The term was coined by Benjamin Chavis, previous executive director of the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice, addressing hazardous PCB waste in Warren County, North Carolina. Chavis defined the term as racial discrimination in environmental policy making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of color from leadership of the ecology movement.
The UCC and US General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on this case in North Carolina created an association between locations of hazardous waste sites and poor minority neighborhoods. Chavis and Robert Bullard pointed out institutionalized racism stemming from government and corporate policies that led to environmental racism. Practices included redlining, zoning, and colorblind adaptation planning. Residents were inhibited from preventing environmental racism due to their low socioeconomic status, and lack of political representation and mobility Expanding the definition in “The Legacy of American Apartheid and Environmental Racism”, Robert Bullard said that environmental racism refers to any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color.