by Klare X Allen and Vicky Steinitz
This article appears in the Poor People's United Fund Newsletter.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Fair treatment means "no group of people should have to deal with an unequal share of the harmful environmental effects that happen because of policies or operations run by businesses or government.” Meaningful involvement means that “potentially affected community residents have an appropriate opportunity to participate in decisions.”
In Massachusetts, the Environmental Justice Policy of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) aims to remedy “the disproportionate share of environmental burdens experienced by lower-income people and communities of color who, at the same time, often lack environmental assets in their neighborhoods. The policy is designed to help ensure their protection from environmental pollution as well as promote community involvement in planning and environmental decision-making to maintain and/or enhance the environmental quality of their neighborhoods.”
Noble words, indeed! But how do we reconcile them with the National Institutes of Health’s decision to approve Boston University’s application to build The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory (NEIDL) adjacent to low income, densely populated, Roxbury/ South End communities? Funded in the aftermath of 9/11, this lab proposes to research the most deadly, infectious, incurable pathogens known to man such as Ebola, Marburg virus, and the plague, all of which are agents that can be used in bioterrorism and biowarfare.