The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys:
Same degree of protection from environmental hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.”
In early 2017 the Public Policy Project contracted with the McKnight Foundation to explore the connections between African-American perceptions and experiences of environmental issues in North Minneapolis. From late April through June the Public Policy Project interviewed several African-Americans and other leaders living and/or working in North Minneapolis. During the interviews we quickly realized we needed to expand our lens on what constitutes an environmental issue. No one questions the legitimacy of air, soil and water quality in the urban environment as appropriate environmental considerations. However, the impacts of differential quality and the socio-ecological patterns in society that shape higher environmental injustice overburdens on African American communities tend to be invisible to and ignored by outsiders.
As an example, one of the questions we asked was, “What do you see as the most important issues in north Minneapolis and how these can be understood as environmental issues?”
The answers were as follow.
Large stock of substandard housing - We don’t have much environmentally sound, energy efficient housing stock.
Deep disparities in jobs, housing, health care and education - We have a higher incidents of environmental health hazards, and far lower access to high quality jobs, financial services, housing and education.
Youth violence - Our youth feel “entrapped” by the inequitable opportunity structure and this helps generate and reinforce youth violence patterns.
Economy - The business mix we currently have will not help us build health or wealth.
Corporations in our community do not interact with community - Corporations in the community do not typically hire community members equitably.
Racial justice, environmental racism and classism - economic marginalization, white supremacy and ecological marinization go hand in hand.
Police/community relations - Relationship between police and community here has been one of containment, disrespect, and of individual and community peril.
People are in survival mode - Energy goes toward trying to figure out where our next meal comes from and having to deal with basic needs before they can get to thriving objectives.
School to prison pipeline - Too few teachers in our schools know how to touch each students’ learning light.
Combination of divestment in us and attempts to gentrify community - Whenever people talk about “improving” things in North Minneapolis, many times we are not included in whatever they are thinking.
Lower population health and lower environmental health - Obesity, diabetes, asthma and less access to healthy local fresh food.
People recognized more and more the deep intersectionality between the environment and the livelihood of residents in North Minneapolis.
People see all of the above issues as environmental issues, believing that since we live in the environment – nothing can happen in our lives that is not an environmental issue.
Environmental justice organizing never stops, and eventually will facilitate cracks in the armor of a paradigm that allows environmental injustice.
As a result of the interviews, Public Policy Project created the Environmental Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC). More about EJCC coming soon.
See the entire 2017 report on our website, www.ppp-ejcc.com.