Environmental Justice Concerns in the Gulf Coast

It has been over 100 days since the explosion of  British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and we are months into the recovery and clean-up efforts of the largest oil spill in United States history.  A new report by Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center of Clark Atlanta University, exposes an environmental justice concern regarding the placement of oil spill waste in landfills that border communities of color in the Gulf Coast region.

In his report, Mr. Bullard states “More than half (five out of nine) of the landfills receiving BP oil-spill solid waste are located in communities where people of color comprise a majority of residents living within near the waste facilities.  In addition, a significantly large share of the BP oil-spill waste, 24,071 tons out of 39,448 tons (61 percent), is dumped in people of color communities…. The largest amount of BP oil-spill solid waste (14,228 tons) was sent to a landfill in a Florida community where three-fourths of the nearby residents are people of color.  Although African Americans make up about 32 percent of Louisiana’s population, three of the five approved landfills (60 percent) in the state that received BP oil-spill waste are located in mostly black communities.”  For more analysis of Mr. Bullard’s report, click here for an excellent article by Colorlines.

The disparate impact of the BP oil spill and cleanup efforts on communities of color in the Gulf Coast is stark.  As advocates, we are in a unique position to challenge environmental injustice, such as the practice of siting waste facilities in or near communities of color.  We have many tools and strategies at our disposal.  We previously explored such tools in our two-part series on Environmental Justice Advocacy, Poverty, and Race (Part 1 and Part 2).  There is an incredible need for environmental justice advocacy, as evidenced by Mr. Bullard’s analysis, and we as legal services advocates should integrate environmental justice cases in our work throughout the country.