Environmental Justice

What Is Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice resides at the intersections of environmentalism and social justice. To advocate for environmental justice means to work towards a fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens regardless of people’s race, income, national origin, or another demographic. Although the EJ movement has gained mainstream recognition in the US in recent years, this movement takes myriad forms and has persisted for many years in communities across the globe. Demands for EJ may emerge as mainly nonviolent, direct action movements. For example, communities who typically experience an environmental injustice, such as rampant deforestation or toxic waste contamination in their neighborhood, come together to defend their families and communities from these injustices. 



EJ is both a social movement and an academic approach to environmentalism that seeks to address environmental inequities and their root causes by incorporating a social justice lens. Within an EJ framework, environmental inequities are tied to social and economic disparities, which are understood as products of systemic racism, classism, and sexism. Many EJ activists and academics perceive the inequitable distribution of environmental injustices on marginalized populations (like BIPOC communities, womxn, individuals experiencing poverty, and people with varying mental and physical abilities) as inevitable outcomes of the discriminatory socio-economic and political conditions of the world today.

EJ is multifaceted and dynamic, and while it often responds to issues of distributive justice (as in the case of unequal distribution of environmental goods and harms), EJ also seeks to address issues of unjust community and legal procedures, as well as justice as it relates to being recognized and respected in society (Schlosberg, 2007). An EJ approach to environmentalism looks to create change at both the personal and institutional levels, often through direct action, to ultimately dismantle environmental injustices and create a just, sustainable, and equitable future for everyone.


Definitions

Environmental justice has a variety of definitions. Here are some examples of what environmental justice can mean.  

Dr. Robert Bullard, the Father of Environmental Justice, defines EJ as ‘ the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations,’ and that the priority of EJ is to ‘reduce environmental, health, economic and racial disparities.’   

Greenaction, a non-profit organization geared toward environmental justice, defines EJ as the ‘cultural norms and values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainability, where all people can hold with confidence that their community and natural environment is safe and productive.’ They say that EJ is achieved when ‘all people can realize their highest potential, without interruption by environmental racism or inequity,’ and that an EJ community is ‘one in which both cultural and biological diversity are respected, and where there is equal access to institutions and ample resources to grow and prosper.’  

The US Environmental Protection Agency defines EJ as ‘the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.’  

The US Department of Energy says that EJ means ‘no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations; and policies.’ They also add that environmental justice requires ‘effective access to decision makers for all, and the ability in all communities to make informed decisions and take positive actions to produce environmental justice for themselves.’ 

Linking Campus Sustainability Projects to Environmental Justice

Scrappy with Sunflowers

The We Mean Green Fund (WMGF) was formed to empower UNT students, faculty and staff to integrate environmental sustainability into the university’s operations, services and campus culture at large. While past community-driven WMGF projects have engaged the UNT community primarily in environmental aspects of sustainability, we’d like to encourage future project leaders to creatively address direct components of environmental sustainability that relate to social inequalities brought on by systematic oppressions like racism, sexism, and classism. 

Although funding for We Mean Green Fund projects comes from the student Environmental Service Fee and must support campus environmental improvements, project leaders still have the unique opportunity to link their campus sustainability projects to environmental justice concepts and pose solutions to environmental inequalities through interdisciplinary strategies. Incorporating an environmental justice (EJ) lens into the work of the WMGF is crucial to fostering campus environmental sustainability efforts that serve all people equitably. 

Examples of Environmental Justice in Action

While prioritizing EJ themes in WMGF projects is not a requirement, past student and employee project leaders have incorporated elements of EJ into their WMGF projects.

WMGF project leaders can shape equitable sustainability messaging and outreach in their projects by amplifying diverse voices and including those who may feel discounted from current sustainability measures.  This can be done through investigating the underlying structures of oppression that can exist within environmental sustainability, as well as how privilege and oppression can influence sustainability.

people holding vegetables

Community Garden

The UNT Community Garden project which launched in 2017 not only provides additional green space to the campus, enhancing wildlife habitat and providing pollinator-friendly foraging grounds, it also invites students and employees to grow and eat fresh, nutritious food at no cost to them. Students and employees have access to adopt a garden plot and learn how to garden for themselves and others. This food security initiative attempts to decrease hunger by providing access to knowledge and experiences that secure people with healthy food.


