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‘Father of Environmental Justice’ Robert Bullard Honored by Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society

The Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society is a nonpartisan student organization at Harvard Law School.
The Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society is a nonpartisan student organization at Harvard Law School. By Julian J. Giordano

The Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society presented Robert D. Bullard with the Horizon Award in an award ceremony Tuesday evening.

Bullard is a professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University and director of the school’s Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice. An award-winning author of 18 books on issues surrounding environmental justice and a prominent voice against environmental racism, Bullard has been described as the “father of environmental justice.”

Each year, the Environmental Law Society presents the Horizon Award to an individual who has made “extraordinary contributions to environmental law and policy,” according to the group’s website. Previous recipients include former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, and environmental health researcher Catherine Coleman Flowers.

During the ceremony, Bullard spoke about his career and the importance of fighting for social justice in environmental issues. Bullard said his activism has included fighting against landfills in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Houston and addressing the fallout of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, which disproportionately affected low-income and minority residents.

“The environment is everything — it’s where we live, work, play, worship, go to school, as well as a physical and natural world. That doesn’t leave much out,” he said. “They want to talk about greenhouse gasses. We want to talk about equity, fairness, injustice, vulnerability. Who’s causing the problem? And who’s most impacted? Who’s getting hurt the worst and the longest?”

Bullard also discussed the need to recognize the interdisciplinary nature of environmental justice.

“Environmental justice embraces the principle that all people in all communities are entitled to equal protection of our environmental laws, housing, transportation, energy, food, water security,” he said. “Civil rights, human rights — it brings it all together.”

Bullard said he believes the future of the environmental justice movement is a “marathon relay,” involving many years of work passed down to each generation of activists.

“We have an environmental justice movement because there is injustice. This is not something we do just for us, where we wake up and say, ‘Oh, I just want to do this.’ We have to fight injustice,” Bullard said. “And so I’m really pleased and humbled by having the students recognize this work and to carry on what we do and fight for justice — it’s not a sprint.”

Environmental Law Society co-president and HLS student Christopher G. “Kipper” Berven said in a speech introducing Bullard that Bullard’s work has pushed environmental justice to the forefront of discussions in the field of environmental law.

“I think that we truly do have Dr. Bullard to thank for [environmental justice] now being much more widely recognized as a primary focus and a primary requirement for any discussion around environmental policymaking and environmental monitoring,” he said.

In remarks at the ceremony, HLS professor Richard J. Lazarus detailed his experiences with Bullard throughout his career in environmental law.

“In the last 30 years, there is no scholar who has had a greater impact, transformative impact, on environmental law and policy than Dr. Bullard,” he said. “Without question.”

—Staff writer Sabrina R. Hu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sxbrinahhu.

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