One freezing February day in 1994, environmental scholar and activist Robert Bullard was summoned to the White House. He had no idea why. When he was ushered into the Oval Office, he discovered that President Bill Clinton had invited him to witness the signing of an executive order that would require the federal government to consider the environmental consequences to low-income communities before implementing policies.
It was a high point for the burgeoning “environmental justice” movement, which had taken its struggle to stop the concentration of pollution in poor and predominantly non-white communities all the way to the White House.
Now, Bullard and the environmental justice movement that he helped found are celebrating another high point. On Saturday, Bullard joined a group that includes former vice president Al Gore, Jacques Cousteau and Wallace Stegner when he was awarded the Sierra Club’s John Muir award. The prize, named for the founder of the longest operating environmental protection organizations, is the group’s highest honor and is granted for “a distinguished record of achievement in national or international conservation causes.” Bullard, who has dedicated his career to protecting low-income and minority communities from becoming the waste dumps of the nation, is the first African American to win the award since the group started handing it out in 1961.