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March 31, 2021 by Maxine Burkett, Minor Sinclair

Women’s History Month Q&A with Maxine Burkett

Maxine Burkett

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. 

This week, CPR’s Executive Director, Minor Sinclair, spoke with Member Scholar Maxine Burkett, professor of law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Burkett has written extensively in diverse areas of climate law with a particular focus on climate justice, exploring the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable communities in the United States and globally. Their conversation explored the roots of climate justice and its connections to present day climate action. 

MS: Natural disasters can be discriminatory for a host of reasons, and climate change is part of that. Why are certain communities more vulnerable in the face of climate change and what are the racial inequity dimensions of that? 

MB: There is this notion of there being more than one disaster in the wake of natural disasters — climate-fueled or otherwise. The first disaster is the impact communities experience, the second is the level of preparedness of that …

March 19, 2021 by Sarah Krakoff, Maggie Dewane
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Sarah Krakoff

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. This week, we spoke with Sarah Krakoff, professor of law at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an expert on Native American law, public lands and natural resources law, and environmental justice.

CPR: What motivated you to become an ally to Native Americans and equal justice in America? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration? 

SK: My commitment grew out of anti-poverty and civil rights work I did while in law school, which included a very cursory introduction to the unique status and rights of Native nations. But my understanding …

March 9, 2021 by Karen Sokol, Robert Verchick
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In the United States, many people think the world's worst human rights abuses take place elsewhere. Unless you are among those in the United States who are subjected to such mistreatment.

On March 2, human rights experts called the world's attention to some of the most egregious and systematic human rights violations perpetuated here in the United States — and in particular in our neck of the woods in southeast Louisiana. International human rights experts condemned long-standing environmental racism in "Cancer Alley" — a heavily industrialized and polluted corridor along the Lower Mississippi River — and said it must end.

In a statement, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner summarized the experts' findings condemning the U.S. government's targeting of the residents of the region, most of whom are Black, for the siting of toxic polluting oil, gas, and chemical facilities. Plans to further develop the …

March 1, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Businesses that violate environmental laws and permits damage our air, land, and water, sometimes irreparably. Yet too often, these polluters aren't held accountable for harming the environment and public health. In Maryland, state officials don't respond to all violations, and, when they do, they aren't always successful. Even when they are successful, fines and other penalties don't necessarily result in behavior change. As a result, Maryland polluters are largely off the hook for the "externalities" of doing business.

To deter pollution, we need true accountability. We must ensure polluters pay for all harm done, whether to the environment, humans, and other species and habitats. Unfortunately, Maryland, like most other states, is a long way from achieving this goal. At CPR, we're tracking bills in the Maryland legislature that, if passed, would set the state on a path to greater compliance with environmental laws. These bills would:

  • Enforce …

Feb. 25, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.

So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.

But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half …

Jan. 11, 2021 by Shalanda H. Baker, Alice Kaswan
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The Black Lives Matter movement highlights long-standing inequities and amplifies the drumbeat for climate justice and an equitable transition to a clean economy. With the incoming Biden-Harris administration and a growing list of environmental justice advocates at the helm, it's time to move from rhetoric to reality. We offer concrete proposals to turn climate justice goals into climate justice policies.

The call for climate justice has multiple dimensions, from ensuring an equitable transition to clean energy for vulnerable communities and workers disrupted by the move away from fossil fuels, to extending the benefits of our economy-wide shift to those who have historically been left behind. Even more than past environmental challenges, decarbonizing will not be a narrow, technical undertaking. We need a holistic, justice-centered perspective to shape our vision for a green economy and meet the pervasive environmental and …

Dec. 10, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.

A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or …

Dec. 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi, Rebecca Bratspies
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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 …

Dec. 8, 2020 by Laurie Ristino
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Editor’s note: This post is part of the Center for Progressive Reform’s Policy for a Just America initiative. Learn more on CPR's website.

At long last, we’ve reached “safe harbor” day, when states must resolve election-related disputes. Under federal law, Congress must count votes from states that meet today’s deadline. Donald Trump is essentially out of time to steal a second term; our democracy, it appears, will survive, at least for now.

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the election — and what Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine it mean for our country. I’ve been thinking about the last one, too, when Trump took the helm of our country after a campaign of lies and hate — even though he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

I’ve been reflecting on other moments when our …

Nov. 4, 2020 by David Flores
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The Virginia General Assembly has wrapped a special legislative session to reform the Commonwealth’s budget. The story Virginians often hear is that lawmakers were busy pursuing social justice, spurred on by COVID-driven economic hardships and a historic demand for reforms. However, this story belies the fact that the Assembly failed to pass the meaningful social justice reforms called for by working-class Virginians, while giving away half a billion dollars in customer overcharges to Dominion Energy’s shareholders.

With the climate and COVID crises at the fore, state and local environmental regulation and decision-making has taken on greater weight. As CPR Policy Analyst Katlyn Schmitt points out in a new paper, there is still some low-hanging fruit to be picked before Virginians can be equitably served by and participate in the Commonwealth’s environmental decision-making process.

For one, public notice and comment procedures for proposed environmental rules …

CPR HOMEPAGE
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