TheGrio’s 100: Robert Bullard, Father of environmental justice inspires next generation

TheGrio's 100 - For three decades Robert Bullard's been publishing reports and books that have spelled out precisely where environmental dangers lay...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

When Lisa Jackson took her seat as the first African-American administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she made sure in her first year to consult with Bullard, who is considered the “father of environmental justice.”

When the U.S. was gearing up for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, top policymakers conferred with Bullard on how to best create policy that protects vulnerable communities. Bullard was part of a team of African-American leaders sent to Copenhagen by the widely influential Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. And when the NAACP publicly addressed global warming in launching their Climate Justice Initiative, it was Bullard they consulted to help them design it.

All said, as the U.S. embarks upon huge technological shifts, history-making legislation and regulatory upgrades for the 21st century, Bullard is actively playing a key role in keeping the lives of minorities and the impoverished a chief priority.

This is not new territory for Bullard. For three decades he’s been publishing reports and books that have spelled out precisely where environmental dangers lay, and how black and Latino families are often steered to live near those toxic hotspots.

Back during the Clinton administration, Bullard was instrumental in having the president grant Executive Order 12898, which obligated the government to incorporate environmental justice for minorities into the practice of more than a dozen agencies. Bullard also helped establish the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

He currently runs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University where he’s been instructing emerging green-minded citizens by matching hard science with community application, and environmental stewardship with civil rights sensibilities.

Advocates commonly associated with environmental leadership, such as Majora Carter and Van Jones, simply would not have been able to lead their movements today without the foundation established by Bullard. He continues to play a pivotal role in the challenges ahead in terms of climate change. As he said in the November’s edition of the Journal of Environmental Justice, “As new climate policy is implemented, we have to make sure that equity and justice are brought to bear, because the communities that are hit worst, first, longest, and hardest in terms of climate change are the same communities that are also hit hardest, worst, and longest by other environmental problems, whether they are air quality and other types of hazardous waste or pollution, [or] lead poisoning.”

Click here to check out the other Grio 100 history-makers in science.