On Diversity And Public Policymaking: An Environmental Justice Perspe ctive

Author:Patrice Lumumba Simms
Position:Assistant Professor at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.
Pages:14-19
 
CONTENT
14 SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT LAW & POLICY
ON DIVERSITY AND PUBLIC POLICYMAKING:
AN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE PERSPECTIVE
by Patrice Lumumba Simms*
INTRODUCTION
Over the course of the Twentieth Century, the environ-
mental movement and the resulting adoption and
implementation of increasingly protective environmen-
tal laws have literally changed America’s social, political, and
physical landscape.1 However, the character of our policymaking
institutions – how they both perceive and fulfill their responsibil-
ities – profoundly affects the nature of the benefits they produce
for society. In this regard, it would be a mistake to assume that
the personalities, family histories, ethnic and linguistic back-
grounds, genders, moral values, sexual orientations, social envi-
ronments, spiritual or religious traditions, life experiences, and
cultural perspectives of the decision-makers themselves do not
affect the character of these institutions and therefore the nature
and quality of their work.
As many have observed, the environmental movement and
the institutions responsible for environmental policymaking
have been historically and overwhelmingly the province of the
white middle class.2 While some have argued that diversity is a
“fad” – or worse, a disingenuous aesthetic adornment3 – a wealth
of research suggests otherwise.4 Indeed, in this author’s view, the
chronic lack of diversity among environmental policymakers
has defined the evolutionary path of the institutions that have
sprung to life in the United States over the past century. And
the ongoing homogeneity of the environmental policy leadership
continues to stand as a significant barrier to the important objec-
tives of current environmental justice efforts.
To be sure, the concerns about diversity among environ-
mental policymakers are far from the only challenge facing
the environmental justice community.5 It is, however, a critical
structural failing that will inhibit both the rate of progress and
ultimately the ability to achieve environmental justice goals.
Accordingly, achieving real diversity within the ranks of
environmental policy decision-makers, especially at the federal
and state level, is absolutely essential to true-up the structural
failure that stands in the way of genuine progress toward envi-
ronmental justice. Part I of this article will briefly describe the
history and objectives of the environmental justice movement.
Part II will examine the “classic approach” to assessing and
addressing environmental concerns and discuss a few of the sub-
tle but inherent and invidious biases that historically have gone
unrecognized by classic environmental policymakers. Part III
will describe how a more diverse body of decision-makers, who
more vividly conceptualize environmental issues at a multidi-
mensional level, can lead to better decisions. Part IV will briefly
describe the trajectory of Environmental Protection Agency
(“EPA”) efforts to address diversity and environmental justice.
Finally, Part V concludes with a call to accelerate the pace of
workforce diversification, to explicitly confront the persistent
structural biases of U.S. environmental policy, and to actively
pursue forward-looking intentional multidimensionality.
SOME PREFATORY OBSERVATIONS
It is important to clarify two points at the outset of this
analysis. First, references to diversity in this article do not relate
merely to race. While race is an especially important aspect of
diversity in the context of environmental protection – due largely
to its historical relationship to environmental burden6 – it is by
no means the only one. As the introduction above suggests, a
host of other aspects of diversity are also important and should
be integral to any efforts to diversify the ranks of environmental
public policymakers. Because the goal of this article is to illu-
minate the connection between leadership diversity and environ-
mental justice, however, much of the discussion herein focuses
on racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. Second, it should be
clear that “low-income” and “non-white” are not synonymous.7
Indeed, there are relatively wealthy black communities that have
very much fallen victim to neglect or worse,8 and there are many
poor white communities that suffer under the yoke of dispro-
portionate environmental burdens.9 Moreover, my references to
“non-white” communities are by no means a euphemistic allu-
sion to communities of people of African descent alone. It is true
that members of the African Diaspora in the United States have
suffered an especially brutal and repressive brand of injustice.10
However, across the U.S., Spanish speaking communities, Asian
American communities, and Native American communities (to
name a few) have each experienced their own species of social
injustice, elements of which clearly resonate as environmental
justice issues.11
I. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE A SEARCH FOR RESPECT
As many have observed, the civil rights and environmen-
tal movements have strong genealogical ties and, at least to
some degree, share a common foundation based on principles
of human rights and social justice.12 As Professor Richard J.
