January 01, 2013

Environmental Justice Remains EPA, SEER Focus

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn and Paula Schauwecker

Although there is no single definition of Environmental Justice (EJ), today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it 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.” The environmental justice (EJ) movement’s early origins were marked by several seminal cases, such as Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corporation, 482 F. Supp. 673 (S.D. Tx. 1979), and studies, like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study Siting Hazardous Waste Landfills and their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities, GAO RCED-168 (6/1/83). Significant leaps forward were made when President Bush created the Office of Environmental Justice in the early nineties, and when in 1994 President Clinton signed Executive Order (EO) 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. As we approach the EO’s twentieth anniversary, EPA has put meaningful time and effort into developing EJ Plan 2014, which outlines goals and objectives for incorporating EJ into rulemaking, permitting, compliance and enforcement, and community action. The Plan has received attention and comment, and it offers a roadmap for the Agency’s next steps.

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