It seems that almost anywhere researchers look, there is more evidence of deep racial disparities in exposure to environmental hazards.
To many people, racism often connotes purposeful decisions by a master hand, and many see existing segregation as a self-sorting or poverty problem.
Couldn’t the presence of landfills and factories in disproportionately black neighborhoods have more to do with the fact that black people tend to be disproportionately poor and thus live in less desirable neighborhoods?
Leaders in the environmental-justice movement have posited—in places as prestigious and rigorous as United Nations publications and numerous peer-reviewed journals—that environmental racism exists as the inverse of environmental justice, when environmental risks are allocated disproportionately along the lines of race, often without the input of the affected communities of color.
The idea of environmental racism is, like all mentions of racism in America, controversial.
Late last week, even as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Trump administration continued a plan to dismantle many of the institutions built to address those disproportionate risks, researchers embedded in the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment released a study indicating that people of color are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air.
Specifically, the study finds that people in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter than people living above poverty.
Further changes to move the offices of environmental justice into a policy office staffed by Pruitt hires promise to further reduce the autonomy of life-long environmental-justice staffers and reduce the effectiveness of their work.
More broadly, with a defiant stance against climate and environmental science, Trump and Pruitt have begun a rollback of environmental protections.
The study found that people in poverty had about 1.3 times more exposure than people above poverty.
Interestingly, it also finds that for black people, the proportion of exposure is only partly explained by the disproportionate geographic burden of polluting facilities, meaning the magnitude of emissions from individual factories appears to be higher in minority neighborhoods.