 

UNT Students in their graduation gowns sitting together

Mean Green Gowns for Grads

The Mean Green Gowns for Grads (MGGG) project extends the life cycle of graduation ceremony regalia like caps and gowns through a reuse initiative that prevents used caps and gowns from prematurely entering the landfill. This inclusive program helps alleviate financial barriers for our students who may not otherwise be able to afford to participate in graduation. MGGG supports first-generation college students, DACA students, historically underrepresented students, and low-income students. In addition to sustainable reuse, the goal is to support marginalized and disadvantaged students to progressively achieve greater equality.   

Our Commitment to Environmental Justice

The We Mean Green Fund recognizes the roles that colonialism, white supremacy, legacies of stolen labor, exploitation, patriarchy, and oppression play in the mainstream environmental movement and contemporary environmentalism, as well as society at large. While there is still much work to be done, the We Mean Green Fund is committed to helping address environmental injustice through education, project facilitation, outreach, inclusive leadership, and meaningful partnerships. We recognize that our power as an organization is tied to responsibility for justice and that we must address past and current systems of oppression to help build a just, safe, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

People sitting down on the grass

We hope to inspire a new wave of interest in building and highlighting EJ solutions and concepts through UNT community led WMGF projects. The WMGF is actively working to spark cross-university conversations about environmental sustainability within the context of EJ and looking to facilitate WMGF projects that engage students and employees with issues of EJ through equity, representation, and access to sustainability. Utilizing this justice framework, students and employees can affect positive social progress in the UNT community, while at the same time bringing environmental improvements to the campus.

Environmental Justice Resources


Media Library

The UNT Media Library has various resources available to UNT students and employees, free of charge, related to environmental justice. 
The Environmental Justice Guide includes documentaries, movies, books, articles, and games that discuss examples of environmental injustices across the world. 

UNT Library System

The UNT Library System also has books relevant to environmental justice. E-books, audio, and print options are available depending on the resource.   

Courses

UNT offers a variety of courses that teach topics of and related to environmental justice. This list may not be comprehensive, as more classes are added to the course list. Search for the classes on the course catalog to read the descriptions and check for semester availability.   
  • ANTH 4400: Environmental Anthropology  

  • GEOG 2170: Culture, Environment and Society  

  • GEOG 4210: Urban Geography  

  • GEOG 4420/5420: Capitalism, Nature, and Climate Change 

  • PHIL 2500: Environment and Society  

  • PHIL 4740: Environmental Justice  

  • PUBH 3010: Social Justice and Behavioral Foundations in Public Health   

  • PUBH 3025: Environmental Health  

  • SOCI 4260: Environmental Sociology  

  • SOCI 5260/6500: Sustainable Community Development 

Webpages

About Environmental Justice, Dr. Robert D. Bullard   

Racial Equity and Social Justice, The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education   

Environmental and Climate Justice, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  

Environmental Justice, The Environmental Protection Agency  

People and Justice, The Sierra Club  

Podcasts

Earth Matters  

Earth to Humans  

EcoJustice Radio  

For the Wild  

Mothers of Invention  

Videos

What Is Environmental Justice?: National Resource Defense Council  

Dr. Robert Bullard: How Environmental Racism Shapes the U.S  

Case Study: Food Deserts in D.C, NPR 

Case Study: Why This Town is Dying from Cancer 

The Road Back Home: Environmental Justice and Wetland Restoration at the Lower 9th, Short Documentary  

Sunset on Quakertown

What is the issue?

Quakertown was a thriving community of African American residents and businesses from around 1870 until 1920. During this time, The Girls Industrial College, now Texas Woman’s University, was established next to Quakertown. About 15 years after the establishment of the college, the residents were forced to sell their homes and move to a new location. The Chamber of Commerce proposed a park in place of the community as a way to rid the area of the longtime residents. The city provided them with a new space to move their homes, Solomon Hill, where they were also forced to live without electricity or water. Further, because of the forced sale of their homes, the city did not pay market price for the homes in Quakertown. Residents were left with little capital to relocate in town. Thus, the once thriving community was demolished in favor of a park near the girls college.

 

 

Want to know more?

Texas Woman’s University Quakertown Stories Project

Remembering Quakertown: A Look into The Community that Once Was

What has been done?

While early twentieth-century histories of Denton chronicle the strides made by the College of Industrial Arts, few mention Quakertown’s thriving middle and working-class Black community. The only published reference to Quaker, which residents had named it in honor of northern abolitionist Quakers who had taken in runaway slaves (a name representing freedom), is in C.A. Bridges’ 1979 history of Denton, in which he discusses the black community within the context of the movement for a city park (Glaze, 1991, The Denton Review).

