Across America, low-income communities and people of color are forced to shoulder pollution’s heaviest burdens and often don’t have a fair share of basic environmental amenities, such as access to open space, healthy foods, and public transit. Statistics show that polluters are far more likely to target these communities, and their residents pay the highest price. For example, children who live near freeways, ports, and railyards are five times more likely to have lung damage than kids who don’t.
For more than two decades, NRDC has stood shoulder to shoulder with grassroots allies in the fight for environmental justice. We look to communities to define their own battles, and then we provide the legal tools and expertise to create the change they seek. We stay the course until justice is delivered and work with residents to create the healthy, vibrant neighborhoods they deserve.
We recognize that environmental justice comes from the ground up, and that our collaborations should:
- Derive from and be accountable to the local community groups with which we partner
- Include a commitment to build short- and long-term institutional capacities within local and regional organizations, so that environmental justice initiatives can become self-sustaining
- Be considered part of the larger movement and adhere to that movement’s established principles
When dirty industries or negligent governments fail to honor the law, we take them to court. And our innovative, community-focused legal work sets national precedents for cleaning up pollution. For example, our attorneys used the Americans with Disabilities Act to require the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, to repair unhealthy mold conditions in the city's public housing. Childhood asthma rates in public housing are nearly double those in other types of buildings. In a landmark settlement of a class-action lawsuit, NRDC helped to establish a civil right to breathe for thousands of NYCHA tenants suffering from asthma and living in apartments with mold.
In 2001, when the Port of Los Angeles announced expansion plans, it did so without proper environmental review, despite being a major source of diesel pollution. Our challenge of these plans in court forced the port to make changes, such as plugging ships into electric power at the docks and switching to cleaner fuels. This lawsuit resulted in creating the first “green” container terminal in the world and served as the model for future port development locally, nationally, and in China. We learned recently, however, that the port has failed to implement several key pollution-cutting measures. We are now working with harbor-area residents to expose the port’s actions and ensure this never happens again. This case illustrates that we cannot let our guard down and that our commitment to environmental justice must be long-term.
Another example comes out of Chicago, where NRDC brought national attention to refinery waste from Canadian tar sands oil, which was blowing into neighborhoods on the Southeast Side. Following advice from NRDC health and policy experts, Chicago soon had laws on the books aimed at protecting its citizens from the toxic dust.