This op-ed was originally published by Bloomberg Law.
In November 2021, over 70% of New Yorkers voted to amend the state's constitution to explicitly protect New Yorkers' fundamental right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment. New York thus joins Montana and Pennsylvania in enshrining robust constitutional environmental rights in the state constitution.
The first cases making claims under the new constitutional provision are now being filed, and states contemplating the adoption of environmental rights will be closely watching how courts define and apply New York's amendment. Those states include New Mexico, Maine, and Maryland.
Unsurprisingly, corporate defendants argue that the new right doesn't change anything. They claim that the environmental right is not self-executing, i.e., that the constitutional right provides no new protections and is instead defined and limited by pre-existing environmental laws. They could not be more wrong and courts in New York should be quick to affirm that the right is self-executing.
New Yorkers voted to add environmental rights to the state constitution because they knew that existing environmental laws did not do enough to protect people, especially those living in disadvantaged communities. Two primary environmental problems prompted explicit constitutional recognition of environmental rights …
This post was originally published on Medium.
Our research collaboration began with a brief query: ‘We are having problems with waste transfer stations in our neighborhood. Can I call you?’This short message was a private chat from Southeast Queens community leader Andrea Scarborough to CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies during the Eastern Queens Alliance’s Environmental Justice Unwrapped event in the summer of 2020.
Andrea was referring to Jamaica, Queens, where two waste transfer stations are located directly adjacent to a Black residential neighborhood and across the street from the neighborhood’s primary greenspace, the Detective Keith L. Williams Park. Across the country there are too many communities like this one in Jamaica, historically redlined Black neighborhoods that continue to experience disproportionate social, economic, and environmental injustices driven by structural racism and entrenched social inequality.
Establishing Equitable & Just Relationships to Address the Problem
This blog post is based on my testimony before the New York City Racial Justice Commission, which it tasked with dismantling structural racism in the city’s charter.
This November, New York voters will decide whether to enshrine an explicit environmental right in their state constitution. If adopted, the new section will read, “Every person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” New York would join several other states, as well as the United Nations and roughly 150 countries across the globe, in recognizing a fundamental human right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.
We all deserve to live in healthy communities. Yet, the grim reality is that Black communities, communities of color, and low-income communities frequently have to fight tooth-and-nail for these basic human rights. This situation is neither accidental nor inevitable. New York City is a clear …
On October 22, we and millions of Americans watched the final presidential debate, taking in each candidate's plan for oft-discussed issues like health care, the economy, and foreign policy. Toward the end, the moderator posed a question that caught us and many others off guard: She asked the candidates how they would address the disproportionate and harmful impacts of the oil and chemical industries on people of color.
President Trump largely ignored the question. But former Vice President Joe Biden addressed it head on, sharing his own experience growing up near Delaware oil refineries and calling for restrictions on "fenceline emissions" — the pollution levels observed at the boundary of a facility's property, which too often abuts a residential neighborhood.
Many environmental justice advocates celebrated Biden's response, including Mustafa Santiago Ali, the former assistant administrator for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who characterized Biden's response …
Recently, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding. He used the opportunity to reiterate the agency's commitment to its “straightforward” mission to “protect human health and the environment.” He also emphasized that the agency’s mission meant “ensuring that all Americans – regardless of their zip code – have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live, work, and play upon.”
Why did Wheeler refer to zip code? Because decades of research have documented that pollution, and its adverse health effects, are not spread equally across the country. Instead, polluting industry tends to be concentrated in certain zip codes that, due to a history of racist redlining and housing discrimination, are predominantly the home of Black and Brown Americans.
The groundbreaking 1987 study Toxic Waste and Race in the United States first …
Sarah Lamdan, Professor of Law at CUNY Law School, co-authored this post, which is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.
This chapter is excerpted from a law review article that is forthcoming in U. Arkansas Law Review, titled "Taking a Page from FDA’s Prescription Medicine Information Rules: Reimagining Environmental Information for Climate Change."
In August 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the southern United States in rapid succession. These massive hurricanes wrought widespread devastation — destroying buildings, flooding neighborhoods, and taking lives. Harvey shattered the national rainfall record for a single storm, dropping more than 50 inches of rain in a 36-hour period. Thousands of stranded Houstonians waded through chest-deep floodwaters. Unbeknownst to them, those residents were wading through more than just water. Many storm victims were in fact wading through a toxic stew. The same …
We have a problem in New York City: We generate more than 30,000 tons of waste each day. Roughly one third of that waste is household trash, and the daunting task of collecting garbage from New York City’s three million households falls to 7,000 workers from the NYC Department of Sanitation. They are, in the words of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, “keeping New York City alive.”
All of NYC’s waste is shipped out of state for disposal. But first, the city must consolidate the garbage at one of 58 waste transfer stations. In addition to the overpowering odors the trash itself produces, these stations generate a constant stream of truck traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, and safety issues. So, of course, no one wants to live near them.
Thus, it may come as no surprise that most of NYC’s waste transfer stations …
In my first blog post for The Nature of Cities, I wrote about environmental justice as a bridge between traditional environmentalism and an increasingly urban global population. I suggested that we had work to do to makes environmental concerns salient to a new, ever-more urban generation. Since then, I have been working to test this hypothesis. To that end, I developed an environmental justice education project being implemented in New York City schools. This project is built around Mayah’s Lot, the environmental justice comic book I co-wrote with artist Charlie LaGreca for the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER). Funding for the project came from the CUNY Law School Innovation Fund. You can read the book here, and watch the video here.
(Full-disclosure, I am the founding director of CUER, and the Center’s mission in …
Today’s post is the last in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties. Each month, this series will discuss one of these treaties. Previous posts are here.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention Adopted and Opened for Signature on December 10, 1982. Agreement on Part XI Adopted on July 28, 1994.
Entered into Force on November 16, 1994 (UNCLOS) and July 28, 1996 (Part XI) Number of Parties: 162 (UNCLOS) and 141 (Part XI)
Signed by the United States on July 29, 1994. Sent to the Senate on October 7, 1994. Reported favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 25, 2004, and October 31, 2007
The United Nations Convention on …
The twin natural disasters that struck Japan this month, earthquake and tsunami, left a trail of devastation in their path. Entire villages were lost. The death toll currently stands at more than 8,000 but is expected to rise much higher (more than 13,000 are missing). Even as survivors struggle for shelter, warmth and food, the natural disasters are being rapidly overshadowed by the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The key difference is that the nuclear disaster didn’t have to happen.
The earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear meltdown are all wrapped up together right now as one big human tragedy. But it is important not to blur the lines between risks that are inherent to living on planet earth, and risks that we have created for ourselves. Natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis are woven into the very …