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Equality is Not Necessarily Just: Toward a Procedural and Relational View of Evironmental Justice

February 5, 2005

This paper is the latest in a series of articles written to conceptualize an alternative to the distributive paradigm espoused by the environmental justice movement. It is clear that early studies such as the "Toxic Waste and Race in the United States: A National Report on the Racial and Socio-Economic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites" prepared by the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ exposed the potential our present model of environmental regulation has to create distributional inequities and forced policymakers to identify how the burdens as well as the benefits of environmental protection are spread among groups of persons.It is also clear to me that distributive theories of environmental justice are inadequate to justify a more just environmental policy or support the aims of the environmental justice movement. I share with Iris Marion Young a view that the distributive paradigm's implicit assumption that social judgments are about what individual person have, how much they have, and how that amount compares with what other persons have and the belief that this focus on possession is limiting. Distributive theories of justice tend to preclude thinking about what people are doing according to what institutionalized rules, how their doings and havings are structured by institutionalized relations that constitute their positions, and how the combined effects of their doings has recursive effects on their lives. What I attempt to do in this paper is to shift the focus of the discussion away from the distribution and on the decision-making structures and procedures which determine what there is to distribute, how it gets distributed, who distributes and what the distributive outcome is. To paraphrase Ms. Young, environmental injustice occurs not simply because some persons have cleaner air and water than others' environmental injustice derives as much from the corporate and legal structures and procedures that give some persons the power to make decisions that affect millions of other people.

Identifying the Burdens and Opportunities for Tribes and Communities in Federal Facility Cleanup Activities: Environmental Remediation Technology Assessment Matrix For Tribal and Community Decision-Makers

June 27, 2003

The cleanup of this country's federal facilities can affect a wide range of tribal and community interests and concerns. The technologies now in use, or being proposed by the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and other federal agencies can affect tribal treaty protected fishing, hunting and other rights, affect air and water quality thereby requiring the tribe to bear the burden of increased environmental regulation. The International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management developed a tribal and community decision-maker's Environmental Remediation Technology Assessment Matrix that will permit tribes and communities to array technical information about environmental remediation technologies against a backdrop of tribal and community environmental, health and safety, cultural, religious, treaty and other concerns and interests. Ultimately, the matrix will allow tribes and communities to assess the impact of proposed technologies on the wide range of tribal and community interests and will promote more informed participation in federal facility cleanup activities.

Changing Notions of Environmental Justice in the Decision to Host a Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation

March 14, 2001

This paper examines the conflict surrounding the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians' decision to host an interim storage facility for high-level radioactive waste on their reservation in Utah. This paper challenges the predominant tradition of environmental justice scholarship and activism that focus on the inequitable distribution of hazards in low-income minority communities. We examine the underlying historical, political, and geographical contexts of the emerging nuclear landscape of the American West and focus on how the political and environmental dynamics of siting a nuclear facility intersect with issues of community self-determination and identity formation. Specifically, we examine notions of tribal sovereignty and contemporary tribal identity politics and how these complicate and hinder tribal involvement in a full range of decisions about development. Environmental justice activism and literature tend to restrictively define the authentic indigenous response to development and natural resource management, particularly when projects are controversial and technologically complex. The restrictive definition expects that tribes will refuse to grapple with technology, calling it an anti-spiritual manifestation of the non-tribal world. In labeling the tribal response, there is no distinction made between the variety of indigenous players and distinct communities represented, the differing scopes of governing authority, and heterogeneous responses to projects tagged as environmentally unjust. Rarely is there discussion of the range of values placed on specific sites by specific tribes and how these values should inform development decisions. Finally, this view of "authentic," legitimate tribal involvement undermines the capacity building necessary for tribes to achieve a level of sovereignty and justice where they are educated and proactive in a full range of development and resource management decisions.

Environmental Justice in Indian Country: Using Equity Assessments to Evaluate Impacts to Trust Resources, Watersheds and Eco-cultural Landscapes

September 12, 1999

Native American cultures, genetics, nutrition, and ways of life co-evolved with their natural systems through thousands of years. This process has resulted in seamless eco-cultural systems of humans, plants, animals, rivers, landforms, and air sheds. These eco-cultural systems have also provided its peoples with unique and valid environmental management science that has sustained the peoples and their resources for thousands of years. This resource-based perspective could form the basis of environmental justice risk assessment methodology in Indian Country. Cumulative impacts to tribal cultures are a combination of pre-existing stressors (existing conditions or co-risk factors) and any other contamination or new activity that affects environmental quality. Characterizing risks or impacts in Indian Country entails telling the cumulative story about risks to trust resources and a cultural way of life. Equity assessments could also be performed in a way that describes these systems-level cumulative risks/impacts. This requires improvements in metrics based on an understanding of the unbreakable ties between people, their cultures, and their resources. Specific recommendations are presented for performing equity assessments in Indian Country and for developing a Risk Ethics discipline.