On October 6, 1999, Governor Gray Davis signed SB 115, the first bill explicitly enacting an environmental justice policy into California’s statutes. The bill defines “environmental justice” as: “the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
The environmental justice bills signed into law by Governor Davis generally refer to the term “environmental justice” as “fair treatment,” but the application of this definition is not spelled out. Rather, the execution of the environmental justice definition is assigned to California’s administrative agencies under a procedural scheme coordinated by OPR and implemented, in part, by Cal EPA.9 As always, the devil is in the details, and state agencies have begun to wrestle with the statutory mandate to achieve environmental justice.
The purpose of this article is to give an account of the commencement of this process and to highlight some of the issues presented to the Davis administration. Preliminarily, some background is required for context. The achievement of environmental justice does not start on a fresh slate. Federal statutes and federal executive initiatives impose separate legal requirements. These federal mandates both require actions by California state agencies and provide guidance on how to interpret the new California statutes. Thus, this article begins with an account of the legal and historical development of the concept of environmental justice.