The future environmental justice political stream will most likely be characterized by efforts to maintain its current policy positions, and because environmental justice is not covered by legislative enactment, future activity may be lodged with Congress.
The environmental justice movement has competed for a place on the public agenda for about three decades. During this time the movement has undergone three periods of redefinition. In the 1970s, it was seen as an inner-city environmental movement whose primary aim was to get human health concerns addressed as part of the larger environmental movement. The civil rights aspect of the issue was present at this time; however, it was not the main focal point. This changed in the 1980s, when the issue fell under the rubric of environmental racism. The 1982 Warren County protest brought the issue to the attention of lawmakers, civil rights activists, and, at a less active level, environmental organizations. Although the issue did not receive the national legislative attention desired by many of the environmental justice activists, the issue was brought to the attention of established national policy communities such as the civil rights community and the Congressional Black Caucus. Academia began to take notice of the issue during this time, which led to the redefinition of the issue that emerged in the late 1980s--that of environmental justice. The redefinition of the issue as environmental justice has moved it to a more stable place on the public policy agenda.
In regard to the future of the environmental justice movement, much will hinge upon the political climate following the 2000 presidential elections. During the late 1990s, the only institutionalized federal environmental justice policy initiative has been within the executive office. However, a new presidential administration in 2000 might rescind the executive order of 1994. In such an event, there would be no binding federal commitment to environmental justice other than a general protection offered under the Equal Protection clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The political climate in Congress also presents a barrier to the advancement of environmental justice concerns. The conservative tone of Congress harkens back to the decentralizing agenda of the Reagan era. State power is increasing while federal budgets are decreasing. As seen during the Reagan era, this led to a polarization by the civil rights and environmental movements in order to protect their policy bargaining positions and retain past policy gains. During the 1980s, this led to a disappearance of environmental justice from the policy stream; it may do the same thing, at the federal level, after 2000. However, states have recently begun to take