*Patrice Lumumba Simms is an Assistant Professor at Howard University School
of Law in Washington, D.C. Professor Simms has practiced extensively as an
environmental attorney and policy-maker in government and in the environ-
mental non-profit community, and currently serves as a member of the Board of
Trustees for Earthjustice. For their unwavering courage in the face of tremen-
dous adversity, I thank those many communities under siege who fight in proxy
for the rights of each and every one of us for a safe and healthy environment in
which to live, work, learn and play.
152012–2013
Lazarus has noted, the roots of environmental justice, civil
rights, and traditional environmentalism intertwine (at least in
principle) as far back as the late nineteenth century.13 In the
1960s, the environmental movement adopted many of the orga-
nizing strategies, mobilization techniques, and legal tools of the
civil rights movement.14 The modern core of the classic environ-
mental movement, however, made a shift into the mainstream in
a way that the civil rights movement did not, and in doing so has
in a sense lost sight of its own ancestry.15 As a result, the idea
that environmental protection must acknowledge and account
for its social justice implications has only very recently begun to
reliably take root as a core value in the minds of contemporary
environmentalists and environmental policymakers.16
At its core, the environmental justice movement, in its
many manifestations, is bound together by a set of principles
that emerge from a shared experience of abuse and isolation. As
described by Professor Tseming Yang:
Many of the complaints of environmental justice activ-
ists can be traced to three deficiencies of the environ-
mental regulatory system: 1) the failure of regulations
to provide adequate substantive environmental protec-
tions for minorities and the poor, 2) inequality and
disproportionality in the distribution of the burdens and
benefits of regulations, and 3) the inability of minority
groups and the poor to participate actively and effec-
tively in environmental decision-making processes.17
These grievances range from inadequate water quality stan-
dards that leave subsistence fishers under-protected because they
consume much higher levels of contaminated fish than the official
standards presume, to insufficient protections for farm-workers
against toxic pesticides, to the disproportionate concentration of
hazardous waste facilities and toxic air emission sources in poor
and minority communities.18 Additionally, environmental justice
advocates have long protested the marginalization of poor and
minority communities in the decision-making process and the
relative inattention of environmental enforcement officials to
violations that primarily affect these communities.19
In the end, the appeal of environmental justice advocates is
merely that every community, including poor communities and
communities of color, should be valued, respected, and extended
the full consideration of environmental policy and the full pro-
tection of environmental laws.20
II. CLASSIC ENVIRONMENTALISMBENEFITS AND BIAS
Most people recognize that environmental protection
encompasses an enormous range of federal, state, and local
policy decision-making.21 It includes, among other things, the
creation and enforcement of explicit legal restrictions (such as
limits on pollution discharges),22 affirmative procedural obliga-
tions (such as pre-decisional environmental analysis),23 and
checks on commercial behavior (such as the mandatory tracking
of hazardous materials as they travel through commerce).24 In
addition, environmental policymaking frequently involves the
targeted protection or enhancement of certain natural resources
and environmental values (such as the creation and management
of parks and wildlife areas and the protection of species and
habitat).25 Even more broadly, classic environmental consider-
ations typically also include decisions regarding zoning, land
use, public infrastructure and the provision of certain services
(like storm water management).26
This classic understanding of environmental protection can
largely be reduced to three broad categories of policy interest:27
1. Pollution Amelioration – This category of protection
seeks reductions in ambient concentrations of, and
human exposure to, environmental pollutants. This is
usually accomplished through the targeted reduction of
pollutant releases, such as air pollution emissions and
water pollution discharges.28
2. Hazard and Risk Management – This category includes
efforts to manage materials (including both products
and wastes), which might be toxic or otherwise hazard-
ous to human health or the environment. These environ-
mental policy objectives are most often accomplished
through concentration and isolation of hazardous
constituents (e.g., in the case of hazardous wastes),
or restrictions on commercial manufacture and/or use
(e.g., in the case of pesticides).29
3. Resource Protection and Conservation – This category
encompasses efforts to prevent over utilization of natu-
ral resources (such as forests, minerals and species)
and to preserve natural resources for their aesthetic,
economic, recreational, and ecosystem values.
