Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Political Science


William Schreckheise

Committee Member

Brink Kerr

Second Committee Member

Valerie Hunt


Environmental Justice, Public Participation


Communities of color in America lacking economical, educational, and political power have been largely invisible in the process of making major policy decisions. This is lack of access to decision-making venues has been viewed by many as the reason behind marginalized populations bearing the brunt of many societal burdens. The Environmental Justice Movement legitimized the claims of inadequate access to the decision-making process concerning environmental conditions in which African-Americans lived and worked. Through the use of disruptive actions reminiscent of those used throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the plight of communities plagued by the daily presence of hazardous waste gained national attention and gave way to political opportunities to address these concerns.

To date, Executive Order 12898 is the only government-stimulated action proposed at the federal level to correct this problem establishing an Office of Environmental Justice, an interagency workgroup, and establishing guidelines for each agency to include EJ principles into their overall mission and goals. More importantly, the order established a means for the exchange of information, placing great importance on the connectivity between communities and the decision-makers.

This study examines the relationship between government agencies and environmental justice communities to determine the extent to which various formal avenues of participation empower EJ communities to influence environmental policy decisions at the state-level. The journey begins as the evolution of the Environmental Justice Movement is presented to articulate elements essential to promoting empowering environments for the participation for diverse populations. An overview of individual state actions taken to comply with establishing significant venues of participation provides the foundation of commonly used forms of citizen engagement for EJ communities. Analyses of Environmental Justice organizations via a national survey of EJ organizations determined that the inclusion of public values and the final outcome weigh heavily in determining efficacy when participating in formal structures of inclusion. However, these organizations reported spend most of their efforts in forms of engagement that fail to provide the best opportunities to influence final decisions.

The findings of this evaluation shed light on the methods and highlight possible deficiencies in the participation structures selected for this particular group. This study recommends future research in those areas to empower state environmental protection agencies and voiceless communities as they seek to achieve environmental justice for all.