Environmental justice is the idea that people of all ethnicities, genders or income should be taken into account regarding environmental legislation. Accordingly, issues of environmental justice involve both social and environmental conflicts, and there are many of these issues indeed. For instance, studies have shown that generally people of color are more affected by pollution than White-Americans. Furthermore,”in 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African American populations.” (Grist) The ozone layer is a layer of the atmosphere. it becomes larger through a process called the greenhouse effect. Electricity production (power plants),transportation (i.e.: cars, buses, trains), even residential use of electricity all have one thing in common: they require the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy including petroleum, coal and natural gas. The burning of any fossil fuel releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases remain in the ozone layer, trapping heat on earth and contributing to climate change.
Nevertheless, this isn’t an article about issues of environmental justice. This is an article designed to inform on a governmental plan focused on combating issues of environmental justice. Finally.
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made environmental justice the top priority in the agency’s overall mission. From 2009 until May 2014 the EPA worked to create the Plan EJ 2014. They describe it as
“A roadmap that will help the EPA integrate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and activities. The Goals of the plan are to:
- Protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution
- Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment
- Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.” (epa)
I think of the plan as a guding hand, a plan that pushes all sectors of the EPA into taking into account environmental equality when making decisions.
The significance of this plan is simply in the fact that it exists. The plan EJ 2014 is a bit of revitalization of a failed executive order of 1994 issued by President Clinton. Clinton’s executive order called for federal agencies to stop companies from “overburdening communities of colors.” (grist) Meaning, to stop concentrating power plants in low income neighborhoods, or more generally to stop concentrating pollution in low income neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, The executive order was largely ignored.
Bretin Mock sums up the importance of the plan excellently when he says “at least now, the powers that be can no longer feign ignorance.” (Grist) The people that can make a difference have acknowledged that environmental inequity is an issue, which is a huge step for the environmental justice movement in its own right.