Environmental law is riddled with symbolisms of protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the environment in which we live. Sometimes these symbols are simply inherent characteristics of the legislation or policy as their very creation symbolizes or represents the politico’s stance on an issue. Other times, the legislation or policy is used primarily as a symbol, without ever addressing the issue or effectuating change, sometimes referred to as symbolic politics. In this research, we apply the theory of symbolic politics to New York State’s decade-old policy on environmental justice and postulate that although the policy has resulted in some benefits, such as the development of community grants for environmental justice communities and promoting a dialogue around environmental justice, the policy has never been capable of actually addressing disparate adverse environmental conditions in minority and low-income communities. Additionally, our research adds a prong to the typical symbolic politics analysis by assessing whether the general public can be so misguided by a policymaker that they cannot possibly grasp the inherent meaningless nature of a policy arising from its inconspicuously stated goals. We conclude that this type of deception by the politico is symbolic politics to the nth degree because it has the potential to undermine public trust in political institutions and impairs the ability of citizens to make effective use of their democratic rights.
Brigham Young University Journal of Public Law
Tonya Lewis & Jessica Owley,
Symbolic Politics for Disempowered Communities: State Environmental Justice Policies,
BYU J. Pub. L.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.buffalo.edu/articles/181