A National AgLaw Center Research Publication

Environmental Justice Statutes

Brigit Rollins

Staff Attorney, National Agricultural Law Center

Madelene Shehan

Research Fellow

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income regarding the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” USDA elaborates that environmental justice is achieved when all citizens enjoy the same level of protections and access to a healthy environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency traces the beginning of the environmental justice movement back to the 1960s, when communities of color in both rural and urban areas began to organize for the purpose of addressing the inequity of environmental protection in their communities. These first actions focused on preventing landfills from being built in minority communities which activists claimed were disproportionately impacted by waste and landfill sites. In the decades since, environmental justice has expanded to touch all areas of environmental regulation.

States have responded the growing environmental justice movement in different ways. Some states have passed laws restricting how many landfills can be built in different areas, in response to the environmental justice actions of the 1960s. More recently, other states have passed laws explicitly requiring their state agencies to address environmental justice concerns when carrying out certain actions or responsibilities. Those state laws can be accessed by clicking the map below. Updated October 12, 2022.