Neighbor Agreements: A Tool For Environmental and Social Justice
Neighbor Agreements: A Tool for Environmental and Social Justice.
Good Neighbor Agreements are a form of flexible, community-based
environmental protection whose underlying philosophy is the
mutual acknowledgment by a business and an independent community
organization of the need to build a relationship responsive
to the needs of each. Agreements are formally negotiated, though
some remain voluntary and without legally binding language,
while others are incorporated as a condition of formal permitting
processes and can be legally enforced. Case
Study Plus: Good Neighbor Agreements: A Tool For Environmental
and Social Justice
Lewis, Esq., and Diane Henkels
Reprinted from Social Justice, Volume 23, Number 4 with permission
of the authors.
is - within the limits - the master of its own environment and economy
(Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, 101 S.Ct. 2176 ). Today,
however, communities face a dilemma: all too frequently, the drive
for economic welfare sacrifices public health and damages the environment.
As the health and environmental hazards of industrial production
become publicized and as downsizing and layoffs have escalated out
of control in the U.S., communities have come to be more aware of
the negative role corporations may play in undermining community
welfare. Because there is little real corporate accountability for
decisions that affect local communities, citizens groups throughout
the U.S. have organized to combat some of the detrimental effects
of exploitative industrial practices. The demands of these groups
vary from place to place; in some instances, the emphasis is on
environmental concerns, while in others it is on jobs and economy
related concerns. In a few communities, both types of concerns have
emerged, in tandem.
have applied both legal and nonlegal tactics to increase industrial
accountability. Some of the legal approaches that have been effective
in increasing community control over its health and environment
include zoning, permits, and NGO-company contracts. A separate
economic accountability movement has attempted to build accountability
for promises of jobs by placing new conditions on corporate subsidy
strategies are increasingly coming together in the form of citizen
groups' efforts to build NGO-company contracts into their community
empowerment strategy. These "Good Neighbor Agreements" evolved
originally as a nonlegal tool for developing a partnership between
companies and communities as a response to this community welfare
of this article is to explore the value of Good Neighbor Agreements.
The first part will briefly describe the political context in
which Good Neighbor Agreements emerged as a tool for community
empowerment. Next, it zeros in on the different types of Good
Neighbor Agreements, distinguishing them by the legal and nonlegal
enforcement mechanisms. That section discusses alternative dispute
resolution and good faith clauses, which serve as legal handles
to many of these contracts. A brief discussion of the relationship
between Good Neighbor Agreements and public policy in contract
law concludes the section on enforceability. Section three identifies
ways to augment the effectiveness of Good Neighbor Agreements
and increase their acceptability and use by communities and corporations.
Community Empowerment in the 1990s
It is no
longer a secret that economic development in the United States
has generated as a byproduct an enormous amount of pollution and
hazardous waste. In 1986, according to Environmental Protection
Agency's Toxic Release Inventory, the waste created by the chemical
industry's top 50 products amounted to 539 billion pounds of toxins
and hazardous substances discharged into the environment (Commoner,
1992: 89). In the last decade, global conferences have formally
recognized industry's detrimental effect on the environment and
called upon each country to preserve the environmental integrity
of the future while raising current living standards (Rio Earth
Summit, Agenda 21, 1992). Meanwhile, the public is increasingly
aware of the effects of industrial production on the environment
and the public welfare. Despite corporate public relations efforts,
polls show that a large number of people in the United States
are growing increasingly distrustful of anything corporations
say (Meeker-Lowry, 1995: 76).
government has made attempts at responding to the crisis, but
has been generally unable to address the environmental and health
hazards endured by local communities at the hands of corporations.
Over the last quarter of a century, Congress has passed scores
of statutes piecemeal in reaction to highly publicized crises
(e.g., Love Canal, Bhopal, the Exxon Valdez oil spill). However,
regard for how each specific emergency response could be melded
into a coherent environmental management system has been insufficient
(Futrell, 1994a: 17). Starting in the 1970s, a series of legislative
initiatives regulated, controlled, and monitored toxins, pollution,
worker safety, and the like (Hawken, 1993: 108). Some observers
have suggested that this "piecemealism" has resulted in a checkerboard
of conflicting, confused overregulation for some activities and
gaps where major environmental insults go unchecked by law (Futrell,
1994a: 17). For instance, different standards for the same hazardous
chemicals are promulgated by the EPA and the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (Ibid.).
