What is Environmental Justice?

With the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) recent establishment of its Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, it’s a good time for a brief check-in on what Environmental Justice is and what the movement is working on.

The term “Environmental Justice” has been in use since the 1980s to describe the movement to relieve the disparate pollution burden and related health and quality of life outcomes faced by socially and economically marginalized communities. Classic examples of environmental injustice include the siting of toxic waste storage facilities, industrial plants and other pollution sources in poor communities and communities of color.

USEPA 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.” [1] More generally, it can be thought of as “the equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits” (Schlosberg, 2002). [2]

In addition to the addressing the effects of hazardous waste on minority and low-income communities, other environmental issues that disproportionately affect these same communities, such as lead exposure through pipes and paint, air pollution, water contamination and climate change impacts.

While no one agency or organization can tackle these alone, Cuyahoga SWCD is working to incorporate the principles of Environmental Justice into our programming. And one of the first steps is learning more about the impacts of environmental injustice.

Below is a brief list of online tools, articles, podcasts, and documentaries that I have found to be enlightening, or that others have recommended. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list – if you have resources to share, please post them in the comments!

Online Tools:

Additional Web Resources:




[1] USEPA Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights web site

[2] Schlosberg, David (2002). Light, Andrew; De-Shalit, Avner (eds.). Moral and Political Reasoning in Environmental Practice. The Justice of Environmental Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. 79. ISBN 0262621649.

Blog author: Jared Bartley, Deputy Director of Education and Watersheds

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