Noxious facility siting and cleanup decisions involve very little science and a lot of politics. Addressing the consequences of those decisions, mitigating the resulting harm and preventing their reoccurrence is the challenge for those of us who are committed to environmental justice. Conventional means for seeking redress from such decisions have proven unsatisfactory. Legislative change has delivered only limited results. Litigation has proven ineffective when undertaken in response to the needs of those communities that have suffered environmental harm. Litigation takes too long, costs too much and courts are ill equipped to effectively resolve complex environmental problems. Negotiation, though heralded as the process of choice when employed to resolve complex disputes, will not be successful when, as in environmental justice disputes, the disputing parties have unequal bargaining power. Solving these problems requires a strategic multifaceted approach, which may involve the discrete use of several dispute resolution processes in addition to creative strategies often employed by community organizers.
This course is a solutions based course. It is designed to cut across multiple disciplines of law, politics and negotiation theory in order to answer the question, "who is responsible for the harm and what can we do about it now?" What are the processes and means available to correct the imbalance of power when environmental harm occurs to environmental justice communities? Which processes work well independently? Which processes work together and in what sequence? How can communities organize to level the playing field in order to effectively apply the principles of negotiation and to obtain relief from or prevention of environmental harm?
The course will begin with the development of an understanding of the breadth and pervasiveness of environmental injustice. Students will research and report on an environmental justice issue in their own communities. We will look for common elements in challenges they faced, the solutions they adopted and the results they achieved.
We then look at the conventional processes for resolving environmental problems. When have they been effective and what are their limitations? When and how do existing laws protect us and solve problems and when not? What other processes and methods of achieving solutions are available? How does negotiation work? When and how do we use it? When is it effective and what are its limitations? What means are available to achieve a level playing field and produce an acceptable societal response? When an environmental justice community is faced with an environmental disaster how effective are community organization methods? What is necessary to make such methods effective? Can creative community organization methods in combination with litigation or negotiation be effective?
My approach to teaching this course will focus on current, real world problems and practical solutions. We will study the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the air and water crisis in Detroit, Michigan zip code 48217 and other similar environmental justice problems. We will speak with those who are in the forefront of organizing and negotiating for solutions to these problems. We will learn from those on the frontlines what methods have been effective and what they have could have done more effectively. Students should emerge from this course with a better understanding of environmental justice as well as available strategies to achieve it.
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