222073 Whatever works: Advocacy, enforcement, and evidence in environmental justice cases

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 : 11:10 AM - 11:30 AM

Christine Zachek, MPH , Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Objective: To investigate legal strategies employed by Massachusetts lawyers working in the area of environmental justice, and to explore lawyer's perceptions and uses of scientific expertise and data. Methods: This project used semi-structured interviews to collect information on eight lawyer's most recent environmental justice case, interactions with scientific data, and opinions on constraints or institutional influences. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed qualitatively. Results: Lawyers defined their role as either advocates for the community or enforcers of existing laws, which had implications for their perception of environmental justice and its practice. Both roles used any legal mechanisms at their disposal when working on environmental justice issues, forming a “whatever works” strategy. Despite recognition that the current legal structure is lacking enforcement capability, few lawyers were willing to recommend the adoption of an environmental justice statute in Massachusetts. While there was consensus among the lawyers regarding the need for science in their work, they were apprehensive about scientist's communication styles, costs of data and expertise, establishing causation, and trustworthiness of experts. Conclusion: Findings suggest a framework for how lawyers perceive the practice of environmental justice law. The results highlight tensions between law and science in the field of environmental justice, whose resolution would have implications for environmental justice and public health more broadly. Increased communication and understanding of both legal and scientific matters and their objectives by both parties may lead to more productive lawyer-scientist partnerships. Further research could investigate practical suggestions put forth and implications for environmental justice legislation.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1) Explain two perceived roles of lawyers who work on environmental justices issues (advocates and enforcers) and their impact on the strategies pursued. 2) Identify four areas of contention between the fields of law and science, as expressed by lawyers who work in the area of environmental justice. 3) Describe basic qualitative research methods and benefits for capturing in depth data on the experience and perceptions of participants. 4) Evaluate and discuss practical suggestions for bridging the gap between science and law to produce effective lawyer-scientist partnerships. 5) Assess the merits of statewide environmental justice legislation from the perspective of lawyers who work on environmental justice issues.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have studied environmental justice issues and personally conducted the interviews and analysis described.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.