Document Type


Publication Title

Ecology Law Quarterly



Publication Date



Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, environmental racism, social justice, racism', environmentall activism


The essays contained in Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards: A Time For Discourse and the recent report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Environmental Equity: Reducing Risk For All Communities represent what appears to be a remarkable consensus that low-income and minority communities bear a disproportionate share of environmental exposures and health risks. These two works also reflect the synergy of efforts by various elements of both the traditional civil rights and mainstream environmental movements to address issues of "environmental racism." Indeed, the current "environmental justice," or "environmental equity,"' movement is a combined effort of grassroots activists, academics, lawyers, bureaucrats, government agencies, and concerned citizens to address allegations of "environmental racism" and other environmental issues relating to communities of color and poor communities. Current discourse between the two movements exemplifies that each group has placed issues traditionally addressed exclusively by the other group on its agenda: environmental issues have been placed squarely on the agenda of the modern civil rights movement; and social justice issues are being put on the agenda of the modern environmental movement. While the civil rights movement has historically focused on obtaining economic and political rights for people of color, the environmental movement has traditionally concentrated on preserving and conserving our natural habitat as well as halting the proliferation of toxins and other pollutants into the environment. The convergence of these two movements not only provides a name describing the intersecting concerns of both movements, but also presents challenging and potentially ground- breaking paradigms to address those concerns. Drawing from the essays in Race and the Incidence, I describe the development of national consciousness around environmental justice issues in part I, from the first studies released showing a connection between race, class, and exposure to environmental hazards, to increased community activism around the multifaceted issues intertwined with that connection. In part II, I suggest that a fundamental weakness in the evolution of the environmental justice movement is its failure to define and clearly delineate the structural and institutional nature of environ- mental racism. This failure has led to a misconceptualization of the problem, epitomized by the EPA report, and ultimately a denial of the connection between race and hazardous environmental exposure. In part III, I explore the different models utilized to assess and address the harms from environmental racism under both traditional civil rights and environmental harm paradigms. In part IV, I critique the distributive focus of efforts to achieve environmental justice to date. I also argue that environmental law's process-oriented decisionmaking framework is well suited to accommodate such a model.