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:
Those unequal pollution levels translate into more deaths, more asthma attacks, and more hospitalizations.
Once the U.S. Environmental Protection …
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
In its first year in office, the Biden administration has, to its credit, reversed a number of anti-environmental policies initiated by former President Donald Trump.
Gone is the previous administration's infamous "two-for-one" policy, under which federal agencies had to eliminate two regulatory requirements for every new regulation they proposed. Numerous Trump-era initiatives that cut back needed air and water quality protections have also been rescinded. And, thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies are once again focused on responding to the mounting dangers posed by the climate crisis.
Given these steps forward, it is perplexing that the current administration has not yet restored a critical environmental tool that has proven workable and highly beneficial in past years: EPA's Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs).
Top photo by the Natural …
This op-ed was originally published in The American Prospect.
After the Supreme Court’s decision last month rejecting the Biden vaccine mandate for large employers, it wasn’t just the public health community that was asking “where do we go from here?” Environmental activists and attorneys immediately recognized that the Court’s reasoning in the vaccine case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, will likely lead to a win for the fossil fuel industry in the biggest environmental case of this term, West Virginia v. EPA.
On the surface, the vaccine case and West Virginia appear to involve totally different issues. NFIB was a challenge to an emergency regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that required large employers to either verify COVID-19 vaccinations or compel their employees to wear masks and get tested. In a 6-3 decision, with the three liberals …
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 …
This op-ed was originally published by The Hill.
Recently, Congress passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which will block enforcement of arbitration requirements for workers alleging sexual harassment or assault. Arbitration is the process of handling disputes outside of the court system — forced arbitration prohibits workers from suing their employer altogether.
This is an important outcome for the #MeToo movement and has the potential to reach many workers and employment claims, depending on how broadly or narrowly it is interpreted.
In a fair and just country, corporations are held accountable in the courts if their irresponsible behavior harms people. However, like many policies, the communities most impacted by forced arbitration are historically marginalized groups. Indeed, forced arbitration has a disproportionate impact on low-income Americans and Black and brown women when they are the victims of discrimination. Their abuse goes beyond the …
This op-ed originally ran in Bloomberg Law.
On Jan. 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held oral argument in Baltimore v. BP PLC, a case in which the city is seeking to hold BP and other fossil fuel companies liable in state court for their systematic deceptive marketing campaign to hide the catastrophic dangers of their products.
The goal of their decades-long, ongoing disinformation campaign: to lock in a fossil-fuel based society—and continue reaping astronomical profits—even during a fossil fuel-driven climate emergency. Other cities, counties, and states have brought similar suits in their state courts, all invoking long-standing state deceptive marketing laws.
So why is Baltimore's case before a federal appellate court? The panel's three judges wanted to know—and the answer is more misrepresentation.
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 …
When the Wake Forest University emergency communications systems called me at 12:01 am on Tuesday, February 1, I could not have guessed that it was about a chemical bomb capable of wiping out blocks and blocks of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The call warned university students to heed the city’s voluntary evacuation of the 6,500 people living within in a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant that was on fire — and in danger of exploding.
Thankfully, the fire did not injure anyone, and the bomb did not ignite.
Yet it is a wakeup call — in my case, literally — not only to those of us here in Winston-Salem but across our nation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to protect the public from exploding fertilizer plants, but it has left them unregulated.
These last few days have been harrowing, to say the least …
This op-ed was originally published in Washington Monthly.
When the conservative movement contrived to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues, one of the goals was to create a powerful ally in its campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory system, which we all depend on every day to safeguard our families, communities, and environment. With its recent decision in the emergency vaccine-or-test case, the Court’s conservative supermajority gave its clearest signal yet that it will advance this campaign from the bench.
The unsigned majority opinion and the concurrence authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, when read together, lay out a comprehensive blueprint for defeating regulation in the public interest. Significantly, the arguments they raise are firmly grounded in the long-standing conservative myth that the regulatory system lacks sufficient “democratic accountability.” Quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the concurrence casts the stakes in stark terms, warning …
UPDATE: On February 10, the Senate passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (H.R. 4445), sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature. Read my brief statement on the importance of this legislation.
A few years ago, Roschelle Powers took a routine trip to visit her mom, Roberta, at her nursing home in Birmingham, Alabama. When Roschelle opened the door, she found her mother vomiting, disoriented — and clutching a handful of pills. Roberta’s son, Larry, visited a few days later and found his mom alone and unresponsive. She died soon after – with 20 times the recommended dose of her diabetes medication in her blood.
The Powerses …