Whose Backyard, Whose Risk: Fear and Fairness in Toxic and Nuclear Waste Siting


Whose Backyard, Whose Risk: Fear and Fairness in Toxic and Nuclear Waste Siting



In Whose Backyard, Whose Risk, environmental lawyer, professor, and commentator Michael B. Gerrard tackles the thorny issue of how and where to dispose of hazardous and radioactive waste. Gerrard, who has represented dozens of municipalities and community groups that have fought landfills and incinerators, as well as companies seeking permits, clearly and succinctly analyzes a problem that has generated a tremendous amount of political conflict, emotional anguish, and transaction costs. He proposes a new system of waste disposal that involves local control, state responsibility, and national allocation to deal comprehensively with multiple waste streams.

Gerrard draws on the literature of law, economics, political science, and other disciplines to analyze the domestic and international origins of wastes and their disposal patterns. Based on a study of the many failures and few successes of past siting efforts, he identifies the mistaken assumptions and policy blunders that have helped doom siting efforts.

Gerrard first describes the different kinds of nonradioactive and radioactive wastes and how each is generated and disposed of. He explains historical and current siting decisions and considers the effects of the current mechanisms for making those decisions (including the hidden economics and psychology of the siting process). A typology of permit rules reveals the divergence between what underlies most siting disputes and what environmental laws actually protect. Gerrard then looks at proposals for dealing with the siting dilemma and examines the successes and failures of each. He outlines a new alternative for facility siting that combines a political solution and a legal framework for implementation. A hypothetical example of how a siting decision might be made in a particular case is presented in an epilogue.



Publication Date



MIT Press


Cambridge, MA


Whose Backyard, Whose Risk is the clearest, most concise and comprehensive overview of the topic I have seen. Gerrard combines an incisive, accessible review of technical and legal issues with a convincing argument for federal allocation and local control. Invaluable for public officials, community neighbors of proposed NIMBY sites, and students of regional planning and public policy, Whose Backyard, Whose Risk is also a surprisingly good read – imagine John Grisham and Scott Turow writing nonfiction.”
Mark Monmonier, Professor of Geography, Maxell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University and author of How to Lie With Maps

“This book addresses one of the most difficult problems in modern environmental policy – how to find new sites for the disposal of hazardous and radioactive wastes. Mr. Gerrard provides an excellent analysis of the many failures and few successes in the development of new waste disposal facilities, and proposes a number of innovative solutions to the sitting problem that deserve serious consideration.”
Senator Max Baucus, Chairman Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate

“With this book, Michael Gerrard gives us a careful and stimulating study of the hazardous waste siting problem, set in its larger social and political contexts. Drawing on his experience as an environmental lawyer, his insights as a scholar and teacher, and his knowledge and understanding of the whole range of facts and disciplines that bear on the siting process, Mr. Gerrard first shows how we have managed to make the perfect enemy of the good, 'solving' sitting problems by means that are both inefficient and unjust. Then he goes on, proposing real-world improvements based on real-world circumstances. His work is illuminating.”
James E. Krier, Earl Warren DeLano Professor of Law, The University of Michigan Law School

“Whose Backyard is an extremely valuable treatment of an important subject.”
Washington Sunday Times


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.


Environmental Law | Environmental Policy | Law | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Whose Backyard, Whose Risk: Fear and Fairness in Toxic and Nuclear Waste Siting

Find in Library