though they may be, these regulations have been viewed by polluters
as government mechanisms for stifling their profitability. As
a result, corporations have not sat idly by watching these dramatic
challenges to their power go unchecked (Hawker, 1993: 108). With
the growth of environmentalism, industry's political action committees
launched corresponding lobbying efforts. The corporate lobbies
have wielded influence by aggressive campaign donations in support
of politicians who support their positions. Lobbying also takes
other forms of influencebuilding. For instance, from 1989 to 1990,
U.S. House members took nearly 4,000 privately funded trips, often
to resorts and vacation spots (Levine, 1992: D3). Two-thirds of
these were paid for by corporations and trade groups (Ibid.).
During 1995, it appeared to many that Congress had begun to undertake
a task of entirely neutralizing environmental regulations. The
House of Representatives approved an appropriations package for
the EPA and other federal agencies that prevents the enforcement
of many sections of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and
the Clean Air Act, and weakens enforcement of other environmental
regulations (Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, 1995:
7). However, public sentiment in the U.S. remains solidly in favor
of continued protection of the environment; as a result, some
of the worst provisions proposed during 1995 were buffered by
Senate responses and a presidential veto. Besides exerting their
political muscle on government, many corporations have responded
to communities' expressions of their environmental concerns by
"greening" public relations. Some companies have established public
panels to address environmental or safety concerns and advanced
these as a model for involvement of the public or the work force
in key environmental decisions (Lewis, 1992: 256). The Chemical
Manufacturers Association's "Responsible Care" program is the
leading driver of this activity (Ibid.: 257). CMA launched "Responsible
Care" in response to the deepening crisis of public confidence,
as well as to the slumping selfimages and morale of many personnel
in the industry itself after Bhopal. Under this program, CMA encourages
member companies to establish community advisory panels (Ibid.).
However, most of the panels' members are handpicked by the corporation
or its consultants, agendas are often set by the company, and
critics are kept out or outnumbered 10 or more to one (Ibid.:
258). The panels also generally are not provided with the independent
technical support needed to evaluate corporate performance. Thus,
the role of these panels in serving as an accountability mechanism
has been less than one might expect. Some examples indicate that
corporate America has responded to the dilemma with some substantive
changes, especially reduced pollutant emissions at many plants;
however, industry's "self-policing" is insufficient (Hawker, 1993:
of "socially responsible investing" demonstrates the inherent
challenge of self-policing. In their "double bottom-line" approach,
for instance, Calvert Social Investment Fund demonstrates the
tenuous balance between the twin goals of profit and social responsibility.
In this approach, the fund measures returns in traditional financial
analysis first (Calvert Group, 1995: V). Then, if the company
is determined to be of interest financially, it is evaluated for
its social and environmental policies and actions (Ibid.). Primacy
of the profit motive virtually precludes adequately prioritizing
community health and welfare. This approach is probably leading
to increased investment in the "most green of the dirtiest" industries
in America, such as Sun Oil and General Motors. These two companies,
both notorious polluters, have endorsed a "green pledge" known
as the CERES Principles, which has been endorsed by social investors.
Yet the two companies and many other CERES endorsers continue
to engage in demonstrably destructive environmental operations
that contradict the high-sounding language of the code. In short,
despite the "green" trend in the United States, government and
corporate response to community environmental concerns remains
limited and does not coincide with individual community needs
for sustainable development.
relying on top-down government control to address specific needs,
communities themselves are learning how to supplement the need
for direct government or corporate assistance in addressing community
development. The emerging environmental justice movement, for
instance, has engendered a shift in local leadership as women,
people of color, and indigenous people play a more active role
in their communities (Collie and Collin, 1994: 1173). This movement
has continued to expand as race has been shown to be the best
predictor for the location of a hazardous or toxic waste site-better
than income, topography, or hydrology (Ibid.: 1175).
communities now have a little more information for attending to
local business issues because of the federal Community RighttoKnow
and the 1990 Toxic Pollution Prevention Act (Sobol, 1991). The
RightToKnow law requires manufacturers to report their emissions
to air, land, and water of over 300 toxic chemicals (Emergency
Planning and Community RighttoKnow Act, 42 U.S.C. ss.1100111050
[1988 and Supp. V 1993]). The Toxic Pollution Prevention Act requires
that any facility that is required to report data must also report
on its toxic pollution prevention (Pollution Prevention Act, 42
U.S.C.A. ss.13101 to 13109). The growth in available information
has provided a powerful tool for exposing the truth of environmental
degradation. For example, information has exposed environmental
tools that have been useful in increasing community empowerment
have included both legal and nonlegal approaches. Information
dissemination and boycotts are examples of nonlegal tools that
have been used quite effectively to encourage company accountability
(MeekerLowry, 1995: 98). A community may also resort to several
forms of legal recourse. Zoning, for instance, has enabled communities
in the U.S. to control industrial development within their locales
(Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 ).
