What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental Justice (EJ) is about being fair to those who are disadvantaged. It ensures that all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, are able to benefit from environmental protection. Communities in which environmental justice is sought are often ones with predominantly minority or low-income residents who have been excluded from the decision-making process about policies and actions that affect their community, and are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards.

Government action to eliminate discrimination dates back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the official introduction of Environmental Justice as a federal requirement occurred in 1994, when President Clinton signed Presidential Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority and Low-Income Populations”. This executive order requires federal agencies to act to eliminate inequities in infrastructure planning, operation, and development. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was charged with implementing the new law.

The Baltimore Region Environmental Justice in Transportation Project (BREJTP), the basis for this website, is an effort to encourage the use of an Environmental Justice (EJ) framework in regional transportation planning projects, in Baltimore and beyond.

This video from the U.S. Department of Justice explains Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in more depth.

The EPA defines environmental justice 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. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local or tribal programs and policies.

Meaningful involvement means that:

  1. potentially affected community residents have an appropriate opportunity to participate in decisions about a proposed activity that will affect their environment and/or health;
  2. the public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decisions;
  3. the concerns of all participants involved will be considered in the decision making process; and
  4. the decision makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.

In sum, environmental justice is achieved when everyone, regardless of race, culture or income, enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.”

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