NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Environmental Racism" Claims Block Development

June 10, 1998

Some environmentalists have argued toxic waste dumps and other threats to public health are disproportionately located near predominantly minority communities, due to "environmental racism."

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) says it will block any state or local government environmental policy alleged to have disparate impact on minorities. For example, a state permit for a business to build or expand a facility could be blocked, even if existing environmental laws and regulations were fully complied with, if it were found that minorities were disproportionately affected.

Even if it can be proven that minorities were not disproportionately affected, those alleging such an impact can easily delay and often kill industrial projects. Consequently, the easiest thing for a business to do if it wishes to avoid a fight is to build in predominantly white areas. The result, inevitably, will be a further decline of employment opportunities in the inner cities, which tend to be heavily populated by minorities.

  • Careful research by leading scholars, such as Vicki Been of New York University and Thomas Lambert and Christopher Boerner of Washington University, has documented that industrial facilities are not targeted at minority communities.
  • Where such cases have been alleged, it usually turns out that when the facilities were planned and built the surrounding areas were predominantly white, becoming black at a later time.
  • Indeed, two internal EPA studies found that whites were far more likely than blacks to live in areas surrounding toxic waste sites.

The EPA's policies are being attacked by a diverse group of state and local government officials concerned their efforts to promote economic development will be hamstrung by EPA bureaucrats, and Congress may hold hearings on the issue later this year.

Source: Bruce Bartlett (senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis), June 10, 1998.


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