Document Type


Publication Title

California Law Review



Publication Date



Environmental justice movement, Chester, Pennsylvania, environmental hazard, distributive paradigm


In this Article, Professor Foster examines the environmental justice movement from the "ground up"-from the perspective of the predominantly poor, African-American residents of Chester, Pennsylvania who attempted to stop the clustering of waste facilities in their community. From this perspective, Professor Foster evaluates the manner in which the phenomenon of environmental injustice is framed, the efficacy of reforms in environmental decision-making processes, and the strategies and possibilities of grass roots efforts in achieving environmental justice. She argues that the distributive paradigm that often frames discussions of environmental injustice obscures the mechanisms and processes underlying inequitable outcomes, thwarting a full understanding of the phenomenon. Case studies such as Chester, however, illustrate that disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards result from a set of ongoing social processes that structure the political economy of poor communities of color. These grass roots struggles provide a window into the social relations and processes underlying distributive inequities and, thus, assist reformers in identifying the types of policy reforms likely to help achieve environmental justice. Professor Foster argues that achieving environmental justice requires that siting reforms take both social structure and process seriously. She, however, concludes that while siting reform is necessary to achieve environmental justice, it should not displace the kind of transformative political action currently taking place in communities such as Chester. This political action is crucial to marginalized communities hoping to gain access and con- tribute to the policy- and decision-making processes that affect their material interests.