Fall 2016 Bannan Lecture: What is at Stake for Environmental Justice in 2016? The Elusive Role of Race and Equity in Environmental Regulation

By Sammie Yamashita

During a recent Fall Bannan Lecture, Professor Chris Bacon and Professor Tseming Yang dove into the topics of race and equality and how they relate to environmental justice.

Prof. Bacon says that environmental justice is composed of two pieces: procedural justice and distributional justice. Procedural justice meaning fair and equal systems and institutions in place for all — everyone follows the same procedures, has the same rights, and is treated the same. Distributional justice is the right to the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to a healthy environment to live, learn, and work in.

Institutions working together can often help people in society by providing greater benefits than if the institutions were to work alone, including distributing resources better and allowing for a common home. However, in our society, we often experience the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons is when there is a common good and people take advantage of the goods, making them unequally dispersed among the people in society.

Unfortunately, treating people unequally due to race has a part in environmental injustice. Professor Bacon and Professor Yang highlight how it is no coincidence that hazardous waste facilities are disproportionately located in areas where there are higher percentages of African-American residents.

It is not just the hazardous waste facilities that are being disproportionately located in these areas, for example extraction sites and other waste disposal sites. These facilities highly impact the quality of the environment that they are located in, where many people live, work, and learn in.

However, we as citizens can make a big difference. By using existing laws and regulations to our advantage, as well as bringing in expertise and support, big changes can take place bringing more equality for all. Going forward, as a nation, it will be of utmost importance to highlight the need for the equal treatment of all people in order to provide (environmental) justice for all.

This lecture was one in a four-part series put on by the Bannan Institute at Santa Clara University about what’s at stake for the common good in the 2016 election. Learn more about this series and the work of the Bannan Institute at scu.edu/bannan.