How Can Legal and Regulatory Enforcement Help Communities at Risk from the Climate Crisis?

Matt Shudtz

March 5, 2020

From the farm fields of California to the low-lying neighborhoods along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, structural racism and legally sanctioned inequities are combining with the effects of the climate crisis to put people in danger. The danger is manifest in heat stroke suffered by migrant farmworkers and failing sewer systems that back up into homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Fortunately, public interest attorneys across the country are attuned to these problems and are finding ways to use the law to force employers and polluters to adapt to the realities of the climate crisis.

The second installment in CPR's climate justice webinar series showcased some of the important work these public interest advocates are doing and explored how their efforts are affected by enforcement policy and resource changes at regulatory agencies, from the federal level on down. Scroll down to watch a recording of the hour-long discussion featuring Cynthia Rice of California Rural Legal Assistance, Jon Mueller of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Joel Mintz, CPR Board member and professor at Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad College of Law.

Here are some points of discussion you won't want to miss:

  • Cynthia Rice shared examples of how California agriculture producers are adapting to the climate crisis, but doing so in a way that exacerbates various health and safety risks to workers. Thanks to her work and others', the state has adopted new worker protection standards, but she explains how the standards are not self-enforcing and how the labor force, which is predominantly minority and low-income, can work in partnership with litigators to demand more from employers.
  • Jon Mueller talked about the ways sea-level rise and land subsidence in the Chesapeake region are affecting wastewater treatment plants in the area. It's likely the plants will malfunction, adding to the stresses on surrounding communities that are already struggling with poverty, lack of investment, and other social inequalities.
  • Joel Mintz described reductions in enforcement resources and activity at EPA and state agencies, reminding us that it's important to think about the distributional effects of reductions in enforcement -- we know that environmental harms are distributed in ways that mirror broader social inequities, so reduced enforcement needs to be viewed through that lens.

You'll find plenty more interesting discussion in the webinar, as well as our panelists' recommendations for ensuring regulatory enforcement promotes both adaptation and mitigation.

For more: Register for our next webinar, Climate Justice: Holding the Fossil Fuel Industry Accountable Through State Tort Law. Or take a look at past CPR Webinars.

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