After the chance discovery of an original Quakertown cistern in 1989 in then-Civic Center Park, it has really only been in the last thirty years that actions have been taken to remember the community that was Quakertown, especially through historical research and publications of both non-fiction and fictionalized historical accounts of the residents. An important source is historian Randy Hunt’s work through Historic Denton, Inc., where he offers a virtual tour of Quaker set in 1921, a year before the forced relocation of Quaker and the removal of their neighborhood. Hunt also refers to the Story of Quakertown article referenced above (Glaze, 1991), which was the first documentation of the events that lead to the destruction of the Black enclave of Quaker and the formation of Civic Center Park, which was later renamed Quakertown Park by the City of Denton in the early 2000’s.

In February 2022, Hunt states that Historic Denton has been approved to provide the Texas Historical Commission with a Historic Resource Survey of the original areas of the Southeast Denton area. To gain this, he illustrated why the neighborhood is significant through the Virtual Tour and a narrative explaining how Southeast Denton developed. As Quaker residents were relocated to Solomon Hill, the names of the streets were tied to the residents who were relocated, such as Skinner and Maddox streets. 

Hunt’s challenge to the City of Denton during Black History Month 2022 - the 100th anniversary of what occurred at Quakertown - How do we remember our history? Hunt has three suggestions:

  1. The City Council approved the Sign Topper Program, and the Solomon Hill neighborhood created by former residents of Quaker will be the first to participate in this program. See the following for more information on the Sign Topper Program: 

  1. The location and families of each home/building of Quaker is known via the Virtual Tour. Since Quakertown Park is City property, an in-ground marker could be placed to name the family at the location of each of their homes as of 1920-21, thus creating recognition.

  1. The 100-year lease created by the City with the Women’s Federation to build the Women’s Building at Quakertown Park expires this year. The Women’s Federation got the vote out for the approval of the City Bond election, the funding which purchased the land from the residents of Quaker. The suggestion is to rename this building to recognize the former neighborhood.

Another important source, especially for a critical historical approach to remembering Quakertown, is Chelsea Stallings’ Master’s thesis, “Removing the Danger in a Business Way: The History and Memory of Quakertown, Denton, Texas” (2015, UNT), especially Chapter Six, “Denton’s Historical Memory and Quakertown Sites of Memory” (88-112). 

In the years following the discovery of the cistern, Stallings states, “the story of the former community slowly came to life [...] the local historical society and college students conducted research, professors and librarians wrote various articles and books, a museum was planned by the county, and the historical markers were erected by the city, county, and state [...] as sites of memory”, that were long forgotten by both white and black citizens of Denton (Stallings, 2015, p. 3). In 2022, the 100th anniversary of the displacement and forced relocation of Quaker residents, how can ongoing research and projects make a difference for the memory of these residents and their descendants? 

Other Sources and Resources

Books written about Quakertown, both fiction and non-fiction accounts

  • Fred Moore: Narration in the First Person(1984) by Mrs. Sadie Moore
  • White Lilacs(1993) by Carolyn Meyer
  • Quakertown(2002) by Lee Martin

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer cleanups of the Quakertown Park/Civic Center Area

Information provided by the Spring 2022 Environmental Philosophy class (PHIL 6750).

Fracking in Denton

A Brief Introduction to Fracking

What is hydraulic fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing (also referred to as fracking, gas drilling, or shale gas drilling) is the process of injecting water and a mix of chemicals at a very high pressure into wells to release oil or natural gas deposits. Fracking is a common practice used in Texas, and Texas is the leading producer (24.6%) of natural gas in the United States. In 2002, Denton became a host for hydraulic fracturing. Fracking poses many health and environmental risks for those who live near the drilling wells.

What are the concerns surrounding fracking?

A major concern about fracking is the mix of chemicals they use in the fracking solution. This solution is estimated to contain over 200 chemicals. Further, the EPA does not regulate the injection of the fracking solution under the Safe Water Drinking Act or the Clean Water Act. Since there are many uncertainties and essentially zero regulation of fracking at the federal level, many risks of fracking are not fully understood. However, fracking poses many health, safety, and environmental dangers. Some of the risks associated with fracking for natural gas include contamination of groundwater, pollution from methane, and its impact on climate change, air pollution impacts, exposure to toxic chemicals, blowouts due to gas explosions, waste disposal, extensive volume water use, fracking-induced earthquakes, workplace safety, infrastructure degradation, and property devaluation.

Who decides if fracking occurs on a property?

