Environmental racism includes but is not limited to governmental rules, policies or regulations that unevenly target neighborhoods disproportionately made up of people of color or poorer people, for locally undesirable land uses. When it comes to environmental degradation, it is difficult to argue that human activity is not a major factor. Pollution, toxic emissions and consumption, especially, are all human tendencies that contribute to environmental suffering. However, when it comes to policies regulating this behavior, there is much debate over how and where these changes should be made. I argue that we must focus more on expanding environmental solutions, specifically for issues like environmental racism. I will turn to Peter Wenz’s concept of LULU (locally undesirable land use) points in his work “Just Garbage” as a principle worth exploring for the government in order to lessen environmental racism, pinpointing the neighborhoods in the commonwealth of Massachusetts where environmental benefits and costs are disproportionately distributed between the wealthy and the poor. (5) I will explain Wenz’s LULU principle and how solutions like this have the most potential for alleviating the vital issue of environmental racism while also reducing toxic emissions overall.

Environmental racism is prompted by a number of factors, “including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color.” (1) As such, it has become apparent that communities of color and poorer communities are disproportionately exposed to the dangers of industrial pollution, toxic waste and little regulation. What this also means is that the wealthier communities, which are larger consumers, reap the benefits of their consumption but are less impacted by its consequences. The following case in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is an example of environmental racism and its disproportionate costs. According to the Boston Business Journal, “many communities in Massachusetts were ranked high nationally… as the most affluent neighborhood in the country. But …a number of Massachusetts communities…also rank among the poorest in the nation…” In terms of each community’s ratio of environmental costs to benefits, I turn to a study performed by sociology professors Daniel R. Faber and Eric J. Krieg on the distribution of environmental hazards across nearly 370 communities in Massachusetts. They found that in Massachusetts, “Communities considered moderately high minority (where people of color compose 15–24.99 percent of the population) average nearly 190 sites. As a result, higher-minority communities, where people of color compose 15 percent or more of the population, average well over 4 times as many DEP hazardous waste sites as low-minority communities.” The presented data shows that most often, it is the poorer communities and the communities of color that share neighborhoods with more industries that produce hazardous waste. Massachusetts is home to many affluent communities, and those communities have the means to abundantly consume, but they are not subject to the consequences of that consumption — for it is the poorer communities that live in proximity to the pollution that their consumption creates.

A Yale University study on exposure to air pollution found that white citizens had the lowest exposure rates for 11 out of the 14 studied pollutants, while African Americans had higher exposure rates than white citizens for 13 out of the 14 pollutants, and Hispanic participants had the highest exposure rates for 10 out of the 14 pollutants. This pressing issue of environmental racism requires a robust and goal-oriented principle for policy-making. Peter Wenz’s LULU points system describes “LULU,” i.e., locally undesirable land uses, as land being used as toxic waste storage, for power plants, etc. The LULU proposal system is manifested in points, where different types of LULUs have more or fewer points. For example, a nuclear power plant in your neighborhood could be worth 20 points more than something like a communal garbage dump. This system requires each community to earn its respective LULU points so that communities already containing a high number of points (in light of their locally undesirable facilities) will automatically exceed their requirement, whereas wealthier communities would now be subject to earning or bearing more points — perhaps taking on the facilities of the poorer communities. The number of LULU points awarded is determined by how much that area consumes. As Wenz says, “Communities could then be required to host LULUs in proportion to their income or wealth, with new allocations of LOLOs (and associated points) correcting for currently existing deviations from the rules of proportionality.” LULU points are an adequate step toward reducing environmental racism in the case of Massachusetts, for the wealthier communities would no longer have the ability to consume as much as they want while redirecting the consequences of it to the poor. Additionally, this system aims to reduce the overall amount of toxic waste produced by incentivizing the wealthy to lower their consumption and waste production by imposing the consequences of their consumption on them. As Faber and Kreig point out, “federal governmental enforcement actions also appear to be uneven regarding the class and racial composition of the impacted community.” According to a 1992 nationwide study, “Superfund toxic waste sites in communities of color are likely to be cleaned 12–42 percent later than are sites in white communities” When wealthier people are exposed to a problem, that problem gains much more attention and is dealt with more efficiently in light of their abundant resources. As such, not only will the LULU points system even out the disparities of environmental degradation, but it also holds the promising potential to reduce the overall emission of toxic pollutants.

Zoe Brusso is a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law.