Please note that views presented in blog articles are those of the author, not those of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the section, nor the State Bar of Wisconsin.
It’s difficult to contemplate seemingly insurmountable environmental justice issues – think climate change, lead in drinking water and paint – without feeling like individual action could be futile. Although each individual needs to arrive at their own motivation for action, one path forward is to start with discrete, local steps.
The State Bar of Wisconsin Environmental Law Section has started down that path, with two recent articles in tihs blog that discuss environmental justice issues at the federal level:
"Climate Justice: Human Rights and Climate Change Litigation" by Arwen Bleksley, and
"Taking a ‘Hard Look’ at Climate and Environmental Justice Effects under the National Environmental Policy Act" by Jorge Roman-Romero.
In addition, the section, which hosts an annual environmental law update every fall, included its first diversity and inclusion panel, “Diversity and Inclusion in Environmental Regulation,” in the
2021 Environmental Law Update in September 2021. Though overdue, the panel was an important first step.
Three panelists spoke on a variety of topics that reminded attendees how environmental justice issues touch communities throughout the state. Topics included the disproportionate impact of lead poisoning and transportation projects on Wisconsin’s children and environmental communities. Panelists also discussed the impact of environmental regulations on tribes and tribal governments. The panelists encouraged participants to acknowledge and address our shared responsibility for these and other environmental justice matters.
What We Can Do
So, how can we start to individually and collectively accept responsibility for these issues? And what unique responsibility might we have as members of the State Bar?
Other state bars are already exploring how representation in the state bar impacts the outcome of environmental litigation and policy. That representation is still far from equitable. According to the
2021 ABA Legal Profile, white and non-Hispanic lawyers constitute a percentage of the legal profession that exceeds percentage of the general U.S. population.
Diversity clerkship programs, such as
the one hosted by the State Bar of Wisconsin, may present part of a bigger solution. The summer 2022 program process is underway, but your office and your team could support a diversity clerkship in future summer(s) and contribute to the equitability of the current and future State Bar.
Tressie Kamp, Benjamin N. Cardozo 2010, is an assistant attorney general at the Wisconsin Department of Justice in the Public Protection Unit, where her practice focuses on environmental law.
For those of us who work in environmental litigation, tools exist to incorporate diversity, inclusion, and environmental justice in our practice.
EJSCREEN, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental justice screening and mapping tool, can help us understand environmental justice impacts of decisions in citizen-suit, enforcement, and defense cases. In late 2021,
Wisconsin state agencies held community listening sessions as part of developing the Wisconsin Environmental Equity Dashboard. This tool could give many constituencies, including environmental lawyers, additional state-specific data layers to understand the public health and environmental impacts of our decision-making.
Finally, environmental litigators have an opportunity to create the time and space to explore whether cases have a disproportionate impact on any communities, and how case resolution may benefit those same communities. EPA, for example, maintains
a website with information on recent federal settlements that benefited disproportionately impacted communities. The same website has a wealth of information on EPA’s environmental justice priorities.
Other Action Items
Looking for some more bite-sized action items? Consider the following:
All Contributions Make a Difference
No matter the size or the imperfection of our first step forward, no matter how overwhelmed we may feel by the obstacles ahead, each of us can and should make a unique contribution to furthering the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice in Wisconsin and beyond.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Environmental Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar
sections or the
Environmental Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.