Environmental justice is the fair and equitable treatment in the implementation and enforcement of all environmental laws, rules, regulations, policies, programs, projects or services regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or income level. More simply put, environmental justice occurs when one group or population disproportionately suffers environmental burdens while being denied the opportunities to experience environmental benefits.
Not all communities are treated alike. It is no coincidence that polluting facilities and land uses are disproportionately located in or within close proximity to communities of color and low-income populations. It also is no coincidence that these frontline communities (communities that are directly affected by inequities at higher rates than people who have more power in society) experience less resource allocation for infrastructure improvements, a robust transportation network, upgrades to existing stormwater management or flood controls, or pro-active engagement during emergency management planning.
Until we confront and address the discriminatory practices and systemic conditions that make these communities extremely vulnerable, we will not be able to transform frontline communities into healthy, resilient, viable communities.
The NAACP recognizes that these inequities and their affects hit African American, low-income and other frontline communities first and worse. Recognizing the intersectionality between inequalities – issues such as pollution, climate change and sea level rising, and the negative impacts on the health, well-being and advancement of African-American and other frontline communities, in 2009 the NAACP started the Environmental and Climate Justice Program (ECJP). The program provides resources and support to community leadership and supports:
A combined action to transition from existing (or planned) natural-gas/fossil-fuel based, coal plants and other toxic facilities, with advocacy to strengthen development, monitoring and enforcement of equity and environmental justice regulations at federal, state and local levels. This also includes a focus on corporate responsibility and accountability.
Support renewable energy and energy efficiency standards while simultaneously working at the local level with small businesses, unions and others on developing demonstration projects to ensure communities of color are accessing revenue generation opportunities in the new energy economy, while providing safer, more sustainable mechanisms for managing energy needs for our communities and beyond. This includes ensuring adequate clean energy infrastructure (i.e. charging stations, solar panels, broadband etc.) is installed in African-American and other vulnerable communities.
Work to ensure communities are equipped to engage in sustainability/climate action planning that integrates policies and practices on advancing food justice advocating for transportation equity and historic/heritage preservation, upholding civil and human rights in emergency management, and facilitate participatory democracy.
Over the years, the NAACP’s ECJP published several seminal studies which serve as both a guide and model for the Virginia State Conference NAACP’s 2019 Environmental and Climate Justice Program. These reports and toolkits are aimed at raising awareness while continuing to advance the leadership of frontline communities and ending environmental and climate injustices. These and other reports can be found online at www.naacp.org.
This report explores critical issues that should be considered in the development of disconnection policies, and development of policies and utility structures that improve energy efficiency throughout the energy continuum, advance clean and renewable energy production, encourage and enable the development of distributed generation and protect human life and wellbeing.
The prepares frontline communities how to be first responders in disasters, serve as monitors for equity in disaster response, and how to advance an equitable disaster policy platform. African-American and other frontline communities are usually excluded from the emergency planning process. As disaster events increase in frequency and severity, it is important that we address these environmental injustices today.
Everyone has the right to safe and affordable energy. However more African Americans live near coal fired power plants, nuclear power plants, or biomass, compressor stations, power plants than any other demographic group in the U.S. As a result, African Americans are more likely to suffer health problems from the pollution that these facilities generate.
The “Just Energy” report provides examples of fair and equitable energy policies and practices such as equity in economic opportunities, including promoting local hiring practices, minority business enterprises and financial incentives.
This study developed in partnership with the Clean Air Task Force and with support from the National Medical Association, focuses on the health impacts of air pollutants from oil and gas facilities that threaten the health of African American communities living near oil and gas facilities. As stated in the report, racial disparities among communities impacted by environmental pollution in the United States are stark. African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than Caucasian Americans, and they are 75 percent more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American.”
Recently released, this report provides a public advisory as it takes aim at the well documented strategies and tactics employed by fossil fuel companies, lobbyists and advocates to try to manipulate communities, policy makers and academia while perpetuating polluting practices that harm communities and the environment.
The Virginia State Conference NAACP is dedicated to working with communities to ensure everyone gets a fair and equitable opportunity to experience the benefits of clean air, water and land. The groups currently is working with local communities to raise awareness on the important health benefits that come with a clean environment. Further, the NAACP is committed to supporting heritage/historical preservation efforts and protecting communities from harmful practices such as pipeline and compressor station projects that are currently under way.
Though this list is not comprehensive or complete, it does provide examples of a few things that we can do to achieve environmental justice in Virginia. The list includes:
We believe that environmental and climate justice are civil and human rights issues and now is the time to take the necessary steps (regulatory, legislative, equity, economy and environmental) to create healthy communities for all and to ensure a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy. Our health is our wealth.
Karen Campblin currently serves as the Environmental and Climate Justice chair for the Virginia State Conference NAACP. She is dedicated to working with communities to build an equitable and clean Virginia. To get involved, or to learn more about the ECJP, contact Campblin at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on our Facebook page at @ecjva2018naacp.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.