Both the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) define 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.” EPA goes on to explain that the goal of environmental justice will be achieved when everyone enjoys “the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.” This is the second in a series of periodic highlights of new and existing NALC resources that are relevant for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and other underserved communities. Relevant current events and blog posts relating to these communities are available here.  This post will focus on environmental justice.

According to USDA, “historically, low-income, minority and indigenous populations have carried some of the greatest human health and environmental burdens.” The environmental justice movement arose from BIPOC communities seeking to address those burdens. In the latter half of the twentieth century Black, Indigenous, and communities of color began organizing to prevent landfills and other hazardous sites from being installed near their homes and schools. By the 1980s, the federal government had begun gathering data and conducting studies on environmental risks and their correlation with the racial and economic status of surrounding communities. That information furthered the environmental justice movement, and a decade later federal agencies such as EPA and USDA began putting together workgroups to directly address environmental justice issues. For more information on the history of environmental justice in the United States, click here to see a detailed timeline compiled by EPA.

Environmental justice issues often overlap with agriculture. Issues such as the location of certain agricultural activities, like concentrated animal feeding operations or pesticide application, are common environmental justice concerns. Water quality and access to safe drinking water are also important aspects of environmental justice. Additionally, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), which requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions prior to carrying them out, directs agencies to consider environmental justice in their activities. Activities requiring NEPA involvement include federal permits, leases, and other actions related to agriculture. The NALC and our partners have a variety of resources related to these issues.

The Ag Law in the Field podcast hosted by NALC partner Tiffany Dowell Lashmet with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has released several episodes on agricultural law topics related to environmental justice. Of particular note are recent episodes discussing emerging issues involving environmental and health concerns related to PFAS which can be found here, and an overview of right-to-farm laws which is available here. She also publishes a blog with various posts on issues related to environmental justice. Past highlights include:

Another emerging issue concerning environmental justice and agriculture is related to energy production. Over the past decade, the use of farmland for energy production and transmission has greatly increased. During this time, concerns about environmental justice have been raised as the infrastructure to accommodate this increased energy production has been built out. In particular, impacts on underserved communities have figured prominently in the regulatory processes involving the Dakota Access Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Center for Agricultural and Shale Law (CASL), a NALC partner, has addressed national pipeline-related legal developments, including challenges to the planned routes of pipelines and the environmental concerns raised by impacted communities, through a variety of publications and educational resources.  CASL has collected and analyzed relevant pipeline legal developments on its website in a Natural Gas Pipelines Virtual Resource Room, in a series of blog posts, and in a recent law journal article.  In addition, CASL has published other web-based resources that, directly or indirectly, address the environmental impacts of energy development upon underserved communities including water well contamination in rural Dimock Township and the interpretation of the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment. Finally, CASL maintains a series of issue trackers that provide updates to certain legal issues. Relevant to environmental justice are the CASL issue trackers for the on-going lawsuits involving glyphosate and dicamba.

Along with our partners, NALC has also published several resources on environmental justice topics:

Additionally, the NALC has hosted webinars on a variety of topics related to environmental justice:

Finally, the NALC blog has a section devoted to environmental law articles, many of which deal with environmental justice issues. Recent highlights include a post on EPA’s PFAS action plan, and a post explaining the Ninth Circuit’s decision in a case about chlorpyrifos originally filed by a farmworker group. Articles are posted twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday, with at least one article on environmental law being posted every other week.