The Political Economy of Environmental Justice

The Political Economy of Environmental Justice

The Political Economy of Environmental Justice

The Political Economy of Environmental Justice

Synopsis

The environmental justice literature convincingly shows that poor people and minorities live in more polluted neighborhoods than do other groups. These findings have sparked a broad activist movement, numerous local lawsuits, and several federal policy reforms.

Excerpt

Since the landmark studies by the US General Accounting Office (GAO; 1983) and the United Church of Christ (1987), the environmental justice literature has consistently shown that poor and minority households systematically live in more polluted neighborhoods. This correlation appears to be quite robust to the type of pollution considered: for example, the poor live closer to hazardous waste facilities, landfills, and other locally undesirable land uses (LULUs); they live closer to large air polluters; and they live in communities with higher concentrations of air pollutants. The correlation is also robust to the statistical methods employed by researchers. In short, the correlation qualifies as a “stylized fact” as much as anything in social science.

This finding of a disproportionate environmental burden borne by the poor and people of color has led to the introduction of several “environmental justice acts” in Congress (although none have passed) and to President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898. Still in force, the order requires nondiscrimination in federal environmental programs and focuses federal resources, such as the Brownfields Program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on low-income and minority communities. More recently, the EPA has launched a number of initiatives to incorporate environmental justice considerations into its rule making.

In addition to such top-down initiatives, the environmental justice findings have fed grassroots activist movements. Sometimes with help from national leaders of the environmental justice movement, local stakeholders have sought more involvement in permitting polluting facilities and in making other . . .

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