Bay Journal

Environmental justice coalition starting up in the Chesapeake Bay

Group seeks to address problems that disproportionately hurt disadvantaged communities

  • By Rona Kobell on November 12, 2013
  • Comments are closed for this article.

Many advocates around the Chesapeake Bay region have said in the past that environmental justice issues don't get the attention they deserve.

Whether it’s putting in a new incinerator in a disadvantaged part of Baltimore or responding to flooding in poor neighborhoods in Norfolk, environmental justice has always been a component of the envrionmental movement, even if no one called it that. It's not always a front-burner issue in terms of the Bay Program, which deals mostly with nitrogen and phosphorus and sediment. But it's long been a focus of local neighborhood groups, who are often fighting permits or filing lawsuits in hopes of stopping a project that they believe will damage their waterways.

Simply put, environmental justice means looking out for groups of people who are often neglected — people of color, people of little means, people who live in areas that cities have already given up on — and giving them a voice. That may mean reducing emissions at a power plant that is contributing to many children’s asthma or pushing to relocate a project that can harm the environment. Often, it entails suing entities — steel companies, the EPA, the state environmental protection departments — to obtain results.

Law schools all over the country now have environmental justice departments, and attorneys who specialize in that work. Law clinics, including the ones at the University of Maryland and University of Virginia, look for cases with an environmental justice component. Increasingly, it’s becoming part of the work of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, which matches high-powered Washington-area attorneys with clients who can’t afford their prices but have a case nonetheless.

Now comes the DMV Environmental Justice Coalition. Dr. Sacoby Wilson, of the University of Maryland, has been instrumental in putting together the group, which will be looking at some of the environmental problems in Maryland and how they disproportionately hurt disadvantaged communities. Among the issues Wilson’s group has already examined: the number of low-income state residents who eat fish that may be tainted with toxics, because they have little else to sustain them.

The coalition plans to have meetings around the three-state region (Maryland, DC, Virginia). The first meeting was last month in Washington. This Thursday, Nov. 14, it will be meeting in Dundalk, at the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center, 323 Sollers Point Road, Dundalk, MD. The neighborhood is Turner’s Sation, a historically black enclave of eastern Baltimore County, where many immigrants came in the 1900s for jobs at Bethlehem Steel.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell


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