Under nuissance law, a party may sue for harm caused by another's
pollutting activity, and a court may require a cessation altogether
of the operation (Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co., 362 N.E.2d 968
). Citizen suit provisions in various environmental statutes
have also provided a vehicle for citizens to force federal agencies
to comply with federal pollution standards (Percival et al., 1992:995).
However, the Clean Water Act and the Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to- Know Act have been found not to authorize citizen enforcement
suits for past violations that have been cured by the date the
suit is filed (Atlantic States Legal Foundation, Inc. v. United
Musical Instruments, 61 F.3d 473 ). This restricive precedent
would constrain the future use of citizen suit provisions if it
is followed in other courts.
law provides a possible tool for problem solving and legal resource
for community groups. The law provides a remedy for the breach
of contract, or set of promises, the performance of which the
law may recognize as a duty (Pollution Prevention Act, Restatement
[Second], Contracts s. 3 ). The private nature of contractual
agreements provides an avenue for legal enforcement that can be
as flexible and creative as the parties intend, but that remains
Agreements are instruments that provide a vehicle for community
organizations and a corporation to recognize and formalize their
roles within a locality. The purpose of these agreements is to
foster sustainable development in a community by recoonciling
economic development with the community's welfare, including the
health of its environment and its individual members. Since the
first such agreement was signed in 1978 in Worcester, Massachusetts,
several agreements have been signed in the U.S.
from other methods that seek to increase corporate accountability,
Good Neigbor Agreements seek to promote broadly defined sustainability.
The Good Neighbor Project, a leading proponent in support organization
for the establishment of Good Neighbor Agreements, defines "sustainable"
industry as operations that are "clean, stable, and fair."(Lewis,
1992:4). Fairness in this context means that "human health, environment,
labor resources, and the capital resources and materials within
local communities would be treated in a manner to ensure their
continued viability for the long term."(Ibid.). A variety of industry
sectors have entered Good Neighbor Agreements in the U.S. including
chemical plants, oil refineries, and foundries. Though several
agreements have arisen from industrial accidents, others are negotiated
before such a crisis has appeared or in response to chronic issues
such as polution emissions or job concerns. The philosophy common
to all Good Neigbor Agreements is the industry's and community
organization's mutual acknowledgement of the need to build relationships
responsive to community and industry needs.
Process of Forging A Good Neigbor Agreement in a Nutshell
and implementing a Good Neigbor Agreement is a several-step process
that requires the commitment of a citizen's group made up of members
of the community and of a plant manger, in particular. The process
proceeds as follows. First, members of the citizens group meet,
discuss, and delineate the issues they would like to resolve with
the company. This early stage may also involve identification
of additional stakeholders who should be brought into the process
of development of the agreement-especially the potential role
of organized labor as well as other civic organizations and community
the issues and potential solutions and initial meeting with the
company management takes place, followed by a joint assessment
of the situation by the citizens group and the company. Over a
period of successive meetings, this party further clarify issues
and the relevant details involved towards the formulation of principles
and provisions for inclusions in a formal agreement. The parties
then sign and ratify the contract. Finally the process of implementing
the agreement terms begins, or in some cases, continue.
Provisions of Good Neighbor Agreements
types of conditions have been negotiated in Good Neighbor Agreements.
Some of the key terms that have been sought or negotiated have
included the following:
Community access to information: A company will place
on reserve at a local library specified information. This is defined
differently in the various agreements. Good Neighbor Agreement
requests and provisions have included information required to
be filed under state and federal law, results from environmental
safety audits and inspections, plant safety manuals and procedures,
corporate annual reports and SEC filings, and a list of the plant's
workers with their addresses. Although many federal environmental
statutes require that information reported be made publicly available,
only those members of the public who are specifically aware of
the statute and the disclosure requirement have ready access to
the information (Bagby et al., 1995:14 Va. ENvtl.L.J>225, Part
6). Even the most diligent investor would have a difficult task
uncovering the range of needed environmental information concerning
a particular firm.(Ibid.:225,conclusion).
