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History of the Environmental Justice Movement

Two young girls carrying signs against the PCB landfill in Warren County, North Carolina 1982
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

History of the Environmental Justice Movement

The Environmental Justice (EJ) movement that gives this office its name is rooted in the civil rights movement. People and the environment are inextricably linked, yet for some low-income people, Black people, indigenous people, or people of color that link can be fraught with challenges. Communities in close proximity to environmental hazards and those who experience impact from those hazards have fought to achieve equitable access to government processes and equitable application of environmental laws and regulations.

The Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate was created to ensure Environmental Justice throughout the state.

Michigan's Environmental Justice History

  • In February, Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2019-06 which created the Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate, as well as the consolidation of the Michigan state agencies responsible for protecting Michigan's air, land, and water, and public health under the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). In addition, the Office of Climate and Energy and the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate were created. The role of Environmental Justice Public Advocate was created to lead Environmental Justice efforts throughout the state, receive Environmental Justice concerns and complaints, as well as lead the Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team. The EO created the Response Team to foster collaboration across state government to address Environmental Justice.
  • In February, Governor Rick Snyder created the Environmental Justice Work Group (EJWG) following direct recommendations from the Flint Water Advisory Task Force and the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee’s Policy Subcommittee. The EJWG was charged with developing recommendations to improve Environmental Justice awareness and engagement. The EJWG was composed of 23 members, representing Environmental Justice communities across the state, environmental organizations, businesses, state and local government bodies, academia, and federally recognized tribes. The 33 recommendations, compiled in the Environmental Justice Work Group Report, include Environmental Justice guidance, training, curriculum, and policies which further increase quality of life for all Michiganders.

  • Governor Granholm's Executive Directive 2007-23 charged the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with developing and implementing a state Environmental Justice plan to promote Environmental Justice in Michigan. An Environmental Justice Working Group of concerned public and government employees was created and developed an early Michigan Environmental Justice Plan in 2009.  

  • The DEQ's Environmental Advisory Council was tasked with assessing the condition of Environmental Justice in Michigan and consider opportunities for state policy on Environmental Justice. Their efforts culminated in the 2006 Recommendations for an Environmental Justice Policy for Michigan.

National Environmental Justice History


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Justice interactive timeline