Center for Progressive Reform

Environmental Justice

Pollution's Peril Amplified

Pollution and the negative health effects it causes affect all of us, but not equally. People who live near pollution sources are more likely to be affected – more likely to breathe air laced with pollutants from a nearby industrial plant, more likely to drink well water contaminated by pesticide run-off from a nearby farm, more likely to be affected by toxic waste at a nearby dump site not yet cleaned up by Superfund.

Such increased environmental hazards are not just the result of where one lives, they also relate to where one works. Some farm workers and chemical plant employees, for example, are likely to have higher rates of illness, including life-threatening diseases like cancer, because they work daily in a compromised environment, breathing or otherwise taking into their bodies a variety of environmental hazards.

Not surprisingly, the people who work at such jobs and live in such areas tend to be those on the lower end of the economic scale and, therefore, disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. The recognition of this dynamic has given rise to an “environmental justice” movement that focuses attention on exactly who is harmed by pollution, and that works for stronger pollution controls.

Climate Justice

Decades’ worth of politicians’ refusal to act on climate change, coupled with corporate bad actors’ insatiable thirst for profit at the expense of human health and the environment, has guaranteed that every American family and community, now and into the future, will suffer at least some harm from a global climate catastrophe. The science is clear; the harms have begun; and they are severe and increasingly widespread. Given the scope of the damage from climate-driven wildfire, flooding, drought, and illness, litigation is inevitable, as individuals, organizations, and specific jurisdictions seek to hold industry accountable for its past and continuing behavior. Indeed, such litigation is the only way those who have suffered climate-related damage can seek recourse for loss of homes, livelihoods, health, and the death and injury of loved ones.

A growing number of victims of climate-related disasters are turning to state courts to hold corporate bad actors accountable, bringing suit against the fossil fuel producers who have caused climate change and against other corporations that have failed to adapt to its foreseeable impacts. Increasingly, state judges and juries have the power to deliver corrective justice and promote equity for the victims of climate change. Read CPR's Novermber 2019 report, Climate Justice: State Courts and the Fight for Equity, by Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, Karen Sokol and David Flores.


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