Skip to content

Date/Time: July 19, 2023 at 11:00 am

Location: 909 Renaissance Park and Zoom

Title: Environmental Justice Policy in the United States: Community Definition and Benefits Allocation in Underserved and Overburdened Communities


The Biden Administration’s Justice40 initiative promises to allocate at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. In order to deliver on this promise, both the concept of “benefits” and “disadvantaged communities” need to be defined – otherwise, the promised distribution of benefits cannot be evaluated. While the Justice40 initiative is moving forward at the federal level, it is likely that over the next decade, U.S. states will follow the federal government’s leadership in allocating benefits to disadvantaged communities. At the same time, U.S. states are experimenting with different approaches to environmental justice community definition and policy interventions. Environmental justice policy research has traditionally been based on analyzing how state characteristics are correlated with the existence of an environmental justice policy, and is based on a conceptualization of justice that splits policies into procedural or substantive categories. There is little research that focuses on environmental justice policy at the U.S. state level and incorporates theories of justice from a wide range of environmental justice theorists.

This dissertation uses an environmental justice framework informed by critical and indigenous environmental justice theories to analyze U.S. state approaches to defining environmental justice communities, allocating benefits and resources to these communities, and implementing environmental justice policy interventions. The overarching research question for this dissertation asks whether defining environmental justice communities through quantitative indices leads to improvements in material conditions and decision-making power in these communities. This analysis is focused on a state-level approach and will be useful for state policymakers, activists, and researchers. Different U.S. contexts are explored in this dissertation, but the analytical focus is on the U.S. state or territory level. This dissertation contains a mix of methodologies, including regression analysis, descriptive statistics, mapping analysis, policy textual analysis, and evaluation framework construction and application. Recommendations on state-level environmental justice policy approaches that can serve as building blocks for more transformative environmental and economic justice movements in the future are provided.

Committee Members: Jennie Stephens, Laura Kuhl, Daniel Faber

Marisa Sotolongo