One common response of classic environmental thinking to
the generalized concerns of the environmental justice community
is that environmental protection functions as a “rising tide that
lifts all boats.”30 This notion is deceptively alluring – if the air is
cleaner, it is cleaner for everyone; if hazards are better managed,
all of society benefits. The argument can be made even more
pointedly. For example, in the pollution amelioration context, if
EPA adopts air emissions standards for a particular category of
stationary sources, and poor and minority communities are most
likely to be located in close proximity to such sources, not only
should these communities benefit from adoption and implemen-
tation of the standards, but they will arguably benefit more than
anyone else. By this view, environmental protection is an instru-
ment that already, to a large degree, accomplishes objectives that
inure to the benefit of disadvantaged communities.
As comforting as it might be to stop the inquiry there, the
inadequacy of this level of examination becomes evident when
one views the issue from a community’s perspective. To be sure,
the reduction of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”) from a par-
ticular source category will generate benefits, and will generate
perhaps the greatest absolute benefits for populations adjacent
to such sources.31 Understandably however, the questions that
communities ask are more direct and more practical: “Will the
selected level of control ensure that my family will not suffer
harmful effects? Is my community as healthy to live in as any
other community?”32 The reality is that EPA and other environ-
mental policymakers typically do not approach programmatic
16 SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT LAW & POLICY
decision-making with an eye toward ensuring comprehensive
protection of every community.33
Consider again the clean air example above. The Clean Air
Act (“CAA”) gives EPA a tremendous degree of discretion in
implementing its responsibilities under the CAA’s HAP provi-
sions.34 The agency, approaching its task through the lens of
classic environmental problem solving, has adopted some rather
narrow views regarding how and to what extent it will evaluate
risk when setting standards. For example, with regard to can-
cer risk, the agency has consistently taken the position that it
need not reduce risk to a level at or below one in one million,35
even though the CAA uses that threshold as an explicit trigger
for listing source categories and obligating the agency to pro-
mulgate standards.36 Rather, EPA has utilized something of a
sliding scale, whereby, depending on a host of factors, “accept-
able” cancer risks might range as high as one in ten thousand.37
Additionally, despite decades of regulatory experience, EPA
has yet to establish a reliable means of assessing cumulative
risk from multiple sources.38 Thus, for communities that are
surrounded by a variety of pollution sources, whether EPAs
rules will provide protection from the combined emissions of
all sources is something of mystery, and not one that the agency
meaningfully attempts to solve in most instances.39 This mystery
deepens when a multitude of sources emit a cocktail of differ-
ent HAPs, which might interact in synergistic ways to enhance
toxicity.40 In addition, many overburdened communities are also
exposed to toxins through other routes such as contaminated
drinking water, lead paint, and mercury-contaminated fish.41
Finally, poor people and people of color are more likely to be
subject to significant occupational exposures, which further
enhance individual risk.42
As a result, while such pollution amelioration standards may
serve to reduce risks for communities of color and poor commu-
nities, they do not necessarily ensure the protection of a healthy
environment for these communities, and they often do not answer
the questions asked by our hypothetical community member. In
the end, these communities are frequently left in a substantially
worse position than wealthier and non-minority communities
(which may have almost no remaining risk after regulation).
Moreover, it is conceivable that, at least in some situations,
overburdened communities might be left even less protected in a
relative sense after implementation of environmental laws. That
is, implementation of environmental laws might improve condi-
tions for everyone, but improve conditions more substantially in
wealthier communities (perhaps eliminating risks altogether for
them), effectively magnifying environmental disparities.43
Hazardous waste management and disposal practices also
have a long history of generating disproportionate impacts in
poor communities and communities of color.44 Again, the classic
environmental view provides a compelling justification for our
approach to hazardous waste regulation. Following hazardous
wastes through the stream of commerce, imposing specific treat-
ment and disposal standards, and ensuring targeted long-term
management provides immense benefits to society as a whole.45
Highly toxic wastes from commercial and industrial activities,
small businesses, agriculture, the military, academic institutions,
and a host of other sources (including household hazardous
wastes) are prevented from entering the general environment
due to the operation of these important regulatory devices.
