The concept of environmental justice grew out of the realization that polluting industries and facilities, such as landfills and power plants, are often located near low-income communities and communities of color. The recognition that certain communities are disproportionately burdened by pollution and experience unequal access to environmental resources has led to efforts to identify and correct these discrepancies.
One key tenet of the environmental justice movement is that it operates from a broader interpretation of ‘environment’ than has historically been used by the environmental movement; one that includes human habitats: places where people live, work and play. To someone involved with environmental justice, your home, office, or school playground is just as much a part of the environment as rivers, forests, National Parks and remote wilderness areas are. For example, the concern for clean water is not limited to rivers, lakes, and streams. It also includes the water coming from the tap in your kitchen, which may contain contaminants if your home has lead pipes or if the water comes from an unregulated source, such as a well serving a small or transient population.
Often it is the affected communities themselves that initiate and lead efforts to address environmental injustices. The most well known example is that of Warren County, North Carolina. In 1982 residents of this predominately African-American county protested the siting of a landfill for PCB-contaminated soils in their community. Today there are numerous non-profit organizations and government agencies that assist communities facing environmental justice issues. Executive Order Executive Order 12898, passed in 1994, requires each federal agenciy to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” Several universities have also created environmental justice resource centers and/or offer courses related to environmental justice.