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The Faithful Roots of Environmental Justice for All

In November 2022, Representative Donald McEachin died after a years-long struggle with colorectal cancer. His death ended a lifelong commitment to justice for all creation, but his legacy lives on.

What few people know about the late Representative McEachin is that he was a theologically-trained Baptist minister. McEachin received his Master of Divinity decree from The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union. In meetings with his Christian brothers and sisters, Representative McEachin would often remark that it was in these theology classes where he had his ecological conversion. Even though he had been seeking justice his whole life, in seminary he came to understand justice for people as intimately connected to justice for creation. In seminary, Rep. McEachin became a champion of environmental justice.

Rep. McEachin is not the only minister who plays a key role in the story of the environmental justice movement. In fact, the origins of the movement are in the church. In 1982, Rev. Ben Chavis led hundreds of people for six weeks to protest the dumping of toxic, contaminated soil in predominantly-Black Warren County, NC. The protest did not succeed in halting the toxic dumping, but it did energize the nascent movement. Five years later, the United Church of Christ published the report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, which showed that race was the best predictor of the location of a toxic waste facility. In other words, it showed that Black and Hispanic communities were much more likely to live near toxic sites that are harmful to human health and the environment.

All people deserve a clean and healthy environment, and that it is a primary task of Christians to make sure people and planet are protected.

The EPA defines environmental justice as “ the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” We need environmental justice because, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” The fight for environmental justice addresses the reality that even today, 40 years after the Warren County protests, communities of color and low-income communities face disparate impacts of environmental injustices.

In his final years in the House of Representatives, Rep. McEachin made it his goal to address that reality. With others in Congress, he worked to involve environmental justice communities in the development of a bill that would address their lived realities of environmental justice. His legacy lives on through this legislation named in his honor: the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act. This bill is a testament to the two realities that coexisted in McEachin’s life: that all people deserve a clean and healthy environment, and that it is a primary task of Christians to make sure people and planet are protected.

The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act is a bill that would require new policies to safeguard at-risk communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, from pollution and require that implementation of existing federal policies does not negatively impact these communities.

The act takes a cross-cutting approach to environmental justice, including the following:
  • Strengthening the Civil Rights Act of 1974 by prohibiting disparate impact discrimination and allowing residents and organizations to seek legal remedies when exposed to disparate impact of environmental injustice. 

  • Requiring federal agencies to withhold permits on projects that will knowingly cause harm to human health. 

  • Directing federal agencies to develop environmental justice strategies and regularly report on the implementation and progress.  

  • Requiring federal agencies to engage communities in opportunities under the National Environmental Protection Act, including representation of Indigenous tribes in the planning and decision-making process. 

  • Increasing access to parks and recreational opportunities, especially for urban communities that are often under-resourced.  

As I reflect on the life and legacy of Representative Donald McEachin, I’m inspired by his unwavering commitment to the belief that the fight for environmental justice is an act of faith. His profound understanding that justice for people is intricately connected to justice for creation serves as a guiding light for the movement. Let us carry his spirit forward, and work toward environmental justice for all.

Photo Credit: By JCWilmore - Own work, CC BY 3.0,


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