Promoting environmental empowerment: environmental justice policy, participatory planning,and empowerment in response to environmental threats
Van Voorhees, Courte Christian Wirth
The U.S. Southwest has been a focal point for tribal experiences of environmental injustice (EJ). The New Mexico Environmental Justice Executive Order has provided an opportunity to reshape environmental decision-making for tribes. This research represents a participatory action research project in collaboration with the American Indian Law Center (AILC) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). This included workshops for the 22 New Mexico tribes to facilitate active roles in environmental decision-making for tribal workers, leaders, and community members. The research included surveys, a focus group, participant observation, interviews, archival analysis, qualitative coding (inductive and deductive), geographic information systems, social network analysis, and basic quantitative analyses. This dissertation introduces a model for environmental empowerment (EE) adapted from a model proposed by Rich, Edelstein, Hallman, and Wandersman (1995). The research answers the core question: In what ways does the New Mexico EJ executive order result in environmental empowerment and shed light on its mechanisms? It also answers three resultant research questions: 1) In what ways is the core stakeholder organization subject to isomorphism and how does isomorphism constrain or facilitate the organization’s role in promoting EE? 2) In what ways do EJ provisions within the NMED create capacity for EE? 3) In what ways do the elements of substantive empowerment (tangible outcomes) resulting from the NM EJ executive order create a cycle of EE? Results show that the AILC was subject to minimal destructive isomorphism and was instrumental in promoting EE. The New Mexico Environmental Justice Executive Order resulted in complex, indirect effects that have increased meaningful spaces for participation by marginalized communities and resulted in EE. Longer-term cultural shifts seen in the NMED and continued work by organizations like the AILC result in tangible empowerment that contributes to a greater cycle of EE. Rich, R., Edelstein, M., Hallman, W., & Wandersman, A. (1995). Citizen participation and empowerment: The case of local environmental hazards. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 657-676.
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