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refers to those cultural norms, values, rules, regulations,
behaviors, policies, and decisions that support sustainable
communities, where people can interact with confidence that
their environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental
justice is served when people can realize their highest potential,
without experiencing "isms." Environmental justice is supported
by decent-paying and safe jobs, quality schools and recreation,
decent housing and adequate health care, democratic decision-making,
personal empowerment, and communities free of violence, drugs,
and poverty. These are communities where both cultural and biological
diversity are respected and highly revered and where distributive
justice movement has generated a good deal of attention and
debate. The arguments presented below are those I have encountered
in various forms in conferences and in my work with community
groups across the country. These arguments are by no means conclusive.
One: Policy decisions should be based on a demonstration
of a causal relationship between a given chemical and a corresponding
Causal relationships are most difficult to establish, even under
the most ideal research conditions. The use of control groups
using human beings to test the effect of certain toxic chemicals
is unethical, thus rendering it extremely difficult to demonstrate
causality. The best we can do in many instances is simply to
demonstrate an association between certain chemicals and certain
corresponding health effects. Given these uncertainties, an
alternative view is to focus on pollution prevention.
Two: Pollution control of fugitive emissions by 90% is a
reasonable policy to implement because it reduces emissions
to acceptable risks and allows for reasonable profits.
Not everyone agrees that pollution control of fugitive emissions
by 90% is safe, because some chemicals are persistent and fat-soluble.
Synthetic chemicals, such as the pesticide DDT, some radioactive
materials, and toxic mercury and lead compounds become more
concentrated in fatty tissues of organisms at successively higher
trophic levels in various food chains and food webs. These bioaccumulate
or amplify themselves hundreds of thousands of times as they
move up the food chain. By the time these chemicals reach the
top of the food chain, they are highly concentrated and present
a public health problem. This is a key reason many environmental
justice groups champion pollution prevention rather than pollution
Three: Income is a greater explanatory variable than race
in determining where pollution sources are located.
The results of 16 urban, regional, and national studies demonstrate
a consistent pattern: Where the distribution of pollution has
been analyzed by both income and race (and where it has been
possible to weigh the relative importance of each), race has
been found, in most cases, to be more strongly related to the
incidence of pollution than income. One response by industry
is that their sitings are motivated not by race, but only by
an attraction to low land values. However, it is possible to
establish a racial motivation so long as there is a pattern
of locating LULUs (locally unwanted land uses) in communities
of color more so than in poor white neighborhoods. Moreover,
it is also important to compare the introduction of LULUs to
Census data indicating the racial composition of a particular
neighborhood over the same time period.
Four: Census tract rather than zip code data is a more critical
unit of analysis to test hypotheses regarding disparate impact.
In recent years, an epistemological debate has been taking place
about how to measure whether a particular practice or set of
practices has disproportionately harmed communities of color
to a degree that far exceeds their percentage of the population.
Many studies that attempt to show "disparate impact" have used
either census tracts or zip codes as the unit of analysis. When
census tracts are used, the relative weight of income often
becomes a greater explanatory variable than race. When zip codes
are used, we often get the opposite effect: the relative weight
of race often becomes the greater explanatory variable. While
some critics claim that census tracts are too small to yield
meaningful results, other critics claim that zip codes are too
large to yield meaningful results. There are compelling arguments
on both sides. The question is: what is the appropriate unit
of analysis to show disparate impact?
Five: Too many environmental regulations hinder efficient
business practices, causing loss of valuable time and profits.
This assumption is not necessarily true. For example, although
Germany and Japan have some of the most stringent environmental
regulations in the world, their regulations have motivated industry
to become more creative about developing pollution prevention
and abatement technologies. Further, the development of technology
helps move us toward an environmentally just society by creating
safe, decent-paying jobs, and balances the national debt by
exporting pollution prevention, abatement and control technologies
to Eastern Europe and developing countries. Finally, loss of
environmental regulations often leaves people of color and low-income
groups who live close to LULUs vulnerable and overexposed to
toxic waste in the interest of corporate profits.
Six: Government officials assume that community people are
too irrational and that environmental problems are too complex
for the public to understand. Therefore, policy decisions should
be left to the experts.
Community members can and must be intimately involved in shaping
environmental policy. Few policies with local impacts will work
without the affected community possessing a vested interest
in their success. In fact, studies have shown that the vast
majority of community groups interact successfully with scientist
(89%) and health professionals (73%). One scientist, Nicholas
Freudenberg, found that these groups had a sophisticated understanding
of the limits of scientific studies, issues of toxic waste and
waste site remediation, and alternatives to area spraying of
pesticides. He also found that these activist groups were more
complex than policymakers realized.
Seven: Positivism is a better way of knowing because it
embraces a specific scientific methodology that reduces complex
phenomena to hypotheses to be tested and quantified.
It is often difficult for environmental justice to prevail when
the locus of control is placed with the outside researcher.
Positivism or traditional scientific methodology is not the
only effective method of problem-solving. Positivism or traditional
research is adversarial and contradictory: it often leaves laypeople
confused about the certainty and solutions regarding exposure
to environmental toxins. Often scientists or policy makers cannot
be certain about the singular or synergistic effects of chemicals
on the health of people. This inability has created both anger
and distrust of scientists and government officials and has
led affected groups to question traditional science as the only
legitimate and effective way of problem-solving. Participatory
research enables community people to become an integral part
of the research process. Affected groups feel that environmental
justice is better served if they themselves are involved in
a participatory research process, where they at least share
in the locus of control of the research process along with researchers
and policymakers. They want to be involved in problem identification,
questionnaire construction, data collection and data analysis.
Often the process outcomes of inclusion, decision-making and
respect for the affected populations may be more important and
weigh heavier on satisfactory outcomes than content outcomes.
Eight: Building incinerators or landfills will provide jobs
and economic growth for local communities.
Although new landfills and incinerators will provide jobs, the
number of jobs they provide is relatively few. Technical jobs
have a tendency to go to people outside the relevant community.
Further, there exist serious potential health effects of exposing
people to pollutants that arise from capacity expansion. The
relevant question is not one simply of job quantity, but rather
of job quality.
we need to expend greater resources to clean up our pollution.
If the effects of certain illnesses disappear, we then know
that we have dealt with the general causes, even though we may
never know the specific cause and effect outcomes. Second, we
need to devote more research money to pollution control technologies.
Third, we must ask ourselves the role population and consumption
play in disparate impacts of pollution on communities of color.