last modified: Monday, December 12, 2005 12:19 PM
Environmental Justice vs. Economic Development
“Environmental Justice is the fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
“Environmental Justice is a policy advocated by elite environmentalists, and it is killing job prospects in minority communities. If outsourcing is considered bad, environmental justice is much, much worse and could lead to further outsourcing totally unrelated to trade policy.”
- National Leadership Network of Conservative African-Americans
Environmental justice is a recent movement developed to challenge harmful environmental impacts that disproportionately burden minorities and low-income neighborhoods. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation reported in 2003 that 50% of African-Americans and 60% of Hispanics live in counties where levels of two or more air pollutants exceed governmental standards. Communities with existing incinerators have 89% more minorities than the national average, and half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indians live in communities with toxic waste sites. Activists within the movement seek to educate and empower communities to rally against environmental discrimination which contributes to elevated health risks in poor neighborhoods.
Critics in local governments challenge that upholding environmental justice will only harm the populations it intends to help. Increasing regulations and threatening industries with law suits they argue, will only further drive corporations away from communities who desperately need employment opportunities. These critics emphasize that environmental justice is an anti-revitalization mechanism which will impede economic development efforts by discouraging investment.
I will present a timeline, highlighting the important events motivating the environmental justice movement, followed by two case studies designed to demonstrate the inherent tensions between environmental justice and economic development.
Environmental Justice Timeline 
1982: 500 people are arrested in Warren County, North Carolina for protesting the siting of a landfill for PCB- contaminated soils in a predominantly black area.
1983: The Government Accountability Office reports that three out of four of the off-site, commercial hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast are located in predominantly African-American communities, although African-Americans make up only 20% of the region's population.
1987: The United Church of Christ reports that three out of five Black and
Hispanic residents in the
1989: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges injustice concerns and forms the Environmental Equity Workgroup.
1994: President Clinton signs an Executive Order
requiring all federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice
part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately
high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs,
policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations in
Environmental Justice vs. Economic Development
In 1996, Shintech, a Japanese chemical company, proposed
to construct a $700 million dollar factory in Convent,
There was also outrage regarding the tax breaks and subsidies which were offered as incentives for siting the facility specifically in Convent. Shintech would have received a corporate tax income credit of $2500 for each job it created as well as $130 million dollars in subsidies. With over 40% of the population living below the poverty line, critics felt it was unfair to burden residents with the majority of the social costs while exempting a multi-million dollar corporation from contributing its proportional share in taxes.
With adamant opposition to the project and threats of legal challenges on the basis of violating economic justice, Shintech abandoned its proposal in Convent in favor of a new location. The ripple effect of losing such a massive foreign investment can be perceived as a detriment to such an economically deprived area. Construction of the facility alone would have created 2000 jobs, and Shintech also projected that 165 permanent jobs would be created along with a $500,000 nonprofit job training program. The construction of a factory would have improved the local economy by directly increasing employment as well as possibly indirectly stimulating growth in other sectors. With a significant poverty and unemployment rate, government officials asserted that driving economic development out of Convent in the name of environmental justice could only further hurt minorities and low-income residents who would disproportionally feel the impact. The local community as well as the state government would lose millions of dollars in expected tax revenues that could be allocated to improve schools and various public works projects.
California & Tijuana,
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed
in 1994, motivated the relocation of even more transnational American corporations
residents, especially Mexican workers, have disproportionately experienced
negative environmental impacts which include overexposure to air pollution,
inadequate water and sewage treatment, pesticides, and hazardous wastes. The maquiladoras are
not subject to
case studies are just two illustrations of the tradeoff that can occur between
economic development and environmental justice. It
is in the interest of every level of government to promote economic opportunities
for their constituents, but at what cost?
 Hatfield, Heather, “Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism,” Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, March 6, 2003, accessed at http://cbcfhealth.org/content/contentID/1107
 Martin, Kevin. “Elitist Environmentalists Say No Thanks to New Jobs,” National Leadership Network of Conservative African-Americans, accessed at http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NVMartinOutsource404.html
Justice Highlights", The
 Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations," 1994.
 Lousiana Environmental Action Network, “Shintech Environmental Racism,” September 1, 1999
 Accessed at http://www.bluevinyl.org/PVC.pdf, 2005
 Justice, Woody, “PVC: Poor Victimized Community,” The Harbinger, September 8, 1998, accessed at http://www.theharbinger.org/xvii/980908/milligan.html, 2005
 Accessed at www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9050713, 2005
 La Botz, Dan, “Women and Children, Labor Base of Mexican, North American Economy,” Corpwatch, March 2, 1999, accessed at www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=799, 2005
 Kourous, George, “Workers’ Health is on the Line,” Borderlines, August, 1998, accessed at http://us-mex.irc-online.org/borderlines/PDFs/bl47.pdf, 2005
 London Financial Times, “Hazardous Trade Bring Pollution and Health Fears Down Mexico Way,” Fluoride Action Network, June 6, 1997, accessed at www.fluoridealert.org/pollution/1296.html, 2005