Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Environmental Justice and Underlying Societal Problems

November 1997

Citation: 27 ELR 10568

Issue: 11

Author: Nelson Smith and David Graham

Over the past several years, legal scholars have been theorizing about the disproportionate number of environmental problems in urban and minority areas.1 Many view the entire issue of environmental justice2 or, depending on the writer, "environmental racism"3 as a matter of air, water, or soil contamination, or other industrial conditions amounting to environmental blight in and around communities made up of less advantaged, if not abjectly poor, people. They have attacked corporations for polluting these communities and assailed government enforcement agencies for failing to protect these communities.4 But this is too narrow an understanding of the issue.

Environmental justice should be viewed as a panoply of problems ranging from the growth of the welfare class to the exit of the middle class because of poor city schools, lack of employment opportunities, and increased street crime to more traditional environmental conditions.5 All of these problems are interlinked. Communities where the welfare system flourishes and the middle class has fled usually lack political influence and, thus, are much less likely to protest effectively when they are taken advantage of by environmentally insensitive commercial and industrial concerns.

Nelson Smith is a partner in Smith & Diamond, Vienna, Virginia. Smith & Diamond is a minority-owned firm specializing in environmental and employment law. David Graham is a partner in Howrey & Simon, Washington, D.C. He has more than 25 years experience as an environmental lawyer. The authors wish to acknowledge Matthew Fogelson, an associate at Howrey & Simon, for his contributions to this Dialogue.

Download Article >>>