Environmental Justice: Lessons from History and a Look to the Future

An introductory event in our new environmental justice series that will focus on the history and policy of environmental justice


March 24, 2021


12:00–1:00 p.m. ET

Event Details

On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, Resources for the Future (RFF) and the Urban Institute hosted an introductory event in a new environmental justice (EJ) webinar series. The panel of experts reviewed the trajectory of EJ activism and its grounding in research, focusing on when and how scholars have provided the evidence necessary for legal remedy, policy change, or citizen awareness campaigns. With this grounding in history, the panelists then discussed the current policy imperatives and remaining gaps in knowledge.


  • Sheila Foster, Georgetown Law School and the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University
  • Lala Ma, Gatton College of Business and Economics, University of Kentucky
  • Manuel Pastor, Departments of Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity, Equity Research Institute, University of Southern California
  • Carlos Martín, Urban Institute (moderator)
  • Margaret Walls, Resources for the Future (moderator)

Event Video

Additional Materials

Read a summary of the event on Urban Wire, the blog of the Urban Institute.

Reading List

Exposure: An RFF-Urban Institute Series on Environmental Justice

Environmental justice (EJ) is an imperative that is finally getting its national policy due. For many low-income neighborhoods, households of color, tribal communities, and other marginalized groups, environmental injustice compounds a legacy of social, economic, and political disenfranchisement. Recent presidential executive orders, appointments, and proposed legislation acknowledge the disproportionate burdens of negative environmental conditions and exposures, and reduced access to environmental benefits and amenities, placed on these populations.

Since the groundbreaking Toxic Wastes and Race and Dumping in Dixie published in the late 1980s first brought EJ issues to the fore, scholars have supported activists and journalists by investigating the mechanisms that create and perpetuate environmental inequities and exclusion and quantifying the extent of the problems. This combined scholarship and advocacy has led to improved monitoring and outcome tracking and some progress in finding solutions to persistent pollution problems. But inequities persist—and as the United States begins to reckon with the climate crisis, designing climate policies that benefit all communities will be imperative.

RFF and the Urban Institute are hosting this webinar series on the current state of EJ research across disciplines, examining how research can inform policy and identifying remaining gaps in knowledge. With panels of experts from the research and EJ advocacy communities, we will take a deep dive into issues related to cumulative environmental impacts, EJ screening tools, energy equity and transitions, benefit-cost analysis and regulatory design, disaster and climate adaptation, and the design of climate policies. The series will also ask how research can inform better policy design and public investments to remedy inequities, past and present.


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