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Dec. 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi, Rebecca Bratspies

Will the Biden Administration Invest in Environmental Justice Reforms?

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 as "historic and transformational, because it puts an even bigger spotlight on the issue — the challenges and impacts, but also the opportunities." Ali is now being considered to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Less than three weeks later, Biden was elected president of the United States, making it possible …

Sept. 21, 2020 by Rebecca Bratspies
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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 …

Sept. 24, 2018 by Rebecca Bratspies, Victor Flatt, Sarah Lamdan
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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."

What Happened?

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 …

Nov. 13, 2013 by Rebecca Bratspies
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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 …

Aug. 15, 2013 by Rebecca Bratspies
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This blog is cross-posted on The Nature of Cities.

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 Lotthe 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 …

Sept. 18, 2012 by Rebecca Bratspies
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a(broad) perspective

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 …

March 21, 2011 by Rebecca Bratspies
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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 …

June 25, 2010 by Rebecca Bratspies
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Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls.

On Thursday Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana refused to delay the effect of the preliminary injunction he issued on Tuesday, overturning the U.S. Department of Interior’s May 28, 2010, Temporary Moratorium on deepwater drilling. (Related court documents available here.)

Several facets of the June 22 decision are truly astonishing.

Nowhere in the decision is there any recognition of the unique, emergency circumstances or the grave threat to the public that the agency was seeking to combat. Nor did the judge pay much attention to the express and explicit congressional intention that offshore oil activities be suspended when necessary to protect against environmental threats. Instead he elevated the desire of private companies to continue their profitmaking activities over the health and safety of an entire region. His decision raises a vital question about …

June 7, 2010 by Rebecca Bratspies
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Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has been dazzling the American people with a series of colorfully named “solutions:” the dome; top hat, junk shot, top kill. However, as the days turned into week, and the weeks turned into months, one thing has become crystal clear. None of these fanciful solutions had ever been tried in deep water, and BP was making things up as it went along.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that BP was actually engaged in an elaborate theatre designed to divert attention from the fact that the only real hope of stopping the blowout leak is a relief well—a solution that is by no means guaranteed and is still two months away.

BP knew it had no way to stop this leak on April 20, the day Deepwater …

May 6, 2010 by Rebecca Bratspies
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Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls.

Today's New York Times update on the Deepwater Horizon disaster opens with BP’s failed efforts to control the remaining two leaks via concrete, or remote control robots. Strangely, the article makes no mention of the missing remote shut-off valve called an acoustic switch. This $500,000 device might well have prevented this whole catastrophe. But, the United States does not require that deepwater oil rigs install an acoustic switch, and BP and Transocean decided to forego it. The United States considered requiring these switches in 2000, but Bush administration nixed the idea after industry pushback. My guess is that Vice President Cheney's secretive Energy Task Force had a hand in that, but since the Task Force operated entirely behind closed doors, we may never know the truth of how the United States made this ill-considered choice. Apparently, the Times does not …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 9, 2020

Will the Biden Administration Invest in Environmental Justice Reforms?

Sept. 21, 2020

Environmental Justice Is Not Un-American

Sept. 24, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving: Disaster in Disaster: The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act Must Be Enforced

Nov. 13, 2013

Tales from our trash: New York City's sanitation workers, sustainable cities, and the value of knowledge

Aug. 15, 2013

A Comic Book Sparks Kids Toward Environmental Justice

Sept. 18, 2012

Navigating the High Seas: Why the U.S. Should Ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty

March 21, 2011

Separating the Natural and Environmental Disasters in Japan