The last decade has seen environmental justice become a household word. Out of the small and seemingly isolated environmental struggles emerged a potent grassroots community driven movement. Many of the on-the-ground environmental struggles in the new millennium have seen the quest for environmental and economic justice become a unifying theme across race, class, gender, age, and geographic lines.
After ten years of intense study, targeted research, public hearings, grassroots organizing, networking, and movement building, environmental justice struggles have taken center stage. Yet, all communities are still not created equal. Some neighborhoods, communities, and regions have become the dumping grounds for all kinds of toxins. Some progress has been made in mainstreaming environmental protection as a civil rights and social justice issue.
We now see an increasing number of community-based groups, environmental justice networks, environmental and conservation groups, legal groups, faith-based groups, labor, academic institutions and youth organizations teaming up on environmental and health issues that differentially impact poor people and people of color. Environmental racism and environmental justice panels have become "hot" topics at national conferences and forums sponsored by law schools, bar associations, public health groups, scientific societies, professional meetings, and university lecture series.
In just a short time, environmental justice advocates have had a profound impact on public policy, industry practices, national conferences, private foundation funding, and community-based participatory research (CBPR) where community and "expert" are equal partners. Environmental justice research, writing, and publications have flourished since the Summit II. Today, there is a rich body of work that supports an array of disciplines from the social and behavioral sciences to physical sciences to law and legal studies.
Environmental justice groups have been successful in blocking numerous permits for new polluting facilities and forced government and private industry buyout and relocation of several communities impacted by Superfund sites and industrial pollution. Environmental justice and health equity concepts and principles are making their way into initiatives that are moving the nation toward a "green economy," green buildings and healthy schools, clean and renewable energy, smart growth, and just climate policies.
Although permitting and facility siting still dominate state environmental justice programs, a growing number of states are beginning to use land use planning techniques, such as buffer zones, to improve environmental conditions, reduce potential health threats, and prevent environmental degradation in at-risk communities. States are also incorporating environmental justice in their brownfields, Supplemental Environmental Projects, and climate policies. Some states rely on enforcement procedures in environmentally burdened communities, while other states use grants and community education.
A Decade of Movement Building
The last decade has seen some positive change in the way environmental groups in the United States relate to each other around health, environment, economic, and racial justice. An increasing number of community-based groups, networks, university-based centers, environmental and conservation groups, legal groups, faith-based groups, labor, and youth organizations have formed partnerships and collaboratives to address environmental and health issues that differentially impact poor people, people of color, and children. The number of people of color environmental groups has grown from 300 groups in 1992 to more than 500 groups in 2002, to more than 2,000 groups and a dozen networks in 2011.
Expanding the "Pipeline" of New Leaders
Community-based organizations play an important role in providing a space and training ground for growing youth leaders. The key to a successful movement rests with how effective organizations and institutions solve "pipeline" challenges. Not surprising, resources continue to be a major barrier to building, supporting, and sustaining strong national youth and student leadership across various environmental and health movements that focus on racial equity. Bringing young people into the movement to address environmental health and racial equity at every level, from activists to analysts to academics, can only strengthen the movement. Today, much of the youth work takes place within an intergenerational form (community-based organizations, networks, centers, legal clinics that have a youth focus or youth component) and youth-led form (organizations founded by and led by youth), and both are important and complementary.
University-Based Programs and Centers
Environmental justice courses and curricula can be found at nearly every college and university across the country. It is now possible for students to receive a baccalaureate and advanced degree in environmental justice. Similarly, environmental justice is now an acceptable discipline college and university professors can select as a major research concentration, and receive tenure and promotion. A new and better trained generation of environmental justice scholars, teachers, analysts, and activists can now be found in nearly every discipline. Some of these new leaders have been elected to public office and can now influence laws and public policy directly.
University-based centers and academic programs serve as important venues to train, educate, and mentor students, faculty, and researchers in the environmental justice, health, and racial equity fields. An expanding "pipeline" of diverse scholars, scientists, researchers, policy analysts, and planners is changing environmental sciences and public health fields. In 1990, there was not a single university-based environmental justice center or a program that offered a degree in environmental justice. A decade later, there was just one program, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment , that offered a Master's and Ph.D. degree in environmental justice. In 2011, there are 13 university-based environmental justice centers, four of which are located at Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), 22 legal clinics that list environmental justice as a core area, and six academic programs that grant degrees in environmental justice, including one legal program.
National Award and Honors
The Environmental Justice Movement has seeded a number of social movements that use a racial equity lens, including healthy homes, reproductive justice, transportation equity, smart growth, regional equity, parks justice and green access, green jobs, food justice, and climate justice. From 1990-2011, more than two-dozen environmental justice leaders were singled out for prestigious national awards that included the Heinz Award , Goldman Prize , MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship , Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award , Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leaders Award , and others.
Strategic foundation support has enabled the success of the Environmental Justice Movement. Yet, the movement is still under-funded after three decades of proven work. This is true for private foundation and government funding. Overall, foundation and government funding support for environmental justice and health equity has been piecemeal. Constrained funding has made it difficult for building organizational infrastructure, community organizing, leadership development and participating effectively at the policy table. Government funding has come primarily from a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The number of foundations that have funded designated environmental justice programs has been shrinking in since the Summit II. However, there are hopeful signs from a number of foundations that are funding multidisciplinary work that intersects environment, health, and racial equity. Much of this funding is filtered through portfolios of smart growth, transportation equity, clean and renewable energy, green jobs, chemical policy reform, green chemistry, green products, parks and green access, green buildings, healthy schools, food security and food justice, sustainable agriculture, sustainable communities, equitable development, brownsfields redevelopment, worker training, worker safety, health disparities, reproductive health and justice, immigrant rights, human rights, disaster response, regionalism and regional equity, climate change, and climate justice, all of which fall under the broad category of environmental justice.