Right to inspect the facility:
Depending on its content, an inspection clause may permit
community members to inspect a plant and be accompanied by an
expert and a plant worker of the community's choice. Such a provisiopn
may be particularly strong because the law does not require that
plant routinely allows community members into a facility to conduct
a physical inspection (Interview with Rick Abraham, Texans United,
concerning the Rhone_Polenc good neighbor Agreement, October 1995).
Similar types of inspection conditions (rights to accompany government
inspectors and for a union to have its owninspectiohn capacities)
are commonly adopted in labor unions' collective bargaining agreements.
Accident preparedness: A company must prepare a plan
for procedures it will undertake in case of accident and make
this plan available for review and input by the public. A chemical
accident may pose severe hazards to the community, yet existing
and proposed federal regulations contain no explicit requirements
for involvement of neighbors and the community in the planning
process (Lewis, 1993: 83).
Pollution prevention: A company will plan to reduce
its use of toxics or its toxic waste and emissions over a scheduled
period. Various experts, including in many cases specially retrained
retired engineers, can go through a plant and develop pollution
prevention recommendations (Jo Haberman and Amy Middlelon interviewed
by Paul Orum, Working Notes on Community RighttoKnow, Working
Notes on Our RighttoKnow About Toxic Pollution, NovemberDecember
1994, Appendix Cl). These experts must be accountable to the communily
and work force, not to the management of the company; how the
funding is raised to pay for them may be one of the topics of
Good jobs, local jobs, union jobs:
The company may commit to gearing its hiring and training
processes to community needs by recruiting local people for new
openings. Strides can also be made toward unionization of the
work force through neutrality commitments and agreement to a simple
"cardcheck" election process for determining if the work force
decides to unionize.
Local economic needs: The company may commit to establishing
a special community benefits fund, with discretionary spending
to be determined and overseen by the affected stakeholders. Expanded
funding of local infrastructure needs such as roadways may be
part of the program.
Citizen group concessions: In retum for company commitments
such as those described above, members of a citizens group may
settle ongoing litigation or permit challenges, end protests or
negative publicity, or even generate positive publicity about
the company. The citizens group also may commit to protect a company's
trade secrets, through specific provisions on trade secrets protection.
Range of Good Neighbor Agreements: Enforceable or Conmemorative
The form and
content of Good Neighbor Agreements have varied according to the
philosophies of the citizen groups involved, the corporate culture
of the company, and the forces motivating the parties to agree.
Agreements-Citizen Inspections: The phrase "Good Neighbor
Agreements" was coined in neighborhoodbased campaigns in the early
1980s that resulted from community groups' inspections of local
industrial facilities. In these campaigns, community groups negotiated
an informal ''right'' to inspect a local industry. After winning
such an inspection, they sought subsequent negotiation of a Good
Neighbor Agreement that would consistof followthrough actioncommitments
based on the recommendations that emerged from the inspection. In
more recent years, the concept of a Good Neighbor Agreement has
begun to evolve in various other directions.
Model-Reducing Nonbindillg Goals to Writing: Citizens
for a Better Environment, a Minnesota environmental watchdog group,
bases the Good Neighbor Agreements it facilitates on a relationshipbuilding
model in which the agreements contain no legally binding language.
Community members and management from a "polluter" company sit
down and discuss the community's pollution concerns and other
problems before there is a crisis. The goal of these dialogues
is to establish mutually agreedupon pollution reduction goals
that go beyond the legal requirements (Doerr, 1994) and to commemorate
those goals in a Good Neighbor Agreement.
A Good Neighbor
Agreement between People of Phillips (Minnesota) and Smith Foundry
is anexampleofCBE's nonadversarial facilitation (Smith Foundry
Good Neighbor Agreement with People of Phillips and Citizens for
a Better Environment, signed in October, 1995). The Smith Foundry
is an example of an industry that, while usually functioning within
legal guidelines, still may be polluting the neighborhood. According
to the MinnesotaPollution Control Agency (MPCA), the foundry,
which produces "gray" metal, a type of heavy metal used in the
production of metal products, conformed to PCA standards. However,
the MPCA received over 20 complaints from area residents about
odor coming from the foundry. The foundry was cited by OSHA in
1988 for several violations of employee safety standards, such
as exposing workers to respirable silica in excess of the permissible
limit. In 1989, there were complaints of white dust and black
soot being blown from the building (Sobol, 1991).
