Envirnmental Justice and a lack thereof

Asked March 21, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT

We are aware of the term environmental injustice and environmental racism. Let's define Environmental Injustice: "An environmental injustice exists when members of disadvantaged, ethnic, minority or other groups suffer disproportionately at the local, regional (sub-national), or national levels from environmental risks or hazards, and/or suffer disproportionately from violations of fundamental human rights as a result of environmental factors, and/or denied access to environmental investments, benefits, and/or natural resources, and/or are denied access to information; and/or participation in decision making; and/or access to justice in environment-related matters." In most instances the victims of environmental injustice live in areas where environmentally hazardous facilities such as incinerators and oil refineries were built. The homes where there first and the polluting facility was introduced/built in their neighborhood. What term is there, if any, for a more insidious practice of building new housing in the shadow of pre-existing sources of health threatening pollutants? Is there any law or zoning policy that forbids the practice of building new housing adjacent to incinerators, liquid hazardous waste treatment plants, oil refineries and the like? Is there a professional code of ethics for zoning officials, urban planners and the like that frowns upon building homes in close proximity to health threatening operations? What legal or administrative challenges to such a callous land use practice have been instituted in Michigan or in the USA? How can a citizen group protest and prevent the construction of housing so situated?

Wayne County Michigan

1 Response

Good zoning codes separate residential uses from many of the uses you have discussed. Planners work to reduce impacts of incompatible land uses and generally place many of the uses you have identified in industrial districts, with the intend of separating such uses from residential ones.

However, in relatively small communities this separation is more difficult. When uses cannot be separated, such efforts as screening, buffering and regulating truck traffic are implemented. The goal is to separate residential and industrial uses and when that cannot be completely achieved, then planners seeks to mitigate negative impacts.

Zoning codes vary from community to community. Therefore there is no one clear answer as to how each community treats such uses. And yes there is a code of ethics for planners, especially AICP certified ones. Your can find that code on the American Planning Association website.

Zoning is a local issue and is controlled by the local elected officials of a community. If residents have issues with their zoning code, then they should start with the local council or board in their respective community that makes zoning decisions.