The Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA, built in 1902, is an example of how exclusionary zoning policies exposed African Americans to health hazards, says a University of Iowa paper. Photo by Joel Hulse via Wikipedia

VA - The Link Between Racial Segregation and Environmental Injustice

Although the environmental justice movement has documented the racial inequities that determine resource distribution, land policies and health outcomes in the U.S., the legacy of exclusionary housing and zoning policies largely remains unaddressed, writes a University of Iowa law professor Shannon Roesler.

In her paper, “Racial Segregation and Environmental Justice,” published in the Environmental Law Reporter, Roesler wrote that policies addressing racial discrimination “fail to provide remedies for structural inequalities.”

“By drawing attention to the spaces where people ‘live, work, and play,’ the [environmental justice] movement exposed how environmental laws and policies fail to protect low-income, minority, and tribal communities from the health effects of air pollution and land contamination, just as they fail to provide basic public goods such as clean drinking water, green space, and safe housing,” Roesler wrote.

To illustrate her argument, Roesler focused on Richmond CA, a majority Black community in the San Francisco Bay area dominated by a Chevron refinery, where carcinogens linked to respiratory and neurological defects continue to sicken and shorten the life span of Richmond residents.

Richmond’s demographic profile and environmental dangers aren’t accidental, Roesler noted.

“The demographics of Richmond are not the result of chance or choice;” Roesler writes. “They are the result of a history of law and policy designed to exclude African Americans from middle-class residential housing.”

She continued: “By making race an explicit criterion in evaluating property values and assessing the risk of a home mortgage, the federal government legally isolated Black Americans in “less ideal, often industrial areas.”

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