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Publication Title

Harvard Environmental Law Review



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Community-Based Environmental Protection Initiative, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, devolved collaboration, environmental justice


Environmental decision-making is undergoing a profound shift. Traditional forums and processes are being displaced by mechanisms emphasizing local, "place-based" decision-making. These emerging decision-making mechanisms are orchestrated through collaborative processes featuring stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. This transformation is evident in a number of recent governmental initiatives, including those by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), most notably its Community-Based Environmental Protection ("CBEP") initiative. Other federal agencies, particularly those with land or species management responsibilities, have similarly advocated a greater role for local decision-makers and collaborative problem-solving. This Article examines the points of convergence and divergence between devolved collaboration and environmental justice. The interest-convergence of these two powerful currents has been a crucial element shaping the direction of environmentalism from the 1990s into the new century. There are now more voices than ever calling for the creation of democratic, sustainable communities and for a more comprehensive approach to environmental problems that address the connections between environmental, economic, and civic health. Importantly, proponents of both devolved collaboration and environmental justice poignantly question the ability of the single-agency, single-media regulatory approach to address increasingly complex environmental problems, many of which involve uniquely local impacts or costs that are not considered by uniform national standards. Both also yearn for regulatory reforms that will empower residents of communities with abandoned and contaminated industrial sites, polluted streams, clear-cut forests, and strip-mined land. This Article concludes that the movement toward devolved collaboration should best be regarded as the collective expression of a core set of normative principles-broad representation, deliberation, local empowerment, and equitable and sustainable outcomes-that can guide the shaping of environmental decision-making processes in a context-specific fashion. Part II of this Article traces the emergence of devolved collaboration from widespread dissatisfaction with both the substantive focus of environmental regulation and the processes through which regulatory decisions are made. Part III de- scribes two active strands of devolved collaboration. Part IV explains the allure of devolved collaboration as a response to the regulatory shortcomings chronicled in Part II. Part V questions whether these promises can be fully realized in communities where stakeholders are geographically dispersed, diffuse, or differently situated in terms of social capital. Part VI concludes on a cautionary note, urging policymakers to employ a contextualized assessment of the ecological, social, and political conditions under which devolved collaboration can be effective given the concerns articulated in Part V.