Meaningful Support of Tribal Involvement in Environmental Justice?

Authors: Dawn Weimer, University of Florida, Patrick Murphy, Temple University, Troy Abel*, Western Washington University
Topics: Sustainability Science, Qualitative Methods, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Environmental Justice, Tribal Support, Environmental Policy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

(1) Background. The United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defined Environmental Justice (EJ) as fair treatment and meaningful involvement for all people in the formation, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policy. Since 1996, EPA’s small grant program represented the most consistent federal effort aimed at increasing community capacity to counter unfair treatment and meaningless involvement. In 2014, EPA also committed to achieving EJ with federally recognized US tribes and indigenous peoples through protection, empowerment, and partnerships. However, few studies assess EPA’s empowerment efficacy in the small EJ grants program for tribal partnerships. (2) Methods. Through the lens of environmental discourses, we characterize the civic, informational, organizational or technical emphasis of 1,233 small EJ grants awarded by the EPA from 1996 – 2019 with content analysis. Expanding on prior research, we also characterized and compared EPA awards to 105 tribal groups since 2000. (3) Results. Expectedly, most EPA grants emphasized information development and dissemination followed by technical projects and organizational efforts. A civic deficit emerged when the fewest EJ awards aimed at expanding public participation in environmental decisions. However, technical capacity building grants dominated EPA’s support of tribal efforts while civic capacity received even less attention than the broader program results. (4) Conclusions. Meaningful involvement remains an elusive EJ achievement in EPA supported efforts as managerial and pluralist discourses dominate. A democratic deficit persisted in federal EJ grants. But the failed promises of enhancing tribal self-determination may be more troubling.

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