Activists Ready to Fight Environmental Racism

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- A new phrase has made its way into the environmental vocabulary: environmental racism. Translation: The poor and minority communities get the incinerators and toxic dumps in their backyards.

To alter that situation, environmental activists say, middle-class America will have to accept its share of polluting stacks and moldering toxics. And around that bubbling controversy -- which last year became known in legislative circles as the Equal Rights Act of 1993, a bill that found no Senate sponsors -- is developing a major 1990s environmental struggle.

It is a struggle that has drawn the interest and growing commitment of the religious community. This commitment involves the periodic Interfaith Impact "Action Alert" bulletins -- printed on recycled paper -- issued by Carl Casebolt of the National Council of Churches in Washington. It involves position papers from the Environmental Justice Work Area at the United Methodist Church and its society board. And it involves periodic congressional testimony by the U.S. Catholic Conference-National Conference of Catholic Bishops, such as that delivered recently by Youngstown, Ohio, Bishop James Malone.

In that testimony, Malone introduced a new player on the environmental scene: the $600,000 Pew Charitable Trust-funded National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The partnership brings together the NCC, Catholics, Jews (through the Consultation on the Environment and Jewish Life consortium) and the Evangelical Environmental Network (an association of Christian bodies).

"For us," said Malone, "the environment is a matter of moral and religious importance." The partnership, he said, has been funded for "a three-year mobilization; rarely has there been agreement across so broad a spectrum of faith groups on a common program for so long a period of time."

Malone said the partnership has a threefold focus: the ethical dimension of the environmental crisis, the link between the environment and development, and the need to build a broad base of personal and institutional commitment to action for environmental justice.

Casebolt said action has not been totally lacking, but the partnership will bolster the advocacy community's resources, reviewing the fate and promise of current legislation.

He anticipates passage in 1994 of the Environmental Justice Act. That act is structured to repair damages. …