Nonetheless, as these substances are funneled toward managed
disposal, they necessarily become geographically concentrated.46
The observations of the environmental justice movement are that
when this geographic concentration occurs, it is likely to occur
disproportionately in minority or low-income communities.47
As a result, with respect to both pollution amelioration and
hazard and risk management, there is a tendency toward a “con-
centration bias” that preferentially benefits white and well-to-do
communities, while disproportionately allowing higher pollution
concentrations to persist in low-income communities and com-
munities of color.48
Finally, once again, with respect to resource protection and
conservation, the benefits here also tend to favor communities
with means. To be sure, there are reasons for these efforts that are
incredibly important, and which serve broad social, economic,
and public health and welfare interests.49 The immediate benefits
that relate to tangible quality of life improvements however,
largely inure to the benefit of the middle class and even then
predominantly to whites.50 One prominent explanation for this
phenomenon as it relates to recreational resource use is the mar-
ginalization of non-white communities, which results in a “lack
of access to recreational sites and economic barriers to partici-
pation.”51 Additionally, even where economics do not stand as
a barrier, non-whites may be less likely to utilize recreational
resources because of past discrimination that engenders “feel-
ings that people of their ethnic or racial group are unwelcome”
or raises “fear of physical harm.”52 This is hardly surprising in
light of the fact that many recreational resources were expressly
or implicitly segregated for most of the Twentieth Century – pre-
venting the development and transmission of cultural traditions
that would promote greater use.53
Historically, however, relatively little attention has been paid
by classic environmental policymakers to acquiring, enhanc-
ing, and maintaining natural resources in or near urban cores,
where it would provide the most benefit to poor and non-white
communities.54 This kind of “benefits allocation bias” reflects
an historic tendency, with respect to resource protection and
conservation, for the prioritization of public expenditures on
environmental resources that favor policy-based objectives ben-
efitting relatively privileged communities while systematically
undervaluing the needs of already marginalized communities.
In light of the historic homogeneity of environmental policy-
makers, it should come as no surprise that “concentration bias”
and “benefits allocation bias” have gone (until recently) largely
unnoticed, or at least uncorrected.55 Arguably, it is unrealistic to
expect decision-makers, shaped and hardened within a system
that is implicitly biased toward the classic environmental model,
to stumble upon an appropriate approach to multidimensional
decision-making. Indeed, these problems have persisted largely
unabated despite the adoption of statutes like the National
Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”),56 and the issuance of an
172012–2013
Executive Order specifically addressing environmental justice
(E.O. 12898)57 – instruments which on their face appear to pro-
vide at least the starting point for a more robust and inclusive
decision-making framework.58
Regardless of the standards to which we hold our poli-
cymakers, as environmental justice advocates have long and
persuasively argued,59 it is clearly unjust for the communities
who benefit least from our collective environmental compro-
mise to carry the lion’s share of the adverse health burden. It is
incumbent on the environmental policymaking apparatus to fix
its own house; to nurture a capacity to listen to communities and
identify and adopt appropriate solutions to environmental justice
problems.
While the environmental justice community rightly contin-
ues to clamor for action, ultimately it may not be more voices on
the outside calling for better decision-making that is necessary,
but a more diverse group of decision-makers on the inside that
is required.
III. LEVERAGING DIVERSITY: MAKING
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY WORK FOR EVERYONE
At its most basic level, the greatest challenge of environ-
mental justice implementation is ensuring that lawmakers, poli-
cymakers, and implementing officials recognize the legitimacy
of the concerns voiced by affected communities and make the
appropriate inquires before committing internal institutional
resources toward a particular objective. Those inquiries must be
made, however, at the beginning of the decision-making process,
not after a preferred course of action has already been selected.
The problem with a relatively homogeneous body of decision-
makers is that their range of vision is restricted by their own
experience. As a result, “[o]rganizational routines or standard
operating procedures are developed … and public officials
become increasingly resistant to change over time, especially
if there is little turnover within the initial cadre of administra-
tors.”60 In this way, policy approaches, once adopted, tend to
ossify, thus preventing innovation.
Ultimately, despite some initial optimism in the wake
of E.O. 12898 and the Council on Environmental Quality’s
Environmental Justice NEPA Guidance,61 the environmental
justice community has been profoundly disappointed by policy
decision-making at the federal level.62 In part, this is a product
of the fact that once an institutional policy tradition has been for-
mulated it often proves very resistant to change, even in the face
of valid observations from external sources.63 This has meant that
even with improved procedural access to the decision-making
process, environmental justice advocates and community-based
organizations frequently find that policy decision-makers (who
have already effectively blessed another institutional approach)
are unreceptive to their requests and recommendations.
