Latinos Seek Environmental Justice and Public Discourse for Underserved Communities in the United States

By Anque, Don Alberto; Doval, Christopher Neil | Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Latinos Seek Environmental Justice and Public Discourse for Underserved Communities in the United States


Anque, Don Alberto, Doval, Christopher Neil, Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy


WHILE IMMIGRATION HAS REMAINED AT the forefront of Latino political issues in the United States, one of the most overlooked topics is environmental justice. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice is defined as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." (2) Low-income, minority, underserved, and particularly Latino communities in the United States have suffered the externalities of unethical business practices and pollution for decades. Environmental pollution and hazardous conditions for Latino communities in the United States receive little attention from the media and politicians alike. Environmental justice for Latino communities in the United States should be part of this nation's dialogue.

Many nongovernmental organizations conducted environmental studies within Latino communities to understand the effects of environmental pollution. While many environmental studies within Latino communities have predominantly focused on air quality, water quality still sees little attention. For instance, many Latino communities affected by environmental injustice suffer from a lack of clean water, like ground and waste water, which leads to a variety of health conditions such as hepatitis A. (3) Latino communities also deal with being in dangerously close proximity to hazardous waste sites. (4) In response to the overwhelming imbalance of power between major corporate leaders and disenfranchised community interests, environmental groups included environmental justice within their umbrella of responsibilities and have been lobbying for policy changes at the state and federal levels. (5) In February 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their respective missions:

   Each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part
   of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate,
   disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental
   effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority
   populations and low-income populations in the United States and its
   territories and possessions ... (6)

Since the signing of Executive Order 12898, many agencies created regulations to comply with the goals of environmental justice, which are being commemorated and strengthened with Plan EJ 2014 from the EPA. (7) For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created Departmental Regulation 5600-2 to ensure that environmental justice considerations are incorporated into the USDA's programs and activities. (8) Departmental Regulation 5600-2 requires that environmental justice be addressed in all policy, procedures, and guidelines. (9) Similarly, the EPA continually began to study the best methods and policies to enact environmental justice. Plan EJ 2014 focuses on three key areas to address environmental justice: protect health in communities overburdened by pollution; empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment; and establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities. (10) Although the EPA created several environmental justice strategies and studies, many members of impacted communities have criticized the EPA for not taking action, especially in Latino communities.

   There's no cause for celebration. All the executive order has
   really done to date is spawn more bureaucracies that give false
   hope to communities with promises and words.--Suzie Canales,
   cofounder of the advocacy group Citizens for Environmental Justice
   (11)

In light of several EPA studies conducted as a result of Executive Order 12898, many independent research organizations have also conducted their own studies about environmental hazards on Latino communities. …

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