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Refining Expertise

How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges

Gwen Ottinger

Publication Year: 2013

"An intriguing and impressive account of corporate social responsibility—and neoliberalism writ large—on the ground, in action, in chemical plant communities in Louisiana…Ottinger effectively [illustrates] how, in complex, culturally saturated ways, corporate commitment to `responsible care’ has created critical challenges for environmental activism and justice."
—Kim Fortun, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
 
Residents of a small Louisiana town were sure that the oil refinery next door was making them sick. As part of a campaign demanding relocation away from the refinery, they collected scientific data to prove it. Their campaign ended with a settlement agreement that addressed many of their grievances—but not concerns about their health. Yet, instead of continuing to collect data, residents began to let refinery scientists’ assertions that their operations did not harm them stand without challenge. What makes a community move so suddenly from actively challenging to apparently accepting experts’ authority?
 
Refining Expertise argues that the answer rests in the way that refinery scientists and engineers defined themselves as experts. Rather than claiming to be infallible, they began to portray themselves as responsible. This work drives home the need for both activists and politically engaged scholars to reconfigure their own activities in response, in order to advance community health and robust scientific knowledge about it.
 
Gwen Ottinger is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington-Bothell, where she teaches in the Science, Technology, & Society and Environmental Studies majors. She is co-editor of Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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1. The Battlefront

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pp. 1-28

The campaign of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy against Orion Refining ended with a show of hands in a crowded, windowless, cinder-block room on December 18, 2002.
The campaign had been one of those environmental David-and-Goliath stories about which movies are made. New Sarpy, Louisiana, a working-class...

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2. Dangerous Stories

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pp. 29-60

As I have been telling you war stories, perhaps you have been trying to decide which side to choose. Is it the people of New Sarpy who deserve your sympathies for all they suffered at the hands of the refinery? Or is the refinery a victim of sensationalist charges, trumped up with the help of environmentalist...

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3. Noisome Neighbors

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pp. 61-96

Perhaps you would like to see for yourself the sites of these battles over industry’s obligation to its neighbors, over the sustainability of petrochemicals, over the dominance of expert knowledge? Find I-310, a spur off the cross-country interstate I-10 about fifteen miles outside of New Orleans, and make your way south to the River Road (LA-48). Turn right off the exit...

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4. From Deliberation to Dialogue

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pp. 97-128

When Orion first announced its Community Improvement Program, members of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy (CCNS) saw the company as trying not only to divide the community but to “dictate to” it as well, by setting out terms without first consulting residents. The community group tried to...

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5. Responsible Refiners

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pp. 129-168

As it happened, Orion and I moved out on the same day. On June 30, 2003, as I set out to drive back to California, the refinery that had been Orion became the Valero St. Charles Refinery, one of over a dozen facilities owned by North America’s largest refiner, Valero Energy Corporation. The change of ownership...

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6. Passive Revolution and Resistance

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pp. 169-188

In 2007, I was invited back to New Orleans to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) and participate in a weekend-long retreat to establish a strategic vision for the organization’s future. On a not-yet-steamy Saturday morning in July, LABB staff, board members, volunteers,...

Notes

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pp. 189-204

References

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pp. 205-218

Index

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pp. 219-222

About the Author

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p. 223-223


E-ISBN-13: 9780814762394
E-ISBN-10: 0814762379
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814762370
Print-ISBN-10: 0814762379

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013