As a practical matter, to effectively counteract institutional-
ized “concentration bias” and “resource allocation bias,” poli-
cymakers must adopt a truly multidimensional decision-making
approach – that is, they must effectively view each decision not
only from the perspective of the institution’s existing policy
traditions, from the vantage point of economic stakeholders,
or from the vantage point of classic environmentalism, but also
from the perspective of families, communities, workers, educa-
tors, civic leaders, and other affected persons. Moreover, they
must deploy this multidimensionality from the very beginning
of the decision-making process, not merely in response to for-
mal comments submitted after a proposed course of action has
already been fully formulated.64
The following are examples of the types of questions that
must inform environmental policy decision-making from the
very earliest stages of the process:
Does the decision-making involve the concentration of
hazardous pollutants or the control of ambient concentra-
tions of pollutants or pollutant discharges?
• Have potentially affected communities been included in
the initial process of defining the problem and identifying
potential solutions?
• Where will the benefits of the action be felt most acutely?
Does the action fully account for cumulative risk, multiple
routes of exposures, and potential synergistic effects?
Will the action eliminate risks, harms, or impacts for
every community?
• Are any remaining risks or impacts likely to be borne by
communities that are already overburdened?
• Do potentially affected communities fully understand the
nature and degree of all remaining risks?
What concerns are most acute for potentially affected
communities?
• Are any remaining impacts acceptable to the potentially
affected communities?
If the action will create or allocate resources benefits,
does it preferentially benefit certain communities?
• Are there comparable benefits available to other
communities?
• Are comparable benefits being pursued or enhanced for
underserved communities?
Can access to benefits by underserved communities be
enhanced in the decision-making process?
Undoubtedly, a conceptual framework can serve as a valu-
able methodological aide in the decision-making processes.
However, as the failure of NEPA as an effective environmental
justice tool demonstrates, ultimately the decision-makers matter.
As Justice O’Connor acknowledged in Wygant v. Jackson Board
of Education, “[t]he exclusion of minorities from effective par-
ticipation in the bureaucracy not only promotes ignorance of
minorityproblems in that particular community, but also creates
mistrust, alienation, and all too often hostility toward the entire
process of government.”65 While Justice O’Connor’s statement
was made in the context of “[d]iscrimination by government,”66
it matters little if the exclusion of people of color (and others) is
the result of overt discrimination or not; the effect is the same.
And, certainly these observations have been borne out time and
again in the environmental justice context.67
Diversity-related barriers to advancing environmental
justice principles cannot be overcome merely by recruiting a
18 SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT LAW & POLICY
more diverse body of decision-makers (although that is where
it must necessarily begin). Rather, environmental policymaking
institutions must manifest a commitment to multidimensional
decision-making by cultivating, retaining and promoting not
just a diverse workforce but also a diverse collection of perspec-
tives.68 When it comes to improving the ethical responsiveness
of decision-making, valuing differences in perspective as a vital
institutional asset is just as important as valuing physical or
cultural differences such as race, religion, gender, sexual orien-
tation, or disability. To truly benefit from a diverse workforce,
and to successfully cultivate a meaningfully diverse leadership,
it is necessary to specifically encourage the articulation of dif-
ferent perspectives; to pull different viewpoints out from the
shadows.69
Indeed, many professionals of color and other visible
minorities feel overtly or implicitly compelled to hide their
viewpoints in a professional environment, and mask any obvi-
ously atypical perspectives behind a façade of conformity, often
due to an unspoken (but typically not expressly repudiated)
expectation of bias against unconventional viewpoints. 70 In this
sense, if diverse perspectives are not actively and openly encour-
aged, institutional assimilation as a survival mechanism can
undermine the benefit of whatever diversity has been achieved.
