EJ and the Law

People of color and low-income communities in the United States are often disproportionately, adversely affected by, or under included in the benefits from, decisions made under environmental, land use and other laws, regulations and public policies or by their application and enforcement. Members of such impacted and disadvantaged communities have recognized as, “Environmental Racism” or “Environmental Injustice,” actions taken under these legal authorities that result in disproportionate impacts or inequitable distribution of benefits based on race. Community members and advocates created the Environmental Justice Movement to address these race- and income-based disproportionate impacts and inequitable distribution of benefits; improve and benefit from their environment; and establish meaningful participation in decisions that affect their environment.

Over the last 25 years, environmental justice has come to the forefront of legal thinking and policy consideration. More than 35 states and the federal government have adopted environmental justice legal authorities. In the first quarter of 2021, for example, two states and the federal government enacted seven statutes, and across the country and at the federal level more than 100 bills were introduced expressly to address environmental justice. While there is no actionable environmental justice law or statute at the federal level, courts are more-and-more being called upon to address the concepts and underlying allegations of environmental discrimination and injustice in the context of existing environmental conditions and proposed actions (e.g., permits, land use, policy decisions).

Presently, there is no freely available, up-to-date source of compiled environmental justice authorities for public use. In collaboration with the Howard University School of Law Environment Justice Program, ELI is working to identify and summarize pending or newly enacted state and federal legal authorities, including cases, regulations, legislation, and guidance, that address environmental justice. As the project progresses, we will share our findings online via monthly reports. Our goal is to eventually create a robust online system that communities and individuals can easily and freely access to track EJ developments.