Environmental Justice

Timeline

1946 The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to promote the "utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public."

1969The National Environmental Policy Act – otherwise known as NEPA (pronounced NEE-pa) – was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting the environment.

1969 – The Democratic Select Committee (a pre-cursor to the Congressional Black Caucus) was formed.

1970The Clean Air Act (CAA), a comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources, was established.

1970 – Congress passed the Occupational and Safety Health Act to ensure worker and workplace safety. Their goal was to make sure employers provide their workers a place of employment free from recognized hazards to safety and health, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.

1971 – The Congressional Black Caucus was established.

1972 – The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the CWA was enacted in 1948 and was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, but the Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. "Clean Water Act" became the Act's common name with amendments in 1977.

1972 – The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment.

1973 – The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.

1974 – The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was established to protect the quality of drinking water in the U.S. This law focuses on all waters actually or potentially designed for drinking use, whether from above ground or underground sources.

1976 – The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was enacted by Congress to give EPA the ability to track the 75,000 industrial chemicals currently produced or imported into the United States.

1980 – The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, otherwise known as CERCLA or Superfund, provides a Federal "Superfund" to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment.

1982 – The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) supports the use of deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste. The Act establishes procedures to evaluate and select sites for geologic repositories and for the interaction of state and federal governments.

1982Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-DC) participates in protest against a proposed PCB landfill in Afton, North Carolina. His involvement prompts him to request a U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct a study on southern hazardous waste facilities.

1983 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published Siting of Hazardous Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities. The report found that 3 out of 4 of the off-site commercial hazardous waste facilities in EPA Region IV were located in African American communities.

1986 – The Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act, also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), was enacted by Congress as the national legislation on community safety. This law is designed to help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards.

1990 – The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) streamlined and strengthened EPA’s ability to prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills.

1990 – The Pollution Prevention Act focused industry, government, and public attention on reducing the amount of pollution through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use.

1990 – The Environmental Protection Agency’s work on environmental justice issues began with a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, academics, social scientists, and political activists. The parties shared information and concerns about EPA’s inconsistent enforcement and inspections, allowing excessive environmental risks in minority and low-income communities. EPA leadership responded by establishing the Environmental Equity Workgroup.

1992 – The EPA’s Environmental Equity Workgroup publishes Reducing Risks in All Communities. The report found that people of color communities and low-income neighborhoods were often exposed to greater environmental pollution and public health risks than the general population.

1992Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Sen. Al Gore (D-TN) proposed the Environmental Justice Act of 1992.  The act addressed key health and political access issues by requiring EOP and other agencies to conduct studies of toxic health impacts, to inspect toxic facilities in the one hundred most heavily exposed cities on a regular basis and provide technical assistance to community groups in those counties.

1993 – The Environmental Justice Act was redrafted and reintroduced by Rep. John R. Lewis (D-GA) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

1994 – The Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations was ordered to increase federal attention on environmental and human health issues within minority and low-income communities in order to gain environmental justice. This order was designed to create nondiscrimination in Federal programs that affected human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information on these matters.

1996 – The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) was established to promote economic, environmental, and social well-being by bringing technology and industrial innovation to the marketplace. It also contained language to help U.S. business speed the development of new products and processes by making available federal laboratories to the private sector as well as to foster commercialization of technology and industrial innovation by making it easier for companies to obtain exclusive licenses to inventions which result from cooperative research with the federal government.

1996 – The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) provides for federal regulation of pesticide distribution, sale, and use.

1999 – The Congressional Black Caucus created the Environmental Justice Braintrust.

June 1999Rep. James Clyburn convenes more than 200 stakeholders in Hilton Head for a conference discussion titled, “Environmental Justice: Strengthening the Bridge between Economic Development and Sustainable Communities.” The participants discussed and debated the complex issues underlying environmental justice.

September 1999 – House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. James Clyburn urged the organizers of the Hilton Head conference to develop a panel of leaders from all of the stakeholder groups to conduct a series of public “listening sessions” to gather information, complaints, and recommendations from the American public on environmental justice issues. The distinguished fifteen-member panel became the National Environmental Policy Commission.

2000Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) co-sponsors H.R. 701, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

2000 – The Congressional Black Caucus’ National Commission on Environmental Justice Policy initiates listening sessions on environmental issues.

2001 – The National Black Environmental Justice Network coordinates a Congressional Black Caucus hearing on environmental justice in Washington, D.C.

September 2001 – The National Environmental Policy Commission releases its first report to the Congressional Black Caucus Environmental Braintrust. The report included data collected during a year-long research initiative which included five national listening sessions. The report indentified four areas necessary for comprehensive national environmental policy: human health and safety, environmental protection, environmental justice, and economic development.

2002Section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) authorizes EPA to set tolerances, or maximum residue limits, for pesticide residues on foods.

2005 – The Energy Policy Act, described by proponents as an attempt to combat growing energy problems, changed the energy policy of the United States by providing tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production of various types.

2007 – The CBC Environmental Justice Taskforce, chaired by Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-MD), contributed significantly to raising awareness about the disproportionate impact of environmental burdens on communities of color.

2007 – The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, chaired by Rep. Albert R. Wynn, held a hearing to consider legislation to codify federal mandates to achieve environmental justice.

2007 – The “Take Back Black Health Toxics Tour” was conducted to highlight environmental racism. The tour included a coalition of national leaders, representing environmental justice, civil rights, scientists, women’s health, academia, faith-based and religious groups, legal, congressional staffers and elected officials, including many CBC members, from around the country. They met a Nashville’s Fisk University and participated in the tour and press conference.

2007 – The CBC made significant contributions to the development of key environmental justice legislation including H.R. 4652, the Environmental Justice Access and Implementation Act; H.R. 1103, the Environmental Justice Act of 2007; and H.R. 1602, the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Environmental Justice Act of 2007.

2007Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) co-sponsored the Safe Climate Act of 2007. The legislation was aimed at freezing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 at the 2009 levels with strong enforceable deadlines. It would then cut emission roughly by 2% each year to reach 1990 emission levels by 2020. After 2020, emission levels would be cut by 5% each year.

2007 – The Clean Energy Act of 2007, co-sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison, was created to reduce dependency on foreign oil through the promotion of clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources.

2007Rep. Keith Ellison co-sponsored the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act of 2007, which built on renewable portfolio standards by implementing a marked-based credit trading system to spur the development of renewable technologies. This bill set a standard requiring electricity retailers use a minimum amount of electricity from renewable sources.

2007Members of the CBC serve on several environmental committees during the 110th Congress. Service includes: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chair of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment; Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-MD), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials; and Del. Donna Christensen (D-VI), member of the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

April 30, 2008Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY) introduced H.R. 5902, the Getting Youth Re-invested in Environmental Education Now Act (GREEN Act). The goal of the legislation was to introduce environmental education into the curriculum of schools across the nation.

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