Jill Harrison
Associate Professor • Environmental Justice • Environmental Politics • Political Ecology • Agriculture and Food Systems • PhD, University of California at Santa Cruz, 2006
Human Geography • Environment-Society

Research Interests

My research helps identify the cultural relations and political economic processes that disproportionately situate members of racially marginalized, Indigenous, and working-class communities in dangerous spaces and precarious conditions that contribute to inequalities in life opportunity, illness, and death. I also identify ways the state, social movements, and other institutions can more effectively redress those inequalities. I have done so through various cases of environmental and workplace inequality in the contemporary United States. In addition to the areas of research described below, I advise the U.S. government agencies on its environmental justice reform efforts through serving on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I also direct CU Boulder’s Graduate Certificate in Environmental Justice

My current major research project examines the disappointing pace of environmental regulatory agencies’ “environmental justice” (EJ) programs and policies as a case through which to understand why, despite reducing environmental hazards for the nation overall, agencies have not improved conditions in places enduring the greatest environmental burdens. Other scholars have shown that material factors outside the control of agency staff – budget cuts, limits to regulatory authority, industry pressure, and underdeveloped analytical tools – constrain the possibilities for EJ reforms to regulatory practice. My research builds upon that work, focusing instead on demonstrating how agencies’ EJ reform efforts are also undermined by elements of regulatory workplace culture that transcend changes in administration. At the same time, my publications and outreach offer practical suggestions for how agencies can more effectively reduce environmental inequalities that deeply affect the lives of so many Americans, and they show how agencies’ EJ staff – those tasked with developing EJ reforms – endeavor to change both regulatory practice and regulatory culture from the inside out. I have been invited to present my research on the challenges facing government agencies’ EJ reform efforts to the executive leadership and other staff at numerous environmental regulatory agencies, including at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), California EPA, the California Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board, the California Fish and Game Commission, and the California Natural Resources Agency. You can read about my research in articles in SalonThe Coloradan, and Public Books.

In another recent project, my colleagues and I identified cultural challenges facing universities’ efforts to address environmental precarity through “engineering-for-development” (EfD) programs that train engineering students to help solve problems in developing communities, including pertaining to shelter, drinking water access, sanitation, and affordable energy. I conducted this NSF-funded research in collaboration with Shawhin Roudbari (Environmental Design, University of Colorado), Jessica Kaminsky (Engineering, University of Washington), Santina Contreras (Public Policy, University of Southern California), and Skye Niles (University of Colorado). 

My recent research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the University of Colorado.

Recent Courses Taught

  • Spring 2024  GEOG 3782 Environmentalism, Race, and Justice
  • Fall 2023  GEOG 4772  The Geography of Food and Agriculture
  • Spring 2023  GEOG 3782 Environmentalism, Race, and Justice
  • Spring 2023  GEOG/COMM/ENVS/PSCI 7118  Environmental Justice​
  • Fall 2022  GEOG 4772  The Geography of Food and Agriculture

Selected Publications

Updated January 2023