Chapter 4 Two Faces of American Environmentalism
The Quest for Justice in Southern Louisiana and Sustainability in the Sonoran Desert
May 1, 2006
This chapter is based upon a research report prepared by the Bureau of the Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) entitled, Exploring Environmental Values and Policy in the United States: Case Studies in Arizona and Louisiana 2001.
Case #1: The small town of Grand Bois, Louisiana, which was sickened by the oilfield waste deposited in a nearby pit.
Case #2: Civano, on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, which was originally conceived as a solar village demonstration project, a vision that evolved over time first into a model of sustainable development and then into a model of traditional urban design known as "new urbanism." The evolution of this desert community and its eventual realization takes place over several decades amidst widespread concern and public debate over urban sprawl and resource scarcity, and environmental sensitivity.
As the title of the chapter indicates, the United States cases represent the principle cleavage within environmentalism in the United States: the environmental justice movement and its concern with fair distribution of resources and toxic burdens, and the mainstream environmental agenda's concern with resource preservation. The cases are thematically linked by the country's addiction to cheap energy supplies. The struggle of the Houma Indian and Cajun community to make sense of their allegiances to their fellow community members, their long commitment to the land sustained over generations, and to the industry that has come to sustain them, is representative of many instances of environmental injustice in resource-dependent rural areas in the United States. The situation of the residents of Grand Bois contrasts with the affluent and mobile families who moved to Civano, a high profile state- and city-financed housing experiment that aimed to be a national model of sustainable development. A growth area of the United States, the region had to contend with the multiple threats that population growth and urban sprawl brought to a water scarce and ecologically sensitive region. While Civano residents were originally drawn to the development for its promise of community and energy efficiency, they soon became aware of and committed to the conservation goals of the project.Back to top
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the following notes and suggested resources were supplied by the chapter authors or the editor.
Three Aspects of the American Context: Private Property, States' Rights, and Environmental Justice (download in PDF) This description of the American context draws heavily from the BARA Report.
Environmental Justice in Grand Bois
- For a detailed account of the Grand Bois residents' fight for environmental justice, including court testimony, see Chapter Five, "Media Savvy Cajuns and Houma Indians: Fighting an Oilfield Waste Dump in Grand Bois," in J. Timmons Roberts and Melissa M. Toffolon-Weiss, Chronicles from the Environmental Justice Frontline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- For a personal account of the Grand Bois community’s fight against the oil industry, see the interview with Clarice Friloux, chair, Grand Bois Citizens’ Committee in Human Rights Dialogue.
- For a cross-sectional analysis of the 50 US states, which concludes that greater power inequality leads to greater environmental degradation, see J. K. Boyce, A. R. Klemer, P. H. Templet, and C.E. Willis "Power Distribution, the Environment and Public Health: A State Level Analysis," Ecological Economics 29.1. (1999): 127-140.
- For a convincing argument about the importance of citizens and experts cooperation in the fight for environmental justice, based on case studies in Louisiana, see Barbara L. Allen, Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in the Louisiana Chemical Corridor Disputes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
- In 1997 CBS televised an investigative report "Ed Bradley on Assignment: Town Under Siege," which brought national attention to Grand Bois and the dangers of oilfield waste. A transcript is available through CBS.
Louisiana Oilfield Waste Exclusion
For discussions on oilfield waste exclusion see
- Michael M. Gibson and David P. Young, "Oil and Gas Exemptions under RCRA and CERCLA: Are They Still 'Safe Harbors' Eleven Years Later?" South Texas Law Review 32 (1991): 361-395
- Daniel L. McKay, "RCRA's Oil Field Wastes Exemption and CERCLA's Petroleum Exclusion: Are They Justified?" Journal of Energy, Natural Resources, & Environmental Law 15 (1995).
- U.S. EPA Archive [NRFRAP] Sites, EPA IDLAD980501522.
Power Distribution among Environmental Jurisdiction agencies within the
Louisiana State Government
For an analysis of the environmental politics in Louisiana see J K Boyce, A. R. Klemer, and P. H. Templet, "Power Distribution, the Environment and Public Health: A State Level Analysis," Ecological Economics 29: 127-140.
