In our class, we did a unit on environmental justice.The labs focused on analyzing environmental justice in Portland can be viewed here. In that lab we attempted to draw connections between the location of people of different income groups and the prevalence of certain air toxics in Portland. Over the course of the cities history, redlining has pushed minorities and other disadvantaged groups to less desirable areas of Portland. Redlining is the practice of disallowing certain groups from purchasing property in specific areas. In Portland, this was used to move minorities to the city’s periphery. In our lab, Steffen and I thought that we would see higher air toxics released from household sources in areas populated by lower income groups. While the correlation was not strong, there were some notable areas where lower income groups were subject to worse air quality. One such area was by the Portland airport. Due to redlining, the area by the airport was populated mainly by African-American citizens and remains a low income area. It also had a high rate of the air toxics Steffen and I studied.
As we saw in our environmental justice unit and as we have studied in some of my other classes, environmental consequences (often from climate change) often have worse impacts on those who are already disadvantaged. In Global Environmental History with Professor Andrew Bernstein we watched the documentary The Triple Divide [Redacted]. I have not yet found out why the version we watched is the “redacted” version. Nonetheless, the documentary follows the Public Herald’s investigation of the effect of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, on the water of rural communities in Pennsylvania. Natural gas extraction companies set up fracking rigs in these communities that frequently broke the law and violated standards set by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Often these violations led to major decreases in the water quality of groundwater in the region. Due to the nature of this rural area, many residents used private wells that were easily contaminated by pollutants from the fracking rigs and their residual waste.
The people living in these rural communities did not have much power compared to the major corporations that were polluting their water. Many of these people were small scale farmers and a good portion of them were retired, meaning they live on a fixed income. Although they complained to the DEP and EPA, their voices did not lead to positive change. They were ignored by the state and federal agencies designed to help them. There was no environmental justice. The Public Herald’s investigation is the only reason this issue was publicized. If it wasn’t for the intervention of other private citizens working for the Public Herald, these rural Pennsylvanians would have no hope of getting justice for the travesties they suffered due to polluted water. I find it frightening that we live in a nation where we cannot expect our own government to protect us. This is especially scary considering that our current administration is actively trying to dismantle the EPA.