In the 1970s, the United States government enacted the three major environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Federal legislators passed these laws to increase environmental regulations that uphold the rights of every citizen to basic resources.
In a Public Service Recognition Week publication, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) listed the many ways government works for citizens and other residents, which pointed out that:
- OSHA keeps workplaces safe for all employees
- The Clean Air Act guarantees a commitment to safer air
- Federal law prohibits discrimination of any kind
- Public water systems provide safe drinking water
While these agencies and policies certainly do set forth these legal requirements, authorities often fail to ensure their equal enforcement, and people of color and those in poor communities suffer as a result. A New York University (NYU) School of Law article notes that this disproportionate effect, known as environmental racism, restricts access to healthy environments where victims live, work, and play. Because of unjust practices, minorities have a higher chance of suffering from poor air quality, environmental toxins, and the effects of unhealthy drinking water, such as higher lead levels in their blood.
Environmental lawyers work to balance the scale of justice by influencing environmental policy change that encourages equality and fighting against the injustices of citizens in court.
Clean Air Act
In 1970, the United States passed 42 U.S. Code § 7401, also known as the Clean Air Act (CAA). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the comprehensive law regulated emissions from both mobile and stationary sources and allowed the agency to create National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
As part of the CAA’s amendment in the 1990s, bipartisan legislators agreed to strengthen the enforcement of the act and establish more progressive NAAQS. However, as of 2019, Black people have a 54 percent higher chance of suffering exposure to air pollution than any other group in the U.S.
Clean Water Act
Two years after the CAA, the U.S. passed 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq., or the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972. The foundation of the CWA originated in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which enacted general legislation regarding the protection of the country’s water supply. The CWA amended the original act, adding elements such as:
- The establishment of pollution control programs, including industrial wastewater standards
- The development of national recommendations for water quality criteria for surface water pollutants
- The banning of the discharge of a pollutant into navigable waters except under strict circumstances
Despite the implementation of these measures decades ago, many Americans still face water contamination issues, particularly in poor areas and cities with a large minority population. This may include residents of Flint, MI, as well as Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Newark, and Milwaukee, as well as many other cities across the country.
Toxic Substances Control Act
Passed in 1976, 15 U.S. Code § 2601 et seq. gave the EPA the authority to mandate companies to maintain recording, reporting, and record-keeping requirements as well as restrictions on certain chemicals. Other provisions of the legislation, known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) include the jurisdiction of the EPA to:
- Require manufacturers, importers, and processors to test chemicals if the EPA suspects risks
- Maintain the TSCA inventory of over 83,000 chemicals
- Require certification reporting and other requirements when importing or exporting chemicals
- Require industries to report any TSCA violations
However, the TSCA does not apply to many types of industries in which people of color and lower socioeconomic status frequently work, such as food, drug and cosmetics manufacturing, and pesticides. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), many minorities and those living in poverty face a much higher risk for disease caused by environmental factors such as hazardous chemicals or dangerous workplaces than those in other populations.
A Lawyer Can Help You Pursue Justice in Your Case
Despite the rights ensured by the three major environmental laws, the government has failed to provide widespread protection throughout the country, and those in minority groups and who live in poverty often fall between the cracks.
At Ben Crump Law, PLLC, our attorneys believe that your income level, the color of your skin, or any other factors should never determine the value of your safety, health, and well-being, and we can help you fight for justice and compensation. Contact us today at (800) 959-1444 to speak with our legal team about your free case evaluation.