The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 7: The Role of Public Engagement in Achieving Environmental Justice
LeRoy C. (Lee) Paddock* 7.1 INTRODUCTION Over the last 25 years significant environmental inequalities have been documented in the United States. Low income communities and communities with large minority populations are often exposed to more environmental hazards – waste management facilities, air pollution, degraded water – and are more vulnerable to the impacts of environmental catastrophes – witness hurricane Katrina – than higher income or majority communities. Studies have also demonstrated that fewer environmental enforcement resources are typically deployed in these communities. One reason for this situation is that lowincome communities and minority communities are frequently under-represented in government decision making. The opportunities for all members of affected communities to fully participate in governmental decision making is a problem that reaches well beyond the issue of environmental justice, but it is of particular concern in the context of environmental justice because of increased risks that many low-income and minority populations face. Historically, the most common approaches to public engagement in government decision making in the United States often: • occur too late in the decision making process to have a major impact on development decisions; • do not involve genuine consultations with communities; • fails to provide communities with the type of information and resources they need to have a real impact on decisions; • are not designed to address cultural issues that may limit participation; • may not take into account language and other constraints such as time, location and nature of meetings that may limit effective involvement. This situation is beginning to change as better approaches to...
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