How Environmental Justice Influenced Current Public Consultation Processes

The beginnings of the Environmental Justice Movement in the US in the early 1980’s

This is part one of a three part series on the evolution of public consultation, written by Environmental Planner, Danya Al-Haydari.

Environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (Bryant, 1995). Environmental justice emerged as a concept in the United States in the early 1980s when scholars were looking at how different groups were affected by siting decisions for noxious facilities. Bullard (1990) noted that minority groups in America’s Deep South were disproportionately affected by environmental risks than other communities.

Presently, the concept of environmental justice has evolved to include notions of equity
and public consultation in environmental planning decisions. Even the US’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is incorporating the concept into their strategic planning and budgeting. A whitepaper was released by the EPA in 2004 that concludes that ‘achieving environmental justice is integral to the effective administration of public policies and programs. Environmental justice means that all citizens receive fair treatment and that government should offer them meaningful involvement in decisions affecting their health, environment, and neighbourhoods.’

In Canada, the Canadian Policy Research Network published a report in 2008 that states that Environmental Justice has served as a policy framework for Canadian environmental decision makers.  In the past several decades, this framework has encouraged decision makers to seek input from a cross section of Canadian citizens to ensure that sustainability and environmental goals are reached equitability in environmental decision making processes. Furthermore, such a framework requires coordination between municipal, regional, provincial and federal levels of government to ensure that public consultationgoals are reached.

As a planning firm, we at HSAL see how the environmental justice movement has influenced decision making processes on a daily basis. First and foremost it is important to point out that public consultation is ingrained in our environmental legislation (e.g. the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act). We also see examples of how Canadian municipalities and other governmental agencies have used the basic principles of environmental justice to guide community consultation in Master Planning and Strategic Planning processes. Moreover, we see that clients want to find new and innovative ways to get the public involved in environmental initiatives. Needless to say, we have come up with
some outstanding examples of how to get people involved in decision making processes for a cross section of different projects.

Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities.  Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Society and Women in Nuclear Canada.

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About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit www.hardystevenson.com
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