Property rights are separated into surface rights and mineral rights in the United States. While surface rights owners are typically the homeowners who reside on the land, mineral rights can be owned by someone else. When drilling decisions are made, the only people involved are the mineral rights owners, not the surface rights owners. This means that people living on land and dealing with the environmental and health risks of fracking are often not involved in deciding if it will happen on their property. In Denton, approximately 64.1% of mineral rights owners do not reside in the city. This means the majority of the people making decisions about if and where fracking occurs do not deal with the health or safety impacts.

Who decides if fracking occurs on a property?

Property rights are separated into surface rights and mineral rights in the United States. While surface rights owners are typically the homeowners who reside on the land, mineral rights can be owned by someone else. When drilling decisions are made, the only people involved are the mineral rights owners, not the surface rights owners. This means that people living on land and dealing with the environmental and health risks of fracking are often not involved in deciding if it will happen on their property. In Denton, approximately 64.1% of mineral rights owners do not reside in the city. This means the majority of the people making decisions about if and where fracking occurs do not deal with the health or safety impacts.

What can surface rights owners do about gas drilling?

Since decisions about where and if drilling will occur are left between the companies and the mineral rights owners, many surface rights owners and homeowners turn to the local government to help regulate and restrict fracking. Municipal governments can decide on drilling ordinances which are the most common regulation used for gas drilling, and some governments can ban fracking completely at the municipal level.

What are gas drilling ordinances?

Gas drilling ordinances often include the regulations and requirements for gas drilling within city limits, with a significant focus on setback distances and reverse setback distances. Setback distances require a minimum distance between gas drilling sites and residential or protected areas (hospitals, schools, parks, etc.). Reverse setback distances are the minimum length required between a proposed development and an existing gas drilling site. As of 2020, Denton has a minimum requirement of 500 ft for both setback and reverse setback distances. However, researchers suggest that a 0.5-mile buffer is the safest and closest distance residences should be to gas wells. This means that Denton's 500-foot distance does not protect anyone within 0.5 miles of wells from the health risks caused by fracking.

What is the issue?

Along with many cities across Texas, Denton began drilling for natural gas in the 1980s. For years, gas drilling in Denton expanded until 2009, when natural gas drilling wells opened near McKenna Park and a nearby hospital. Following the placement of these wells, local concerns inspired a regional task force to form called the Drilling in Denton Awareness Group (DAG). The goal of DAG was to deliberate ways to improve drilling ordinances in Denton. This was done by aiming to increase setback distances in Denton to protect residents from the dangers of fracking. Following local pressure, Denton City decided to change the setback distance to 1200 ft. However, existing gas wells were grandfathered into this ordinance. This meant that existing wells that were closer than 1200ft to homes, hospitals, schools, etc., continued to operate, putting many locals at risk of environmental and health concerns.

What has been done?

In response, locals in Denton began to work together and strategize for a way to prevent fracking in the city. By 2014, local opposition to drilling became common, and DAG and Earthworks (a nonprofit organization) worked together to collect 1,897 signatures to place an ordinance on the city ballot to ban fracking within the city. In the next election, in November of 2014, Denton City voted to ban fracking (59:41).

It seemed like the long fight for environmental justice against fracking in Denton had ended, but it had only begun.

In November of 2014, the day following Denton's vote to ban fracking, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office sued the city of Denton. In April 2015, Governor Greg Abbot signed House Bill 40. HB40 nullified Denton's fracking ban and ended most local regulations and rules for oil and gas drilling, officially reversing the fracking ban set in Denton. Not only did the passing of HB40 threaten the environmental and health safety of those in Denton, but it also revoked participation from all local governments in oil and energy decisions. In an attempt by the state government to end resistance to fossil fuel development in Texas, HB40 instead inspired more community engagement and resistance in Denton.

What happened next?

Immediately after HB40 passed, Denton appealed it. However, while the outcome of the appeal process for the bill was uncertain, Denton remained strong as it fought back against HB40. Locals staged protests and sit-ins and formed activist groups. Local groups like the Frackettes formed to make videos and media to share the story of fracking in Denton.

Is there still fracking in Denton?

Since 2015, HB40 has remained in place, meaning Texas municipal governments are not involved in fracking and oil drilling decisions within their city limits. There are currently 331 active wells within the city limits (DME, 2023). While the story is still being written, fracking in Denton is an inspirational story of a small Texas community coming together to protect their environment and enact meaningful change.

Renewable Energy in Denton, Turning a New Leaf?

Renewables in Denton?

