Respect for Community Narratives of Environmental Injustice: The Dignity Right to Be Heard and Believed
50 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2019 Last revised: 24 Nov 2019
Date Written: June 1, 2018
Communities that bear the brunt of environmental pollution and lack basic amenities, such as clean drinking water, have a story to tell. One such community is the Bayview-Hunters Point community of San Francisco, California. There, the U.S. Navy extensively contaminated a now-shuttered shipyard with nuclear waste. After twelve years of cleanup under the Navy’s direction, the shipyard is still contaminated. As widely reported, a federal contractor faked the cleanup through falsifying sampling results, manipulating data, and leaving still radioactive soil on-site rather than disposing of it at a licensed facility. The fraud was so extensive that Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has characterized it as “the biggest case of eco-fraud in U.S. history.” Remedying this fraud is predicted to cost more than $100-300 million.
The shipyard story is emblematic of a larger problem. These environmental injustice stories illustrate a confluence of systemic failures, one of which is the failure of various actors in the legal and administrative system to respect community voices. Had these voices been heeded, the government agencies would likely have avoided the terribly botched cleanup and the community’s prolonged exposure to radioactive contamination. The millions of dollars that were ultimately wasted could have been spent instead on meaningfully protecting public health.
Using the shipyard case study as a focal point, this article explores the necessity of listening to these stories of environmental injustice from those who are directly affected. Specifically, the article discusses how advocates and clinical teachers addressing environmental injustice should respect the dignity of community narratives by making space for the meaningful telling of these stories.
Part I of this article covers the history of the shipyard at Hunters Point in San Francisco and, as told through stories and voices of residents, the disregard government agencies overseeing the cleanup showed the community. Part II connects environmental injustice storytelling to the dignity of communities overburdened by pollution. Part III discusses how advocates and teachers, in particular professors of environmental clinics, can better integrate these narratives in environmental justice advocacy and teaching, in the classroom and beyond.
Keywords: environmental injustice, environmental justice, community narratives, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, U.S. Navy, radiological cleanup, radiological fraud, contractor fraud, nuclear contamination, Marshall Islands, Operation Crossroads, Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, City of San Francisco
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