Green Living: Green Living Guides

You Can Beat City Hall
Do Your Research

  Know What's Happening
  Get Organized
» Do Your Research
  Determine a Goal
  Build a Coalition
  Target the Decision-Makers
  Get Involved in the Process
  Build Support
  Further Resources

The most important initial step for your newly formed group is to gather information.

  • If a private company rather than a government agency is proposing to run, say, a landfill, incinerator or power plant in your neighborhood, find out the name of the company. If it has operated similar facilities elsewhere, has it been a good citizen, or has it been repeatedly fined for environmental violations? This track record can tell you a lot about what your community might expect. Start with an Internet search for news articles on the company. Another source for hard facts is Right-to-Know Net. Their databases can tell you who's releasing toxic chemicals, who's being sued, who's not complying with environmental regulations, and much more. ECHO is EPA's tool to help you track whether facilities in your neighborhood are violating environmental regulations.

  • If the facility already exists and wants to expand, research its present impact on the environment and health of people in your community. You can get a general idea of the current environmental quality of your neighborhood using Environmental Defense's Scorecard. Enter your zip code and Scorecard will list some current sources of air and toxic chemical pollution in your community, as well as provide a general assessment of air quality, water quality and existing environmental hazards and vulnerabilities in your county.

  • Be aware of a project's potential secondary impacts. If a landfill, incinerator or transfer station is proposed, take into account that the facility will likely bring additional diesel truck traffic to the area. Factor the adverse health effects of diesel exhaust into your assessment. Find out about the health threats of toxic chemicals and pollutants.

  • If possible, contact people in other communities where similar facilities are located. Find out what their experiences have been.


As you'll discover in your research, environmental issues can be legally and scientifically complex. Though you can get access to enormous amounts of valuable information on a potentially undesirable facility in your community, much of it could be highly technical and confusing for a lay person. Don't hesitate to bring in outside expertise early in the game. Network with other grassroots groups in your state or in other parts of the country that have been in similar struggles. They can offer tips and advice, background information or put you in touch with experts who can help you. Check at your community college or university for professors who have studied environmental issues. They may have experience or materials that they could share with you, invite you to sit in on a class or be willing to speak to your group. Many non-profit groups can help grassroots organizations with environmental issues, providing legal advice, education and other technical assistance. Some law firms also provide free legal assistance to grassroots groups.

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