TitleWatered Down Voices, Watered Down Justice: A Demand for Polycentricism, Demosprudence, and Praxis in WOTUS Regulatory Reform
Publication TypeJournal Articles
AuthorsMcCrory, M, Scott, I, Raymond, A, Levy, P
JournalGeorgetown Environmental Law Review
Date Published2021 In Press
KeywordsBusiness Law

For decades, science has demonstrated that discrete populations have been disproportionately forced to suffer the horrors of living in areas contaminated by toxic and hazardous substances. Communities of color, indigenous communities, and other marginalized communities continuously endure the effects of multigenerational water, air, and land pollution. Whether intentionally or not, EPA and regulatory elites have promulgated so-called “neutral rules” that have resulted in a systemic and ever-expanding national environmental caste. For this to end, EPA must stop being a knowing or unknowing participant in regulatory oppression and become an active agent of regulatory change.
EPA is required to take environmental justice concerns into account when promulgating new regulations; amplifying the voices of traditionally subordinated affected communities is an essential element of this goal. Nevertheless, EPA lacks a systematic method to incorporate direct outreach to and engagement of impacted communities, and has no detailed outline or specific strategy to ensure that the voices of impacted communities are heard. Thus, the Trump Administration was able to promulgate new regulations related to the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that are likely to have significant negative impacts on water quality, much of which will be borne by disenfranchised communities, while affording those communities little to no voice in the regulatory process.
This Article maintains that the Biden EPA should adopt a sociolegal approach, informed by the theoretical principles of polycentrism and demosprudence, to address systematic and decades-long environmental injustices. This approach would help shift and redistribute power from environmental regulatory elites to the people most affected by environmental harms. Using the case study of WOTUS regulatory reform, we argue that the Biden EPA has a perfect opportunity to create a more inclusive regulatory process that expands the power of historically disenfranchised people, while addressing known harms that will result from the current regulations. The Biden EPA could use WOTUS reform to establish a new paradigm for expanding the power of non-elites and create a model for a more equitable form of regulatory decision-making and a more democratic form of governance.