Incredible but true. It has been 20 years since president Clinton signed the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Ah, I remember it well ...
President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, titled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations.” It mandated federal agencies to create programs that would ensure environmental equity among affected populations. The order followed on the heels of the 1994 Clean Air Act, a federal law that set limits on how many pollutants states could allow to be released into the air. "Environmental Justice" became a buzzword for fed agencies, a rallying cry for community groups, and a way to study health disparities for medical institutions.
By then, I had worked at EPA for a little while and was a lowly faculty instructor in academia. Then EJ became all the rage. There were rallies, there were demonstrations, there were marches, there were politicians talking about it, and, there were requests for proposals from the government to study the problem.
As the only minority faculty in my department, I was pointed to as the designated "community outreach person". Me? I grew up in Puerto Rico, so did not have a good awareness of how racism worked here. I came to the US for grad school in neurobiology. They trained me to deal with brain cells in a microscope, not people rallying on the streets with signs saying: "Environmental Justice or No Peace!" or senators quoting our data. Then, so it was...
But, we were all much younger then... People actually took to the streets with banners. Senators would recite our data in their speeches and there was a real drive to sit at community meetings for hours to explain air pollution measurements and asthma rates.
The 20th Anniversary of EJ has passed, without much fanfare. Is the environmental justice movement still a movement or a concept of the past? If you have an opinion, post it here. I'd like to hear from you.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.