A timely opinion article published by The Hill on June 10, 2020 reminds us of the ways that environmental justice issues are intertwined with the institutionalized disadvantages of certain groups, typically along racial and socioeconomic lines. These inequalities are not just economic, nor are they limited to issues involving our criminal justice system; rather, they intersect and affect a variety of public health and environmental issues, thereby perpetuating other inequalities and adversely affecting individual and group outcomes.
As a result of these existing inequalities, less affluent communities and communities of color tend to be disproportionately affected by certain environmental trends and tend to bear a disproportionate burden with respect to efforts to mitigate environmental damage or respond to environmental concerns.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues and, together with the recent demonstrations around the world, have brought them to the forefront of our collective attention once again.
But this problem is not insurmountable. We can and should address environmental justice issues earlier and more frequently.
In some ways, though, the law already allows us to consider “environmental justice” issues. For example, when new major energy projects are being sited, parties typically raise concerns about environmental justice, and contribute evidence regarding the impacts of the proposed projects on environmental justice communities.
Local zoning laws can also be used to help separate industrial uses that pose a risk to human health from residential communities.
And environmental reviews can help identify potentially significant adverse impacts and help mitigate them to avoid causing or perpetuating harms.
Even where the law does not expressly require consideration of “environmental justice” issues, it is possible, when representing clients before government authorities, to frame issues in other ways, and to rely on other laws to protect clients’ rights and promote their interests, thereby decreasing a project’s harm on vulnerable communities.
If you believe that a proposed project or action raises an environmental justice issue, or disproportionately harms you and/or your community, contact an experienced environmental attorney for help.
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