WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In an effort to advance environmental justice solutions across the U.S., WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law launched a suite of model local and state environmental justice bills today for legislators and advocates to adopt and introduce in their state’s 2024 legislative sessions.
Dismantling Injustice: A M.O.D.E.L.(Model for Optimizing and Designing Environmental Legislation) For Empowering Communities was created to arm interested legislators with tools to accelerate proposed policy changes quickly. The suite contains model legislative language, fact sheets, memos and regulatory briefing information across five topic areas: (1) cumulative impact reports, (2) source permits, (3) permit renewals, (4) environmental advisory boards and (5) zoning.
“Legislators and other advocates interested in environmental injustice face myriad constraints with their time and the most effective ways to address constituent concerns,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “By identifying the most impactful actions that can be taken and giving legislators a blueprint to adapt to their state, we’re ensuring they can take meaningful action quicker and more effectively. We are grateful to the partnership and insight of the Sabin Center for their work and collaboration on this.”
The five model bills included the addition of regulatory oversight by state environmental agencies to address environmental injustice, new data metrics and increased public engagement, two critical components in understanding the full extent of cumulative impacts. WE ACT brought this partnership idea to the Sabin Center to leverage New Jersey and New York’s cumulative impacts legislation to impact other communities positively.
The work with WE ACT was part of an initiative the Sabin Center took in alignment with its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIA) plan.
"Many disadvantaged communities suffer from cumulative impacts -- the overlapping sources of pollution and other environmental harms,” said Michael Gerrard, founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. “We are honored to partner with WE ACT in drafting and promoting model bills that state legislatures can tailor to their own needs and enact to reduce the cumulative impacts that already exist and to prevent new ones from arising."
Cumulative Impacts are critical when evaluating impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns, as the combined exposures to pollutants, according to the EPA, “often increases their vulnerability to new or ongoing environmental hazards, which can cause, perpetuate, or exacerbate disproportionate environmental and public health harms and risks.” As a result, community members suffer from higher adverse health effects, including asthma, cancer, elevated blood lead levels, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and development disorders, especially found in children.
Environmental justice topics and, specifically, cumulative impacts, have been the subject of renewed interest under the Biden Administration, which issued an Executive Order in 2021 with a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.
The timing of the new suite is also essential in light of recently weakened or repealed federal environmental protections, which has led to uncertainty regarding the evaluation, guidance and regulatory enforcement associated with the assessment of cumulative impacts.
While some states have already enacted cumulative impacts and environmental justice laws, such as New York, New Jersey and Maryland, additional efforts at the state level are needed to continue addressing cumulative impacts.
The full suite can be found at dismantlinginjustice.org
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in creating sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The core mission of the Sabin Center is to develop and promulgate legal techniques to address climate change and to train the next generation of lawyers who will be leaders in the field. The Sabin Center is both a partner to and resource for public interest legal institutions engaged in climate change work. Further, the center addresses a critical need for the systematic development of legal techniques to fight climate change and the compilation and dissemination of information for lawyers in the public, private and NGO sectors.