Since the 19th century, the phenomenon of ecological awareness and environmental preservation has not existed in isolation from the major socio-economic patterns. The primary catalyst of rapid environmental policy change across the US and the world, in general, was the socio-political discrepancies behind the existing pattern of managing environmentally hazardous waste. It was established at the end of the 20th century that the location and settlement of ethnic minorities and low-income residents were highly associated with the sites of environmentally hazardous waste. Thus, in order to bridge the socio-economic gap within the state, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued Executive Order 12898, which addressed the immediate need for environmental justice for minority and low-income populations within the state (“Executive Order 12898,” 1994). Hence, the emphasis was made on the matter of eliminating socio-economic barriers in the battle with environmental hazards and human health.
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For its part, the modern perception of the environmental movement is not only focused on the idea of promoting change through public regulations. For the sake of better outcomes, today’s environmental awareness has acquired a more anthropocentric and proactive approach, which means paying more attention to the value of human life and health through the promotion of an ecologically sustainable lifestyle and manufacturing. In such a way, the emphasis on education does not require a prescriptive approach to handling the patterns of hazardous waste management. Hence, it may be rightfully concluded that environmental justice has now become a full-scale constituent of the environmental movement agenda, as the attention paid to environmental equality among social groups is not sufficient to stop the current hazardous processes in terms of global and national ecology. The current goals for environmental justice outlined by the EPA (2020) encompass the health, well-being, and environmental quality of the overburdened populations. The modern environmental movement, for its parts, focuses on education and taking personal responsibility for the impact on the environment.
The history of environmental justice traces back to the 20th century when national minority and low-income populations across the US realized that as a consequence of rapid industrialization, the state bodies were willing to eliminate toxic waste in the areas less popular with well-to-do Caucasian residents. Thus, in 1982, the African American community of Warren County in North Carolina organized a peaceful protest against the landfill created in the area (EPA, 2021). Although it was not the first time, the ethnic minority voiced their concerns over the environmental injustice, that particular sit-in eventually drew the attention of the scholars willing to find the correlation between the allocation of landfills and minority and low-income communities.
As a result, in 1983, the first comprehensive study was published on the matter of environmental racism in Houston, Texas, as there was a distinct correlation established between the choice of land for toxic waste sites and the African American neighborhoods in the area (EPA, 2021). The EPA (2020), as well the provisions of the EO 12898, define environmental justice 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” (para. 1). The definition encompasses both the notions of fair treatment and meaningful involvement. The former stands for the impartiality of treatment and the elimination of any discrimination against people’s inherent laws of safety. The latter, for its part, means that no individual shall be deprived of the right to participate in the discussion of their environment, health, and community activities. Hence, it may be concluded that the notion of environmental justice has become an extremely relevant issue to the US community as a result of a series of explicitly discriminative policies and precedents.
Executive Order 12898 of February 11, 1994. (1994). Federal Register.
US Environmental Policy Agency. (2020). Learn about environmental justice.
US Environmental Policy Agency. (2021). Environmental justice timeline.