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May 4, 2021 by James Goodwin

The Environmental Forum: When the System Fosters Racial Injustice

Originally published by the Environmental Law Institute’s “The Environmental Forum” May-June 2021 issue. This is an excerpt.

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By the time the environmental justice movement began taking shape in the 1980s, communities of color had already been suffering from the disproportionate burdens of pollution for decades. Since then, evidence of racially discriminatory patterns in the distribution of environmental harms has only continued to mount.

Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Montana empirically documented in a pair of 2015 studies the phenomenon of “sacrifice zones,” finding that industrial facilities associated with high levels of pollution are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that while White people in the United States are disproportionately responsible for particulate matter pollution — which is linked to heart disease, permanent lung damage, and premature death — Black people and Latinos endure significantly greater exposure to this pollution.

But even as environmental justice has grown in prominence, early policy responses in its support have been lackluster, undermined by tepid commitment from political leaders, inadequate resources, and feeble accountability measures. Executive Order 12898, which was first issued in 1994, directs that “each …

April 20, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.

The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …

April 14, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez, Allison Stevens
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Scholars and advocates of color last week hailed the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure that disadvantaged communities reap the benefits of federal climate investments — but added that the administration must be held accountable for following through on it.

“This is our moment,” said Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy justice at the U.S. Department of Justice and a Member Scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform who is on leave while serving in the administration. 

Others said the administration’s efforts don’t go far enough and instead called for an overhaul of governance, philanthropy, and an economy that exploits people of color and the planet.

The comments came during a day of dialogue among public officials and climate justice scholars, organizers, and funders representing the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community. Participants emphasized the importance of climate justice and culturally responsive climate …

April 6, 2021 by Sarah Krakoff
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This commentary was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

A citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, Deborah Haaland is the first Native American woman to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Haaland will oversee the federal agencies that manage nearly 480 million acres of federal public lands, while the head of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the remaining 190 million acres.

Haaland and her colleague, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, have a tall double-order ahead. In his flurry of first-day executive orders, President Joe Biden announced the entwined goals of addressing racial, economic, and other forms of injustice, as well as tackling the country's most serious environmental challenges. Reflecting these goals, during his confirmation hearing, Vilsack pledged to address "discrimination in all its forms across USDA agencies," and "to root …

March 31, 2021 by Maxine Burkett, Minor Sinclair
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Maxine Burkett

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. 

This week, CPR’s Executive Director, Minor Sinclair, spoke with Member Scholar Maxine Burkett, professor of law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Burkett has written extensively in diverse areas of climate law with a particular focus on climate justice, exploring the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable communities in the United States and globally. Their conversation explored the roots of climate justice and its connections to present day climate action. 

MS: Natural disasters can be discriminatory for a host of reasons, and climate change is part of that. Why are certain communities more vulnerable …

March 19, 2021 by Sarah Krakoff, Maggie Dewane
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Sarah Krakoff

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. This week, we spoke with Sarah Krakoff, professor of law at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an expert on Native American law, public lands and natural resources law, and environmental justice.

CPR: What motivated you to become an ally to Native Americans and equal justice in America? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration? 

SK: My commitment grew out of anti-poverty and civil rights work I did while in law school, which included a very cursory introduction to the unique status and rights of Native nations. But my understanding …

March 9, 2021 by Karen Sokol, Robert Verchick
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In the United States, many people think the world's worst human rights abuses take place elsewhere. Unless you are among those in the United States who are subjected to such mistreatment.

On March 2, human rights experts called the world's attention to some of the most egregious and systematic human rights violations perpetuated here in the United States — and in particular in our neck of the woods in southeast Louisiana. International human rights experts condemned long-standing environmental racism in "Cancer Alley" — a heavily industrialized and polluted corridor along the Lower Mississippi River — and said it must end.

In a statement, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner summarized the experts' findings condemning the U.S. government's targeting of the residents of the region, most of whom are Black, for the siting of toxic polluting oil, gas, and chemical facilities. Plans to further develop the …

March 1, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Businesses that violate environmental laws and permits damage our air, land, and water, sometimes irreparably. Yet too often, these polluters aren't held accountable for harming the environment and public health. In Maryland, state officials don't respond to all violations, and, when they do, they aren't always successful. Even when they are successful, fines and other penalties don't necessarily result in behavior change. As a result, Maryland polluters are largely off the hook for the "externalities" of doing business.

To deter pollution, we need true accountability. We must ensure polluters pay for all harm done, whether to the environment, humans, and other species and habitats. Unfortunately, Maryland, like most other states, is a long way from achieving this goal. At CPR, we're tracking bills in the Maryland legislature that, if passed, would set the state on a path to greater compliance with environmental laws. These bills would:

  • Enforce …

Feb. 25, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.

So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.

But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half …

Jan. 11, 2021 by Shalanda H. Baker, Alice Kaswan
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The Black Lives Matter movement highlights long-standing inequities and amplifies the drumbeat for climate justice and an equitable transition to a clean economy. With the incoming Biden-Harris administration and a growing list of environmental justice advocates at the helm, it's time to move from rhetoric to reality. We offer concrete proposals to turn climate justice goals into climate justice policies.

The call for climate justice has multiple dimensions, from ensuring an equitable transition to clean energy for vulnerable communities and workers disrupted by the move away from fossil fuels, to extending the benefits of our economy-wide shift to those who have historically been left behind. Even more than past environmental challenges, decarbonizing will not be a narrow, technical undertaking. We need a holistic, justice-centered perspective to shape our vision for a green economy and meet the pervasive environmental and …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 4, 2021

The Environmental Forum: When the System Fosters Racial Injustice

April 20, 2021

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

April 14, 2021

Advocates, Scholars of Color Call for Bold Action to End Environmental Racism

April 6, 2021

Equity and Justice Should Begin at Home

March 31, 2021

Women’s History Month Q&A with Maxine Burkett

March 19, 2021

Women's History Month Q&A with Member Scholar Sarah Krakoff

March 9, 2021

U.N. Human Rights Experts Call Out Environmental Racism in Louisiana's 'Cancer Alley'