by Miko Borys
Throughout the 80’s, less affluent neighborhoods began noticing that they suffered a highly disproportionate share of the pollution from the same industry that produced resources for all. Demonstrations such as the one in Warren County in 1982 where 550 citizens protested non-violently and were arrested, or in Southeast Chicago in 1987 where African-Americans blockaded 57 trucks from entering a waste incinerator, were happening all over America. Furthermore, the minority neighborhoods were statistically the most affected, having more toxic waste in their neighborhoods than any surrounding area: “of [the] nine proposed and constructed incinerators in the greater Chicago area… seven were in African American communities and two were in working class and/or white ethnic neighborhoods” (Pellow 90).The lesser chance of litigation in poorer minority neighborhoods supposedly made it an attractive option for industry initially. Groups like PCR, the People for Community Recovery led a movement in the US dubbed the “Environmental Justice” movement. The EJ movement believed, among other supporting ideals, that “all people have the right to protection from environmental harm” and they challenged the environmental inequality all over the U.S. Eventually, they successfully brought reform hindering the proliferation of environmentally unsound civil development. But where did the pollution go?
Thanks to such movements the environmental burdens of industrial development were seemingly abated. But the burdens were not abated in terms of distributing them more evenly, rather they were moved physically until they were no longer local. The regulations passed were so stringent, that environmentally challenging industry decided it would be in their best interest to remove their factories from the country entirely. The regulations and the effects weren’t exactly harmonious with what the EJ movement idealized. Even though the activists succeeded with getting pollution out of their neighborhoods the issue with pollution wasn’t resolved, it was just shifted further away.
Poorer neighborhoods might not be struggling with keeping pollution out as much as poorer countries are now. The pollution haven hypothesis states: when firms from industrialized nations seek to setup factory or office abroad, they will choose the country with the cheapest resources and labor, often at the expense of sound environmental practice. Even though the EPA might be seeing guidelines met in the U.S. for reduced emissions, the resolution might have just been “fancy bookkeeping” from the companies part. For instance, in Oregon the last coal-fired power plant is set to close by 2020. Yet the same town of Boardman closing down the power plant is considering the construction of a new large coal export facility. This coal export facility like others will take Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming and export it to the less environmentally restricted markets of Asia.
Even when we’re cautious to keep pollution out of our own neighborhoods it still finds its way to the climate through cracks in environmental policy elsewhere in the world. Even though one of the core fundamentals of the “Environmental Justice” movement was for “all people [to] have the right to protection from environmental harm” the movement stopped short when polluting industry crossed international borders. Even once the environmental movements cross borders, will pollution still find its place? Perhaps extra-terrestrially.
“Cutting Carbon Means More than Fancy Bookkeeping” http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2112907,00.html
David N. Pellow. “Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago”
Gunnar E. Eskeland and Ann E. Harrison. Moving to Greener Pastures? Multinationals and the Pollution Haven Hypothesis. NBER Working Paper No. 8888. http://www.ncpcbarchives.com/