Troy D. Abel

Western Washington University
Environmental Studies

1000 Olympic College Way, Suite 214
Huxley College of the Environment Peninsulas Program
Poulsbo, WA
98370 |  Visit Personal Website

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My scholarship focuses on the environmental governance challenge of informing policy with sophisticated social and ecological science while simultaneously increasing transparency and participation in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Because we often see environmental problems and solutions in only technical or democratic prisms, environmental governance suffers. We do need better science and better democracy, but most importantly, we need a better integration of both. The messy convergence and resolution of these rationalizing and democratizing impulses is a prominent feature of my research programs on environmental justice, environmental information disclosure, and the conservation of biodiversity.

Abel, Troy D. (2008). “Skewed Riskscapes and Environmental Injustice: A Case Study of Metropolitan St. Louis.” Environmental Management 42(2): 232-248.
Abstract: This article presents a case study of Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) air pollution exposure risks across metropolitan St. Louis. The first section critically reviews environmental justice research and related barriers to environmental risk management. Second, the paper offers a conventional analysis of the spatial patterns of TRI facilities and their surrounding census block group demographics for metropolitan St. Louis. Third, the article describes the use of an exposure risk characterization for 319 manufacturers and their air releases of more than 126 toxic pollutants. This information could lead to more practical resolutions of urban environmental injustices. The analysis of TRIs across metropolitan St. Louis shows that minority and low-income residents were disproportionately closer to industrial pollution sources at nonrandom significance levels. Spatial concentrations of minority residents averaged nearly 40% within one kilometer of St. Louis TRI sites compared to 25% elsewhere. However, one-fifth of the region’s air pollution exposure risk over a decade was spatially concentrated among only six facilities on the southwestern border of East St. Louis. This disproportionate concentration of some of the greatest pollution risk would never be considered in most conventional environmental justice analyses. Not all pollution exposure risk is average, and the worst risks deserve more attention from environmental managers assessing and mitigating environmental injustices.
DOI: 10.1007/s00267-008-9126-2
Troy D. Abel and Mark Stephan (2008), “Tools of Environmental Justice and Meaningful Involvement.” Environmental Practice 10(4): 152-163.
Abstract: Environmental justice policy goals encompass the fair treatment and the meaningful involvement of all people in environmental policy formation and implementation. Few studies consider how new environmental justice programs foster meaningful involvement; this study addresses this gap by examining seven years of an environmental justice small grants program implemented by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We frame our research in the theory of environmental discourses, dividing policy implementation among adherents with a managerial, pluralist, or communitarian perception of remedies to environmental injustice. We hypothesize that EPA awards will emphasize the managerial and pluralist discourses. Our study's empirical foundation included a content analysis of documents on 736 small grant awards. We supplemented this data with 23 interviews of grant recipients and four interviews with EPA officials. During seven years, more than half of the grants (58%, or 501) funded programs to primarily increase environmental justice information in the recipient community. Grants for technical capacity came in a distant second (21%, or 186) of the programs funded by EPA. Organizational efforts were the third most frequent award, representing 14% of all grants. Finally, only 7% of awards funded an initiative to expand public participation in environmental decisions. The EPA policy objectives included the goal of building participatory capacity in the design and implementation of local environmental decisions; however, funded programs emphasized efforts to generate and disseminate information, instead of building civic capacities for citizens to use information in meaningful ways. We conclude that environmental justice practitioners should better balance technical and informational efforts with “civic-minded” capacity-building programs.
DOI: 10.1017/S1466046608080368
Abel, Troy D., Debra Salazar and Patricia Robert. 2015. “States of Environmental Justice: Redistributive Politics Across the US.” Review of Policy Research 32(2): 200-225.
Abstract: In the 20 years since a president committed federal government agencies to achieving environmental justice (EJ), states have been at the forefront of policy development. But states have varied in the nature and extent of their EJ efforts. We use Guttman Scaling to measure state EJ effort and test hypotheses regarding the relative importance of problem severity, politics, and administrative variables to variation in state policy development. Our analysis offers a novel characterization of state policy intensity and demonstrates its scalability. Income-based problem severity, environmental group membership, and nonwhite populations were important predictors of state EJ policy intensity during our study period. The political geography of EJ policy also displayed a distinctive southern pattern and the EJ policy intensity model contrasted significantly with a model of environmental policy innovation. The findings suggest that state EJ politics are more indicative of redistributive policy than regulatory.
DOI: 10.1111/ropr.12119
Abel, Troy D., Jonah White. 2015. “Gentrified Sustainability: Inequitable Development and Seattle’s Skewed Riskscape.” Interdisciplinary Environmental Review 16(2/3/4), 124-157.
Abstract: This paper examines the tensions of sustainable development in Seattle, Washington, a commonly recognised urban environmental leader. Drawing on the perspective of sustainability as a conflicted process, this research expected a negative relationship between gentrification and environmental justice when affluent residents outcompete less affluent ones for neighbourhoods with fewer environmental hazards. The methods combine geographic cluster analysis and longitudinal air toxic emission comparisons to analyse socioeconomic changes in Seattle Census block-groups between 1990, 2000, and 2009 coupled with measures of relative potential risk and pollution volume. The property and development conflicts embedded within sustainability lead to pollution exposure risk and socioeconomic vulnerability converging in the same areas and reveal one of the 'Emerald City's' significant environmental challenges. Inequitable development and environmental injustice remain overlooked dimensions of sustainability that interdisciplinary research should address.
