Pathfinder for NSOE’s environmental justice work
Defining environmental justice
Environmental justice has many definitions. According to the EPA, environmental justice is “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.” Other bodies define EJ slightly differently, for example, as “cultural norms and values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainability, where all people can hold with confidence that their community and natural environment is safe and productive” (GreenAction.org).
In addition, scholars like Gordon Walker, often emphasize that environmental justice involves environmental benefits, resources, and responsibilities, is objective-based, and is concerned with justice for people, particularly with distributive justice – which considers the distribution of benefits and burdens, procedural justice – which considers the way decisions are made, and compensatory justice, which considers just compensation for past harm.
Environmental justice in frames environmental degradation in terms of social justice principles. These include an understanding of :
- Distributive justice, i.e., the fair distribution of benefits, burdens and outcomes
- Procedural justice, i.e., the way in which decisions are made; i.e., meaningful involvement and participation
- Corrective or compensatory justice, i.e., the compensation or remedy provided for past harm, repaired loss, or punishment; can also relate to retributive justice, restorative justice and commutative justice
Environmental racism is related to, but distinct from environmental justice. Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on People of Color. Benjamin Chavis, who participated in the 1982 PCB Landfill Protests, defines environmental racism as “racial discrimination in environmental policy-making and enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the presence of life threating poisons and pollutants for communities of color, and the history of excluding people of color from leadership of the environmental movement.”
Looking to contribute to environmental justice research?
Before engaing with an environmental justice community, we encourage you to read Pellow and Brulle’s “Power, Justice, and the Environment” and Frank Fischer’s “Citizens, Experts, and the Environment.” Also, please review Defining the Role and Principles of Lawyers and Academicians in the Environmental Justice Movement, a provisional document prepared by the African American Environmental Justice Action Network (AAEJAN 1997). This document addresses the shift of EJ dialogue beyond EJ communities and grassroots organizations to spaces dominated by academics, scientists and lawyers. The document details why traditional “experts” should defer leadership and decision-making to community residents and activists (the real “experts”) in their struggle for self-determination.
Our gratitude to Kay Jowers for sharing these resources.