On February 13, 2024, the League of Women Voters chapters across Wisconsin are hosting a virtual forum on environmental justice. The event, titled “Achieving Environmental Justice in Wisconsin,” will feature Julie Majerus, the first environmental justice policy advisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Meleesa Johnson, executive director of Wisconsin’s Green Fire.
A Landmark Settlement and a Call for Accountability
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has agreed to adopt a groundbreaking rule that holds major polluters accountable for their emissions. The rule, which could fine polluters for their contributions to poor air quality in Southern California, comes as part of a major legal settlement. Advocates, including Earthjustice, hope to collect over $25 million annually from polluters, with the fees benefiting communities disproportionately impacted by pollution.
Majerus, whose work includes leading agency-wide initiatives and alignment in policy development and community outreach, has been instrumental in pushing for more equitable policies and practices. Her experience in grant administration, continuous improvement, and systems change is crucial in effecting change.
The Intersection of Black History and Environmental Justice
The environmental justice (EJ) movement has its roots in the 1980s, with notable figures like Robert Bullard and Reverend Chavis leading the charge. The movement seeks to address environmental racism and its impacts on BIPOC and low-income communities.
Johnson, who received her undergraduate degree from UWGB’s Environmental Policy and Planning Program, has worked in solid waste management for two decades. Her experience on various boards and committees has provided valuable insights into the struggles faced by vulnerable communities.
The connection between Black History and the EJ movement is significant. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by pollution and environmental hazards. Examples of environmental injustices can be found in Warren County, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
Recent Victories and Challenges in the Environmental Justice Movement
Recent victories in the EJ movement include the enforcement of regulations for the state’s Environmental Justice Law and the successful campaign against a gas power plant in Kearny, NJ.
However, challenges remain. A federal judge recently issued a ruling in Louisiana v. EPA, temporarily blocking EPA and DOJ attempts to enforce disparate-impact regulations against Louisiana state agencies. The court concluded that EPA and DOJ Title VI disparate-impact regulations are likely unlawful and violate the U.S. Constitution.
This ruling has significant ramifications for the Biden administration’s environmental justice initiatives, restricting their ability to enforce Title VI regulations in Louisiana.
Join the League of Women Voters chapters across Wisconsin for a virtual forum on environmental justice, where Majerus and Johnson will discuss topics such as air and water pollution in marginalized communities, the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations, and strategies for promoting environmental equity. To register for the forum, visit lwvdanecounty.org and click on Forums under the Archives tab.
In the ongoing fight for environmental justice, voices like Majerus and Johnson’s are crucial in raising awareness and advocating for change. Their work highlights the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards faced by low-income and minority communities, emphasizing the need for inclusive and just policies to address these issues.