Environmental Justice and Equity: Lessons for a More Equitable Society
(Natural Resource Security, Energy and Environmental Policy)
Friday, November 13, 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Gautier (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Shannon Lea Watkins, Indiana University
Panel Chairs: Troy Abel, Western Washington University
Discussants: Ketra Rice, Centers for Disease Control
Extensive research has documented harms to human health and well-being caused by exposure to environmental pollutants and the many benefits associated with access to environmental amenities (e.g. urban parks). Research in environmental equity and justice has been concerned with two primary objectives surrounding these harms and benefits—(1) describing the extent to which these harms and benefits are distributed inequitably by race, ethnicity and/or socio-economic status and (2) identifying the mechanisms that drive and might remedy this inequity. The papers in this panel utilize novel data and employ a variety of methods to conduct inquiry along these two key research objectives.
Previous empirical research has documented evidence of inequity in exposure to environmental harms and is increasingly concerned with inequitable access to environmental amenities. The first two papers in this panel further our knowledge of the distribution of benefits with respect to green buildings and urban forests. The first paper analyzes the spatial distribution of green buildings – in particular schools and libraries – and what kinds of local neighborhoods tend to host them. Using detailed data provided by the US Green Building Council, the authors conduct a multidimensional comparison of the tendencies to locate various green buildings in neighborhoods with different demographics. The second paper employs the tools of meta-analysis to synthesize conflicting findings in original studies that examine the relationship between urban tree canopy cover and poor and minority urban residents. In addition to offering a much needed synthesis of previous findings, this study will identify particular characteristics of original studies that help explain variation in results.
In light of observed inequity, in recent years, scholars have studied the mechanisms that might explain such inequity. One recent strand of this research has considered policy implementation, investigating whether there are systematic racial, ethnic, and/or socioeconomic disparities in the compliance with and enforcement of environmental laws. The second two papers in the panel consider components of enforcement not yet empirically examined. In the third paper, authors link community characteristics to environmental risk to determine whether government enforcement is targeted in minority and low-income areas that experience high levels of risk. They use a novel empirical approach that combines fine-grained geographic data on environmental risk from EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) with facility-level regulatory enforcement data to estimate the interaction between risk and neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics. In the fourth paper, authors examine environmental justice implications when local governments are chiefly responsible for implementation and state governments are responsible for enforcement of federal policy (a common case in American environmental programs). They use compliance and enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act in municipal utilities to study potential inequity in the second-order devolution of federal policy.
These four papers consider new questions and employ stronger ways of measuring and estimating key relationships regarding race, ethnicity, socio-demographic characteristics and environmental harms and benefits. These papers produce the kind of research that is needed to inform efforts that aim to reduce inequity in exposure to environmental harm and access to environmental benefits.