Bring Race into the Green

By Malena Amusa Apr 23, 2007

Big-name politicians like Senators Clinton and Obama and gov. Schwarzenegger made speeches about greening our future and changing our energy policy in honor of Earth Day yesterday, Sunday April 22, 2007. As expected, they had good things to say. For example:

"We know that we’ve got an energy policy that is the absence of an energy policy," said Obama at the University of Iowa. "It’s an energy policy that sends $800 million a day to some of the most hostile nations on Earth, that leads us to fund both sides of the war on terrorism."

However, despite their promises to change, these politicians seem content on never bringing race into the green. Rather, the conversation of environmental racism is still being had by mostly activists fighting against it. Ms. Magazine reported in its spring issue:

Countless people already suffer from pollutants and toxins in the ground, air, and water… Too often those paying the greatest price for toxic contamination are people of color and those living in poor communities… The struggle against environmental racism–often led by women-of-color–is one for justice, health, and survival.

But the problems aren’t going anywhere fast. Dr. Robert D. Bullard in "Wasted People: Environmental Racism, a 20-Year Saga" highlights a new report Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty that "examines racial disparities by region and state, and for metropolitan areas, where most hazardous waste facilities are located." Twenty years after the United Church of Christ historic study Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, what’s changed?

…a cadre of Black and progressive scientists are calibrating the methodical harm that has been done to Black communities by a society that treats people of color as wasted human flesh. The Bush administration has done everything in its power to silence this growing environmental-racism resistance, cutting off funding to programs that could uncover crimes against whole communities perched on the cusp of disaster – chemical death.

More People of Color Near Toxic Waste Sites Than Two Decades Ago, writes Robert D. Bullard This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the United Church of Christ landmark 1987 Toxic Wastes and Race report. As part of the celebration, the UCC commissioned a new study, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007, that examines racial disparities nationally, by region and state, and for metropolitan areas, where most hazardous waste facilities are located. As in 1987, the new report found race to be the most significant independent predictor of commercial hazardous waste facility locations when socioeconomic and other non-racial factors are taken into account. People of color make up the majority (56%) of the residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste facilities, nearly double the percentage in areas beyond two miles (30%). They also make up more than two-thirds (69%) of the residents in neighborhoods with clustered facilities. Nine out of ten EPA regions have racial disparities in the location of hazardous waste sites. The new findings are consistent with a December 2005 Associated Press study that found African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger. Twenty years after the release of Toxic Wastes and Race, significant racial and socioeconomic disparities persist in the distribution of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste facilities. Although the current assessment used newer methods that better match where people and hazardous waste facilities are located, the conclusions are very much the same as they were in 1987. In fact, people of color are found to be more concentrated around hazardous waste facilities than previously shown. Not only are people of color differentially impacted by toxic wastes and contamination, they can expect different responses from the government when it comes to remediation, as clearly seen in Post-Katrina New Orleans and in Dickson, Tennessee. Thus, it does not appear that existing environmental, health and civil rights laws, and local land use controls have been adequately applied or adapted to reducing health risks or mitigating various adverse impacts to families living in or near toxic “hot spots.” The current environmental protection system is broken and needs to be fixed. Various levels of government have been slow to respond to environmental health threats from toxic waste in communities of color. For many industries it is a “race to the bottom,” where land, labor, and lives are cheap and where environmental “sacrifice zones” are seen as the price of doing business. A chorus of environmental justice activists and civil rights leaders are calling on the new Congress to hold oversight hearings on the slow government response to toxic contamination in low-income and people of color communities; implement the EPA Office of Inspector General’s recommendations for integrating environmental justice into the agency’s day-to-day operations; enact new legislation codifying the Executive Order 12898; and devise a legislative “fix” for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that was severely weakened by the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court Alexander v. Sandoval decision requiring victims of discrimination to prove intent. ———- Robert D. Bullard is the Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University and co-author of Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty report. The report can be viewed at