‘Environmental Justice’ is really about the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. It emerged as a concept in the US in the early 1980s; and is defined 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.
Cherie Ruane, former president of the BSLA explains it well. She says the term sprang from a Warren County, NC protest to draw attention to the exploitation of communities with limited resources (namely free time and money) as it relates to the disposition of their built environment. For many years these neighborhoods were used as an actual dumping ground for contaminants, industrial discharge, and ‘undesirable’ land uses. Through environmental justice efforts these practices are being stopped and equity is being introduced to places where the population does not have the resources or access to due process to fight for fair treatment.
In Massachusetts a community is identified as an Environmental Justice community if any of the following are true:
- Block group whose annual median household income is equal to or less than 65 percent of the statewide median ($62,072 in 2010); or
- 25% or more of the residents identify as a race other than white; or
- 25% or more of households have no one over the age of 14 who speaks English only or very well – English Isolation