The Civil Rights Act of 1875 guarantees to all Americans the right of access to public accommodations. For decades, the act is not enforced in most cases involving African Americans and other minorities.
In the case of "Plessy v. Ferguson," the U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregation is not illegal as long as equal accommodations are made available to African Americans.
The nation's first environmental law, the Refuse Act of 1899, is passed. The act was originally written to protect navigable waters from pollution by sediments, disease-carrying organisms, and oil discharges, but it was broad enough to cover many environmental problems through the early 1970s.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1947 is passed. The act originally deals only with pesticides shipped across state lines. The act is amended and extended in 1972 to cover broader aspects of pesticide production and use.
The Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 is passed by Congress. The act is written with good intentions, but is never implemented because almost no funds are appropriated for it.
A stronger version of the 1948 Water Pollution Control Act is adopted. The act is amended and strengthened a number of times in following years, including in 1961, 1965, 1966, and 1970.
The Voting Rights Act of 1957 is passed.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregation in interstate bus and train stations is illegal. A year later, the Interstate Commerce Commission officially prohibits such practices.
The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted. The Amendment abolishes the poll tax, a primary means by which people of color were long prevented from voting, and thus participating in the political process in many southern states.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is adopted, guaranteeing to all American citizens equal access to employment and public accommodations, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, strengthening its predecessor, the Voting Rights Act of 1957, is passed.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is adopted. The act is later strengthened by amendments adopted in 1988.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon. The act is the single most comprehensive legislative action dealing with environmental issues in the nation's history. One of the provisions of the act is the creation of the Council on Environmental Quality, charged with publishing an annual report on the status of the nation's environmental elements.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 is passed by Congress and signed by the President.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created as an independent agency in the Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970.
Senator Philip Hart (D-Michigan) arranges a meeting among environmental groups, labor unions, and minority organizations to consider issues of the urban environment of concern to all such groups.
April 22 is declared to be Earth Day. By some estimates, more than 20 million people demonstrated on behalf of improved environmental conditions in the United States and the world.
The annual report of the Council on Environmental Quality acknowledges that environmental quality is affected by the racial and class status of communities.
The Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 is adopted. The act represents a giant step forward in the nation's commitment to protect its water resources from pollution.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Amendments of 1975 are adopted.
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 are adopted.
A conference on the urban environment is held at Black Lakes, Michigan. the conference is organized by the United Auto Workers and includes representatives from unions, environmental organizations, religious groups, and those concerned with economic justice.
The Urban League creates Project Que: Environmental Concerns in the Inner City.
The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act are revised and updated.
Grants totaling $66,000 permit the Urban Environment Conference to fund 11 nationwide conferences on issues related to environmental justice.
The National Urban League, the UEC and the Sierra Club co-sponsor "City Care: A Conference on the Urban Environment," in Detroit. At the conference, it becomes clearer that the mainstream environmental community is reluctant to address issues of equity and social justice, with the context of the environment. However, the 700 participants from all over the country leave the conference with a clearer understanding of each other's issues, missions, and priorities.
Residents of Warren County, North Carolina, supported by the United Church of Christ, stage a demonstration in opposition to the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill near the community of Afton. More than 500 African American protesters are arrested in an unsuccessful attempt to block construction of the landfill. This event has been described by some authorities as the real beginning of the modern environmental justice movement.
"Taking Back our Health—An Institute on Surviving the Toxic Threat to Minority Communities" is held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The conference is sponsored by the Urban Environment Conference, shortly before it loses its funding and goes out of business.
A report by the General Accounting Office states that three out of four hazardous waste sites in EPA Region 4 are located in African American Communities.
The grassroots committee, People Concerned about MIC (methyl isocyanate), is organized in Institute, West Virginia. Consisting largely of African Americans, the group is created in response to a chemical leak from a nearby Union Carbide plant that resulted in about 135 residents being sent to the hospital.
The EPA commissions the Council of Energy Resource Tribes to conduct a study of potential hazardous waste sites located on or near Indian lands. The survey reveals as many as 1,200 hazardous waste sites on or near 25 Indian reservations.
The Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ publishes a report, "Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States," showing that race, even more than income level, is the crucial factor shared by communities exposed to toxic waste.
Four thousand tons of toxic wastes are dumped in Koko, Nigeria. Studies later show that an increase in health problems may be related to this act.
A shipment of 13,476 tons of toxic municipal incinerator ash from Philadelphia is dumped in Haiti. The Haitian government has issued a permit for the import of fertilizer, but the actual delivery consists of toxic wastes.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the development of geothermal energy plants in the Hawaiian Islands does not impinge on the First Amendment right to freedom of religion among native Hawaiians. Native Hawaiians had claimed that the development of such plants would destroy the rain forests and interfere with their worship of the volcanic goddess Pele.
