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 is part of a series on climate justice in California.
On June 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will hold its first public hearing on its draft plan (the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan) for achieving the state's climate goals and for getting to carbon neutrality no later than 2045. Including actions that prioritize California's overburdened and underserved communities will be vital to the success of the proposed plan.
Many across the state are expressing concern that the proposed course of action in the draft plan will be too slow, achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 instead of by 2035, the earlier target Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the agency to consider. Although the proposed approach would reduce the demand for and use of fossil fuels significantly, it would allow existing oil and gas industry activities that disproportionately harm low-income communities of color to continue indefinitely.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled back to my home state to accept an award on behalf of the Center for Progressive Reform. The first-ever De Prey Peace Awards, named for Sheboygan, Wisconsin, peace activist Ceil De Prey, honor individuals and organizations whose work, volunteerism, and advocacy contribute to peace, a stronger democracy, and a better, more inclusive world for future generations.
Over the course of her life, De Prey has advocated for peace and worked to improve the lives of those around her. This included her past work as a medical researcher and volunteer efforts in every community she lived in. In just one example, for many years, First Congregational United Church of Christ of Sheboygan served what it called “Ceil’s Meal,” which brought together area residents from all walks of life to share meals. Many of the dishes featured at the events were …
This is the first post in a series on climate justice in California.
State officials in California are leading an extensive multisector planning effort to develop the 2022 Scoping Plan, the third update to California’s climate mitigation strategy. The new plan will outline a pathway for statewide action toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions (i.e., carbon neutrality) no later than 2045.
California first established its distinctive planning approach for developing coordinated emissions reduction measures that also advance the state’s other climate and environmental justice goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006 (AB32).
AB32 also established the first statewide emissions target limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and charged the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with developing and adopting a new scoping plan every five years. The first scoping plan was developed in …
This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.
The environmental justice movement began with a focus on neighborhood struggles against toxic waste facilities and other local pollution sources. That focus now includes other measures to ensure that vulnerable communities get the benefit of climate regulations. The most powerful tool for assisting those communities, however, may be the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS (pronounced "knacks") are supposed to be the maximum amount of air pollution consistent with protection of public health and welfare.
Air pollution is the biggest threat to low-income communities and communities of color. As the American Lung Association has said:
A native of southeast Los Angeles, Laura Cortez was exposed to a heavy dose of toxic pollution as a child. She grew up near an oil refinery, industry warehouses, and railroad tracks, with trains barreling through at all hours of the night. Her elementary school was located near a major highway — a passthrough for tens of thousands of trucks every day — and her high school was also sited next to train tracks.
Now co-executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, a grassroots advocacy group, Cortez is working to protect residents of her community and others in the region from the harmful effects of pollution on health and well-being. She shared her story last week with members of Congress to call attention to environmental racism and build support for landmark legislation that would begin to address it.
“My reality is not an exception,” she told members …
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Land and Emergency Management recently released its draft Environmental Justice Action (EJ) Plan. What's inside?
First, some background: After entering office, President Biden signed a pair of executive orders directing federal agencies to pursue environmental justice. The first focuses on narrowing entrenched inequities furthered by standing agency policy, and the second orders agencies to shrink their climate-harming footprints. Together, these orders offer the public an immense opportunity to combat environmental injustice.
The EPA has since directed its Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) to evaluate current and best practices to meet the requirements of each executive order. As the office charged with overseeing the primary programs managing and containing hazardous substances, its policies hold great potential in mitigating risks faced by at-risk communities.
The office's EJ Action Plan lays out four goals to guide and motivate …
On the morning of January 9, 2014, residents of Charleston, West Virginia, noticed an unusual licorice-like odor in their tap water. Within hours, a federal state of emergency was declared as 300,000 West Virginia residents were advised to avoid contact with their tap water, forcing those affected to rely on bottled water until the water supply was restored over one week later.
Even after service was restored, traces of the chemical remained detectable in Charleston's water supply months after the spill. The economy of the region was brought to an abrupt halt and nearly 400 people sought emergency room care with symptoms of nausea, headaches, and vomiting.
The cause of the contamination was methylcyclohexane methanol (“MHCM”), a chemical used in industrial coal processing. Roughly 11,000 gallons of the substance had leaked from a severely corroded aboveground storage tank located a mile and a half north …
The Clean Water Act turns 50 next year.
This landmark law has led to some great environmental successes — waterways that were once basically open sewers have been returned to their former scenic beauty, capable of supporting aquatic life and providing drinking water to millions of Americans.
It has also made possible countless water protection careers in public service and private industry, as well as many types of pollution control technologies.
In at least one area, though, public protections related to the Clean Water Act have not advanced at all — despite Congress’ 1972 mandate to the contrary.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of aboveground storage facilities containing hazardous chemicals — such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene — are not subject to state or federal rules designed to prevent and mitigate spills. These storage tanks sit along our industrialized waterfronts and at agricultural supply depots in our rural communities, threatening …
Carbon capture use and storage is at the center of the national climate policy debate, promoted by the oil and gas industry, the private sector, and even some environmental organizations as a solution to the climate crisis.
The federal infrastructure package that President Biden recently signed into law appropriates more than $10.3 billion for the nationwide buildout of carbon capture infrastructure. Preliminary deals on the Build Back Better Act also contain expansions of the primary federal tax credit incentivizing carbon capture (45Q Tax Credit). The fossil fuel industry is targeting Louisiana as an emerging hub for carbon capture, mainly because of the large concentration of industrial facilities that emit carbon dioxide in the stretch of land between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
While Louisiana must move quickly and aggressively in pursuit of climate change solutions, deploying carbon capture to reach net-zero emissions is not the answer …