IN FEBRUARY, President Bill Clinton ordered federal agencies to
take steps to prevent low-income neighborhoods from suffering
further toxic threats.
"All Americans have a right to be protected from pollution, not
just those who can afford to live in the cleanest, safest
communities," Clinton said while signing an executive order.
In Congress and state legislatures, bills aim to block dumping
and waste incineration in neighborhoods inhabited mainly by
minorities. Internationally, 66 nations teamed up two weeks ago to
forbid the U.S. and industrial nations to export hazardous
materials to developing nations. In short, "environmental justice"
has become a catch phrase from county boards to the United Nations,
with policy-makers working to prevent exploitative dumping and to
correct problems from the past.
But the idea that minorities and disadvantaged people suffer
disproportionate risk from pollution is coming under attack; the
latest salvo has been fired from the Center for the Study of
American Business at Washington University in St. Louis.
A new study by two research fellows, Christopher Boerner and
Thomas Lambert, asserts that studies that gave birth to the
environmental justice movement are flawed and that governments are
misdirected in seeking remedies. The two conclude in the study -
"Environmental Justice?" - that depressed areas should be
encouraged to negotiate payments for becoming waste repositories
and thereby improve people's lives.
"Many may argue that it is immoral to pay individuals to expose
themselves to health risks," the study asserts. "(But) as long as
environmental regulations guarantee minimal risk, there should be
no moral difficulties with compensating individuals for voluntarily
accepting the nuisances associated with waste and polluting
Copies of their study have been sent to the White House and
distributed in Congress, and the authors hope that their arguments
become part of the debates.
The study is the second in two weeks to try to debunk the
concept of environmental justice and the efforts by governments to
tackle problems that are often considered widespread. Last month,
researchers at the University of Massachusetts published a study
concluding that white working-class people, and not blacks, are
more likely to live by waste facilities in the 25 largest
metropolitan areas. That study, which analyzed census tracts, was
partly funded by the waste-disposal industry.
In a release accompanying the study, the author, Douglas L.
Anderton, asserted that "we found some relationships that run
counter to the general wisdom of the day, and further research is
needed on the question of environmental racism." The words
environmental racism further inflame people who feel their rights
and health are threatened by waste disposal. …