A shipment of garbage and incinerator ash from Philadelphia, originally rejected by both Haiti and Panama, is accepted by the Guinean government. Later reports claim that the trees on Kassa Island, where the shipment is dumped, turn brown and die.
The federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act is passed, establishing standards for the use of pesticides.
1989 Residents of the "Cancer Alley" section of the lower Mississippi River organize the Great Louisiana Toxic March in an attempt to bring attention to their polluted living conditions.
Thirty-three nations sign the Basel Treaty, an international agreement dealing with the shipment of hazardous materials across international borders. Eventually, more than 100 additional nations become party to the agreement.
Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA) successfuly protest the construction of a $29 million incinerator designed to burn 125,000 pounds of toxic wastes per day.
Students at the Harvard Law School, the new York University Law School, the University of California at Berkeley Law School, and Washington University in St. Louis hold conferences on the issue of environmental justice.
The EPA establishes the Environmental Equity Work group.
A number of grassroots environmental justice groups, including the Gulf Coast Tenants Organization, the Southwest Organizing Project, the United Church of Christ Commission for racial Justice, and the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, jointly write to the Big Ten of mainstream environmental groups, expressing their concerns about the groups' historic lack of attention to the special needs and interests of people of color and other minorities and challenging them to end their racist and elitist policies and practices.
New York City adopts a "fair share" act intended to ensure that every part of the city receives a fair share of hazardous facility sitings.
First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit is held in Washington, D.C. The Summit adopts a 17-point Principles of Environmental Justice statement.
In what is apparently the first significant contribution from the law community on the issue of environmental justice, Rachel D. Godsil, a student, publishes a commentary on the subject in the University of Michigan Law Review.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) initiates a number of actions relating to environmental inequities, including the Minority Environmental Health Conference and a study of minority communities located near National Priorities List hazardous waste landfills.
Students at Columbia University and the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota hold conferences on the issue of environmental justice.
The EPA establishes an Office of Environmental Justice.
The EPA releases a report "Environmental Equity: Reducing Risks for All Communities."
A report in the National Law Journal, "Unequal Environmental Protection," claims that the EPA pursues discriminatory practices in enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.
A national workshop, "Equity in Environmental Health: Research Issues and Needs," is held at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, under the sponsorship of the EPA, ATSDR, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia) and Senator Al Gore (D-Tennessee) introduce the Environmental Justice Act of 1992.
Congresswoman Cardiss Collins (D-Illinois) introduces an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that would require a "community information statement" for the construction of any new hazardous facility. The statement would include a description of the demography of the proposed site as well as a projected estimate of the impact of the facility on the area.
On Earth Day 1993, President Bill Clinton pledges that he will issue an Executive Order instructing federal agencies to take cognizance of the issues raised by the environmental justice movement and to take actions that will reduce the problems emphasized by that movement.
The EPA establishes the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Congressman Lewis and Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) reintroduce the Environmental Justice Act.
Hearings on the proposed promotion of the EPA to cabinet status include discussion of environmental justice issues.
The Texas Air Control Board and the Texas Water Commission jointly create a statewide Task Force on Environmental Equity and Justice to deal with basic issues, such as reasons that hazardous facilities tend to be located in minority communities, policies and procedures of the two agencies that relate to issues of environmental inequities, methods by which the agencies can become more "user friendly" to communities of color, and data-gathering methods by which the government might become more aware of environmental inequities in hazardous facilities sitings.
President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice ordering federal agencies to abolish and prevent policies that lead to a disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards to communities of color or low income.
An Interagency Symposium on Health Research and Needs to Ensure Environmental Justice, sponsored by the EPA, is held in Arlington, Virginia.
A Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is created.
The United Church of Christ issues an update of its 1987 report, "Toxic Waste and Race Revisited," providing further evidence on the relationship between race and toxic waste facilities.
The first public meeting of the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is held in Atlanta, Georgia.
The EPA announces the award of $3 million to assist 174 community-based organizations, tribal governments, and academic institutions to address environmental justice issues in their communities. The awards reflect an increase from the $500,000 awarded to 61 recipients in 1994.
A conference, Environmental Justice and Transportation: Building Model Partnerships, is held in Atlanta, Georgia, under the joint sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Clark Atlanta Environmental Justice Resource Center. The conference is a part of the department's public outreach plan as mandated by President Clinton's Executive Order 12898.