The development of extensive environmental regulation over the last five decades has afforded many Americans a sense of security born of the belief that environmental laws will protect them from toxic chemicals and pollutants.
Despite this, the history of the United States and Georgia highlights the truth that such protection from toxic pollution does not occur equally for everyone.
People of Color (POC) and low-wealth communities often suffer disproportionately from the effects of toxic pollution, and the impacts of climate change will continue to exacerbate the quality-of-life stressors that they already experience.
In the last fifty years, more and more evidence has emerged relating to the inequitable placement of landfills, truck depots, incinerators, power plants, and other polluting industries in communities of color and low-wealth neighborhoods. These communities end up being exposed to inequitable human health risks associated with exposure to the toxic pollutants emitted from these facilities. The current paradox of the South is that the growth of wealth and structure has increased its vulnerability to a wide range of ongoing and imminent disturbances.
From existing challenges of long-standing racial injustice and economic inequity to new challenges presented by climate change, we must all work together to create a future that is resilient, just, and equitable.
Being able to work together requires that we seek to empower people and communities with tools that have historically been out of reach for many. Tools like legal education.
In 2007, GreenLaw (formerly known as the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest) and the Turner Environmental Law Clinic (Turner Clinic) at Emory University School of Law published Putting the Law to Work in Our Communities: A Citizen’s Guide to Environmental Protection and Justice in Georgia, a handbook explaining major environmental laws and legal tools.
Since 2007, much has changed, including:
rollbacks in state and federal environmental protection;
increased temperature, extreme weather, and other climate change-related events;
the emergence of community science, coupled with widespread access to smartphones;
the development of many internet resources relating to environmental protection; and
heightened awareness of the harms of social and environmental injustice.
Accordingly, the Turner Clinic, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Hummingbird are pleased to present this updated and significantly expanded edition.
Understanding the laws that impact where you live will give you the tools to better protect your environment. But first you must understand that environmental laws are complex.
Before relying on any of the advice in this toolkit, you should consult an expert. This Environmental Justice (EJ) Green Book is no substitute for the knowledge and experience of professionals, such as lawyers and engineers with training in environmental issues. We will be happy to help connect you with a lawyer or other expert who can assist you.
The principal authors of the Environmental Justice Green Book:
Katie Bauman, Fellow, Turner Environmental Law Clinic
Marisa Carter, Community Engagement Strategist, Hummingbird
Mindy Goldstein, Director, Turner Environmental Law Clinic
Megan Huynh, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center
Gil Rogers, Director, Georgia Office, Southern Environmental Law Center
MaKara Rumley, Founder & CEO, Hummingbird
Geoffrey Toy, Fellow, Turner Environmental Law Clinic
We would like to thank the following organizations for their support and contributions to this project: