Environmental Racism: The Law

Posted by Fix Expo Team

UPDATE: Added Environmental Justice Fact Sheet

Some have emailed asking for a more extensive explanation of "environmental justice" and "environmental racism."

It's best to first look at the two most prominent civil rights protections among many others: Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Executive Order 12898 sign by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Title VI, which was fought for through the blood, sweat, tears and ultimate sacrifices of giants in the civil rights movement reads as the following:

"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

And this is how Executive Order 12898 begins:
"[E]ach Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States..."

The FTA elaborates on these laws and explains how they apply to public transit projects with a powerpoint presentation on their website titled, "Environmental Justice: Principles, Policies, Guidance, and Effective Practices" (ppt), which was delivered at the FTA Region VI Civil Rights Colloquium in March of 2006. Among the slides in the presentation, is the following below, where a screenshot also shows the notes for the slide:

Click on the image to increase the size of the picture and you'll see the following:
Adverse effect--can include economic as well as effects to the human and natural environment.

Disproportionately high adverse effects are those effects that are:

(1) Predominantly borne by a minority or low-income population or

(2) Effects that will be suffered by the minority or low-income population and is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the adverse effect that will be suffered by the non-minority or non-low-income population.

The notes section of the slide states the following:
Adverse effects in transportation: air pollution, noise, vibration, property taking, effects associated with construction such as street closures and loss of business, loss of community cohesion, and dangers to pedestrians

Example of the first case: Bus depots that are disproportionately sited in minority or low-income communities.

Example of the second case: a fixed guideway alignment that would tunnel under predominantly white or affluent communities but would run at-grade in predominantly minority or low-income communities.

Compare the design of the Expo Line Phase 1 west of La Cienega to that in majority-minority South LA and it's clear that Expo Line Phase 1 is textbook environmental racism.

Census Tract Racial Breakdown:
(Brown = majority Hispanic; Grey = majority/plurality black; Pink = majority/plurality Caucasian)

The Culver City Census Tract (Tract 7024) is THE ONLY majority Caucasian census tract and affluent census tract along the Expo Line Phase 1 route.  (USC is plurality Caucasian but poor given students lack of income, which technically makes it an "environmental justice community.")  In the Culver City census tract, indeed in every residential community in the mile west of La Cienega on Phase 1 of the Expo Line there will be:

a) no children forced to walk across Expo Line tracks

b) no chance of train-vehicle accidents

c) no train horns or crossing gate bells

d) no blight/privacy impacts to residential communities (see Section 4.4-40 of the Expo Line EIR/EIS)

e) no forced commuter detours
f) no delays in emergency services from crossing gates

g) no closed off parks

This is the exact opposite of how the Expo Line will operate in South LA where there are countless at-grade street crossings, almost all without even basic crossing gates, where THOUSANDS of children and HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of cars will be forced to cross every day. 

There is an elevated structure at La Brea that is directly adjacent to residential properties having direct privacy impacts.

At some intersections that are directly adjacent to homes, schools and churches there will be noise from crossing gate bells and train horns blowing nearly 1000 a day.  At other intersections the train gong will be heard with each and every train crossings.

There are 9 street closures, the traffic impact of which can be felt today.

And the park access at one of our parks will be irreparably closed, while the other will be substantially reduced.

For more information about the Environmental Justice issues in transportation go to the USDOT Environmental Justice website and the FTA Civil Rights web page.

The law is clear. The Expo Line Phase 1 design places disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental impacts on the majority-minority and poor communities along the alignment compared to the majority Caucasian and most affluent census tract. This is accented by the fact that MTA is spending more money in the 1 mile from La Cienega to the Robertson terminus than in the 4.5 miles in South LA:

185 million for the one mile of the line west of La Cienega to the Culver City terminus


140 million for the 4.5 miles of the line in South LA from Vermont to Clyde (one block east of La Cienega)