What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental justice (EJ) is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution, and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment. Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.
Historically, the environmental justice movement has been one of grassroots activism focusing on the rights and liberties of people of color and low-income communities relative to the environment and particularly, in response to the disproportionate burden of industrial pollution and lack of regulatory enforcement in these communities.
In 1994, President William Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations," directing federal agencies to address environmental injustices in their operations and in communities across the country. Since, and in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states and municipalities have developed policies and programs to pro-actively address environmental equity concerns to help ensure that minority and low-income communities are not disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards.
- U.S. Executive Order 12898
- Title VI of the Civil RIghts Act of 1964
- 2017 EEA Environmental Justice Policy (updated June 2021)
- Executive Order regarding non-discrimination, diversity, equal opportunity, and affirmative action (E.O. 526)
- Executive Order 552
- Executive Office of Administration and Finance Bulletin #16: “Language Access Policy”
Environmental Equity in Massachusetts
The Commonwealth's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) established an Environmental Justice Policy to help address the disproportionate share of environmental burdens experienced by lower-income people and communities of color who, at the same time, often lack environmental assets in their neighborhoods. The policy is designed to help ensure their protection from environmental pollution as well as promote community involvement in planning and environmental decision-making to maintain and/or enhance the environmental quality of their neighborhoods.
Through its agencies and programs, EEA works to engage environmental justice populations in environmental decision-making through expanded and inclusive outreach, to minimize health risks through targeted environmental enforcement, and to improve environmental quality in all communities through initiatives that include reduction of pollutants and emissions, remediation and redevelopment of contaminated land, and investment in urban parks and greenspace.
Improving Environmental Quality
There are basically two frameworks of environmental equity:
- stopping the environmental "bads," such as a disproportionate burden of toxics
- promoting the environmental "goods," such as assuring access to parks, green amenities, and recreational opportunities.
AIR: Reducing Diesel Emissions
The Administration is working to advance biofuels through investment in research and development, tax incentives, and requirements for percentages of bio-diesel in heating oil and diesel fuel. Additionally, in June 2008, Governor Deval Patrick launched MassCleanDiesel: Clean Air for Kids, a new clean air initiative that installed pollution controls on diesel-powered school buses serving public schools across the state. EEA and MassDEP are also developing a statewide diesel strategy to reduce emissions and improve air quality throughout the Commonwealth.
ENERGY: Clean Energy Technology and Efficiency
EEA, through policy initiatives, investment, and its Leading by Example Program is advancing clean and renewable energy projects at state facilities and throughout the Commonwealth including wind, solar, bio-diesel, and biomass. These clean energy initiatives are helping to decrease our demand on fossil-fuels as well as reducing pollutants that harm public health, degrade environmental quality, and contribute to global warming.
LAND: Brownfields Revitalization
EEA and its agencies, in collaboration with various public and private partners, are working to return contaminated sites to clean and productive use through investment and smart growth technical assistance. Throughout Massachusetts, once blighted brownfield sites are being developed for businesses, housing, and parks, resulting in revitalized urban communities and improved environmental health.
GREENSPACE: Greening the Urban Environment
Increasing environmental assets in EJ communities is central toward improving public health and achieving environmental equity. EEA works to advance urban land conservation, which is a key component in the creation of new parks, trails, urban wilds, and gardens. Additionally, in partnership with DCR, EEA seeks to expand tree canopies in urban areas, particularly in EJ neighborhoods.