Problems, Promise, Progress, and Perils: Critical Reflections on Environmental Justice Policy Implementation in California

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT IN
     CALIFORNIA: PROBLEMS AND PUBLIC POLICY
     A. Defining the Problem
     B. State Legislation and Regulatory Agencies
III. FROM PROMISE TO PROGRESS
     A. Developing the Cal/EPA Environmental Justice
        Action Plan
     B. Implementing the Action Plan: Pilot Projects
        and Small Grants
 IV. THE PERILS OF INCORPORATION
     A. The Politics of Environmental Justice-As-Participation:
        Where is the Justice in Advice?
     B. Environmental Justice at the Department of
        Pesticide Regulation
        1. "Public" Participation at DPR: The
           Environmental Justice Advisory
           Workgroup
        2. DPR's Pilot Project: "I keep coming back
           to Parlier"
        3. Litigation and Legislation: Environmental
           Justice and Pesticides
           a. Citizen Suits: El Comite v. Helliker et
              al
           b. SB-391: Activism Drifting In and Out
              of the Legal Focus
V. CONCLUSION

I.

INTRODUCTION

Over the past two decades, the environmental justice movement has made numerous inroads in defining a number of problems as environmental racism and environmental inequalities. Entire areas of academic research and public policies have emerged to address these sets of social movement concerns. (1) Despite considerable research on environmental justice as a social movement, several important gaps still exist. This article seeks to address those gaps, particularly by elucidating the dynamic relationships between social movement actors and state agencies.

California has undertaken, in many ways, the most aggressive and robust "high stakes experiment" in passing environmental justice legislation and in institutionalizing environmental justice policy. (2) This article provides a critical assessment of environmental justice policy implementation in California since 2004. We chose 2004 as our start date because that is when the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) developed the landmark Environmental Justice Action Plan, enabling the following period to serve as a kind of large-scale laboratory in environmental justice policy implementation.

There is a substantial gap in the literature on California, although the state has experienced important experiments with environmental justice policy implementation and activism. (3) This article seeks to remedy the surprising dearth of research on California environmental justice movements. (4) It also addresses the curious gap in the environmental justice literature that has under-analyzed the policy-making implications of environmental justice activism. Specifically, a large portion of the academic research has either focused on social movements, or the application of environmental justice analytic frameworks to different issues (including transportation, air quality, land use and public health). (5) While studies generally cite, for instance, President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 (6), there is less understanding about the ways in which state agencies have regulated and enforced environmental justice. Likewise, many policy analyses, by focusing exclusively on public actors, neglect the interrelationships within the social movement/law/policy-making apparatus that influences the form and outcomes of environmental justice policy. Such an interactive analysis is needed to truly understand and explain the patterns of policy success and failure.

We intend our analysis of the successes and failures of California's ongoing experiment with environmental justice policy to inform scholars, the public, legislators and those staff working within state agencies who are grappling with whether these experiments have succeeded, the reasons why or why not, and how to improve their own operations. Our findings are that environmental justice policy in California is implemented primarily as a function of improving participation. …