A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Injustice of “Environmental Justice”

By E. Calvin Beisner -- June 27, 2013

“Social justice is really simply injustice…. While true justice strives to conform to a universal, objective standard of right and wrong, according to which different behavior naturally leads to different outcomes, social justice strives for a changing, subjective, egalitarian outcome.”

“Last month, the EPA released for public comment an 81-pageDraft Technical Guidance for Assessing Environmental Justice in Regulatory Analysis,’” reports Cornwall Alliance Senior Fellow Dr. Steven F. Hayward:

The ‘technical guidance’ lays out a detailed framework for assessing the demographic and racial impact of regulations, such as how to identify minority populations at higher health risk. “Minority, low-income, and indigenous populations experience greater exposure and disease burdens that can increase their risk of adverse health effects from environmental stressors,” the guidance states.

Well, EPA got one part of that right. Low-income folks are at greater risk from “environmental stressors” (aka pollution) than others. And since (largely because social welfare programs undercut their incentive for self-sufficiency) some minorities are more highly represented among low-income folks than majorities, that means those minorities might be at greater risk—like “Laotian subsistence fishers,” one minority group EPA names.

But it’s not because they’re Laotian but because they’re “subsistence fishers,” and “subsistence fishers” (people who depend on their daily fish catch for survival) tend to be, well, low-income.

Let’s face it, when EPA thinks of minorities at greater risk from “environmental stressors,” it’s not thinking of Miami Heat star LeBron James (2013 salary, $19M), or even of Van Phabmixay, a Laotian American who owns his own computer company and aspires to be the next Bill Gates, or Panya Souvannaphouma, son of a former Laotian prime minister and a Harvard business school graduate. It’s not ethnicity but poverty that elevates risk.

No matter. EPA will continue to trumpet the racial version of “environmental justice.” Why? Hayward explains:

The elitist environmental movement has always had a problem with its limited appeal to low-income minorities, few of whom identify with the upscale, Volvo-driving profile of environmental organizations’ typical membership. In the early days of the movement, civil rights leaders were often opposed to environmentalism. Richard Hatcher, the black mayor of Gary, Indiana, told Time magazine at the time of the first Earth Day in 1970: “The nation’s concern with the environment has done what George Wallace was unable to do—distract the nation from the human problems of black and brown Americans.”

It was inevitable, then, that the environmental movement would try to figure out a way to co-opt the civil rights movement, and the answer, starting about 20 years ago, is “environmental justice.” …

In practice, the amalgam of civil rights and environmentalism often summons the worst reflexes of both movements, combining   frivolous charges of racism along with unfounded environmental scares. It is not clear which of the two movements has been degraded the most by this unlikely marriage. It is common to hear fully compliant industrial siting decisions near low-income or minority communities labeled “genocide.” Both movements are stuck in the past, comparing issues of perceived environmental injustice to extreme events long past: for the civil rights movement.

Wherever Progressivism leads, religious liberals are sure to follow, as James Wanliss points out in Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death:

One of the prominent departments in the NCC is the EcoJustice Program, “designed to heal and defend creation, working to assure justice for all of creation and the human beings who live in it.” In 2002, following the lead of the Evangelical Environmental Network, the EcoJustice Program embraced the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign, aimed at making Americans feel guilty about driving cars. …

By 2005, when the global warming Kyoto protocol came into force, the NCC had enlisted thousands of Christian congregations in a massive letter-writing campaign in favor of environmentalist causes. So it is that Christian congregations become co-opted to train parishioners that it is their moral duty to go Green with Christ, to form Green Congregations, or Eco-Congregations; for the hip and chic, Green is the new black. The NCC EcoJustice program recently reiterated, “The opportunity is before us, to set the example and be a light in this world—Greening our churches, our homes, and calling on our leaders to fight climate change.” However, it is a little hard to imagine how they can remain light to this world given that they and their political allies have banned the humble light bulb and rage against the exhaust fumes from candles, wood fires, and anything else that shines or breathes. In camps, in Sunday schools, and from the pulpits comes the new Gospel of Green—to save the Earth from humans. Guilt manipulators of the world, unite!

As I argue in Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel, just published by the Family Research Council, social justice is really simply injustice.

· While true justice requires impartial application of law to all people, social justice requires partiality toward favored groups.

· While true justice strives to conform to a universal, objective standard of right and wrong, according to which different behavior naturally leads to different outcomes, social justice strives for a changing, subjective, egalitarian outcome.

· While true justice underlies negative rights—rights against harm—social justice touts a plethora of positive, benefit “rights” that can only be provided to some by harming others.

Beware: “environmental justice” is simply “social justice” in a fresh disguise.


E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.


  1. GB in TN  

    The author needs to visit the “the other side of the tracks” and actually visit the “Environmental Justice” communities that he derides.
    Do you think the polluters are actually next to the Country Club or gated communities?

    Do you know where TVA dumped the fly ash from the fly ash dump that overflowed into a Tennessee River?

    There are so many EJ communities that have debilitating injuries and deaths from having polluters on their doorsteps.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it, there is nothing done about EJ so the author and his wanna be believers can rest easy.


    What a bunch of radical whiners these poor people are. Imagine having to fight city hall to stop local employers from poisoning the poor people near the factories.

    From a Conservative Republican with open eyes.


  2. JohnInMA  

    I think GB in TN misses the point almost completely. Yes, there are polluting entities that are located nearer to poorer communities than to “country clubs”. However, when progressives focus on the skin color or ethnicity of those poor, they do a disservice to the poor in general. Is the poor Laotian really any different than the poor Appalachian who may be equally impacted, for example?

    Because the ‘_____ Justice’ programs (fill in the blank) fundamentally prioritize factors such as race, their ability to bring change is at least dampened if not ineffective. Were the primary focus to be the science of the pollution and associated risks – perhaps by anonymous head count and NOT by ‘protected classes’ – more progress could be made.

    One way is mostly rational and factual. The other shifts too much of the debate and energy to politics.


  3. Ed Reid  

    GB in TV @1

    I loved your example. I trust you realize that TVA is a “government sponsored enterprise”.


  4. The Quadfather  

    Most industrial activity I see is located in industrial parks. These are large areas of land set aside for industrial use. The poor are in or near these places because they are not high dollar. If they could afford places with names like Barrington Hall, they wouldn’t be poor would they?


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