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June 10, 2020 by Alice Kaswan

Black Lives Matter and the Environment

Black lives matter. As we contemplate the scope of structural racism, we find that “Black Lives Matter” needs to be said over and over again. We say it as we push for policing that protects rather than threatens. And we can keep saying it. Like when we talk about having available, affordable health care. Having access to technology and broadband, a quiet space, and time when the classroom becomes off limits due to a pandemic or climate-driven extreme weather. Finding an affordable place to live and landlords who don’t discriminate. Finding meaningful work and getting a promotion. Finding fresh food. Getting respect.

And then there’s the environment. We still see stark disparities in exposures to environmental harms in our country. For example, communities of color are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution. For decades, people of color have been relegated to areas suffering cumulative pollution from industry, energy development, trucking, and highways and freeways. Meanwhile, the suburbs became pristine havens for whites only, shaped by restrictive housing covenants that were pushed by banks, the federal government’s loan policies, and the real estate industry.

And harm from pollution is not just about …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

March 24, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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UPDATE: The Center for Progressive Reform signed a March 31, 2020 letter in support of federal funding for programs aligned with the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform in the COVID-19 stimulus legislation. Among a variety of environmental justice priorities, the request includes cumulative impacts analysis.


As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the globe, the inequalities in American society have come into even sharper relief. People with low incomes who are unable to work from home risk being exposed to the virus at work or losing their jobs altogether. Their children may no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals at school. They are also less likely to have health insurance, receive new drugs, or have access to primary or specialty care, putting them at a greater risk of succumbing to the illness. As with any shock to the system – natural disaster, conflict, and …

Oct. 23, 2019 by Dave Owen
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Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies.

For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a depressing, if unsurprising, picture. In 2011, federal agencies participating in an environmental justice working group agreed to develop and periodically update environmental justice strategic plans, but some agencies have never developed plans, and others have stopped updating their plans. Ideally, those plans would include ambitious goals for progress and measurable indicators for evaluating progress toward (or past) those goals, but many agency plans include no such things …

Sept. 23, 2019 by James Goodwin
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Last week's televised climate town hall saw several Democratic presidential candidates outline an impressive array of policies that, if implemented effectively, offer some measure of hope for averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis for us and future generations. The operative concept there – lurking in the background and too often taken for granted – is effective implementation. The fact of the matter is that meeting our country's greatest challenges – climate change, economic inequality, systemic racism, access to quality health care – will require effective implementation, and that in turn will require a more robust, modernized, and inclusive regulatory system than we currently have.

Conservatives have long vilified the U.S. system of regulatory safeguards, while establishment Democrats – when not trying to ignore it altogether – have at best accepted regulation only grudgingly and apologetically. As demonstrated at a June CPR conference, though, progressives are staking out a new, more …

June 18, 2019 by Emily Hammond
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

The Supreme Court has concluded that Virginia's decades-old moratorium on uranium mining is not pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act. But there is no clear answer to the question that pervaded the briefing and oral argument: What is the proper role for state legislative purpose in a pre-emption analysis?

Monday's judgment was accompanied by three opinions: a lead opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh; a concurring opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan; and a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. The Gorsuch opinion stated that state legislative purpose has no place in pre-emption analyses, whereas the Ginsburg opinion expressed discomfort …

Feb. 21, 2019 by James Goodwin
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For affected indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, new oil and gas pipelines snaking across their lands represent a new kind of attack. Dirty, polluting, dangerous, and built without the communities' consent, these pipelines are the inevitable outcome of North America's hydraulic fracturing and tar sands oil "revolutions" that have played out in recent decades. These indigenous frontline communities must bear the disproportionate costs brought about by developed nations' continued addiction to fossil fuels, all without seeing most of the benefits. In a special preview episode of Season 2 of the Connect the Dots podcast, CPR President Rob Verchick explores this poignant case study of environmental injustice with the guidance of Rachel Rye Butler, the head of the Democracy Campaign at Greenpeace.

As Rachel tells Rob, the First Nations people in Canada and Native Americans in the United States have been protesting the development of …

Nov. 14, 2018 by Sarah Krakoff
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This post was co-authored with Shannon Roesler, a Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma City School of Law. Before joining the law school faculty, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Deanell Reece Tacha on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. She was also a staff attorney and teaching fellow in the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center and a visiting faculty member at the University of Kansas School of Law. Read her University bio. This post is part of a series of essays from the Environmental Law Collaborative on the theme "Environmental Law. Disrupted." It was originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Since the dawn of the environmental justice movement, we have heard the stories of individuals and communities left unprotected by our environmental laws and policies. Their stories reveal the …

Oct. 2, 2018 by Sidney Shapiro, Robert Verchick
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

The reactions to our article, Inequality, Social Resilience, and the Green Economy, have a clear message: We, environmentalists, have our work cut out for us.

We wrote our article to start an overdue conversation about environmental policy and social and economic well-being, and we thank our commentators for joining us in starting this conservation. In response, we would note that, although protecting the environment and achieving justice has never been easy, the United States has made progress over time. We are persuaded, despite the caveats our commentators have identified, that the country can do so again.

Michael P. Vandenbergh warns of the political danger of tying the environmental agenda to social well-being in our current political state, and we agree with this warning for all of …

Sept. 26, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

A recent study tells us that Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, may have caused as many as 4,600 deaths, far exceeding the initial official death toll of 64. In contrast, contemporaneous hurricanes in Texas and Florida appear to have caused far fewer deaths: 88 in Texas and 75 in Florida.

The differing outcomes bring home the importance of Sidney A. Shapiro and Robert R. M. Verchick’s recent article, which explores the way that underlying social vulnerability determines the impacts of major environmental transitions.

Just as a hurricane’s consequences differ dramatically depending on many socioeconomic factors—including infrastructure, access to medical care, and financial resources—the consequences of a shift to a green economy will differ based on the impacted …

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