Why Law for the Environmental Grassroots? (Part 1 of 6)

Law for the Environmental Grassroots (LEG) is both a concept and a new collaboration. It believes that a strong environmental movement can only be achieved by also building the strength of grassroots organizations, and that the expansion of access to legal resources by the grassroots is a critical component of that effort. This blog post is the first in the ‘Who, What, When, Where, Why, How?’ series, which aims to introduce the mission, motivation, operations, and visions of the organization. Please feel free to comment, leave feedback, and/or contact us, and learn more about LEG at www.lawforenvgrassroots.com!

Because there are concrete tools that we can develop – right now, today – to build stronger bridges between lawyers, legal resources, and communities fighting against environmental injustice, not only to grow a more responsive legal system and healthier environments, but to change the question from ‘how can we equitably allocate pollution?’ to ‘how can all our communities be healthy and vibrant?’

Environmental injustices mean certain people, for no other reason then their race or income, get sicker and die sooner while being denied a voice or resources to build healthier and more resilient communities.

  • Health: Asthma levels are twice as high among children living in the lowest-income areas; kids in North Brooklyn and South Bronx have the highest rates in the nation (15%), and African Americans living in New York’s poorest neighborhoods have a lower life expectancy than any other racial or income group.
  • Housing: Housing conditions also contribute to long-term health problems: low income and minority groups are more likely to live in unhealthy housing with indoor air pollution, lead paint, asbestos, mold and mildew. This is true both in urban areas, like New York City, and rural areas in upstate New York. Climate Change is adding an additional layer of inequality: some of the populations most vulnerable to its effects are lower-income communities living in older public housing in coastal areas and depend on jobs threatened by extreme weather disruptions.
  • Transportation & Access: Every day, 5,000 diesel trucks bring 50% of Manhattans into Brooklyn’s 22 waste-transfer stations. Conversely, many underserved neighborhoods have limited transportation options, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, streetlights, parks, or recreational facilities. That means you have better odds of getting run over by a semi than being able to play in a park.
  • Industry v. Environment: Lower-income communities or communities of color, whether upstate, downstate, or across states, are disproportionately selected as sites for potentially hazardous activity, with laxer standards and enforcement.
  • Lack of Resources: These immediate harms and long-term effects continue in great part because of the lack of financial resources of these communities, as well as a perception on the part of many officials and leadership that there is neither a political benefit to fixing these problems, nor negative ones to ignoring them. One example: 50% of all philanthropic giving to environmental organizations goes to the largest 2% of organizations—meaning that the remaining 98% (i.e., about 15,000 organizations) have to fight over the remainder.

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