Thus, leveraging the benefits of diversity is not just a challenge
of recruitment, retention, and promotion; it is also explicitly a
challenge of inclusive management, which must actively pursue
intentional multidimensionality.71
The idea of pursuing a broader set of perspectives among
environmental policymakers has a pedigree reaching at least as
far back as the early 1990s.72 As Richard Lazarus explained:
The need for ‘better understanding’ should not, how-
ever, be confined to formal empirical investigation. It
must also include efforts aimed at increasing awareness
among both the general public and policymakers about
the potential for, and impact of, distributional inequi-
ties. As described by one minority environmentalist,
who warned against addressing the problem by simply
including more minority representation, ‘[t]here is a
need for diversity not only in the makeup of the orga-
nizations, but also in how these [environmental] issues
are looked at. . . . For environmental groups to consider
issues like wetlands, global warming, and wilderness
protection as being the only environmental issues flies
in the face of reality.73
In essence, in order to more meaningfully appreciate and
consider issues that have immediacy to communities outside the
core of classic environmentalism, including for example people
of color, poor communities, immigrant communities, language
minorities, and Tribes, policymakers must be able to meaning-
fully engage in a robust internal dialogue on such issues. By
necessity, this requires a range of perspectives that can facilitate
thinking (and talking) outside the box of classic environmental-
ism and that can shake off the constraints of longstanding insti-
tutional policy traditions.74
A NOTE ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
While the intent of this article is not to argue for so called
“affirmative action” measures in the hiring practices of entities
with environmental responsibilities, it would be a disservice
not to at least mention this critical point. After all, the legality
of race-conscious decision-making is once again before the
Supreme Court.75 When considered in light of cases like Bakke
and Grutter, which held (among other things) that diversity may
constitute a compelling interest that can justify narrowly tailored
race-conscious decision-making in university admissions,76
there seems good reason to question why such diversity would
not also constitute a compelling interest in the context of certain
government hiring. These prior cases relied on the proposition
that a diverse classroom enhances the educational experience by
creating an environment in which a more “robust exchange of
ideas” can occur.77 It seems incongruous that the government’s
interest would somehow be less compelling when the benefits of
that more robust dialogue (and of overcoming racial stereotypes)
involve manifestly higher stakes – i.e., the formulation of official
policy that will directly and profoundly affect the health and
well-being of communities.78 Full exploration of this question,
however, is beyond the scope of this article.79
IV. FEDERAL DIVERSITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL
JUSTICE EFFORTS: FITS AND STARTS
By and large, environmental policymaking agencies have
professed an appreciation for diversity since at least the early
1990s. In 1992, after convening a task force to examine diversity
issues, EPA adopted a strategy document to address workforce
diversity within the agency.80 Perhaps not coincidentally, EPAs
1992 Diversity Strategy document was released the same year
as its report entitled “Environmental Equity: Reducing Risk for
All Communities.” 81 This was among the agency’s first efforts to
directly confront the issue of environmental justice. Additionally,
the agency pursued more concrete action; in 1992 creating the
Office of Environmental Justice (“OEJ”) and in 1993 commis-
sioning the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council
(“NEJAC”) – an advisory body created under the authority of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act (“FACA”).82 In 1995, pursuant
to the 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice (E.O.
12898), the agency adopted an environmental justice strategy
document (as did other federal agencies), and began to partici-
pate as a member of the Interagency Working Group (“IWG”) on
Environmental Justice.83
During the period of the mid- to late-1990s, federal efforts
to address environmental justice concerns, while clearly in their
infancy, appeared genuine. Communication with communities
improved, at least marginally, and under pressure from envi-
ronmental justice advocates, the EPA began to explore legal
mechanisms to accomplish environmental justice goals.84 This
progress came to an abrupt halt at the end of 2000, with the
election of President George W. Bush and the transition to an
administration that had chilly relations, at best, with the commu-
nities representing environmental justice interests. By the end of
the Bush administration, despite an ongoing commitment among
192012–2013
OEJ staff, much of the early momentum on environmental
justice had been lost; and despite almost two decades of imple-
mentation, realization of EPAs “bold plan” to increase agency
diversity remained elusive, especially among the ranks of senior
decision-makers. 85
It is noteworthy, however, that in the few short years of
Barack Obama’s Presidential administration and Lisa Jackson’s
tenure as Administrator of the U.S. EPA (the first African
Americans to hold these respective positions), a conspicuous
new effort to engage traditionally marginalized communities
of all stripes in environmental justice policy discussions and
renewed efforts toward greater diversity among the ranks of gov-
ernment policymakers has emerged. This has been reflected in
initiatives such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities,
the development of EPAs Plan EJ 2014, the reinvigoration of the
Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, the con-
vening of regular Environmental Justice Community Outreach
Teleconferences, and the commissioning of several reports eval-
uating and proposing reforms to EPAs Office of Civil Rights.86
Among other things, the renewed focus on diversity has included
the issuance of a 2011 Executive Order on federal workforce
diversity.87
Indeed, one of Administrator Jackson’s specific priorities for
EPA includes the following:
Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and
Working for Environmental Justice: We have begun a
new era of outreach and protection for communities
historically underrepresented in EPA decision-making.
