Remembering MLK

Today we remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who - alongside countless other activists like Julian Bond and John Lewis, among others - paved the way toward achieving social justice, civil rights and equality for all people. Thanks to their tireless advocacy during the civil rights movement, the nation witnessed the historic passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, we bear witness to similar grassroots activism for social change in the context of the public health disaster that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan. In fact, there is no better example than Flint as an environmental justice disaster, where the people of Flint, including its children, have been forced to bear the disproportionate burden of lead exposure in drinking water due to the government's misguided effort to save a few dollars by switching water sources without treating the water to ensure it's safe.

Environmental justice refers to the disproportionate burden of environmental harms on a vulnerable community. The citizens of Flint - where forty percent of the city's residents, most of whom are African American, live in poverty - have remarkably elevated public awareness and brought collective national attention to a public health disaster caused by reprehensible government misconduct. Through their persistent advocacy, the story of Flint has unfolded from a local issue to a national headline and has become a symbol of government failure at every level - including the local, state and federal government.

NRDC's clients, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Melissa Mays, along with countless others, have been at the frontlines of this struggle. Community groups invited NRDC to lend a hand in the struggle by providing expertise on the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the federal environmental law that the government violated. The SDWA is designed to ensure that water is safe for consumption, requiring water systems to test, monitor and treat drinking water.

In November, NRDC served a notice of intent to sue the City of Flint and Michigan officials for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) on behalf of Concerned Pastors and Mays, as well as NRDC and ACLU of Michigan. NRDC, along with many other community groups, including Concerned Pastors and Mays, had also petitioned the federal EPA to use its emergency powers to step in and fix this public health crisis, which fell on deaf ears. Now, as a result of government failures on every level, NRDC is helping Flint residents seek federal court involvement to step in and resolve this mess.

Like climate change, the drinking water contamination crisis in Flint was manmade and avoidable. In an effort to save a few bucks, an entire general of children will be dealing with the life-long impacts of lead exposure from drinking their tap water. It is a cruel irony that children of Flint, many of whom were already at higher risk of lead exposure, have now been dealt another blow by their own government. MLK's legacy and fight for equality continues.