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Abstract

The environmental justice movement has seen some successes. After years of neglect, the federal government and several states are directing legislative and executive efforts towards reforming siting processes and remedying discriminatory enforcement of environmental regulations. Community opposition in general has proved to be quite powerful in some instances. Since the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976, there has been only one new siting of a hazardous waste landfill and few new sitings of hazardous waste incinerators. To a lesser extent, municipal solid waste and medical waste incinerators have also been successfully blocked or delayed. However, certain factors behind these successes suggest that procedural reforms of the siting process, though sorely needed, may not provide a complete solution to disparate dumping unless they also address the conflict over the nature of risk and how it is measured. This Article discusses the issues of perception of risk and citizen involvement in environmentally sensitive siting decisions. Part I describes the different phases of the siting process, i.e., the various determinations made at certain points during the process, the factors that enter into these calculations, and the interests implicated in each. Part II discusses the gap between citizens’ and government agencies’ understanding of environmental problems: what constitutes an acceptable risk, how risk is measured, and who makes these decisions. Part III sets out ways in which community groups can more effectively incorporate their concerns into the siting process and argues that public officials should give greater weight to public perceptions of risk.

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