In 2020, Denton became the largest city in Texas to use 100% renewable energy. Denton has a municipal-owned electricity provider, Denton Municipal Electric (DME), which is the only provider in the city and is used by all residents. DME became 100% renewable by signing multiple purchase power agreements (PPA) with different renewable energy farms, mostly powered by solar and wind energy. To ensure affordable and reliable energy for residents, Denton opened the Denton Energy Center, a quick-start natural gas plant

What is the Denton Energy Center (DEC)?

Since DME uses 100% renewable energy, there are times when renewable sources are not producing enough to match consumption, which causes a high price increase. To avoid Denton residents paying outrageous and fluctuating prices, DEC quickly adds more energy to the grid to match demand rates and keep rates stable. However, DEC runs on natural gas, so it is difficult to determine if DME is 100% green if the city must rely on a quick-start natural gas plant. Denton residents were not particularly in favor of the construction of DEC and the continued use of fossil fuels in Denton. The government responded by stating it was the only way for Denton to use affordable renewable energy, and the Denton Energy Center was completed in 2018. As of 2023, Denton Municipal Electric still uses 100% renewable electricity.

Additional Sources

Want to know more about the fight against fracking in Denton?

Additional sources for information about energy in Denton:

Want to get involved?

Recommendations for local-level action against gas drilling from National Resource Defense Council: “If your state won’t allow a complete fracking ban at the local level, you can take a more nuanced approach. Try pushing smaller-scale ideas at town meetings or with local representatives. For example, you could try to bar fracking in residential areas, within 5,000 feet of a school, or near parks or nature preserves.”

  • When creating actual ordinances, it’s important to use specific language so oil and gas companies can’t find loopholes in policy.
  • NRDC developed the Community Fracking Defense Project which outlines and provides legal advice at the local level.

Subscribe to Dallas Drilling for updates and articles about fracking across DFW and events to get involved

Join local organizations working on fighting fracking in DFW.
All organizations below meet monthly and offer volunteer work as well as information seminars.

Dallas Sierra Club
North Texas Community Alliance
Downwinders at Risk

Water Inaccessibility in the Homeless Community

What is the issue?

Over the past ten years, temperatures across the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex have reached record-breaking heights. With these dangerously high temperatures, one of the most at-risk groups of people is the homeless population. Public water access has diminished over the years, providing little reprieve from the oppressive heat. There is little coverage in both government space and public perception regarding these issues, leaving this matter in a murky, uncertain area.

As the homeless population rises, the number of people actively in danger also goes up. In Denton County, as of September 30th, 2023, 511 households in our community are actively homeless. On average, these households spend 152 days without housing; with summer and winters both presenting dangerous temperatures, the already difficult task of surviving is made harder.

Current Policy

Regarding local politics, this issue has been brought up to the Denton city council by Mayor Pro Tem Brian Beck, receiving support from multiple members of the city council including McGee, Byrd, and Holland. These members have all spoken in support of setting up a specific work session for this issue.

However, there have been members of the city council who are not as convinced that this is an immediate issue that needs more attention. Those against include Mayor Hudspeth and council member Chris Watts; the former “Offered several reasons why he wouldn’t give direction to do so, including the water fountains already available at Denton’s parks; a lack of conversation about the idea during the council’s current budget discussions; and the $14 million in funds recently allocated to the Denton Community Shelter” and the latter arguing over the cost of installing new water infrastructure (McPhate, para 14, 2023).

What has been done?

As options within the government are not moving at the pace of need, community organizing has filled the gap. Next time you make a trip to a local Denton park, be on the lookout for coolers that say “Free Water”; filled with ice and water bottles. Explicitly free and universally accessible basic needs are hard to come by in many communities.

Denton Basic Services Center and Denton Water Project step in with direct action and community organizing. Volunteers fill five water coolers across the city, all outside the sanctions of the city government. While the houseless are the main benefactors of this type of community organizing, this water is open to all. These coolers are an avenue to turn the issue of water access around and give all people the need for life.

Volunteer opportunities

  1. As mentioned before, the Denton Water Project organization is a volunteer-run organization that focuses on placing coolers with bottled water and ice for the homeless around the city of Denton during the record-breaking summers. Founded in 2021 spanning from the Denton Basic Services, this organization noticed the limited number of water stations located throughout the city, and how often half of them are inoperable.
  2. The Denton grassroots water crew founded by Randi Skinner also works with the Denton water project to help fill the coolers around town in the summer.
  3. The Denton Basic Services founded in 2017,co-founded the Denton Water Project in 2021. Yet today they focus on creating a tiny home community for the homeless, helping them live more sustainable lives and transition back into society as responsible independent individuals.

Sources and Other Resources

Information provided by the Fall 2023 Environmental Justice Philosophy class (4740)


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