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Copyright (c) 1999 Vermont Law School 
Vermont Law Review

SYMPOSIUM: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: MOBILIZING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: Leveling The Playing Field Through Environmental Justice

Spring, 1999

23 Vt. L. Rev. 453


Robert D. Bullard *


The dominant environmental protection paradigm emphasizes the probability of fatality as the model for decision-making. However, environmental stresses might result in health effects short of death -- including developmental, reproductive, respiratory, neurotoxic, and psychological effects. As a result, the assignment of "acceptable" risk and use of "averages" often results from the value judgments that serve to legitimate existing inequities.

Many grassroots activists are convinced that waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act has endangered the health and welfare of their communities. Unlike the EPA, communities of color did not discover environmental inequities in 1990. African Americans and other people of color have known about and have been living with lower environmental quality for decades -- most without the protection of the EPA or state and local governmental agencies. 1

This Essay explores the current environmental protection model and offers an alternative framework for addressing environmental inequities, disparate impact, and unequal protection. Environmental decision-making reflects the imperfections found in society at large. The federal EPA only began addressing environmental justice concerns in 1990 after prodding from people of color, grassroots environmental justice activists, educators and academics. 2


Urban environmental inequities were identified in a 1971 Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) report. However, it took more than two decades for environmental equity and justice issues to be resurrected by a coalition of people of color, academics, and activists. The question of environmental justice is not anchored in a debate about whether or ...
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