Model Environmental Justice Bills Published by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Sabin Center
In an effort to advance environmental justice solutions across the United States, the Sabin Center has partnered with WE ACT for Environmental Justice to launch a suite of model state environmental justice bills for legislators and advocates to introduce and adopt 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. It contains model legislative language, fact sheets, memos, and regulatory briefing information covering five topic areas: (1) cumulative impact reports, (2) indirect 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 model bills include increased regulatory oversight by state environmental agencies to address environmental injustice, new data metrics, and increased public engagement—critical components in understanding and mitigating the full extent of cumulative impacts. WE ACT chose to partner with the Sabin Center in the hopes of leveraging its work on New Jersey and New York’s cumulative impacts legislation to positively impact other communities. This partnership with WE ACT has also furthered the Sabin Center’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism initiative.
"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."
The cumulative impacts framework is critical to promoting environmental justice in disadvantaged communities, 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.
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 memorializing the 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 release of these model laws is particularly timely 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, such as New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, have already enacted cumulative impacts and environmental justice laws, additional efforts at the state level are needed to continue addressing cumulative impacts.
The full suite can be found at DismantlingInjustice.org.
For more information, please contact:
Tiffany Challe, 914-434-8975, Communications Associate at Sabin Center (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andrea Nishi, Climate Justice Fellow at Sabin Center (email@example.com)
Catalina V. Silva, 571-488-5020, Humanity Communications Collective (firstname.lastname@example.org)
About WE ACT for Environmental Justice
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 them at weact.org and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.