Equity task force hears from “the father of environmental justice”


Robert Bullard, known as “the father of environmental justice,” reinforced the interconnectedness of transportation, segregated housing, climate change, and pollution on the health and economic well-being of Black Americans in a meeting with a state task force this week.

Gov. Roy Cooper started the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force last year. He told members this week that some of the policy recommendations they delivered in December would be reflected into his state budget proposal.

Bullard, the distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, is the author of 18 books including Dumping on Dixie. First published in 1990, Dumping on Dixie discusses the importance of the national protest in the 1980s against dumping in Warren County  soil contaminated with toxic PCBs  to the environmental justice movement.

Black Americans and Latinos are less likely to live in a household with a car, which impacts employment, evacuation in a disaster, and the ability to get to a grocery store, Bullard told the task force.

“Not having a car can mean lack of access and mobility,” he said.

Transit system cuts have a disproportionate impact on Black Americans and Latinos.

“If you don’t have transportation, you are subject to a higher unemployment rate,” he said.

Black Americans are more likely to live in urban “heat islands” and breathe polluted air, Bullard said. Studies link air pollution with higher death rates from COVID-19.

“Zip code is still the best indicator of health and well-being,” he said.

In the transition to a clean energy economy, it is important to look for business opportunities for “those who have historically been left behind,” he said.

Historically black colleges and universities should have business incubators, Bullard said, and students should be trained for jobs in the changing economy.

“Understand, we have to get it right,” Bullard said. “We’re not going to have a lot of chances to fix it along the way. We have to get it right, right out of the chute.”

RTI  International has been hired to develop an implementation plan for the task force proposals.

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