What is environmental justice?
Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, culture, education or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
- Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local and tribal environmental programs and policies.
- Meaningful involvement means that
Environmental justice is achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, work, learn and play. Source: EPA
- Potentially affected community residents have an appropriate opportunity to participate in decisions about a proposed activity that will affect their environment or health;
- The public's contribution can influence the agency's decision;
- The concerns of all participants involved will be considered in the decision-making process; and
- The decision-makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.
DEQ is committed to the principles of environmental justice and to ensuring that the agency’s actions – including permitting, cleanup, policy and planning, outreach and education, and compliance and enforcement – address the interests of Oregon communities, especially minority, low-income and other traditionally underrepresented communities, as much as state and federal laws allow.
Ensuring environmental justice
DEQ adopted an Environmental Justice policy
in 1997 to guide the agency’s work, including principles for making environmental equity inherent in the way DEQ does business. Some recent DEQ actions to ensure environmental justice include:
- Working with local environmental justice groups and others to reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality to protect those most at risk from air pollution
- Building stronger relationships with tribal nations to understand the impact of DEQ's actions on tribal communities and lands
- Working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, other tribal nations and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen protections for people who eat fish from Oregon waters by increasing the "fish consumption rate" in state water quality standards
- Participating in a collaborative partnership to improve the environmental health of nail salon workers and customers, many of whom are Vietnamese and African American, through education and outreach
- Cleaning up contaminated lands around the state that pose risks to people’s health, many of which exist in low-income and minority communities
- Developing partnerships with the Oregon Public Health Division, especially to provide information about environmental health to the people who might not be familiar with DEQ’s work
- Creating opportunities for citizens to share their comments and concerns directly with the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission when they hold meetings around the state
For more examples of environmental justice at DEQ, see the summary of environmental justice activities at DEQ
. Compiled in November 2007, this summary provides “stories from the field” about DEQ’s work to address environmental justice issues statewide.
To augment these efforts, DEQ is now:
- Designating an Environmental Justice Coordinator and citizen advocate to help ensure the meaningful involvement of all potentially affected communities in DEQ’s work and the protection of their interests in agency decisions.
- Working to enhance public participation in the agency’s actions and ensure the involvement of people who may be affected, as directed by Senate Bill 420 passed by the 2007 Legislature.
In addition, some of our goals include:
- Increasing outreach to Spanish-speaking communities in the Portland-metro area with recommendations from a 2006 DEQ study that assessed the ways in which Latino communities receive and perceive environmental information.
- Providing multi-lingual fact sheets and translation services to non-English speaking communities, including DEQ programs for vehicle inspection, dry cleaners, open burning, asbestos and emergency response.
- Providing training for DEQ employees to raise awareness about environmental justice issues and what each employee can do to help ensure environmental equity in DEQ’s work.
- Building a more diverse workforce within DEQ to ensure better sensitivity to Oregon’s diverse communities.