Dual Purpose Outreach to Enhance Public Participation in Environmental Decisionmaking

Date01 August 2022
AuthorChandra T. Taylor-Sawyer
In my work at the Southern Environmental Law Cen-
ter (SELC), I often face the question of how to do
everything possible during the policymak ing process
to involve the people who are most harmed by environ-
mental contamination. I have practiced in this area since
2006, and I have learned it helps to take a step back a nd
make sure we are thin king about the problem we want
to x. In this case, we are talking about environmental
injustice and the disproportionate burden of environ-
mental ha rm on people of color and people who do not
have a lot of money. e environmental contamination in
these communities is the symptom of the problem, and
the bigger problem is the legacy of economic and political
disempowerment of communities of color that have per-
sisted for generations.¹ SELC has dedicated a lot of time
to addressing the problem and its symptoms in partner-
ship with community groups that are experiencing envi-
ronmental harm.² We bring with us the entire tool kit of
laws, regulations, and policies that could possibly prevent
or lessen these burdens.
ere are ways in which citizen-driven and govern-
ment-driven eorts toward greater public participation
1. See, e.g., Henry M. Lane et al., Historical Redlining is Associated With Present-
Day Air Pollution Disparities in U.S. Cities, 9 E’. S.  T. L
345, 345 (2022), https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c01012;
Daniel Cusick, Past Racist “Redlining” Practices Increased Climate Burden
on Minority Neighborhoods, EE N (Jan. 21, 2020), https://www.sci
mate-burden-on-minority-neighborhoods/; V. L. S E’ J
C  ., F D  D: E R
U COVID-19 (2021), https://www.vermontlaw.edu/sites/default/
2. Environmental Justice: Troubling the Water, S. E’ L. C, https://www.
(last visited May 25, 2022).
can help work on the symptoms. For example, SELC
worked with a partner group and community against a
pipeline, in an eort to protect the community’s aqui-
fer, as well as the use and enjoyment of their historic and
predominantly African-American neighborhoods.³ is
49-mile crude oil pipeline, called the Byhalia Pipeline,
could have contaminated drink ing water for one million
Memphis/Shelby Cou nty residents. e citizen-driven
public participation at the local government level against
this project was led by a very dedicated base of activists
who became environmental advocates because they cared
about their community and were opposed to this proj-
ect—vigorous citizen-driven public participation can be
expected more when there is a specic project with known
threats aecting a particula r place.
However, we also need to look at the bigger picture—
the problem of economic and political disempowerment
rooted in a long history of segregation of communities of
color and how government-driven eorts for enhanced
public participation can be better implemented. To do
this, we have looked to the guidance a nd executive orders
that outline how the federal government is addressing thes e
issues. For example, Executive Order No. 12898 is focused
on the fair treatment and meaning ful involvement of com-
munities of color and low-wealth communities. e mean-
ingful involvement part is so hard to achieve—or it seems
3. Victory for Southwest Memphis: Byhalia Pipeline Is Done, S. E’ L. C.
(July 2, 2021), https://www.southernenvironment.org/news/victory-for-
4. Hydrogeologic Report Warns of Pipeline reats to Memphis Drinking Water
Source, S. E’ L. C. (Feb. 24, 2021) (citing Douglas Cosler, Evalua-
tion of the Risk of Contamination of the Memphis Sand Aquifer by the
Proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline (Feb. 1, 2021)), https://www.south-
5. See S  P, https://www.memphiscap.org/home (last visited
May 25, 2022); P O A, https://www.protectouraquifer.
org/ (last visited May 25, 2022).
6. See Shannon Roesler, Racial Segregation and Environmental Justice, 51
ELR 10773, 10773 (Sept. 2021), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.
7. Exec. Order No. 12898, 3 C.F.R. §859 (1995).
by Chandra T. Taylor-Sawyer
Chandra T. Taylor-Sawyer is Senior Attorney and Environmental Justice
Initiative Leader at the Southern Environmental Law Center
Editors’ Note: Chandra Taylor-Sawyer’s Comment is based
on an edited transcription of her remarks at the Environmental
Law and Policy Annual Review conference. See 2021-2022
Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review Conference,
available at https://www.eli.org/environmental-law-poli-
Copyright © 2022 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.

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