An aerial view of houses.

Cracking Down on Environmental Injustice

State attor­neys gen­er­al have used the pow­er of their offices to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties in their states from pol­lu­tion and health haz­ards. New Jer­sey Attor­ney Gen­er­al Gre­w­al has filed 25 law­suits to hold pol­luters in Cam­den (twice), East Orange, Eliz­a­beth, Fair­field, Flem­ing­ton, Hill­side, Jer­sey City (twice), Kearny, Newark (four suits here), Orange, Pater­son (twice), Palmyra, Pennsauken, Phillips­burg, South Orange, Tren­ton (three suits), and Upper Deer­field Town­ship account­able for pol­lut­ing in and around low-income com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of color.

The law­suits seek to com­pel com­pa­nies to clean up the soil and ground­wa­ter con­t­a­m­i­na­tion for which they are respon­si­ble. Occa­sion­al­ly, the law­suits addi­tion­al­ly seek finan­cial penal­ties for com­pa­nies ignor­ing pri­or orders to clean up con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed pro­pri­eties. Some of the cas­es also seek recov­ery of tax dol­lars that New Jer­sey spent to clean up pol­lut­ed properties.

Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra also has sup­port­ed efforts to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties from envi­ron­men­tal injus­tice. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra has filed a series of ami­cus briefs in sup­port of the City of Oakland’s ordi­nance pro­hibit­ing the stor­ing and han­dling of coal at the Oak­land Bulk and Over­sized Ter­mi­nal in response to health and safe­ty impact con­cerns on near­by West Oak­land res­i­dents, a com­mu­ni­ty of col­or. More infor­ma­tion about Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becerra’s work on this mat­ter can be found under Cal­i­for­nia” here.

High­light­ing Envi­ron­men­tal Disparities

  • May 2020

    In May 2020, Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey released a brief on the envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that com­pound the dis­parate impacts of COVID-19 on com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in Mass­a­chu­setts. The brief fea­tures data ana­lyzed by the Boston Uni­ver­si­ty School of Pub­lic Health show­ing that com­mu­ni­ties with the high­est pop­u­la­tion of Black, Brown, and immi­grant res­i­dents are hotspots’ for the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. These com­mu­ni­ties are also among the poor­est, most pol­lut­ed, and most vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change in the state, due to decades of pol­i­cy choic­es that have failed to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, while allow­ing pol­lut­ing indus­tries and facil­i­ties to con­cen­trate in such com­mu­ni­ties. To rem­e­dy these long­stand­ing envi­ron­men­tal injus­tices, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Healey rec­om­mends invest­ing in clean ener­gy jobs to pro­mote eco­nom­ic recov­ery, halt­ing roll­backs of fed­er­al envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and enforc­ing exist­ing ones, and strength­en­ing require­ments to pro­tect envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice communities.

Defend­ing Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Communities

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, the city coun­cil of Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia approved an ordi­nance to ban the stor­age and han­dling of coal and the oil refin­ery byprod­uct petro­le­um coke (pet­coke). The city of Rich­mond is a work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ty whose res­i­dents are pre­dom­i­nant­ly peo­ple of col­or. Due to mul­ti­ple indus­tri­al and fos­sil fuel-emit­ting facil­i­ties locat­ed in Rich­mond, res­i­dents of the city face a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den of air pol­lu­tion and asso­ci­at­ed health-relat­ed impacts.

  • March 2020

    In March 2020, the own­er and oper­a­tor of a coal ter­mi­nal in Rich­mond, an ener­gy com­pa­ny that pro­duces and exports pet­coke from that ter­mi­nal, and a Utah com­pa­ny, which mines and sources ther­mal coal, filed law­suits in fed­er­al dis­trict court chal­leng­ing the ordinance.

  • May 2020

    In May 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed an ami­cus brief in sup­port of Richmond’s motion to dis­miss the lit­i­ga­tion. In the brief, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra high­light­ed that the ordi­nance com­plies with the Constitution’s Com­merce Clause and that it is not pre­empt­ed by the Inter­state Com­merce Com­mis­sion Ter­mi­na­tion Act. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra also empha­sized the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice impli­ca­tions of the ordi­nance and not­ed the dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact of air pol­lu­tion on low-income com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or liv­ing near the Rich­mond coal terminal. 

  • August 2020

    In August 2020, the court denied the city’s motion to dismiss.