Environmental Groups represented at the National Audubon Society Meeting, Washington D.C., October 1990
Oil and gas waste regulation has escaped the classification as a hazardous material, despite scientific evidence of its harm to the environment. Oilfield waste's non-hazardous status also kept it off the radar screen of environmental justice groups for many years. The incident at Grand Bois helped to change that. When in 1990 twenty groups convened in Washington D.C. to create the National Citizens' network on Oil and Gas Wastes, it was an extremely important step in getting corporations to be accountable for the oilfield waste they produce.Those groups included:
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Louisiana Attorney General's Office
- Mineral Policy Center
- Wyoming Outdoor Council
- Western Colorado Congress
- National Audubon Society
- Oklahoma Audubon Council
- Citizens Concerned About Injection Wells/Friends of Cache Creek (California)
- National Wildlife Federation
- Ohioans for Safe Water
- Friends Insist Stop Toxic wastes (Texas)
- Alaska Center for the Environment
- Southwest Research and Information Center (New Mexico)
- Perry (Ohio) Area Neighborhood Association
- Friends of the Earth
- Subra Company (Louisiana)
- San Juan (Colorado) Citizens Alliance
Water Problems and Debates in Central Arizona
The reclaimed water system in Tucson is a shadow system to the potable water
piped through the city, capturing used water, re-treating it, and piping it back
to different locations around Tucson. This differs from gray water systems that
practice on-site collection and reutilization of wastewater. Private gray water
systems are governed by city health ordinances because improperly maintained
gray water systems can foster mosquitoes and harmful bacteria.
- For more on Arizona's struggle to supply water to the desert see Water Transfers in the West: Efficiency, Equity, and the Environment, Committee on Western Water Management, Water Science and Technology Board, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, Board on Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1992), especially chapter 9, "Central Arizona: The Endless Search for New Supplies to Water the Desert."
The Arizona Navajo and Hopi Water Dispute
The 1966 coal lease with Peabody Coal included a stipulation that if the
company's slurry endangered underground water supplies, Peabody would have to
find an alternative water source. The Navajo and Hopi have been claiming that
more than 4,400 acre-feet per year 1.3 billion gallons per year of water drawn
by Peabody Coal is causing the Navajo aquifer to drop precipitously and that,
therefore, Peabody should find an alternative water source. Their case rests on
the 1908 decision in Winters v. United States (207 US 64), where the Supreme
Court recognized Indian water rights.
- For more on the Native American's water conflicts see Bill Weinberg, "Water Wars," Native Americans: Hemispheric Journal of Indigenous Issues xvii, no. 2 (2002): 1619.
The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
Over the next several years Pima county developed an ambitious land use and conservation plan, covering nearly two million acres, that brings together various separate natural resource planning and protection activities. In May 2004, voters approved a $174.3 million “open space” bond with two thirds to be spent on implementing the plan. The Multiple Species Conservation Plan, which covers the conservation goals of the overall SDCP, will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 as part of an application for a federal permit under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. Under the plan a proposed 35 species and their habitats will receive federal protection.
- For more on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan controversy in 2001, when a regional land-use plan for Pima proposed to incorporate the environmental goals of SDCP, see Tony Davis, "State, county at odds over desert plan," Arizona Daily Star, 22 April 2001.
- The draft plan and various reports can be accessed through the Pima county’s website and through the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection website.
- For an overview of the SDCP and a look at the politics of the planning process, see Keith Kloor’s article “Score One for the Desert,” Audubon Magazine, May 2005
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The Coalition for Sonoran
The Coalition promotes the adoption of the Multiple Species Conservation Plan as an integral part of the SDCP. It works to “advance an innovative and multi-faceted regional planning effort that protects the natural resources and biological diversity of the Sonoran Desert.” The site offers information on the SDCP progress, special reports on various topics under the SDCP, access to the organization’s e-newsletter archives, and links to further resources on the SDCP.
The Civano residents’ self-governing organization, Civano Neighbors, maintains an active Web presence, hence is a good resource for tracking developments in the community. See especially the Civano Guiding Documents for access to Civano development agreements and documents outlining sustainability goals.
Central Arizona Project
The CAP is the largest single resource of renewable water supplies in the state of Arizona. The Project maintains a remarkably complete and up-to-date Web presence with information on the project's history and environmental impact as well as press releases and an e-newsletter sign-up.