Environmental Justice: What It Means, and What We Stand For 

By Peter Aronson

As the New York League of Conservation Voters pushes forward in its fight against climate change and to create a healthier, more sustainable New York, we want to re-emphasize that equity and environmental justice is essential to everything we do.

Whether it’s tackling air pollution or creating family-sustaining green jobs, we firmly believe that Environmental Justice is an essential component in all our environmental policies. The NYLCV 2023 agendas for New York city and the state clearly sets forth this principle and we are holding city and state officials accountable. 

In the U.S., Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice explained it this way: “Environmental justice is based on the reality that certain groups in society bear unequal environmental and economic burdens like poor air and water quality, as well as unhealthy living conditions resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations and/or federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and policies. It is the idea that all people and communities have the right to equal environmental protection under the law, and the right to live, work and play in communities that are safe, healthy and free of life-threatening conditions.” 

The Environmental Justice movement in the United States started during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. The movement “was started by individuals, primarily people of color, who sought to address the inequity of environmental protection in their communities,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains on its website, citing the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968 as an early example.The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s sounded the alarm about the public health dangers for their families, their communities and themselves.”

Unfortunately, these “unequal” burdens are often the result of systemic racism, such as the construction of toxic waste disposal facilities or highly congested roadways (ie, the Cross Bronx Expressway) in communities of color. They also include lack of funding for disadvantaged communities that negatively impact housing, parks and transportation, among other things.

In 1991, delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, held in Washington, D.C., adopted 17 principles of Environmental Justice. Since then, the Principles have served as a defining document for the growing grassroots movement for Environmental Justice, including those espoused by NYLCV.

Today, environmental justice is front and center as environmentalists and society face a dangerously warming world, due to human-created greenhouse gasses, with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calling for immediate action to avert a global crisis. Embedded in this warning is that less-developed communities around the world – aka the poorest communities and countries – face a disproportionate share of the negative consequences of global warming, from droughts, food shortages and chronic health problems to flooding, forced climate migration and increased pollution.

We are excited to see positive signs from different levels of government that prioritize environmental justice, such as the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, as well as New York State’s recently-approved Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which requires that disadvantaged communities receive at least 35-40% of the total statewide spending.

To address these issues, NYLCV is working closely with other advocacy groups to advance equity and environmental justice.

Earlier this year, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, partnering with WE ACT for Environmental Justice and South Bronx Unite, held an all-day forum called Green Our City Now where we launched the Green Pact, a policy document  outlining recommendations for New York City elected officials to adopt to help fight environmental racism and advance equity. Topics in the Green Pact ranged from prioritizing public transportation, ending lead poisoning, investing and expanding our parks system, and more. 

NYLCV’s City and State Policy Agendas highlight equity and environmental justice, including recommendations such as:

  • Increased funding for all parks and green spaces and make sure the underrepresented communities receive a disproportionate share to make up for past injustices;
  • Insuring coastal resiliency, because disadvantaged communities suffer disproportionately;
  • Insuring that New York City has a comprehensive trash removal, recycling and composting program serving every community in the city;
  • Insuring that the city and the state’s green infrastructure programs, such as rain gardens and permeable pavements, are distributed equitably;
  • Taking the necessary steps to insure lead free drinking water is available for every New Yorker, making sure disadvantaged communities have an equitable system for monitoring the drinking water and replacing contaminated pipes;
  • Making safe and convenient public transportation available to all New Yorkers, including adding the necessary public transportation and bike routes in disadvantaged communities;
  • Lowering carbon emissions through the city and state in an equitable way;
  • Creating sustainable, union green jobs in the communities most impacted by environmental racism;
  • Emphasizing green construction projects in the communities most impacted by environmental racism; and 
  • Emphasizing renewable energy projects in the communities most impacted by environmental racism.

For more information about environmental justice, please see the New York City website and the New York State website. 

05.05.23 // AUTHOR: admin //