Localization, Authenticity, & Intersectionality – Ingredients to the Effective Implementation of Environmental Policies

Lauren Avilla, Grade 12

The key to unlocking success in environmental policy has always been guided by the singular concept of sustainability. It has proven the backbone of many federal environmental policies such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), Clean Air Act (CAA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Conceptually, the practice of fulfilling the needs of now while simultaneously maintaining resources for the future present an idealistic, yet feasible fate for the welfare of the environment. However, environmental policy today has become subject to partisan issues deepening more of a divide than a united call to action. Priorities have shifted for the worst, often muddled in big business corruption and monetization. Focusing to localize environmental policy, ensure authentic communication between local individuals and lawmakers, and study such policy through a lens of intersectionality ushers inherent effectiveness that will ultimately equate in environmental prosperity.

Despite a history of numerous passages of environmental policies under federal administration, a simultaneous lack of local environmental policies has stifled long-term success. This historic top-down approach especially towards an already vast subject of the environment has prevented active, diverse, and local participation from voicing necessary and first-hand accounts regarding concerns from resource depletion to alternative energy sources. Such environmental subjects directly impact local communities. Without local representation, policies lack necessary input and subsequently only produce ineffective measures. The dominating influence of federal officials “… may be politically or ideologically motivated, or simply have a completely different idea of what conservation is than local populations whose lives and livelihoods are directly connected to the resource… [which is] why simply ceding management responsibility to the federal government does not yield good results” (1). Instead, a bottom-up approach to environmental policy must be the active force to drive out the fallacies of a historic top-down approach. Calling for local, environmental policies allows for individuals at the direct receiving end to be active in taking ownership in protecting their personal freedoms through an outlet that honors their voices and concerns. Local constitutions can and should uphold private property rights and prevent the infringement of said rights by corporations desiring land to fulfill environmental projects motivated solely by monetary greed. Additionality, local policies can prevent overspending for environmental projects. Unlike federally funded projects, locally funded projects can ensure the sufficient allocation of money towards only the vital assets needed to fulfill project construction. To reinforce the guaranteed success of a grassroots approach to environmental policy, a transparent communication between lawmakers and local individuals is needed.

In any form of policy-making, a relationship between a giver and a receiver is always involved. Unlike most sciences, environmental science is one that is incredibly interconnected and interdependent between nature and humanity. Therefore, environmental policy can prove detrimental when handled without taking into consideration the potential, long-held consequences of mindless legislation. Because environmental policy has gradually become subject to partisan issues, authenticity in motives for these policies has harmed more than it has benefitted. The scientific aspect of environmental policy has unjustly become disregarded in policy affairs. To mitigate such a lack of authenticity, environmental science experts must be at the heart of such legislation. Experts in this field can serve to infuse the science that was lost and be the bridge between lawmaker and local individual. Above all, policies must be language- specific. Within the CWA, CAA, and NEPA is a vagueness in language that has opened loopholes for businesses to take advantage of environmental projects for their own monetary gain. Because of both the vast territory and vast relationships the environment encompasses, a clear, specific language regarding budget spending, allocation of resources, and time frames should and must be communicated to prevent loopholes wherein local individuals could be taken advantage of. Rooted in much of American history is this exact injustice. Understanding such a history will develop a holistic, humanized approach to environmental policy.

Fearing the potential impact of future environmental policy without first understanding the discriminatory history deeply rooted in environmental policy that has disproportionately affected communities is only counterproductive. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality refers to ways in which the interconnected nature of race, gender, and class overlap to create modes of discrimination. Though it is most used in social justice activism, environmental policy should never be an exception. The vast nature of the environment must not allow for the generalization of the experiences of those communities who are more affected by environmental stressors than others due to such intersectionality. To generalize is to be ignorant to the nuances of history and its appearances in environmental reality.  Understanding the national systems that perpetuate the racial wealth gap inequality and even a history of housing discrimination (i.e., redlining) in relation to the disproportionate environmental disparities experienced by communities of color turns the myth of coincidence into the reality needed to be changed. Seen as environmental injustice, “[a]ge, poverty, and minority status place some groups at a disproportionately high risk for environmental disease. Such groups are exposed to hazardous chemicals or conditions at levels well above those for the general populations” (2). The history of not only concentrating minority groups into overcrowded ghettos, but unrestrictedly constructing factories emitting pollutants such as COX and SOX near those ghettos has been a generational health care issue, as Black communities have especially shown more susceptibility to respiratory diseases and even recently, COVID-19. A study ranging from 2003-2015 showed that “…the black population has a pollution inequity of 56%, while Hispanics have a pollution inequity of 63%. The white population and other races…are exposed to 17% less PM2.5 pollution than they contribute” (3). By unraveling the history connected to the rooted inequalities in environmental policy (or lack thereof), the process to a more sustainable future will be actively against perpetuating such injustices.

Localization, authenticity, and intersectionality can all work to potentially provide a both a holistic and nuanced understanding of environmental policies. By prioritizing the representation and voices of local and diverse individuals of the communities, a sustainable future will inherently proceed.

[1] J. Spencer, et al, Environmental Conservation Based on Individual Liberty and Economic Freedom. The Heritage Foundation, 2013
[2] M. Gochfield, et al, Disproportionate exposures in environmental justice and other populations: the importance of outliers. American journal of public health, 101 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S53–S63 (2011)
[3] A. Freedmen, The unequal burden of air pollution. Axios, 2019


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