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RESEARCH ARTICLE: Tools of Environmental Justice and Meaningful Involvement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Troy D. Abel*
Department of Environmental Studies, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington
Mark Stephan
Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington
Address correspondence to: Troy D. Abel, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, 516 High St., MS 9079, Bellingham, WA 98225-9079; (fax) 360-650-7702; (email)
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Environmental justice policy goals encompass the fair treatment and the meaningful involvement of all people in environmental policy formation and implementation. Few studies consider how new environmental justice programs foster meaningful involvement; this study addresses this gap by examining seven years of an environmental justice small grants program implemented by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We frame our research in the theory of environmental discourses, dividing policy implementation among adherents with a managerial, pluralist, or communitarian perception of remedies to environmental injustice. We hypothesize that EPA awards will emphasize the managerial and pluralist discourses. Our study's empirical foundation included a content analysis of documents on 736 small grant awards. We supplemented this data with 23 interviews of grant recipients and four interviews with EPA officials. During seven years, more than half of the grants (58%, or 501) funded programs to primarily increase environmental justice information in the recipient community. Grants for technical capacity came in a distant second (21%, or 186) of the programs funded by EPA. Organizational efforts were the third most frequent award, representing 14% of all grants. Finally, only 7% of awards funded an initiative to expand public participation in environmental decisions. The EPA policy objectives included the goal of building participatory capacity in the design and implementation of local environmental decisions; however, funded programs emphasized efforts to generate and disseminate information, instead of building civic capacities for citizens to use information in meaningful ways. We conclude that environmental justice practitioners should better balance technical and informational efforts with “civic-minded” capacity-building programs.

Environmental Practice 10:152–163 (2008)

Copyright © National Association of Environmental Professionals 2008

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