Environmental Injustice in the United States: Myths and Realities

By James P. Lester; David W. Allen et al. | Go to book overview
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Environmental Justice: Getting on the Public Agenda

Agenda-setting is characterized by the appearance of problems and issues that grab the policy spotlight for brief moments while solutions are found or interest diminishes and they fade into obscurity. Some of these issues also continuously reemerge for consideration among government decisionmakers, and the associated problems, which may not have been satisfactorily addressed by government policies on the initial iteration, often return to the agenda redefined and thus amiable to solution. The environmental justice movement highlights this agenda-setting process.

Questions regarding the inequitable distribution of the nation's pollutants and their potential adverse health effects among certain segments of the population have been debated since the early 1970s. Since that time, there has been increased recognition of the phenomenon, as well as a redefinition of the debate as the concept matured. The problem has been defined by three distinct interpretations: environmental equity, environmental racism, and environmental justice. "Environmental equity" refers to the idea that potential pollution sources, such as LULUs, and their related health effects should not be disproportionately distributed among specific segments of the population, namely, the poor and minorities. "Environmental racism" is a broader label used for any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects the environment of individuals, groups, or communities based on race. More recently, the expression "environmental justice" has been coined to encompass the concepts of environmental equity and environmental racism, with the assertion that environmental justice can be achieved only when all individuals, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, are equally protected from environmental harms and their related adverse health effects. Environmental justice advocates state that the overriding goal of the movement is the creation of a society wherein no racial or ethnic group or social class dis


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