By Chris Adams

The environmental justice movement has been working for more than four decades on behalf of minority communities that bear a disproportionate impact of pollution from America’s smokestacks and drainage pipes.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Adrienne Hollis of the advocacy organization WE ACT for Environmental Justice gave an overview of the environmental justice movement (which in previous decades was referred to as “environmental racism”).

Hollis, the director of federal policy for WE ACT, described how groups pushing environmental justice issues have historically been short of funding – compared with other environmental organizations – and how they often don’t have a seat at decision-making tables.

The organizations also tend to be small and lack in-house communications teams to reach out to the press; because of that, their issues are often bypassed by national media. In addition, many of the groups focused on civil rights issues might give issues such as police violence a higher priority.

But while some environmental justice issues have taken hold in the public’s mind – consider the outcry over lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan – many more go unnoticed. Minority communities are more likely to be near waste management facilities, power plants and oil refineries, exposing them to airborne toxins and increasing rates of asthma and other illnesses.

“There are so many Flint, Michigans, all over the place,” Hollis said.