Brooklyn Law Review


Most policy decisions aimed at improving the environment have been conceived and implemented without attention to issues of environmental justice, creating what sociologist Julian Agyeman calls an “equity deficit” in the discourse and practice of environmental sustainability. This article presents the unintended consequences of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and its amendments as a cautionary tale for what can happen when environmental regulations are enacted without adequately considering environmental justice concerns. Although the CAA has been responsible for much good in the United States as a whole—including significant reductions in acid rain and health-harming pollutants—it has also brought significant harm to socially vulnerable communities in Central Appalachia where coal is “washed” and in communities where the coal combustion waste from cleaner-burning power plants is stored. This article draws parallels between the unintended consequences of the CAA and the current scaling-up of solar energy production throughout the United States, revealing the ways in which industries often take the cheapest route to compliance and how those decisions can harm marginalized communities. In the case of solar, it is clear that if mandatory recycling policies for solar panel e-waste are not legislated alongside policies aimed at increasing solar energy production, the United States will only deepen environmental health injustices in the Global South nations where most e-waste is dumped. This article ultimately argues that the unintended environmental justice consequences—and causalities—of policies aimed at improving environmental sustainability must be addressed if such policies are to be sustainable, beneficial, and just for all.