Date of Award

1997

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Community Planning

First Advisor

Rolf Pendall

Abstract

Environmental racism has been present throughout history, and gained notoriety in the civil rights movement of the 1960s Environmental racism received national attention in the 1980s when members of predominantly black Warren County, North Carolina tried to prevent the siting of a hazardous waste landfill in their community. Although the landfill was eventually located in Warren County, landmark efforts made by community members sparked a renewed interest in the environmental justice movement. Two definitions of environmental racism have arisen as a result of the recent attention (Fisher, 1995 :288) :

"as racial discrimination in environmental policy making and the unequal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. It is the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic waste facilities and the official sanctioning of life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in people of color communities." Or,

"any policy, practice, or directive that, intentionally or unintentionally, differentially impacts or disadvantages individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color, [as well as the] exclusionary and restrictive practices that limit participation by people of color in decision-making boards, commissions, and staffs."

Since the 1980s, many other environmental justice activists, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, have brought attention to the common distribution of other environmental burdens in predominantly minority and/or low-income communities. Many feel that the siting/distribution of these burdens follows the path of least resistance: many poor and minority communities lack the political clout necessary to fight the ideas of key decision makers.

Responsibility for the distribution of the majority of these environmental burdens has been placed on the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEP A), the Government entity responsible for overseeing state and federal projects, such as those mentioned above. However, it was not until 1990 that the USEPA, after falling under a great deal of scrutiny, performed a study that revealed that poverty also played a major role in determining the locations of some hazardous facilities. Up until this time, income status was not ordinarily used when referring to environmental racism because race was consistently a more prominent factor" (Fisher, 1995) in determining the distribution of environmental burdens.

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