Planning Ethics Case Study

The state environmental protection agency has recently completed a rational planning process to identify the best site for a hazardous waste treatment facility. The initial planning process used GIS techniques to identify areas that were in areas with appropriate zoning, in which transportation access was acceptable, and which were currently owned by the state or were likely to be available if the state would like to acquire it. The resulting list of 20 sites was further reduced by eliminating dominated alternatives and conducting a feasibility analysis related to local government cooperation in siting the facility. Following this step, four sites remained.

To select the best alternative, the planners identified seven objectives: (1) minimize the number of residents living within one mile of the site; (2) minimize the number of residents living within a three-day plume, assuming the winds are from a direction consistent with the prevailing winds in the area; (3) minimize soil permeability; (4) maximize the distance to groundwater and surface water; (5) minimize the likelihood of accidents related to the transportation of hazardous substances to the facility; (6) minimize the costs of land acquisition and preparation; and (7) maximize the reuse of former industrial land. Initial analysis revealed that distance from groundwater and surface water showed almost no variation across the four sites, and it was eliminated from further analysis (principle of relevant criteria). By using swing weighting in an exercise at a series of public meetings, the analysts determined the following weights to be attached to these criteria:


.15 Residents living within 1 mile

.15 Residents living within most likely 3-day plume

.15 Soil permeability

.25 Likelihood of accidents during transport to facility

.15 Land acquisition and preparation costs

.15 Reuse of former industrial site

After evaluating the four identified sites on these criteria, the planners ranked a site in the Menomonee Valley as the best alternative. The sites were ranked as follows:


1 Menomonee Valley

2 South side of Racine

3 Beloit

4 Fox Valley, south of Oshkosh

When the planners announced their results, a local environmental group wrote a response that was published in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel. The response argued that the planning process used by the state had resulted in environmental racism because the rankings of the four sites matched the ranking of these sites in relation to minority status and, further, that a number of other viable sites had been excluded early in the planning process because of anticipated problems gaining the cooperation of the local community. When the group calculated the percent non-white residents within the 1 mile radius and the 3-mile plume for each area, the following results were obtained:

Percent Non-White

50% Menomonee Valley

30% South side of Racine

10% Beloit

5% Fox Valley, south of Oshkosh

In addition, several of the communities that were eliminated on political feasibility grounds were prosperous white suburbs, while no communities with large minority populations were excluded on similar grounds. The environmental group called for the planning process to be reopened to include environmental justice as a criterion in the planning process.

The state responded to these criticisms by noting that the procedures used were fair and rational. According to the planners, the criteria used to evaluate the various sites related directly to environmental safety and economic efficiency. Moreover, the public had been given an opportunity to participate in assessing the weight to be given to these criteria. The state rejected suggestions that the planning process be reopened. Instead, state officials entered into negotiations with landowners in the Menomonee Valley and with the City of Milwaukee to acquire and prepare the site for the facility.

The environmental group, working with African-American and Hispanic-American churches in Milwaukee, organized a march on the State Capitol. Prior to the march, organizers invited the Governor to address the group at the Capitol, and the Governor agreed. At the march, the Governor used the opportunity to address the group about recent legislative efforts to implement school choice and campaign for legislative representatives in the districts adjacent to the Menomonee Valley. The crowd started to mumble that he was not addressing their concerns. Soon the mumbling escalated into shouting and booing. The Governor, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, left the podium.

Later that day, a smaller group of protesters appeared at the Governor's office in the Capitol, demanding that the Governor address their concerns about the hazardous waste treatment plant. As the protesters encountered the security officers outside the Governor's office, tempers flared and a scuffle ensued in which several people were injured, some requiring medical treatment.

Subsequently, the state decided to address the community's concerns using a different tack. The state hired a planning consultant to facilitate a meeting between representatives of the minority communities and the state hazardous waste planners. The following are some of the comments made at the meeting.

Planner 1: I don't know what you people want. We asked for community input before we analyzed the sites. Now you complain that your ideas were not represented.

Citizen 1: This thing turned out the way it always goes. People of color end up getting the short end. Whose kids are getting asthma from dirty air? Who lives closest to abandoned hazardous waste sites? Who's going to get chrypto next time the water is no good?

Planner 2: Look, nobody here was targeting your neighborhood. When you look at this thing rationally, it turns out that the risk of a highway accident involving hazardous waste is so much worse if we put the thing in a rural area, that putting it in the Menomonee Valley, which is pretty centrally located in relation to the sources of waste that will be transported to the facility, is clearly the best choice.

Citizen 2: (angrily) How come it's always colored people's turn to die!

Planner 1: We can't do anything about all the historical injustices you've experienced. All we can do is fulfill our responsibility to pick the best site for the hazardous waste treatment plant.

Citizen 3: So why were Mequon and Brookfield taken off the list? Those folks yell, and you all listen, is that right? But we have to go and raise a ruckus at the Governor's office before anyone will even listen to us.

Planner 2: Are you condoning violence?

Citizen 3: I'm not condoning anything, but I just notice what it takes for the government to take notice of colored people.

Planner 3: You know, I think a big part of the problem here is lack of education. I think a lot of people in the minority community have a hard time understanding the analysis that went into selecting the Menomonee Valley site. And then when they are upset about the results, they don't have the skills and education to make themselves heard in the political system, and so they resort to violence.

Citizen 2: We understand just fine. We understand that we don't count for much in this whole thing.

Planner 1: What do you want us to do? Put in an environmental affirmative action program, so that there is a quota for the maximum environmental risk that any ethnic group has to face?

Citizen 3: How would you feel if you knew that your kids were at more risk of getting cancer and other stuff because you can't live in the suburbs where everything is cleaner?

Planner 2: Well, if you would all get jobs, you could move to the suburbs. You would be protecting your kids and meeting their economic and educational needs at the same time.

I. Look at the comments of the planners in this interchange.

A. What do you hear them saying?

B. Do you think that what you are hearing is what they were trying to communicate?

C. What do you think the citizens heard them saying?

II. Look at the comments of the citizens in this interchange.

A. What do you hear them saying?

B. Do you think that what you are hearing is what they were trying to communicate? C. What do you think the planners heard them saying?


© 1997 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 18 January 1997