1995, CBE helped area residents organize and enter into a Good
Neighbor Agreement with Smith. "The agreement did not focus only
on pollution prevention, but also dealt with employment isshes
in the community" (Jo Haberman, Citizens for a Better Environment,
interviewed on October 10, 1995). One such issue arose out of
concerns that the number of Native Americans employed at the foundry
was disproportionately low in comparison to the percentage of
Native Americans living in the community. Agreement negotiations
revealed that the Native Americans living in town were unable
to learn of foundry openings listed at the foundry's screening
service in the suburbs. A relocation of the service seems to have
resolved the employment issue.
later, the groups are due for a followup meeting to assess the
foundry's progress, the results of which CBE predicts will be
positive for the people of Phillips. In addition, the signing
of the agreement will have generated excellent publicity for Smith.
As an outcome of negotiations and followup meetings, the foundry
adopted a fiveyear approach to pollution prevention. Under the
plan, pollution prevention would fit into the business' existing
to CBE, there were two key factors to the success of this agreement,
like all the Good Neighbor Agreements they facilitate. One was
the fact that lhe owner of Smith Foundry was personally very committed
to cooperating with the community to reduce pollution and improve
employee relations. The other was Phillip's "extremely sophisticated"
neighborhood organization (Ibid.).
example raises a potentially troubling issue of enforcement: What
happens if the company doesn't fulfill its obligations under the
agreement? Although the Minnesota groups have not yet had to confront
this issue, other communities have been "burned" by nonbinding
agreements that have been discarded by company omcials-for example,
when the plant's maniager has changed. If a company purposefully
disregards an agreement, in the context of a nonbinding agreement
the recourse of the citizens group is limited to becoming more
adversarial, such as launching acampaign of negative publicity
or challenging permits or licenses. The voluntary nonenforceable
approach only works as long as the company and community place
aufficient value on their relationship to keep to their commitments.
to continued compliance is regular communication. The Smith agreement
provides for meetings, "as needed, but not less than twice a year,"
but requires no written accountability. Ho,~vever, CBE agrees
that agreements should provide a mechanism for yearly reports
as a means of maintaining this communication and of informing
the parties of changes affecting the contract. A regular report
would also assist the community in keeping track of the company's
activities even after the citizen group has disbanded or moved
on to other projects (Ibid.).
Good Neighbor Agreements
to the above approaches, most Good Neighbor Agreements currently
sought or reached throughout the U.S. are legally enforceable. In
some situations, a Good Neighbor Agreement is linked to an environmental
permitting process. Local governments issue a wide range of permits
for construction, digging, filling, and many other activities. Most
companies need some form of local permit to operate. These permits
can be used as handles giving citizens groups leverage in confronting
a company (Lewis, 1990: 252253). Good Neighbor Agreements may also
serve as a settlement agreement in the aftermath of an industrial
accident.2 Some require that alternative dispute resolution be the
mechanism used to resolve disputes under the agreement. Litigation
and forum selection clauses have also been specified as enforcement
tools in Good Neighbor Agreements.3 Finally, many Good Neighbor
Agreements require that parties negotiate and perform their obligations
in "good faith."
Binding Approaches: Examples
1-Oversight Agreements: An
example of an oversight agreement emerged at the Rhone Poulenc
plant in Manchester, Texas. Manchester sits along the notorious
Houston Ship Channel, home to the nation's largest concentration
of petrochemical companies. Like so many communities under the
stacks of major polluting industries, Manchester is a predominantly
minority community (Hispanic). In June 1992, a serious accident
occurred at the plant-a release of poisonous sulfur dioxide. At
least 27 people were sent to area hospitals. The Manchester community
decided to take action. With the assistance of an environmental
organization, Texans United, the community won an agreement that
gave the community specific rights never before recognized in
agreed to pay for an independent enviromnental audit by an expert
selected and supervised by a panel of community residents and
a statewide organization, Texans United. Among the features of
this oversight agreement are:
- The committee
was selected by the community, not the company. Elsewhere, corporations
have been handpicking the membership of advisory committees
to which they will ostensibly be accountable. This agreement
set a new direction for local communities by keeping the designation
of a representative group in the community's hands, rather than
- The agreement
requires a broad audit including review of regulatory compliance,
safety training, accident prevention, emergency response, waste
analysis and information systems, monitoring programs, and waste
minimization practices. In contrast, some companies have tried
to limit local citizen oversight to a quick walkthrough tour
of a facility, followed by a slide show of issues that the company's
P.R. department wishes to highlight.
