Beginning with Executive order 12898, policymakers in the United States federal and state governments have been mandated to consider elements of environmental justice (EJ) in policy deliberations (President 1994). The executive order arose out of concerns about an apparent and disturbing trend whereby ethnic and low-income minorities were being disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. Such evidence led many to conclude that injustice, even racism, had influenced U.S. environmental policy. The response has been to focus on issues of distributive justice; where spatial relationships between environmental hazards and surrounding communities was used to create EJ claims (UCC 1987; Bullard 1994; Pulido, Sidawi and Vos 1996; Stroud 1999). A novel intersection of civil rights and environmental science unfolded creating a social movement centred on distributive justice – that all members of society should equally share burdens and benefits of economic activity. This focus has however been criticized as “insufficient and inadequate” in understanding how inequalities happen and where (Walker 2009a, 615). Cleary at-risk groups should be protected from environmental hazards, but identifying those groups (and the hazards they may face) has been less than forthcoming. Instead academics and environmental managers are calling for a move beyond this “first-generation” research frame to focus on other areas of justice theory including participation or procedural justice (Walker 2009a, 615). This paper will seek to evaluate whether or not environmental justice campaigners should pay as much attention to achieving procedural justice as to addressing distributional injustice. It will argue that in fact procedural justice should receive the bulk of attention (especially by policy makers) because of the weaknesses in distributive justice research. Those failures are described in the next section, followed by a discussion of the benefits of a focus on procedural justice frame.
The Murky World of Distributive Justice
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