I’ve heard of Environmental Justice.

But what does it actually look like at Crag?

by Megan Gleason | February 21, 2023

1991 Environmental Leadership Conference attendees, including Makini Coleman, Mililani Trask, and Gail Small.

Attendees of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, including Makini Coleman, Mililani Trask, and Gail Small. Courtesy of United Church of Christ.

At Crag, our vision is to live in a world where environmental laws and policies work for everyone – no matter your race, income, gender, or zip code. And that’s why we’re committed to environmental justice in all the work we do.

But what would it really look like for all people and communities to have equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws? 

Environmental justice work takes many forms. One place to start is the Seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice. These were written in 1991 by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, where around 1,100 people from all 50 states attended what has been described as one of the most important events in the history of the environmental justice movement. Last summer, when the Crag team read The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas, we dug into these Seventeen Principles, and asked how our work fits into them. Principle #7 is one that really stood out to us:

“Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decisionmaking, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.”

Environmental Justice Principle #7

Helping community members participate in and impact the decisions being made about their community is at the heart of Crag’s work. We help our clients craft a legal strategy that goes hand in hand with the grassroots organizing and community building work they are already doing. Together, we’ve won community-led legal victories like defeating the Jordan Cove pipeline, getting Nestlé out of the Gorge, and supporting Iñupiat communities to stop Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic.

Jordan Cove Rally photo by Columbia Riverkeeper. Protect our Water photo by Local Water Alliance. Iñupiat pulling whale over ice photo by Chris Winter.

While we are proud of those wins, we know environmental justice requires going further than stopping harmful projects. Environmental Justice Principle #7 shows why we need lawyers to hold governments and corporations accountable and to help community members participate in each step of decisionmaking. Because making sure folks have a seat at the table means communities will have the power to identify what the problems are, and develop more creative solutions. But many of these decisionmaking structures are designed with barriers that keep the community out, and many folks may not know where to start to have their voices heard.

That’s why Rebeka is Crag’s first attorney specifically dedicated to working on environmental justice and climate justice. In this role, Rebeka works with various environmental justice focused, community-based organizations to advance legal and policy initiatives at local and state levels. She is helping groups understand how a lawyer can help ensure a seat at the table and support meaningful engagement. Crag doesn’t engage in lobbying, so Rebeka supports clients who meet with legislators and staff by providing research, analysis, and help drafting testimony for hearings.

Right now, one of the environmental justice organizations Rebeka is working with is Beyond Toxics, a long-time client and partner of Crag based in Eugene, Oregon. Beyond Toxics is on the front lines working to pass three environmental justice policies in the state legislature this session.

These policies will help reduce air pollution, limit pesticide exposure around schools, and invest in climate mitigation strategies.

The Oregon Medical Waste Incineration Act will close loopholes in the current law that will reduce emissions from waste incinerators and provide a much needed update to Oregon clean air laws. Trash dumps and waste incineration have always been an environmental justice issue because these polluting facilities are routinely placed in communities of color and low-income families.

The Toxic Free Schools Act will help protect children’s health from toxic chemicals in the classroom and on the playground. This law will provide funding to support schools to manage pests with less pesticides to reduce pesticide exposure at school for children, educators, and staff. Children already experiencing high rates of air, water, and soil pollutants in their neighborhoods may have underlying health conditions that make regular exposure to toxic chemicals in schools especially dangerous.

The Natural Climate Solutions bill will provide incentives for Oregon’s forest owners, farmers, and ranchers to remove climate pollution from the atmosphere and store it in natural and working lands. Natural climate solutions like wetland restoration, improving tree cover in cities, using cover crops and longer logging rotations help enhance carbon storage and will help reduce the worst impacts of climate change, which fall disproportionately on low-income and BIPOC communities.

Our Continual Learning

As we work with clients in the environmental justice space, we acknowledge that these communities have been doing this work for decades, and respect their expertise, knowledge, and direction, while we deliver high quality legal services. And we continue to learn, reflect, and improve the ways we incorporate environmental justice principles into all the work we do.


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