focus on lawsuits and other efforts aimed at making neighborhoods safe from health hazards created by nearby chemical plants, factory farms, and waste disposal facilities. With public awareness has come public advocacy. In April 2001 the advocacy group Environmental Defense added an environmental justice section to its Environmental Defense Scorecard Web site. The new section is located online at http://www.scorecard.org/community/ej-index.tcl.
On the main Environmental Justice page, entering a zip code generates a report of the varying degrees of environmental burden within that area for different racial, ethnic, and income groups. The burdens include releases of toxic chemicals, cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants, and facilities emitting criteria air pollutants. These data are available for areas as small as a census tract, which can, depending on population density, be as small as a few city blocks. This is the first time that local-level environmental data have been analyzed for the entire United States to determine the environmental disparities experienced by different demographic groups.
Under the subhead Find Unequal Burdens is a link to a listing of all U.S. counties with possible environmental justice issues. Clicking on any name on the list brings up a summary report for …