Recent studies have shown that race is, by far, the most critical factor when determining how close and individual or family will live to a hazardous waste site. A study authored by Clark Atlanta University professor Robert Bullard found that 56 percent of Americans who within two miles of a commercial hazardous waste facility are people of color. In 1987, that number was 33 percent. A different study, conducted in 2008 University of Colorado sociologist Liam Downey, showed how little a role income played in deciding just who lives in these unhealthy areas. According to the findings, a black household with an income ranging from $50,000 to $60,000 a year had higher levels of pollution near their home than a white household with an income of less than $10,000.
When we, as African Americans, discuss justice, rarely do we discuss – or demand – environmental justice. It’s time that we do. If our children are breathing in toxic air, what good will it do for them to have access to good schools? If our communities sit atop wastelands the government refuses to clean up, how does it benefit us to have access to community centers? A truly just community includes good schools, programs for residents, sustainable jobs and, yes, clean, safe air. We must start asking for all of these things, in totality.
Every decade brings in new and groundbreaking environmental legislation. In the 1970s, it was the Clean Air Act. In the 1980s, the government mandated that abandoned waste sites be cleaned up. The government amended the Clean Air Act in the 1990s and moved to cut vehicle and equipment emissions in the 2000s. It’s 2010. What will the next ‘big’ environmental law be? How about one that works to eliminate environmental racism by removing waste sites and improving air quality in black neighborhoods?
There is a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Appointed by President Obama, Lisa Jackson understands and fights against environmental injustice. She is currently on a multi-state tour of the Congressional Black Caucus and, with them, is working with local officials and activists to find solutions. Hopefully, she can create a groundswell of support with legislators and the general public to push for laws that will ensure race is not factor when determining how much pollution a neighborhood and its residents are exposed to.
Judge Greg Mathis became the youngest judge in Michigan’s history and was elected a Superior Court Judge for Michigan’s 36th District. He has been called upon as a regular contributor to national television programs, including “Larry King Live,” “Politically Incorrect,” CNN's "Talk Back Live,” “Showbiz Tonight” and “Extra” to discuss his opinions on complex issues of the day, such as national security, unique sentencing, affirmative action and celebrity scandals. He also offers his take on high-profile legal cases.