Date of Award

Spring 2020

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Honors Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Science


Leslie Poole

Committee Member

Josephine Balzac

Committee Member

Nolan Kline


Environmental justice, according to sociologist Robert Bullard, the father of the movement, “embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environment laws and regulations.” He says, “it’s a concept that is rooted in equal protection and equal enforcement.” Typically, minority, low-income, and politically powerless communities are not actually afforded this equal protection and enforcement. As a result, they often must organize together to demand reparations for the pollution of their neighborhood. Plastered over mainstream media, Flint was not the country’s first environmental justice event, and it will not be the last. For many years, minority groups were disenfranchised by being forced to live in close proximity to polluting industries. The goal of this paper is to highlight the strong impact of grassroots organizing in fighting against environmental justice issues. The work done by Margaret Williams in Pensacola, Florida, resulted in the relocation of over 300 families being poisoned by dioxin. Majora Carter’s crusade to “Green the Ghetto” gained more green spaces and job opportunities for the residents of the South Bronx, New York. The community partnerships between the Alternatives for Community and Environment and Dudley Grows cleaned up vacant lots for productive use and brought fresh fruits and vegetables into Roxbury, Massachusetts. The best way these communities have received attention and reparations is through grassroots organizing. The realization that many communities were contaminated with toxic chemicals erupted with the dioxin poisoning in the community of Love Canal, New York, from 1950-1980. As a result, the federal government moved the residents and the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980. This act allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate severely polluted areas as “Superfund sites” which provides federal financing to clean-up and, if necessary, relocate communities. These Superfund sites are some of the most contaminated sites in the United States. The act also allows the EPA to determine and hold accountable responsible parties. Even with federal responses in place, the agencies that enforce these laws and responses may fail to act. Furthermore, many other proactive environmental laws don’t fully protect these communities; for example, the Clean Water Act did not save the citizens of Flint, MI from being lead poisoned. In those situations, throughout history, community activists and grassroots organizations have demanded the right to clean air, clean water, and clean neighborhoods.

Rights Holder

Jordan Halloran