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‘Historic act’ on environmental justice

Northeastern sociology professor Daniel Faber’s research over the past decade helped lay groundwork for a Massachusetts executive order promoting environmental justice.

Last month Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Deval Patrick signed an exec­u­tive order pro­moting envi­ron­mental jus­tice across the state. The mea­sure is a “his­toric act,” says North­eastern soci­ology pro­fessor Daniel Faber, whose research over the past decade helped jump­start the dia­logue around this issue early on at the state level.

Envi­ron­mental jus­tice refers to the prin­ciple that everyone deserves the right to be pro­tected from envi­ron­mental pol­lu­tion and to live in a healthy envi­ron­ment. His­tor­i­cally, minority and low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties have been dis­pro­por­tion­ately bur­dened with indus­trial pol­lu­tion and the lack of reg­u­la­tory enforce­ment, according to the state’s Exec­u­tive Office of Energy and Envi­ron­mental Affairs.

The exec­u­tive order, which Faber assisted in drafting as part of the Mass­a­chu­setts Envi­ron­mental Jus­tice Alliance, estab­lishes an advi­sory council com­prised of com­mu­nity stake­holders and requires state agen­cies to take action on envi­ron­mental jus­tice. These actions include devel­oping strate­gies on how these com­mu­ni­ties can be pro­tected through state reg­u­la­tory authority over indus­trial and com­mer­cial projects.

Northeastern professor Daniel Faber, with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

For his part, Faber’s research has included devel­oping a sophis­ti­cated method­ology for eval­u­ating the exis­tence of racial inequities with respect to the envi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly those res­i­dents residing in com­mu­ni­ties with haz­ardous waste site and pol­luting indus­trial facil­i­ties. A study he co-​​authored titled “Unequal Expo­sure to Eco­log­ical Haz­ards 2005”—which updated and expanded upon a sim­i­larly titled 2001 study—presented find­ings that eco­log­i­cally haz­ardous sites and facil­i­ties, ranging from power plants to incin­er­a­tors to toxic waste dumps, are dis­pro­por­tion­ately located in low-​​income and working-​​class communities.

In fact, the num­bers were dis­turbing,” says Faber, whose study found that com­mu­ni­ties with a high minority pop­u­la­tion face a cumu­la­tive expo­sure rate to envi­ron­men­tally haz­ardous sites and facil­i­ties that is more than 20 times greater than pre­dom­i­nantly white communities.

Faber directs the North­eastern Envi­ron­mental Jus­tice Research Col­lab­o­ra­tive, which com­prises scholars focused on envi­ron­men­talism and who col­lab­o­rate with pol­i­cy­makers and com­mu­nity and advo­cacy groups to pro­vide research and guid­ance on envi­ron­mental jus­tice issues. His research and writ­ings have also focused on cli­mate jus­tice, glob­al­iza­tion, and envi­ron­mental jus­tice move­ments in the United States.

He says too often, com­mu­ni­ties are forced to deal with issues ranging from garbage and chem­ical waste dumping in vacant lots to air and water pol­lu­tion to a lack of access to green space and parks. “For too long, res­i­dents in these com­mu­ni­ties have lived with sub­stan­tially greater risk of expo­sure to envi­ron­mental health haz­ards than the gen­eral cit­i­zenry,” he says.

– By Greg St. Martin 

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