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Environmental Justice
Public Policy Framework

Introduction: The Environmental Justice Program is now in its sixth year. As a result of our efforts to assist our network of diocesan and state Catholic conferences address environmental issues, certain policy themes have emerged that provide a focus for our collective efforts. This set of issues reflects local, national and international concerns. With a database of almost 4,000 Catholic leaders interested in environmental justice, EJP hopes to impact public policy in selected areas.

There are several unique features associated with environmental policy issues: (1) they are often broad in scope comprised of a nexus of overlapping issues, policies and legislative vehicles; (2) they often have simultaneous domestic and international dimensions; (3) they are usually scientific and technical adding a degree of complexity to the equation; and (4) they are governed in large measure by regulation and not just by legislative statute.

Policy Framework: When the bishops established the Environmental Justice Program, they explicitly mandated a broad policy framework encompassing four priority areas including: (1) environmental justice defined as the strong link between social justice and environmental protection emphasizing the needs of the poor; (2) sustainable development with an emphasis on social and economic development that not only protects the sustainability of natural resources but promotes a just distribution of resources today and for future generations; (3) worker protection with an emphasis on not sacrificing workers' needs at the expense of environmental protection or vice versa; and (4) the “commons” defined as protecting vital global shared resources such as the oceans, land, water and fisheries.

Priority Issues and Policy Focus: Within the policy framework recommended by the bishops, EJP under the supervision of the Department of Social Development and World Peace promotes policies and legislation that protect the poor, promote children's environmental health, balance the relationship between property rights and the common good, and promote sustainable environmental development. EJP is working with Government Liaison to complete the details of EJP's policy and legislative priorities. The following serves as a summary of the policy goals:

  • Environmental Justice—defined as the search for a just solution to the disproportionate burdens of environmental degradation borne by the poor and people of color. For example, this would include urban revitalization efforts like brownfields and the protection of low-income neighborhoods from toxic hazards.
  • Environmental health and safety—defined as protecting the public, workers, and especially vulnerable populations (i.e. the elderly, children—born and unborn, workers in chemical intensive industries, the ill, etc.) from environmental harm. Initially, EJP in cooperation with the Domestic Policy Office is focusing on children's environmental health.
  • Common good and private property—defined as balancing the right to private property and a just use of property within a common good ethic. EJP seeks to support efforts to achieve this balance in its approach to various “takings” legislation before the Congress as well as through other land management issues. EJP supports state Catholic conferences and dioceses with local state takings legislation as our capacity allows.
  • Sustainable environmental and economic development—defined as promoting development which eradicates global poverty while preserving the ecological heritage of the earth. EJP will devote attention to issues of debt/environment, trade legislation as it effects the environment, and climate change.

Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000

March 19, 1999 Copyright © by United States Catholic Conference