William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Rural pollution hotspots receive inadequate attention during impact assessments: low population density is strategically used to suggest rural areas lack critical importance. Local resistance led to a legal victory for Union Hill, Virginia, where a door-to-door household study of demographics and family heritage exposed data inequities and biases in state practices, establishing a precedent for attention to environmental injustice and disproportionate cumulative impacts on rural majority Black communities. Critical legal geographies of cases from Buckingham, Pittsylvania, and Charles City Counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia document patterns in the ways fossil fuel ‘sacrifice zones’ intersect with historic colonialism in rural areas sustaining patterns of discrimination toward minority and low-wealth families. These cases illustrate the impact of citizen science and community expertise needed to counter data inequities in permitting processes, and the need for geospatial mapping of toxic polluting sites as visual evidence of already existing adverse environmental health impacts. Participatory action research employs community-informed pathways to reverse disparities and promote meaningful engagement and fair treatment of rural populations. Market and power analyses of ten factors reveals ways landowners and communities are systematically and persistently disadvantaged, while examples of five pathways demonstrate necessary transformation.