We are building strong working relationships with
tribes, communities of color, economically distressed
cities and towns, young people and others, but this is
just a start. We must include environmental justice
principles in all of our decisions. This is an area that
calls for innovation and bold thinking, and I am chal-
lenging all of our employees to bring vision and cre-
ativity to our programs.88
This statement echoes at least one of the themes of this
article – the significance of the connection between the poli-
cymakers (EPA’s “employees”) and the policies being pursued.
Ultimately, to succeed in effor ts to bring about an era in which
environmental protection leaves no community behind, EPA and
other environmental policymaking institutions must be deliber-
ate in their efforts to draw upon the full diversity of perspectives
and experiences of what must become an increasingly diverse
workforce. Top-down efforts, without corresponding changes in
institutional composition and a deliberate embrace of multidi-
mensional decision-making approaches, are bound to produce
results that are limited in both duration and efficacy. Success will
require nothing short of a willingness to fundamentally rethink
the model of classic environmentalism that has heretofore pro-
vided the blueprint for existing institutional structures.
V. CONCLUSION: TIME TO GET IT RIGHT
At EPA and around the country, in both government agen-
cies and environmental nonprofits, as the old guard– those heroic
stalwarts of classic environmentalism – continues to retire, we
have a moment of opportunity. While extending to them our
deepest gratitude for their vision and commitment, we must
chart an important new course. We must reunite the estranged
descendants of the environmental and civil rights movements
and reaffirm environmentalism as a peoples’ struggle.
Armed with a healthy variety of perspectives that have been
encouraged rather than squashed, institutional leadership will be
better able to genuinely and effectively address the challenges
of environmental justice. The validation of principles of com-
munity self-determination and the elimination of significant
environmental health disparities may well be the legacy of the
next generation of environmental policy leadership. Getting
there, however, will require that we re-conceptualize, to some
extent, the structure and function of our policymaking institu-
tions. This will take a transformation from within (and of course
continuing vigorous advocacy from without) and will depend,
at least in part, upon an enduring commitment to real diversity
and a deliberate embrace of multidimensional approaches to
decision-making.
Endnotes: ON DIVERSITY AND PUBLIC POLICYMAKING: AN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
PERSPECTIVE
1 This is true to the extent that “environmentalism in the United States
appears to have achieved a steady state, with law and social norms mutually
reinforcing each other to maintain … a relatively stable commitment to environ-
mental protection.” Cary Coglianese, Social Movements, Law, and Society: The
Institutionalization of the Environmental Movement, 150 U. PA. L. REV. 85, 88
(2001).
2 See Dorceta E. Taylor, Diversity and the Environment: Myth-Making and
the Status of Minorities in the Field, 15 RES. IN SOC. PROBS. & PUB. POLY
89, 89-139 (2008) (discussing the evolution of research on diversity and the
environment); KATHLYN GAY, POLLUTION AND THE POWERLESS: THE ENVIRONMENTAL
JUSTICE MOVEMENT 18 (1994); Robert W. Collin, Environmental Equity: A Law
and Planning Approach to Environmental Racism, 11 VA. ENVTL. L.J. 495, 517
(1992) (noting how environmental inequity originates in the indifference of
traditionally white environmental groups to issues of race and equity); Peter L.
Reich, Greening the Ghetto: A Theory of Environmental Race Discrimination,
41 U. KAN. L. REV. 271, 278 n.30 (1993) (noting historical examples where
traditionally white environmental groups failed to hire people of color and
pursue environmental protection in urban areas); Richard J. Lazarus, Pursuing
“Environmental Justice”: The Distributional Effects of Environmental Protec-
tion, 87 NW. U. L. REV. 787, 819-20 (1993) (noting the lack of representation of
minority groups relating to environmental protection issues).
3 See Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 355 (2003) (Thomas. J., dissenting).
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