Chapter 1 Background

In 2002, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (now the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, or EEA) issued the state’s first policy on Environmental Justice. That policy described Environmental Justice in the following way:

Environmental justice is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment. Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.

Due to historic and ongoing discriminatory or disparate treatment of certain communities with regard to environmental health and quality and control, particularly urban, low income, and communities of color, the policy focused on delivering enhanced services to “environmental justice communities.” These services were to “enhance public participation, target compliance and enforcement, enhance the review of new large air sources and regional waste facilities, and encourage economic growth through the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields sites.” The 2002 Environmental Justice policy defined “environmental justice communities” as neighborhoods (U.S. Census Bureau census block groups) that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • The median annual household income is at or below 65 percent of the statewide median income for Massachusetts; or
  • 25 percent of the residents are minority; or
  • 25 percent of the residents are foreign born, or
  • 25 percent of the residents are lacking English language proficiency.

Although the criteria used to define environmental justice communities were the result of significant discussion and input from a variety of stakeholders, there was recurring concern that the criteria inappropriately classified some block groups as environmental justice communities. This was particularly the case for the foreign born criterion, which could include wealthier and more highly educated neighborhoods of East and South Asian immigrants. As a result, the foreign born criterion seems to have been quietly dropped from consideration by 2010 based on a review of documents circulating at the time. From 2010 onwards, the de facto environmental justice policy was based on income, percent minority, and percentage of English isolated households. The most recent updated 2017 Environmental Justice policy maintained these three criteria in its definition of environmental justice communities, albeit with an important change in how income was measured.

The remainder of this analysis looks at the implications of the 2010-2016 policy, the 2017 policy update, and four alternative environmental justice policies.