Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Rosemary O'Leary


administrative decision-making, environmental justice, environmental policy, procedural justice, public participation, recognition

Subject Categories

Political Science | Public Administration


Public participation is at the heart of democracy and of the environmental justice movement. Most state-level environmental justice policies and regulations focus on improving public participation within administrative processes to ensure that communities have a voice in the environmental decisions that affect them. New York has adopted an environmental justice policy that follows this model and requires enhanced notice, accessible comment opportunities, and improved access to technical information for new major environmental permits issued to facilities proposed in low-income or minority communities. However, New York's policy, like other state participation-focused environmental justice policies, has yet to be evaluated.

To address that gap, I develop six theoretically-tethered criteria of effective public participation (access, fair process, voice, dialogue, recognition, and legitimacy) through a review of the literature on relevant democracy and justice theory, particularly procedural justice and justice as recognition; the role of the administrative state; and the theory and history of environmental justice. I then refine and ground those measures through interviews with community activists, environmental justice advocates and regulatory agency staff and apply the grounded measures in a comparative case study of permitting processes that did or did not trigger New York's environmental justice policy. The data, collected through participant interviews, document review, and survey work and analyzed qualitatively, suggest that New York's policy improves the external framework for participation with marked improvements in objective measures of access and, to a lesser extent, social recognition. The policy creates the space for improvements in voice, dialogue, and institutional recognition, but does not ensure the internal changes to the decision-making structure necessary to guarantee these improvements. Organizational culture of the applicant and/or agency, community identity and composition, source and content of notice, and public meeting structure may also have significant impacts on the effectiveness of public participation and merit further investigation.


Open Access