White Supremacy, the Environment, and the State in EJ Scholarship

Authors: Jill Harrison*, University of Colorado At Boulder
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Qualitative Research
Keywords: environmental justice, regulatory culture, environmental inequalities, contemporary race theory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I engage in cautious celebration of recent innovations in EJ scholarship. First, following Laura Pulido, David Pellow, and others, I laud efforts to bring contemporary race scholarship further into conversation with environmental justice (EJ) scholarship. Specifically, as Louwanda Evans, Wendy Moore, Joyce Bell, Jennifer Mueller, and Chana Teeger have recently done in other contexts, I demonstrate how interactional dynamics among staff within environmental regulatory institutions can reinforce white supremacy, undermine proposed EJ reforms, and reinforce government agencies as “white institutional spaces”. I do so by drawing on my observations of and interviews with environmental regulatory agency staff debating potential EJ reforms to agency practice. I show that, through everyday workplace interactions, staff simultaneously defend existing regulatory practice as “neutral” and “disinterested” and reject proposed EJ reforms as violating that neutrality, in turn shoring up the environmental advantages that have accrued in white communities and precluding reforms that would extend those advantages to communities of color. Yet, I also raise concerns about language about “EJ 2.0”. Specifically, I describe how many types of actors – from social movements, the state, and the academy alike – use narratives about “the new generation” of environmental justice that problematically undermine prospects for stronger and more socially just environmental regulation.

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