- The agreement
requires public disclosure of company documents in a public
library, including hazard assessment and risk analysis, lists
of accidents, upsets, nearmisses, and corrective actions, as
well as waste minimization and reduction plans;
- The company
commits to "negotiate in good faith" on the audit recommendations;
are entitled to accompany the auditor and conduct other inspections
- The agreement
is legally binding because it is integral to the firm's operating
permit. As such, it can be enforced either by local citizens
or by state of ficials.
2-Union Collective Bargaining Agreements: Labor unions
have a long history of onsite tracking of corporate performance
on occupational safety and health issues. Unions' "safety stewards"
are rank-and-file workers with the training to watchdog occupational
health and safety issues that arise on the shop floor. Stewards
are aided by professional industrial hygienists who work for the
local or international unions. Union health and safety committees
discuss any problems identified and raise the issues in negotiations
with management or in communications with appropriate government
One of the
most advanced environmental oversight precedents for organized
labor emerged at Harvard Industries, in New Jersey. There, the
United Auto Workers negotiated the establishment of a "hazard
prevention" committee. The union's committee has a right to shut
down any operation in the plant that presents a danger to worker
health or safety or to the environment.
3-Specific Corporate Commitments:
In contrast to the above examples of establishing more
effective "stakeholder oversight processes," some of the new agreements
establish specific corporate commitments to environmental or safety
goals. Forexample,Chevron Refining is thebiggestindustry and polluter
in Richmond, a predominantly lowincome AfricanAmerican community
in Contra Costa County, California. Chevron has had innumerable
accidents at the site and has been cited for serious violations
of almost every conceivable environmental law. The West County
Toxics Coalition, with the support of the statewide organization
Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), has been working to change
this. After struggling for 10 years on numerous fronts, including
protests, pressure on elected officials, permit challenges, and
shareholder resolutions, the company finally agreed to a Good
Neighbor Agreement committing to:
350 "leakless" valves in the new project and retrofit 200 to
400 valves in the existing refinery;
to reduce toxic emissions from the refinery beyond the 60% achieved
between 1988 and 1992;
two million dollars to a local health center;
sirens and computers, train emergency workers, and establish
and fund a city Emergency Services coordinator position for
4-Toward a More Comprehensive Approach: The Chevron
agreement differs from past resolutions in that until recently,
most agreements that have been reached have focused either on
environmental or economic concerns. Yet a new and important trend
is the formation of coalitions consisting of both economically
and environmentally affected populations, i.e., workers and plant
neighbors, who are prepared to make joint demands in both arenas.
The Unocal agreement reached in Rodeo, California, exemplifies
this powerful new approach.
1994, Crockett and Rodeo, California, residents were inundated
by two separate chemical releases due to leaks from the Unocal
Refinery in Rodeo. The first involved a brown chemical substance,
the second a spill of the potentially deadly chemical hydrogen
sulfide that hit the Hillcrest School in Rodeo, sickening scores
of children and teachers.
unresponsive to community concerns and complaints after both incidents.
As community outrage and demands for action grew, there were several
public meetings and strategy sessions by community leaders, environmental
groups (CBE-California), and labor unions. The strategy that resulted
was one intended to force the company to upgrade the plant, preserve
jobs, and give the community and work force more ability to safeguard
activities on the site. In the end, the company was forced to
sign a legally binding "Good Neighbor Agreement" in order to receive
land use approvals that were a precondition to continued operations.
