On Awareness for Environmental Poverty Lawyering

Earth month, April, provides an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how we treat our largest shared resource: the Earth itself. Use of this resource often brings to mind drilling in wildlife areas or deforestation in any number of places worldwide. However, I would like to draw attention to the environmental dangers we face in urban areas: dangerous environmental practices that tend not to come to light because they are overshadowed by major environmental disasters and because these dangers affect only those people least able to help themselves.

Many poverty-stricken communities are subject to environmental dangers with no ability to remedy them. The problems these communities face are seemingly unlimited, from the building of low-income housing developments on former toxic waste dumps, as in Love Canal, New York, to the systematic destruction of local parks and recreational areas in order to develop industry. The reasons impoverished communities often have no voice in these decisions are two-fold: (1) a lack of historical recognition of impoverished communities in the law, and (2) disorganization in the communities themselves.

In addressing the first point it is important to note that many of the environmental and community dangers across the country arising from commercial and industrial development are legal.  

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