DOI: 10.1111/ropr.12119
Kraft, Michael, Mark Stephan, and Troy D. Abel. 2011. Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Abstract: Coming Clean is the first book to investigate the process of information disclosure as a policy strategy for environmental protection. This process, which requires that firms disclose information about their environmental performance, is part of an approach to environmental protection that eschews the conventional command-and-control regulatory apparatus, which sometimes leads government and industry to focus on meeting only minimal standards. The authors of Coming Clean examine the effectiveness of information disclosure in achieving actual improvements in corporate environmental performance by analyzing data from the federal government?s Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI, and drawing on an original set of survey data from corporations and federal, state, and local officials, among other sources.
Troy D. Abel, Jenni Pelc, Lauren Miller, Jacqueline Quarre, and Kathryn Mork (2011). Borders, Barriers, and Breakthroughs in Cascadia’s Wildlife Commons. Research Report No. 15. Border Policy Research Institute, Western Washington University. Bellingham, WA.
Abstract: This project focused on dilemmas of political biogeography through a case study of wildlife conservation and management efforts in the transboundary Cascadia region. Our team examined the interface of political science and biogeography, or “political biogeography,” through its manifestations in the evolving opportunities and barriers to regional wildlife conservation in the shared terrestrial ecosystems of British Columbia and Washington. Our research combined content analysis of policy documents and semi-structured stakeholder interviews and questionnaires. We also produced a series of maps and GIS data layers that provide useful spatial information about the wildlife commons in the Cascadia region. The results of the content analysis and surveys present a picture of uneven management with fragmentation on both sides of the border and as a result, very few efforts in civic ecosystem management. In short, the Cascadia wildlife corridor needs some CPR, or the resource, institutional, and stakeholder characteristics that have been identified as essential to the successful management of Common Pool Resources (CPR). Our research leads to several policy prescriptions including: (1) communication efforts that begin to establish a geographic identity for the Cascadia wildlife corridor; (2) participatory efforts that foster civic environmentalism; and (3) institutional governance building at multiple scales.
Troy D. Abel, Mark Stephan, and Michael Kraft (2007), “Environmental Information Disclosure and Risk Reduction among the States,” State and Local Government Review 39(3): 153-165.
Abstract: Environmental performance among manufacturers varies greatly and reflects political, institutional, economic, and social differences across the states. Information disclosure programs such as those administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are intended to spur manufacturers to comply with recommended pollution reduction levels. The objective of this study is to provide a better understanding of the variables that affect reductions in toxic chemical releases and human health risks. Changes in pollution amounts and exposure risk levels between 1991 and 1995 in state facilities across the nation are analyzed. The findings suggest that variation among the states in terms of ideology, environmental group membership, and policy liberalism drives environmental policy. Companies may reduce pollution voluntarily in anticipation of reactions by regulators and environmental groups and to avoid potential sanctions.
Abel, Troy D., and Mark Stephan. 2000. “The Limits of Civic Environmentalism.” American Behavioral Scientist, 44(4): 614-628.
Abstract: Two key components of civic environmentalism are the devolution of policy control of environmental policy from the federal government to states and localities and the increase of local citizen participation in policy decision making. Using a combination of case studies and interviews, the authors suggest that devolution of policy making and policy implementation may not increase the role of citizens. Rather, due to both the participatory mechanisms used and the larger trends in political participation in democratic societies, citizen involvement may be limited in significant ways. Although evidence is found that citizens can and do influence policy under certain circumstances, there is also cautionary evidence to suggest that this influence is not widespread and does not include representative samples of local communities. The authors conclude that for civic environmentalism to be truly civic, barriers to participation must be acknowledged and overcome.
DOI: 10.1177/00027640021956413
Abel, Troy D., and Jonah White. 2011. “Skewed Riskscapes and Gentrified Inequities: Environmental Exposure Disparities in Seattle, WA.” American Journal of Public Health. Published online ahead of print August 11, 2011: e1–e9.
Abstract: Objectives. Few studies have considered the sociohistorical intersection of environmental injustice and gentrification; a gap addressed by this case study of Seattle, Washington. This study explored the advantages of integrating air toxic risk screening with gentrification research to enhance proximity and health equity analysis methodologies. It was hypothesized that Seattle's industrial air toxic exposure risk was unevenly dispersed, that gentrification stratified the city's neighborhoods, and that the inequities of both converged. Methods. Spatial characterizations of air toxic pollution risk exposures from 1990 to 2007 were combined with longitudinal cluster analysis of census block groups in Seattle, Washington, from 1990 to 2000. Results. A cluster of air toxic exposure inequality and socioeconomic inequity converged in 1 area of south central Seattle. Minority and working class residents were more concentrated in the same neighborhoods near Seattle's worst industrial pollution risks. Conclusions. Not all pollution was distributed equally in a dynamic urban landscape. Using techniques to examine skewed riskscapes and socioeconomic urban geographies provided a foundation for future research on the connections among environmental health hazard sources, socially vulnerable neighborhoods, and health inequity.
DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300174

Substantive Focus:
Environmental Policy PRIMARY
Governance SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory SECONDARY
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY