Toxic Wastes And Race At Twenty: Why Race Still Matters After All Of These Years

Toxic Wastes
Toxic Wastes
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TOXIC WASTES AND RACE AT TWENTY: WHY RACE STILL MATTERS AFTER ALL OF THESE YEARS

ABSTRACT

In 1987 the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice published its landmark report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. The report documented disproportionate environmental burdens facing people of color and low-income communities across the country. The report sparked a national grassroots environmental justice movement and significant academic and governmental attention. In 2007, the UCC commissioned leading environmental justice scholars for a new report, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States. In addition to commemorating and updating the 1987 report, the new report takes stock of progress achieved over the last twenty years. ∗ Robert D. Bullard directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. His most recent book is entitled

GROWING SMARTER: ACHIEVING LIVABLE COMMUNITIES, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, AND REGIONAL EQUITY (2007). ∗∗

Paul Mohai is a Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has been a major contributor to the growing body of quantitative research examining disproportionate environmental burdens in low-income and people of color communities. ∗∗∗ Robin Saha is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana and affiliated faculty with its School of Public and Community Health Sciences. He is among the leading scholars conducting quantitative studies of environmental inequality using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). ∗∗∗∗ Beverly Wright directs the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University. She is one of the nation’s leading environmental justice scholars and is a Hurricane Katrina survivor.

GAL.BULLARD.W FIGURES AND TABLES 5/29/2008 3:21:07 PM 372

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

[Vol. 38:371 Although Toxic Wastes and Race has had tremendous positive impacts, twenty years after its release people of color and low-income communities are still the dumping grounds for all kinds of toxins. Using 2000 Census data, an updated database of commercial hazardous waste facilities, and newer methods that better match where people and hazardous sites are located, we found significant racial and socioeconomic disparities persist in the distribution of the nation’s hazardous wastes facilities. We demonstrate that people of color are more concentrated around such facilities than previously shown. People of color are particularly concentrated in neighborhoods and communities with the greatest number of facilities and racial disparities continue to be widespread throughout the country. Moreover, hazardous waste host neighborhoods are composed predominantly of people of color. Race continues to be the predominant explanatory factor in facility locations and clearly still matters. Yet getting government to respond to the needs of low-income and people of color communities has not been easy, especially in recent years when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mounted an all-out attack on environmental justice principles and policies established in the 1990s. Environmental injustice results from deeplyembedded institutional discrimination and will require the support of concerned individuals, groups, and organizations from various walks of life. The Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty report condensed in this Article provides dozens of recommendations for action at the federal, state, and local levels to help eliminate the disparities. The report also makes recommendations for nongovernmental organizations and industry. More than one hundred environmental justice, civil rights, human rights, faith based, and health allies signed a letter endorsing these steps to reverse recent backsliding, renewing the call for social, economic, and environmental justice for all. Congress has begun to listen and take action.

I. INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 373

II. ROOTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE SINCE 1987…………………………………………………..

374 III. TOXIC NEIGHBORHOODS ……………………………………………………………………………………. 377

IV. GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE………………………………………. 379

V. ASSESSING DISPARITIES IN ENVIRONMENTAL BURDENS………………………………………….. 385

VI. ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT DISPARITIES……………………………………………………………….. 392

A. National Findings……………………………………………………………………………………. 396

B. State Disparities ……………………………………………………………………………………… 399

C. Metropolitan Area Disparities…………………………………………………………………. 403

D. The Matter of Race …………………………………………………………………………………. 405

VII. CONCLUSIONS AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS……………………………………………………. 406

GAL.BULLARD.W FIGURES AND TABLES 5/29/2008 3:21:07 PM 2008]

TOXIC WASTES AND RACE 373 I.

INTRODUCTION

The environmental justice movement has come a long way since its humble beginning in Warren County, North Carolina, where a PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) landfill ignited protests and more than 500 arrests.1 Although the demonstrators were unsuccessful in stopping the siting of the PCB landfill, they put “environmental racism” on the map and launched the national environmental justice movement.

The Warren County protests also led the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in 1987 to produce Toxic Wastes and Race, the first national study to correlate waste facility sites and demographic characteristics.2 The 1987 report was significant because it found race to be the most potent variable in predicting where these facilities were located—more powerful than household income, the value of homes, and the estimated amount of hazardous waste generated by industry.3 The Toxic Wastes and Race study was revisited in 1994 using 1990 census data.4

The 1994 study found that people of color are 47% more likely to live near a hazardous waste facility than white Americans.5 It has now been two decades since Toxic Wastes and Race was first published. Over the past twenty years, environmental justice and environmental racism have become household words. 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 1980s, 1990s, and through the early years of the new millennium have seen the quest for environmental and economic justice become a unifying theme across race, class, gender, age, and geographic lines.

The “chicken or egg” wastes facility siting debate has nearly been put to rest since recent evidence shows that the disproportionately high percentages of minorities and low-income populations were present at the time the commercial hazardous waste facilities were sited. A 2001 study confirms this phenomenon in Los Angeles County.6 Likewise in a 2005 study our authors Robin Saha and Paul Mohai report that in Michigan during the last thirty years commercial hazardous waste facilities were sited in neighborhoods that were disproportionately poor and disproportionately non-white at the time of siting.

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