Environmental Justice: Bridging the Gap between Environmental Laws and 'Justice'

81 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2007 Last revised: 24 Jun 2014

See all articles by Alice Kaswan

Alice Kaswan

University of San Francisco - School of Law


In this article, Professor Kaswan considers the sometimes-tense intersection between environmentalism and the environmental justice movement. Professor Kaswan first establishes a framework for evaluating the newly-emerging environmental justice movement, identifying its primary distributive and political justice strands. Professor Kaswan then notes the skeptical views of environmentalism presented in the environmental justice literature. She explains the underlying tension by analyzing the roots of the environmental movement and its early distance from the civil rights movement (from which the environmental justice movement arose), as well as the ways in which environmental law may inadvertently have exacerbated environmental problems for poor and minority communities.

Seeking to bridge the gap between environmental law and the struggle for justice, Professor Kaswan then explores the mechanisms by which environmental laws could serve environmental justice. Environmental laws can not only stop unwanted projects, they add transparency to facility siting processes and thereby reveal decisionmaking irrationalities that could be traceable to discrimination. For example, where an entity sites a facility in violation of substantive environmental criteria, it suggests that socio-political factors may be influencing the decision. In addition, many environmental laws provide a tool for generating information about the selected site and alternative sites that an affected community would not otherwise be able to obtain. The information can provide the community a basis for questioning the rationality, and hence the motives, of the siting decision. Environmental laws can thereby play a critical rule in a community's pursuit of political justice.

Keywords: environmental movement, environmental justice movement, environmental law, justice, environmental justice, environmental racism

JEL Classification: J70, J71, K32

Suggested Citation

Kaswan, Alice, Environmental Justice: Bridging the Gap between Environmental Laws and 'Justice'. American University Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 2, 1997, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1012388

Alice Kaswan (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
(415) 422-5053 (Phone)

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