Equity & Justice
NRDC believes in an environmental movement that, at its core, seeks justice. From the ravages of the climate crisis to unsafe drinking water that afflicts communities of color, we know that the environmental challenges we face today are the results of decisions throughout history that were steeped in racism, colonialism, and other injustices. We also acknowledge that many issues related to the environment affect people intersectionally. Overlapping issues such as racism and sexism can create layers of systemic and constant oppression. In our continuing efforts to help right these wrongs, NRDC has been working with and advocating for frontline communities to help create a healthier future that belongs to all.
We partner with communities most burdened and impacted by pollution, contamination, and climate impacts by providing legal, technical, and scientific support in close coordination with them. Here are our ongoing efforts:
Provide legal support and scientific expertise to frontline communities
NRDC works in close collaboration with communities to litigate environmental injustices in court and hold polluters and those in power to account. With local partners, we filed the first clean water lawsuit to protect residents of Flint, Michigan, after city and state officials switched the city’s drinking water supply and broke federal law by failing to treat the water properly. We also worked with partners and community members to bring a lawsuit against the city of Newark and New Jersey state officials for failing to address high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. And we fight to protect communities from dangerous air pollution, from the Port of Los Angeles to the Southeast Side of Chicago. To enhance our legal expertise and policy positions, our team of scientists provide the public with information to help them protect themselves and guide policymakers toward solutions that will prioritize the health and well-being of communities.
Did You Know?
People of color are three times more likely to live in a county with failing grades in ozone, year-round particle, and short-term particle pollution.
The health impacts of heat on farm and construction workers will disproportionately affect immigrant workers from Mexico and Central and South America—that’s 75 percent of hired crop workers and about 20 percent of construction workers in the United States.
Amplify community voices
The most powerful voices in the fights against environmental and climate injustices come from the communities most directly affected. We work to center them, their leadership, and their priorities in our advocacy so that we can spread awareness, build a stronger movement, and influence policy changes. The results are inspiring: Our years-long coordination with community members on the Southeast Side of Chicago and the raising of their voices helped secure the denial of an operating permit for General Iron, a massive metal shredder that would have further polluted the already overburdened Latino neighborhoods. Additionally, our drive to bring attention to the issue of failing sewage infrastructure in Mount Vernon, New York, led to historic funding being allocated to addressing the environmental injustice.
Lay the groundwork to create holistic change
NRDC works to address injustices across big systems—for example, not just decreasing pollution from transportation but also creating neighborhoods that are walkable and bikeable. We know that it’s not enough to simply reduce carbon pollution; we must work to undo the accumulated harms borne by low-income, Indigenous, and Black and Latino people, and to stop the injustices that turned their communities into “sacrifice zones.” To that end, we are working with partners in the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform, as part of the federal government’s Justice40 Initiative, to direct investments and benefits in ways that prioritize marginalized communities. In addition, we work with partners to increase access to healthy foods in marginalized communities, such as advocating for increased SNAP funding and flexibility of usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pressuring Dollar General to carry locally grown, fresh produce in its stores to help address food insecurity. We also collaborate with communities to ensure metropolitan areas grow equitably and sustainably and that investments support community-led needs. And we work to enact policies that invest in high-quality jobs with safe and healthy workplaces that help build a strong, sustainable, and inclusive workforce. Internationally, our partnership with the Self Employed Women’s Association in India has grown from helping women salt-pan farmers to replace dirty diesel pumps with clean solar pumps to an initiative that helps women lead in clean energy adoption across rural India.
“If you want to create social change and are waiting until everything is perfectly aligned before acting, then you’re waiting too long.”
Melissa Lin Perrella, chief equity & justice officer
- The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, passed by the U.S. Senate, takes important steps toward providing everyone in the country access to clean, safe, and affordable water. It authorizes increased funding for new and existing drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater programs that will help to provide critical resources to communities. In addition, a federal infrastructure law also set aside $15 billion to replace lead service lines across the country.
- As of 2023, a new rule passed in the state of California requires a 3,200-foot setback buffer between new oil wells and places where people live and congregate, which will directly impact the health of many low-income communities and communities of color.
- After community and environmental organizations advocated for a ban against the oil refining waste petroleum coke, or “petcoke” on Chicago’s Southeast Side, the city responded by banning new or expanded petcoke operations and prohibiting outdoor storage of the toxic material. The fight to protect communities from petcoke in air and drinking water continues in other parts of Chicago and Indiana.
- In April 2022, NRDC and coalition partners successfully advocated for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to create the Clean Truck Fund, a dedicated source of funding for zero-emission (ZE) truck purchases. During its first year, the program will generate $90 million—paid for by industry—to help incentivize the development and deployment of ZE trucks and infrastructure at the ports. The program advances labor goals by ensuring that misclassified truck drivers do not bear the costs of transitioning to cleaner technology and supports allocating funds toward companies that use driver-employee models, which classifies drivers as independent contractors.
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Latest News & Resources
Up to 22 million people in the U.S. are drinking from taps poisoned with lead.
Tell the EPA to finalize strong standards for safe drinking water!
Tell the EPA to finalize strong standards for safe drinking water!
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