What sets the Unocal agreement apart from most others is the breadth
of issues that the community required Unocal to address. Following
and Health Issues
committed to test and install an improved air pollution monitoring
system. All data collected will be made available to the public.
will fund an independent audit of the refinery. The audit will
cover the refinery emergency response plan, emergency notification
procedures, safety management program, and the results of the
Process Hazards Analyses performed as part of the Process Safety
- A community-based
Audit Committee will oversee the independent audit, including
selection of the auditor. The committee's composition was determined
in the agreement.
is responsible for deciding whether and how to implement any
of the recommendations contained in the final audit report.
agreed to monthly monitoring of valves and pumps to achieve
onsite emissions reductions for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Results of the tests will be available to a Community Advisory
agreed to fund an independent health risk assessment, and to
fund a medical clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of people
affected by the Unocal Catacarb release.
contributed funds for an Emergency Response Van that will provide
mobile, onsite medical services during chemical emergencies.
agreed to establish a database of health effect information,
including recommended evaluation and treatment measures, for
chemicals used at the refinery.
made a commitment to implement and fund a communitybased information
and not)fication system that provides information about unusual
events and other items of interest that occur at the refinery.
agreed to install a permanent monitoring station to detect sulfur
compounds at the Hillcrest School and to provide training to
teachers and students on how to respond to a chemical emergency.
pledged to spend $30,000 per year for nh~e years to further
vegetate appropriate areas of its property.
agreed to construct a bike path through its property.
made a longterm financial commitment to the Vocational Training
Program at the local high school.
agreed to announce new job OppOnunitieS at the refinery in local
newspapers, schools, and community organizations and to give
hiring preference to local applicants when all other hiring
factors are determined equal, and to work with the Building
Trades Union to promote local hiring on construction jobs.
committed $4.5 million to Contra Costa County to be dedicated
for improvements and/or upgrades to the local transportation
infrastructure within 1.5 miles of the refinery.
agreed to redesign its Reformulated Gasoline Project to avoid
the use of anhydrous ammonia and to replace all bulk deliveries
of anhydrous ammonia with aqueous ammonia at the refinery by
December 31, 2001.
promised $300,000 annually for a period of 15 years to benefit
funds for two local communities and for the school district's
vocational training program. Funds are to be used for appropriate
projects of general beneft to the community in the areas of
environment, recreation, economic development, community infrastructure
projects, community services, and community functions.
of the Unocal Agreement: Did the Agreement Address All It Needed
developments at Unocal provide further food for thought. It has
come to light in a government followup investigation and in a public
statement by the work force that Unocal had allegedly failed to
heed repeated work force warnings that the plant was operating dangerously.
Workers said that they warned lowerlevel management, but stopped
pressing the issue, fearing reprisals if they continued to press
the issues after they were ignored by theirsupervisors. According
to 15 workers in theplant's OCAW union newsletter:
not willing to jeopardize our jobs by individually insisting on
the shutdown of a unit making a quarter of a million dollars daily
when the company and all their experts said it was safe to keep
agreement contains a clause to protect workers who speak up in
the course of an audit against employer retribution. It also provides
for confidential worker consultations with the independent auditor.
The independent audit undertaken under the agreement noted that
the company appeared not to be effectively utilizing even its
own preexisting participatory processes (safety committee) as
a means of following through on identified safety measures. Perhaps
the checks and balances provided by outside scrutiny will serve
to hold management more accountable with regard to safety issues,
where a prior internal process failed to do so; the proof of this,
however, will come in the longerterm implementation of the agreement.
months afler the Unocal agreement was signed, the plant experienced
another serious accident. Many of the residents who were sickened
in one of the earlier incidents were now evacuated for several
days. Local of ficials began to reconsider whether they really
need to close the plant down after all, until it can be proven
to be safe. Yet the desire to preserve jobs led them to stop short
of closing the plant. Instead, they ordered a further county review
of accident prevention measures.
Neighbors and workers are winning more control over corporate activities
through these agreements. Although these agreements are
no panacea for the ills that corporations impose on local communities,
they can represent sign)ficant advances in community empowerment.
The strength of this approach is that a community may begin to exert
much greater sovereignty over the activities that occur within its
borders. Local residents and workers who are considering a campaign
for such an agreement would do well to ask whether and how they
may actually improve corporate activities or community oversight
beyond the weak federal and state regulatory system. What may they
have to put up with if such rights and commitments are not attained?
Can the community also establish some broader reforms that address
the underlying problems of locally operating corporations, rather
than only struggling through the issues on a casebycase basis?
Because the strategy is experimental, it has potential for innovation
and refinement. There are opportunities and needs to
apply the concepts developed in these agreements in new contexts.
