PILP Explores Climate Change and Environmental Justice

On Wednesday, October 16th, the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) class heard from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) about the intersection of environmental justice and climate change.  The presentations focused on how to use the traditional tools of environmental law, like the Clean Air Act and planning and zoning laws, to address climate change while meeting the needs of underrepresented groups.

The first speaker, Staci Rubin, is a senior staff attorney at CLF where she focuses on transportation issues.  Rubin informed the class that in Massachusetts, transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—the key driver of climate change. The Commonwealth is one of the leading states in adopting policies to curb emissions, including a pending bill to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.  However, it is crucial that the transition to cleaner transportation is equitable and just.  Latinx and Black Americans are exposed at least 50% more pollution than they produce, compared to non-Hispanic white Americans, who are exposed to 17% less pollution than they produce.  Rubin also noted that public transit service tends to be less available and reliable in communities of color.  For example, the Fairmont commuter-rail line used to pass through Dorchester, a predominantly Black neighborhood, to Hyde Park, a mainly white neighborhood.  The Dorchester community absorbed the pollution from the train but did not have access to the transportation benefits until recently, when the Blue Hills Avenue station opened.  Through examples like these, Rubin illustrated that equitable access to transportation is not just an economic issue—it is also a climate change issue.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal (Executive Director) and Lauren Sampson (Civil Rights Fellow) from LCR then discussed their organization’s launch of a new practice area focused on climate resilience and environmental justice in low-income communities of color.  The new initiative was sparked in part by the realization that much of the organization’s current work, such as immigration advocacy, overlaps with climate change.  For example, many immigrants arrive in the United States due to natural disasters and food shortages aggravated by climate change, but asylum law does not recognize claims based on environmental conditions.  LCR also has litigated successfully against the Trump administration’s attempts to rollback Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which might protect these climate migrants.  LCR also already advocates for increasing transportation equity for low-income communities of color and immigrant communities, opposing the MBTA’s cancellation of late-night service and cashless fares.  As it develops this new practice area, LCR plans to partner with other organizations like CLF and community groups to further its civil rights mission. 

The meeting ended with a conversation about the importance of viewing our clients’ challenges through a climate change lens.

For more information on Conservation Law Foundation’s transportation work, visit: https://www.clf.org/strategies/modernizing-transportation/

For more information on the Lawyers for Civil Rights’ new race and climate justice program, visit: http://lawyersforcivilrights.org/what-we-do/race-and-climate-justice/

Meeting recap provided by PILP Members Katie Stock (Miyares and Harrington LLP) and David Lyons (Anderson & Kreiger)