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Environmental Justice: Refinery over home in Louisiana
Julie Dermansky
A home in Meraux, Louisiana is overshadowed by the Valero Meraux Refinery in an area referred to by some as “Cancer Alley.”

Environmental injustice takes the form of gas flares only blocks away from homes, rural communities saddled with foul drinking water, and neighborhoods divided by highways. It has a common thread—people whose needs have been disregarded living in communities whose environ-ments have been degraded.

In many ways, environmental discrimination was planned and engineered as the United States modernized.

In many ways, environmental discrimination was planned and engineered as the United States modernized. During the New Deal, home ownership programs valued communities based on their racial and ethnic makeup, creating “redlined” communities that attracted little investment. Federal highway programs bulldozed Black, brown, and ethnic communities like Lower Albina in Portland, Oregon, and Tremé in New Orleans.

In 1982, a Black community in Warren County, NC, said “enough” and protested the siting of a hazardous waste landfill near their town. Although they lost, their protests gave birth to today’s environmental justice movement.

It is a movement that was started largely by people of color. The concept was crystallized by Dr. Robert Bullard, considered the father of environmental justice, who said “environmental justice embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.”

The growth of the oil and gas industry brought its own, more lethal, form of dirt and dust wherever it established operations. The experience of the Diamond community in Norco, Louisiana, offers a textbook example.

I visited the area in November 2021 as a guest of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. Norco has been home to a Black community since the era of slavery. The oil refineries there were built on the site of two former plantations—one of which was the location of the largest slave revolt in U.S. history.

You can find the rest of the September/October Washington Newsletter, including the rest of this article, in the sidebar to the right.