Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation, and the enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and polices. Historically, low-income, minority and indigenous populations have carried some of the greatest human health and environmental burdens. In 1994, Executive Order 12898 was issued in order to focus Federal attention on the environmental and human health conditions in these communities with the goal of achieving environmental justice.
Environmental justice calls for the need for full participation of all communities as equal partners in environmental decision making, including needs assessment, planning implementation, enforcement and evaluation. USDA was one of the first federal agencies identified in the Executive Order from 1994 to address the issue of environmental justice due to the broad sweep of the Department’s agencies with respect to the environment. Given that USDA programs touch almost every American every day, the Department is well positioned to lead in this effort.
Today, environmental justice at USDA refers to meeting the needs of underserved communities by reducing disparate environmental burdens, removing barriers to participation in decision making, and increasing access to environmental benefits that help make all communities safe, vibrant, and healthy places to live and work.
On September 22, 2010, the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group led by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency reconvened for the first time in more than a decade. Later that year, the Interagency Working Group participated in the first White House Forum on Environmental Justice. USDA Interagency Working group representatives participated in this forum.
Following the forum, the Interagency Working Group held several meetings to reinvigorate the provisions of the executive order on environmental justice. USDA agencies are focusing environmental justice activities in three broad areas: