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Refining Expertise

Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges

Gwen Ottinger
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Refining Expertise
    Book Description:

    "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 Ottingeris Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington-Bothell, where she teaches in the Science, Technology, and Society and Environmental Studies majors. She is co-editor ofTechnoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6239-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 The Battlefront
    (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 town of seventeen hundred people, borders the Orion refinery. The back yards of the modest homes on one side of St. Charles Street end at the refinery’s fence; massive storage tanks squat just a few hundred feet away. With the refinery so close, residents were convinced that the toxic chemicals it released into...

  6. 2 Dangerous Stories
    (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 rabble rousers? If you are not already a partisan, I suspect that there is something that you would like to know in order to help you choose sides: Who was there first, the refinery or the community?

    This is a question that I have...

  7. 3 Noisome Neighbors
    (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 ramp, and a grassy slope several stories high follows the road on your left—that’s the levee, blocking your view of the Mississippi River just beyond. On your right, pass the streets that comprise Destrehan, the largest town in...

  8. 4 From Deliberation to Dialogue
    (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 change the nature of the interaction by calling for talks with refinery officials: on July 24, 2002, the week after Orion’s initial presentation of the program, CCNS ran a full-page ad in the local newspaper, inviting Orion CEO Clark Johnson to

    discussions about a REAL Community Improvement Plan including


    Pollution reduction including...

  9. 5 Responsible Refiners
    (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 was a good thing for the community, Orion managers had assured residents at the previous month’s Community Advisory Panel (CAP) meeting. Valero was a big company with a lot of resources; it had allocated $400 million over the next five years for improvements to...

  10. 6 Passive Revolution and Resistance
    (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, and community partners congregated in a restored Creole villa in the Treme, home to the New Orleans African American Museum. We began by reflecting on LABB’s major activities and achievements, and the “learnings” that had come from them. Participants recalled working with Greenpeace on campaigns in southwestern Louisiana that included nonviolent resistance and...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-204)
    (pp. 205-218)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 219-222)
    (pp. 223-223)