Different degrees of environmental burden felt by different racial/ethnic and income groups are now documented and available for every community in the U.S., announced the Environmental Defense. The information is available free on the group's www.Scorecard.org website, which lets users type in their zip codes to get the local facts.
"This access to comparative data in a single place is an important breakthrough for the environmental justice movement," said Gerald Torres, a law professor at the University of Texas and former U.S. Justice Department official. "For the public at large, it will make it possible to see differentials in environmental burdens in our society, not just where those problems are already obvious but place by place throughout the country." Torres is co-author, with Professor Lani Guinier, of a forthcoming book on race and politics from the Harvard University Press.
"Environmental justice is important, sensitive, and hard to measure," said Environmental Defense senior attorney David Roe. "We are putting the best measurement data we can find out into public view, so people can see a local picture no mater where they live." The new service, launched today in English and Spanish, represents the first time local-level environmental data have been systematically analyzed across the country to show the differences experienced by several different demographic groups (such as people of color, low-income families, etc.
"These are first-cut only," Roe cautiones. "The best numbers available today are very far from being perfect measures of the environmental burdens that different people experience and of course numbers can't tell the whole environmental justice story. But systematic data on the `where' and `how much' of unequal environmental conditions, even if imperfect, will help focus attention and set priorities in this critical area of public policy."
The analysis now on www.Scorecard.org offers statistics on how four environmental burdens are experienced by seven different demographic groups, in every U.S. county. The four measurements are: local releases of toxic chemicals (as reported under the Toxics Release Inventory); local cancer risks from hazardous air pollutants (estimated from detailed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exposure data); proximity to Superfund sites; and proximity to stationary sources of criteria air pollutants.
Environmental Defense, a leading nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems.