GEOG 469
Energy Industry Applications of GIS

Environmental Justice


To frame our consideration of public participation GIS, let's first consider the concepts of “environmental justice” and “environmental equity.”

Watch this!

To get a feel for these concepts, watch the 9-minute video “Chester Environmental Justice”:

Click for a transcript of "Chester Environmental Justice" video.

PROTESTER 1: Go stand in line. Stand in the line. Somebody get back in the line.

PROTESTER 2: Get it out of here!

PROTESTER 3: We live here, we're tired of the trash. So you need to go back where you were, and just tell them we wouldn't let you in. It's not your fault.

PROTESTER 4: That's just what I'm telling him.

PROTESTER 3: You're just caught up in the middle--

PROTESTER 4: --that's right.

PROTESTER 3: --but you ain't getting in there today.

Note on screen: In 1992 residents of Chester, PA, came together to fight against polluting waste facilities in their communities.

MAN 1: I don't know what's coming from that plant, but it's a stench that you've never smelled before. It is horrible.

WOMAN 1: We have a high rate of cancer here. We have a high rate of leukemia here. We have high rates of a lot of things that we don't have answers to.

MAN 2: Trash finds its way from Maryland. Trash finds its way from Virginia. Trash finds its way from Jersey to Chester.

MAN 3: When the plants come here, they're bringing us jobs. You're bringing us jobs, but at the same time, you're killing us.

MAN 4: Lord like I said, as long as--

MAN 3: --They're setting us up for defeat--

MAN 4: --as long as they're making their money they don't care. WOMAN 2: All they're going to do is be successful in driving away people like me who have the ability to stay here to pay the taxes, to buy the homes. They're going to drive us the hell out of here. And those of us that they don't drive off, they're going to kill them, slowly.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: If they put another plant in Chester, we will tear it down. Red-handed.


Note on screen: In the past 12 years there have been victories, but the time has come to fight again.

WOMAN 3: They said to us that they weren't going to bring any more of this type of industry into Chester. And now they're sneaking it in.

WOMAN 4: You still have other companies coming in. A lot of them are from out of the country, overseas. Names that are disguised. Trying to move in and get permits.

MAN 5: There are proposals for what would be the world's largest tire incinerator and other waste to fuel schemes that are targeting the city.

WOMAN 3: Because we are black, we are poor, low economics, low jobs. They think this is the ideal place to come and dump their trash and waste.

MAN 5: It's actually become known as one of the nation's worst cases of environmental racism. And we're trying to figure out ways to get the community reorganized, like we had in the mid '90s, to be a powerful force for change and make sure that those things get stopped.

MAN 2: There was a time in Chester where a person could quit a job, walk down the street and get another job that same day. That was the industrial boom. We had the ship building down here. It was a town where you saw people getting up in the mornings, going to work. You saw people working in three shifts. And it was just a real moving town. All of a sudden, things began to change. Industry world began to change, began to move out. A lot of things in the city were done wrong politically, and businesses and industry were basically sold off or sold out. And now we live in a city where industry is not booming, where jobs are scarce. So we're encouraging everything and anything to come into the community to provide jobs for the citizenship.



PROTESTER 3: I said you need to understand that we're not going to move. And if you keep going forward, you're going to run over somebody because we're not moving.

MAN 6: I'd like to extend an official apology to the community for this type of action. Because he jumped in the truck and he drove the truck. And then I understand he almost hit somebody. There will be a more official statement coming from our corporation as soon as possible.

The purpose of this facility is to process or burn the county's trash. We are capable of processing 2,688 tons of trash per day. That's a lot of trash.

WOMAN 2: The is the office of Chester Residents Concern for Quality Living. We're a grassroots organization that has been fighting environmental injustice in our city.

Because it's going to take that kind of personal effort for people to become knowledgeable about this problem. You know what, they think that it's only an isolated thing. It only affects a certain portion of Chester. Which is a lie. It affects all of us. We're dealing with a lot of different issues. We're dealing with some environmental problems. We also have to deal with the governmental aspect of it, because that's what got us some of these environmental problems.

The economic benefits that they give the city are negated by the war that they have caused on our health.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have all kinds of health problems within the church community. And you know what, I've been going to these kind of meetings for 30 years. And I've seen all the games. I know how they're played, and I know that the players aren't here.

MAN 8: Just let me say, and then I'll turn to Ms. [INAUDIBLE] to respond, this problem is not going to be solved if you rely on other people to solve it. Now I'm saying things that I could not say when I was the administrator of EPA. If Mr. McCade could do it, I'm sure he would. He can't. If Ms. [INAUDIBLE] would do it, I'm sure she would. She can't. There are sources and powers higher than both of them.

WOMAN 2: We have found out that-- and it has taken us three and a half years to determine-- what is the force, who is the force, who is the faction, that has been behind these companies coming to our little teeny city in Chester. We don't want it. Hell no. We don't want it. It is that basic. It's that basic. It is that basic.


We have a terrible problem in Chester. We would like to speak to the people who are bringing the waste facilities to our city. We want to get them stopped.

MAN 9: This is a legal matter. It should be dealt with--

WOMAN 2: --It's a moral matter. It's something that you wouldn't want done to your worst enemy.

MAN 9: It's a moral matter that may have to be dealt with legally. But in any event, this is not--

WOMAN 2: --If you know how it'll be done, it's being dealt with our blood--

MAN 9: --You're wasting your time--

WOMAN 2: --Well it's OK--

MAN 9: You're wasting your time--

WOMAN 2: --We've got it to waste.

MAN 10: I think there was a lack of foresight to build a facility of this size so close to residences. It doesn't make people feel comfortable to know that the fourth largest resource recovery facility in the nation is right in their backyard. It's something that will still need to be dealt with.

Note on screen: In 2008, 12 years later, the incinerator continues to burn thousands of tons of trash every day. A number of new facilities are now proposed for Chester, including the world’s largest tire incinerator.

WOMAN 3: It's just important that we continue to fight this battle. And that is why I am just so involved, and so excited that we're back on the battlefield again.

Note on screen: In 2007 the DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice was formed by members of the community to continue the fight. To get involved, contact the Alliance at: or (484) 302-0385.

WOMAN 2: It is not a person out there that can shake them, that could tell me that my life is insignificant. It would just never happen.

Note on screen: This video includes a section of the documentary “Laid to Waste” 1996 by R. Bahar and G. McCollough. Used with permission. Images from 2007 were filmed by advocates of the DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice. The complete documentary “Laid to Waste” is available to universities, colleges, and libraries at

Reading Assignments

Reading assignment 1

After you’ve watched the video, read the article “Race, Class and Environmental Justice” by Susan Cutter, located in the Lesson 4 folder. [This article can also be accessed through a local library. The full citation is: Cutter, Susan L. (1995). Race, class and environmental justice. Progress in Human Geography 19(1), 111-122.]

Read, don’t just skim the article. It should take you only 35-45 minutes to read carefully and take notes. Here are some of the things you should learn by reading the article. You’ll be quizzed on these objectives at the end of the lesson.

  • Define environmental equity and environmental justice.
  • Identify and discuss four kinds of equity.
  • Discuss the claim that environmental equity is an inherently geographic problem.
  • Evaluate the status of research on environmental equity at the time the article was written, and consider how to evaluate its current status.

Reading assignment 2

Visit the EJSCREEN: EPA's Environmental Justice Mapping application website.

  • Read how to use the application and then enter your home location to determine if EJ impacts are nearby.
  • Explore the Table of Contents on the right hand side to see information about EPA regulated sites, health statistics, demographic statistics and much more.

Optional reading

The United States Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice page. This page is a gateway to environmental justice activities administered by the USEPA.

An excellent series on Environmental Justice presented by "Environmental Health News".