Case Studies in Environmental Justice


Added by Jason Parkhill, last edited by hdtaska on May 10, 2008  (view change)

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Environmental Justice Modules, Developed by ES 298(Sly), Spring Semester 2008.  

How has environmental policy and law affected disadvantaged communities?   This course has looked at the institutions and the arenas within which environmental justice claims have been advanced, beginning with public interest law in the 1970's.  It has used the case study method to explore issues of facility siting, air regulation, toxic substance control, racism, development and community organizing.   We have looked at the legal framework for environmental justice claims, including Civil Rights laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, the administrative and legislative process and other legal tools.   We have considered how community groups as well as local, tribal, state and federal governments balance environmental justice concerns with sustainable economic development.  

Students in the class have developed case studies, which will be available to the full Colby Community during the Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 6-8.     We encourage comments on these case studies, and hope that they may prove useful to Colby faculty and students in their future teaching and learning endeavors.  The case studies include references to other Colby courses to which they may apply, and are described below and in the links to this web page.  

The case studies and their authors are:

Arizona Snowbowl by Michelle Presby '09    The Arizona Snowbowl ski resort is located within the boundaries of the Coconino National Forest. The resort owners announced plans in 2002 of renovating the mountain, including additional ski lifts and an artificial snow-making system that would use treated wastewater from the city of Flagstaff. The thirteen Native American Nations that use this particular mountain for religious purposes are outraged at the renovation proposal, claiming that the Forest Service will be restricting and hindering the practice of their respective religions if the renovations go through.

Buffalo Creek Disaster  by John Abbett '10    Pittston Coal Company created a makeshift dam on Buffalo Creek using coal-waste in order to comply with state water regulations. On February 25, 1972, the dam broke, giving way to a wall of water and debris that devastated sixteen low-income towns downstream. The flood left one hundred and twenty five people dead and over four thousand West Virginians homeless. 

Chef Menteur Landfill by Walter Sainsbury '08  Hurricane Katrina deposited some 55 million cubic yards of waste on the city of New Orleans.  In the wake of this tragedy Mayor Nagin of New Orleans authorized the emergency opening of the Chef Menteur Landfill site.  This site, which lacks adequate protective measure for hazardous materials, abuts both a national wildlife refuge and a Vietnamese-American community.  The opening and operating of this dump, without adequate assesment,constitutes a question of environmental justice.  As Reverend Vien Nguyen, an opponent to the landfill, stated, "I believe that every community needs to shoulder the burden of the debris...The problem is that we are shouldering all of the burden while the benefit goes to everyone else. ...It's a question of environmental justice."

Devils Tower by Haley Harwood '11   Devils Tower, located in northeastern Wyoming, is a sacred site to many Native American tribes as well as a popular rock climbing destination. Seeking to assuage the tension caused by these competing interests, in 1995 the National Park Service passed a voluntary climbing ban for the month of June out of respect for the Native Americans' religious practices, principally the Sun Dance. An association of climbers sued, stating that the voluntary ban violated the Establishment Clause.

Kettleman City Hazardous Waste Incinerator by Courtney Chilcote '09  Kettleman City is located in Kings County California in the San Joaquin Vally.  In 1988, Chemical Waste Management Inc. proposed to build a hazardous waste incinerator in Kettleman City.  Three hundred local farm workers, farm managers, and farm owners joined forces to form El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water) in opposition to the incinerator.  Kettleman City has a population which is 95% Latino, and of this Latino population, 70% are primarily Spanish speaking and 40% are monolingual Spanish speakers.  El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpio argued that Chemical Waste did not follow the Public Participation provision of California's Environmental Quality Act in the siting of the hazardous waste incinerator, because the required environmental impact statement and the public hearing about the incinerator were written and conducted only in English.

Houston Oil Pits by Frances Nixon '11   In the early 1920's, three unlined underground storage tanks for oil were connected to the Pierce Junction Oil Well near Houston, Texas. The tanks, connected by pipeline, were known as the Mykawa Tank Farm. In 1927, a hurricane partially destroyed the wooden tank covers, making them virtually unusable; thus, the company abandoned them. When a neighborhood intended for black lower-middle class was built over the untreated pits, residents of the new development, Kennedy Heights, began noticing heath problems and strange-tasting water. The ensuing suit became one for environmental justice experts.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area by Laura Gray '09  The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area was a proposal by a small group of wealthy environmentalists and historical preservationists looking to bring more tourism and attention to a corridor of historically-rich land stretching from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to Monticello in Virginia with many important sites in between.  The proposal was passed by Congress in mid-April 2008 and stipulates for a one-million dollar annual fund from the Federal Government for a consortium of local groups to bring tourism and conserve the area for use and enjoyment.  However, property-rights advocates and environmental justice activists have objected to the measure claiming that it will make it harder for lower and middle-income citizens to become homeowners and that it will put an undue burden on African Americans and minority populations living in the region. 

Labor Community Strategy Center v. Los Angeles MTA by Tory Loomis '10    The MTA is in charge of Los Angeles County's public transportation- including a bus system and rail-lines. In 1994, the LCSC sued the MTA for intentional discrimination and discriminatory impact against poor minority bus riders in response to MTA's proposal to increase bus fares and decrease the number of buses in use. An out-of-court settlement and Consent Decree ensured that the MTA would reduce overcrowding in buses, expand its bus service county-wide, and maintain lower bus fares.

PacifiCorp Dams and Yurok Salmon by Hannah Taska '09    The Yurok tribe of Northern California wants the utility company PacifiCorp to remove hydroelectric dams on the Lower Klamath River which threaten salmon populations important to Yurok health and culture.  These dams prevent salmon from migrating upstream and cause diseases in the salmon, resulting in the listing of many salmon species as endangered or threatened; the dam opponents have made reference to the Endangered Species Act as well as tribal treaties and other laws in legal disputes.  Although the dam opponents have a strong coalition which includes the Yurok and other tribes, fishermen, and certain federal and state agencies, PacifiCorp is likely to obtain a new license for dam operation from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

Peabody Coal/Black Mesa by Emily Pavelle '10 Peabody Coal signed a contract in 1964 with the Navajo and Hopi tribes giving the company permission to create the Black Mesa Mine and use the water from the Navajo Aquifer. The tribes were very conflicted over the decision to allow the use of their water, which has always been very sacred to the tribes. For 30 years, the tribes fought for termination of the mine's activity, and in 1996 a court order granted their wish. In 2005, the mine finally shut down operation, but as of January 2007, Peabody Coal has taken action to reopen the mine, causing even more controversy.

Penobscot Subsistence Fisheries by Kristina Shiroka '08    The Penobscot Indian Nation of Maine has subsisted on fish from the Penobscot River for thousands of years.  Today, and for the last century, the river has been polluted with mercury, dioxins, and PCBs.  The tribe has been involved in an ongoing struggle to gain the rights to regulate the quality of the water that runs through their reservation, but according to the court's interpretation of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980, they do not have the right to do so. 

Toxic Trailers for Katrina Victims by Harry Curme, '10       After Hurricane Katrina shocked the Gulf Coast and displaced thousands of people, FEMA was left to provide emergency housing to refugees who were without adequate shelter. It doled out thousands of mobile homes and trailers. However, after many residents complained of foul odor and respiratory issues, the Sierra Club investigated the trailers and found them to contain levels of formaldehyde far exceeding the amount considered safe for long term living. A Congressional investigation uncovered evidence revealing FEMA's handled the issue with criminal negligence, and victims of formaldehyde poisoning from the trailers are suing FEMA for medical costs.