Examples of areas of active exploration by grassroots groups and
leaders include multiplant agreements, corporationwide agreements,
and linking the broad terms of such agreements to new plant approvals
by local governments. The range of terms and conditions in the
agreements is subject to broad expansion and experimentation,
as each community develops agreements suited to their economic
and environmental needs.
to yield the greatest possible benefits, worker participation
must be secured. Participation processes in these agreements often
contemplate worker involvement, but the potential for applying
really independent work force views is almost impossible in the
absence of a unionized work force. The presence and active participation
of a union appear to be a necessary precedent to a truly tripartite
process and to indepth stakeholder understanding of plant issues
and processes. Unionization of a plant, or a commitment to employer
neutrality in union organizing, may become a central element of
some of these agreements in the future-thereby expanding the potential
for new community labor alliances.
consideration is also merited as to the potential to apply some
of the content of such agreements (both participatory rights and
the corporate commitments and incentives) to public policy discussions
regarding regulatory reform, sustainability, fair trade, and the
right to know.
Legally binding agreements create predictable kinds of benefits
and dilemmas. Although some communities have entered
into nonbinding agreements with corporate officials, based on
longstanding or recently emerged relationships with management
personnel, there is reason to be concerned about the viability
of such agreements. Other communities have insisted on legally
binding and enforceable agreements, because they are aware that
personnel at these facilities, even plant managers, come and go,
and their nonbinding commitments often may go with them.
many scenarios under which such agreements can be made enforceable,
provided that the community has built the power needed to force
the corporation into a binding agreement.After 10 years of grass-roots
experimentation with this strategy, it is apparent that no corporation
has signed a binding agreement unless the community or work force
had established a bottom-line reason why the management needed
to do so-for example, because it could alleviate some costs of
delay brought on by community resistance to specific permits.
Even a binding
agreement does not necessarily mean that the firm will in reality
be a "good neighbor." Corporations that enter into these agreements
are often multinational corporations operating at multiple sites.
Thus, not only are these corporations not "people" except in the
fictitious sense awarded by some courts, but they are also not
really "neighbors." Often they are far from "good"; many corporations
that have signed agreements continue to endanger their community
and work force. Some, such as Unocal, have also interpreted certain
agreedupon obligations in the narrowest possible manner, and have
even delayed implementation of other clauses. Such actions are
undertaken in striking contrast to the neighborly spirit of the
agreement. Informed by such experiences, we suggest that a "corporate-community
compact" may be a more appropriate and neutral term for describing
these agreements. These agreements are simply as strong as what
a community insists upon, given the range of circumstances that
il faces; a corporation should not necessarily be labeled a "good
neighbor" simply because it persuaded locals that they are better
off with an agreement than relying solely on federal or state
Corporations still "call the tune" in most communities.
Although there have been some striking successes, numerous
communities have unsuccessfully sought such agreements with corporations
and have lost the fight. This should come as no surprise to anyone
acquainted with the power wielded by industry within such communities.
It requires mustering of extensive political and legal power to
lay down such new rules; many corporations have grown larger in
size and power than some states and even some nations. Big corporations
act like "800 pound gorillas" who know they are free to decide
where and how they will "sit down."
wish to change this situation must find whatever leverage is available
to support local pressure to negotiate. For instance, federal
and state officials can and should be encouraged to support local
citizens to effectively negotiate with companies by withholding
approvals or assessing enforcement penalties until local needs
are met; unfortunately, those agencies often serve as a "buffer"
that protects corporations more than the communities placed at
risk. These agencies negotiate for placing only the most minimal
conditions on corporate behavior, which corporations may hide
behind rather than really being accountable to neighbors and workers.
the right level at which to govern corporate behavior is an important
challenge for activists, lawyers, and policymakers. These agreements
are a supplement, not an alternative, to effective federal and
state regulation and enforcement; they also cannot solve national
and international policy gaps such as the worker job losses that
may occur when major environmental or economic policy decisions
by government and corporations lead to a phase out of particular
are needed-such as new laws that grant local, affected citizens
nonnegotiable rights-to oversee industries that endanger them
and to assurejob and income security when dangerous or antiquated
operations must be closed. New institutions are also needed to
undertake periodic public review of an entire corporation's behavior
and to impose new corporationwide conditions or take disciplinary
action when corporations act contrary to the public good. Today's
local agreements are merely one emerging chapter in a much larger
"book" of strategies for corporate governance that will need to
bewritten from the grass roots in the coming years.
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