How Environmental Laws and Tools Can Help Your Community

Regardless of race, color, or income, everyone deserves environmental justice and equal protection from environmental harms and risks.

Environmental laws are the rules that protect people and the environment from pollution and toxic chemicals. Environmental laws:

    • Manage and protect our air and water quality
    • Manage the storage and disposal of toxic wastes
    • Support the sustainability of our natural resources
    • Empower agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create rules and regulations to protect the environment

Although environmental laws can seem technical and difficult to understand, you and your community can learn to use these laws to help deal with environmental concerns and health risks and to even hold lawbreakers accountable.

Using the EJ Green Book

The EJ Green Book was created to help you understand how environmental laws interact with your community. Although some environmental issues are complex and may require the assistance of an experienced attorney, this toolkit will provide you with a good starting point to help you identify:

    • which questions you should be asking,
    • what information you will need, and
    • what tools are available to you and your community.

Although the EJ Green Book is not a substitute for the knowledge and experience of professionals, you can achieve a lot with this information.

The EJ Green Book covers many of the environmental regulations and laws that you should be aware of as you start addressing the environmental concerns of your community. However, this toolkit is meant to serve as a starting point and not a complete reference to all the different types of laws, agencies, and environmental issues you might face. Environmental law involves many government agencies and is administered and enforced through lots of different laws and branches of government. For this reason, you should always conduct additional research to determine which law or agency is most relevant to the specific issue you are trying to address. Your specific situation might not be covered by this toolkit, but you will still find the major tools and resources necessary to know how to identify potentially applicable laws and what steps to take once you do.

As a first step, this chapter introduces the different areas regulated by environmental laws, who environmental laws protect, the tools and opportunities that are available to you, and how you can use those tools to help you achieve environmental justice for your community. When you understand these tools and opportunities, you can recruit and educate other members of your community to make sure that everyone is represented and included. Remember, there is strength in numbers, and there are many organizations throughout Georgia that can provide support and expertise to your cause.


Identifying the Issues

Although the purpose of environmental laws is to protect people and the environment from pollution and toxic chemicals, most environmental laws are tightly focused on specific issues. Being able to identify what issues are relevant to your community and which laws apply to those issues can help you address those concerns.

A sampling of the specific areas covered by environmental law that you might find useful are:

Pre-Construction Environmental Review

Land Use Planning and Zoning

Waste Management, Landfills, and Hazardous Waste

Water Quality

Air Quality

Electric Utilities


As you decide to tackle an environmental issue or concern in your community, you may wonder what types of programs, resources, or tools are available to empower you.

The next sections will present you with a range of government processes, online resources, and specific legal actions that can serve as your tools to address environmental issues to achieve important outcomes for your community.

While some of these tools are mechanisms and resources that are established by our laws, others are more informal – platforms and programs offered by environmental agencies to support your organizing efforts by providing you with the information, technical support, and planning resources that you need to be a successful advocate for your community.


Using Legal Tools

Many mechanisms and tools are already built into our environmental laws and are an important part of the lawmaking process. Even though these tools can seem challenging, they are often very straightforward and offer the greatest potential for positive results when used properly.

The EJ Green Book will help you learn how to effectively use these tools with your community and will address many of your questions and concerns.

Accessing Public Records and Meetings

Submitting Public Comments

Environmental Justice Complaints

Administrative Appeals in Georgia

Citizen Suits


Using Other Tools Provided by Environmental Agencies

In addition to the formal tools offered by environmental laws, government agencies such as the EPA and Georgia’s EPD offer grants and programs specifically designed to help communities address environmental concerns.


Here are a few resources that you might find useful as you start working with your community to tackle environmental issues:

EPA’s Environmental Justice Grants

Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X)

Green Power Partnership

Green Infrastructure Wizard

Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

EPA’s Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit

Additional Resources from Federal and State Government Agencies

In summary, environmental law can help you:

    • Learn how a rule, regulation, or government action will affect your community.
    • Ensure that agencies hear your environmental concerns and consider all the facts that are relevant to your community before making decisions.
    • Provide input on the decisions that impact your environment.
    • Assist government agencies in identifying and addressing specific violations of environmental law or unlawful pollution.
    • Advocate for laws and regulations that are more inclusive and address the concerns of underrepresented individuals.
    • Educate your community on how to become more involved in government decision making and environmental justice.
    • Hold polluters accountable and force them to clean up the impacts of their pollution.