EEW! Computational Praxis and Alternative Infrastructure towards Environmental Data Justice

Authors: Megan Raisle, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, Sara Wylie, Northeastern University, Lourdes Vera, Northeastern University, Kelsey Breseman, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, Eric Nost*, University of Guelph, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: data, infrastructure, praxis, environmental justice, environmental governance, public science
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


We reflect on developing the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI)’s Environmental Enforcement Watch (EEW). EEW aims to put into practice the public’s “right to know” about environmental health and hazards. We are maintaining copies of a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database that records inspections of industrial facilities and enforcement actions taken against them, as well those facilities’ own reported violations of environmental protection laws. To query the database, expose it to a wider audience, and generate meaningful metrics from it, we created custom open source data analysis tools in collaboration with partner organizations. We host workshops with these groups to both run data analyses and tell stories about why the enforcement (or lack thereof) of environmental laws matters. In short, we built an alternative infrastructure for “counterdata”, one with the potential to inform environmental justice activism (Dalton and Thatcher 2014). For instance, we authored report cards on compliance trends, finding a median increase of 98% in Clean Water Act violations in congressional districts we examined. However, as with any project that aspires for social transformation, EEW wrestles with a number of productive tensions. We describe how we have “strategically” navigated using EPA numbers to call out non-compliance with environmental laws (Wyly 2009), while also characterizing those data as flawed products of a settler colonial “permission to pollute” regime (Liboiron 2017). We discuss this tension in terms of what we have come to call “environmental data justice” (Dillon et al. 2017).

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