The concept of “environmental justice” is rooted in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color and national origin, and other nondiscrimination statutes as well as other statutes including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, and 23 U.S.C Section 109(h).
In 1971, the Council on Environmental Quality’s annual report acknowledged racial discrimination adversely affects the environment of the urban poor. During the next ten years, activists maintained that toxic waste sites were disproportionately located in low-income and areas populated by “people of color.” By the early 1980s, the environmental justice movement had increased its visibility and broadened its support base.
In 1982, the environmental justice movement captured the nation’s attention when Warren County, North Carolina, residents demonstrated against the siting of a hazardous waste landfill. During 1983, the General Accounting Office issued a report stating that three out of four hazardous waste facilities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) Region 4 were in African American communities. This led to the United Church of Christ undertaking a nationwide study and publishing Toxic Waste and Race in the United States (1987). The study stated that socioeconomic factors, with race being the major factor, played a role in the siting of toxic waste facilities.
In 1992, the U.S. EPA established an Environmental Equity Workgroup to study the allegations of disproportionate impacts of waste facility siting and general environmental inequities. Also, in that same year as a result of the findings of the Environmental Equity Workgroup, EPA created the Office of Environmental Justice. In 1993, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice released a study with additional findings of environmental inequities. The study found that minorities were 47 percent more likely than others to live near hazardous waste facilities. In that same year, the EPA established the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and made environmental justice a priority. These events and others led to the issuance of a federal Executive Order on Environmental Justice.