Economic Opportunity and Social Issues Trump Environment as Top Concerns for Poor and Minorities Nationwide; Survey of Environmental Justice Groups Indicates that Environmental Goals Must be Balanced with Economic Needs

A recent survey of 69 environmental justice groups conducted by the National Center For Public Policy Research found that these groups believe that environmental laws are unfair to minorities and the poor because, although these groups are least able to pay, they must bear the greatest costs for adhering to those laws through lost jobs and higher prices. The groups, a diverse collection of African-American, Hispanic and Native American activist organizations, also said government should start considering the negative economic impact of proposed environmental laws on impoverished minorities.

These groups have identified themselves, to varying degrees, as concerned about environmental justice for minorities and the poor. The organizations are concerned that minorities not be inflicted with excessive environmental problems. But, as the National Center survey discovered, true environmental justice, according to these groups, also means taking into account the urgent need for economic improvement, better-paying jobs, educational opportunity and access to better health care.

For instance, when asked to rank their top public policy concern out of a list of six issues – education, health care, racism, economic advancement, environmental progress, crime – only 6% of environmental justice groups ranked the environment as their top priority. An overwhelming 91% of respondents ranked education, health care, fighting racism and economic advancement as more important than environmental issues.

Likewise, 72% of environmental justice groups disagreed with the idea that low-income communities should be deprived of jobs, higher incomes and other economic opportunities if that is necessary to enforce environmental laws and regulations. This concern for balancing economic issues with environmental concerns was reflected throughout the survey. For example, 57% of surveyed groups said that environmental goals must be balanced by concern for economic opportunities for the poor. This includes 20% who believe that minorities must be protected against costly environmental regulations that deprive them of much-needed jobs.

The need for introducing a sense of balance to environmental policy was of pre-eminent concern. When asked if environmental laws are applied unevenly such that minorities pay the greatest costs, in terms of lost jobs and higher prices, of environmental regulations, 63% agreed. In addition, 47% of environmental justice groups believe that environmental regulatory agencies are unsympathetic to the needs and concerns of the poor and minorities. 74% of environmental justice groups believe that government should be required to determine that proposed environmental laws would not have a disproportionate impact on minority and low-income communities before being adopted.

"Clearly, these poor and minority advocacy groups see environmental policy as being implemented without due concern for equally important economic and social needs," said John Carlisle, director of the National Center’s Environmental Policy Task Force. "What this survey shows is that the time is long overdue to start balancing environmental goals with the poor’s urgent need for economic betterment."

The Environmental Policy Task Force is a project of The National Center For Public Policy Research, a non-partisan, non-profit education foundation. For more information contact John Carlisle at The National Center For Public Policy Research at 202-507-6398 or [email protected].

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.