On a very snowy winter's day February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed a historic executive order: EO 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations."
The executive order directs, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations. The order mandates that each agency develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice (EJ). The order also directs promotion of nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment -- and that minority and low-income communities have access to public information and public participation.
The road to the environmental justice executive order has been a long and hard one for EJ communities and activists. The road is still uphill, with many tough and treacherous areas. Communities of color and low-income communities, urban and rural, have been sited for decades near toxic and noxious facilities and extractive processes.
It is commonly accepted that the EJ movement formally started in 1982 when black residents in Warren County, NC, lay down in road near where a carcinogen-laden landfill was about to be sited. This county, which was mostly African American already, had a number of such landfills, and the community had had enough. Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and workers inside industrial plants had long agitated for environmental justice, as well. The research and documentation started piling up that the government was acquiescing to disproportionate pollution in communities of color and low-income communities.