Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
February 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Environmentalists Play the Race Card

The environment and racism. Aside from abortion, no two issues have consumed Americans more in the last several decades than saving trees and furry animals from greedy capitalists and ensuring that the individual liberties of all persons regardless of race, religion, gender and ethnicity are protected. Mention the two words together and you are bound to get strange looks from people who think that "environmental racism" has something to do with polar bears: discriminating against black bears. Well, it's almost as absurd.

Numerous published studies have attempted to show that minorities and low-income families throughout the nation have been unduly forced to bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental externalities resulting from industrial production and hazardous waste treatment and disposal. Many believe that this phenomenon is the result of a conspiracy to intentionally place hazardous waste facilities in minority communities and is in contradiction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's definition of "environmental justice"-- the fair treatment of all people of all races, cultures, and income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

The most recent study was published in October by the Florida Environmental Equity and Justice Commission, a group established by the Florida State Legislature in 1994 and funded by taxpayers.

While the Commission's Final Report concluded that medium-to-high poverty and minority populations constituted the areas surrounding two-thirds of the sites in question, the Report, like most others, unfortunately failed to address the two most crucial issues:

1) What were the percentages of minorities and low-income families who resided in the areas surrounding the sites in question when they were originally constructed?

2) If there have been no peer-reviewed or published studies that have either documented exposure to hazardous wastes at the sites in question or established a definitive link between exposure to these hazardous chemicals and any adverse health effects, then what exactly is the environmental problem?

Anybody who has taken an introductory microeconomics course or who feels comfortable in relying on his/her intuition knows exactly why the eco-civil rights activists avoid addressing the first question. After hazardous waste sites are constructed, the surrounding property values are diminished. Is it thus a coincidence that low-income families, many of whom are minorities, are found in disproportionate numbers in neighborhoods where the land is the cheapest? Might it be possible that when the facilities targeted in the study were constructed, many of which were built prior to 1950, the surrounding communities were made up of predominantly white, middle-class families? The Florida study intentionally fails to explore these issues.

No less than ten times does the Report state that "information is not available to sustain the existence of adverse health effects resulting from pollution." That is not to say that the current lack of evidence should discourage the scientific community from continuing to study the health conditions of persons residing near these facilities. However, one must resist making judgments on these matters until sound scientific evidence exists. It seems then that the only persons who can tell us what the current environmental problem is concerning the unconfirmed health risks associated with living near these facilities are the well-to-do plaintiffs, attorneys and their well-paid scientific experts who somehow always establish their own unpublished and novel theories of causation.

Having failed to answer these two critical questions, the recent report by the Florida Environmental Equity and Justice Commission can be added to the long list of other publications on environmental racism which dodge the key socioeconomic and scientific issues of the matter. "Environmental racism" is just another symptom of society's sick obsession with issues of environmental and racial injustice which the liberal media continues to exaggerate. Add to that the travesty of justice we witnessed in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial and now even the environmentalists are eagerly trying their hand at the race card game.