Academic journal article Social Justice

Good Neighbor Agreements: A Tool for Environmental and Social Justice

Academic journal article Social Justice

Good Neighbor Agreements: A Tool for Environmental and Social Justice

Article excerpt

Introduction

A COMMUNITY IS--WITHIN LIMITS--THE MASTER OF ITS OWN ENVIRONMENT AND economy (Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 101 S.Ct. 2176 [1981]). Today, however, communities face a dilemma: all too frequently, the drive for economic welfare sacrifices public health and damages the environment. As the health and environmental hazards of industrial production become publicized and as downsizing and layoffs have escalated out of control in the U.S., communities have come to be more aware of the negative role corporations may play in undermining community welfare. Because there is little real corporate accountability for decisions that affect local communities, citizens groups throughout the U.S. have organized to combat some of the detrimental effects of exploitative industrial practices. The demands of these groups vary from place to place; in some instances, the emphasis is on environmental concerns, while in others it is on jobs and economy-related concerns. In a few communities, both types of concerns have emerged, in tandem.

Communities have applied both legal and nonlegal tactics to increase industrial accountability. Some of the legal approaches that have been effective in increasing community control over its health and environment include zoning, permits, and NGO-company contracts. A separate economic accountability movement has attempted to build accountability for promises of jobs by placing new conditions on corporate subsidy agreements.

These accountability strategies are increasingly coming together in the form of citizen groups' efforts to build NGO-company contracts into their community empowerment strategy. These "Good Neighbor Agreements" evolved originally as a nonlegal tool for developing a partnership between companies and communities as a response to this community welfare dilemma. (1)

The purpose of this article is to explore the value of Good Neighbor Agreements. The first part will briefly describe the political context in which Good Neighbor Agreements emerged as a tool for community empowerment. Next, it zeros in on the different types of Good Neighbor Agreements, distinguishing them by the legal and nonlegal enforcement mechanisms. That section discusses alternative dispute resolution and good faith clauses, which serve as legal handles to many of these contracts. A brief discussion of the relationship between Good Neighbor Agreements and public policy in contract law concludes the section on enforceability. Section three identifies ways to augment the effectiveness of Good Neighbor Agreements and increase their acceptability and use by communities and corporations.

Sketching Community Empowerment in the 1990s

It is no longer a secret that economic development in the United States has generated as a by-product an enormous amount of pollution and hazardous waste. In 1986, according to Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory, the waste created by the chemical industry' s top 50 products amounted to 539 billion pounds of toxins and hazardous substances discharged into the environment (Commoner, 1992: 89). In the last decade, global conferences have formally recognized industry's detrimental effect on the environment and called upon each country to preserve the environmental integrity of the future while raising current living standards (Rio Earth Summit, Agenda 21, 1992). Meanwhile, the public is increasingly aware of the effects of industrial production on the environment and the public welfare. Despite corporate public relations efforts, polls show that a large number of people in the United States are growing increasingly distrustful of anything corporations say (Meeker-Lowry, 1995: 76).

The U.S. government has made attempts at responding to the crisis, but has been generally unable to address the environmental and health hazards endured by local communities at the hands of corporations. Over the last quarter of a century, Congress has passed scores of statutes piecemeal in reaction to highly publicized crises (e. …

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