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  Defending and Advancing the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina

Defending and Advancing the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
•Human Rights Abuses Against Communities of Color & the Poor
•US Environmental Law vs. Environmental Human Rights Standards
•Human Rights Reform of the US Environmental Protection System
•Healthy Environment Bill of Rights


US Environmental Law vs. Environmental Human Rights Law

Although the U.S. government has enacted an enormous body of environmental laws and regulations, and has made significant contributions to the development of international human rights laws and mechanisms, it has not incorporated human rights into its system of environmental protection.  As a result, there is a dichotomy between human rights and environmental protection, to such an extent that environmental laws authorize projects which:

  • disproportionately burden people of color and the poor with toxic pollution
  • devastate natural resources
  • threaten human health and lives
  • deprive people of their cultural and religious rights
  • denigrate social and economic values 

Instead of adopting human rights as the foundation for environmental protection, for the last 30 years the United States has developed an environmental regulatory system that violates human rights through myopically technical standards and bureaucratically fragmented agencies that are ultimately deferential to polluting industrial interests.  For example, air and water pollution standards are based, in part, on a determination of what is economically feasible for polluting industries.  Yet, these standards are then used to justify the issuance of air and water pollution permits as “presumptively protective of human health and the environment” over the objections of people demanding a healthy environment.

In contrast to the US government, other national governments have established environmental laws that are based on human rights.  For example, the European Seveso II Directive is a law enacted by the European Union that requires a safe distance between residential areas and industrial facilities in order to protect people from industrial hazards, a requirement that is non-existent in U.S. environmental laws.  There are hundreds of international treaties based on the recognition that “[a]ll persons have the right to a secure, healthy, and ecologically sound environment.”  Of the approximately, 191 nations in the world, there are now 100 national constitutions that specifically recognize the right to a clean and healthy environment and/or the obligation of the government to prevent environmental harm.  This shows a clear international recognition that protecting human rights is inextricably linked to securing a healthy and sustainable environment for all people.

Similar to the international community, the environmental justice movement in the U.S. has long recognized that human rights are violated by any governmental decision that subjects people to a toxic and unsustainable environment.



Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

832 Topaz Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70124-3628
Tel. 504.799.3060
Fax 504.799.3061

Campaign & Policy Office:
1730 M Street, NW, Suite 412
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202-775-0055
Fax 202-293-7110

Monique Harden
Co-Director & Attorney

Nathalie Walker
Co-Director & Attorney

Michele Roberts
Campaign & Policy Coordinator