A. Dan Tarlock


This Article takes an approach to the problem of environmental equity that is different from the remedies advocated by the leaders of the environmental equity movement. The plea that the benefits of environmental protection be extended to all groups in society is, of course, a legitimate one, but the movement is too narrowly focused and its aims are too modest. I dissent from the two central premises held by environmental equity advocates. First, the movement assumes that judicially recognized and enforced rights will lead to improved public health. Second, the movement asserts that disadvantaged communities should adopt a “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) strategy. In contrast, I argue that the current focus of the environmental equity movement, important as it is, is too narrow because the legal strategy of the civil rights movement is largely inapplicable to environmental issues. Environmental protection is not a rights-based movement. Thus, the judiciary’s role in promoting environmental quality is limited compared to its role in promoting racial justice through the recognition and enforcement of constitutionally-based civil rights. In addition, I argue that the NIMBY strategy is equally shortsighted. Environmental equity takes current environmental protection strategies as a given at a time when the science and ethics of environmental protection are undergoing a profound re-evaluation.