Air, Civil Rights, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Natural Resources, Public Lands, State and Local, Water

Imitation is Flattery: New York Should Implement California’s Attorney General’s Environmental Justice Bureau

eds note: we mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and will contribute to the discussion of the woman and her legacy in short order.  RIP.

by Sarah Walsh, Fordham Environmental Law Review, Class of 2022

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation defines environmental justice as “the fair and meaningful treatment of all people, regardless of race, income, national origin or color, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” Environmental Law isn’t only about saving polar bears and pandas, it must address the disproportionate impacts climate change is having on minority and low-income communities. 

New York City is facing numerous environmental justice issues, ranging from unequal access to city parks to overcrowded neighborhoods forced to live with environmental hazards (contributing to increased vulnerability to COVID-19). However, after doing a quick google search for environmental justice organizations in the city, I learned that while New York City and New York State are starting to take steps towards prioritizing environmental justice, there is not yet one central, organized, powerful organization that will help those suffering these disproportionate effects be heard. 

For the most part, it seems that there are many small non-profits and grassroots organizations that have some sort of environmental justice component, like Make The Road NY and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.  Therefore New York should look to the California Attorney General’s recently implemented Environmental Justice Bureau as a supplement. 

The Attorney General’s office is powerful, well-known, and politically accountable.  Besides designating resources and powerful voices to environmental justice, creating a bureau can also emphasize the importance of the issue. New York can, and should, follow California’s example.