Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s (SCSJ) Environmental Justice Program seeks to empower economically and politically disadvantaged communities and communities of color (together, “EJ communities”) in their efforts to overcome environmental injustice at a time when climate impacts exacerbate environmental inequities. Environmental injustice is pervasive throughout the South due to historical redlining and discriminatory land use policies that locate polluting industries in EJ communities. Gentrification in these areas also perpetuates the erasure of these communities and their history. We provide EJ communities with long-term support that is responsive to community needs rather than organizational directives. SCSJ is unique in the environmental justice field in our community-based lawyering approach that empowers the community itself as the agent of change and the experts in their own needs. SCSJ’s primary role is to use our organizational legal, research, and communications resources to improve access to a justice system that has historically excluded and failed to serve EJ communities.
Support Community Legal Education:
Community legal education empowers organizing and collective action by equipping EJ communities with the resources for self-advocacy on an ongoing basis. Legal reference guides and toolkits provide a structure for understanding complicated legal systems, thereby bolstering community agency while improving access to and public participation in decision-making processes. These tools can be a source of immediate relief or remedy for impacted households and communities. In addition, such resources can enable community-building on a large scale, as successful EJ communities can connect and share their experiences and strategies with other impacted communities. SCSJ further empowers advocacy and facilitates community connections by providing research and communications support in addition to our legal expertise.
Offer Strategic Counseling and Advice:
We provide strategic counseling and advice to both community members and decision-makers. For community members, this goes beyond general community legal education. It is tailored to community-specific issues faced by our partners and their communities and will depend on community-identified needs. Strategic advice and counseling also include prelitigation efforts to work with municipal decision-makers, industry representatives, and state and federal government officials to improve EJ outcomes and avoid the need to resort to litigation where possible. With a growing intergenerational awareness of social justice generally and environmental justice particularly, some policymakers have an increased interest in seeking input from EJ communities and advocates to improve attention to EJ considerations in policy decisions. Based on our legal and community engagement model, we are uniquely positioned to provide strategic counseling and advice to those decision-makers. In addition, we coordinate with partner organizations and communities on strategies to improve, enhance, and build EJ capacity. Finally, we are evaluating existing legal tools and exploring reasonably achievable regulatory improvements for opportunities to solidify the implementation of pro-EJ policies in a manner that can withstand a variety of political and judicial contexts.
Provide Rapid Response Direct Legal Services:
While litigation is a measure of last resort and not appropriate to achieving desired outcomes in every scenario, it is a necessary and powerful tool to enforce justice, improve equity, and empower EJ communities. The impact litigation model, while important and effective for pushing the law in the direction of equity, often precludes the ability to respond rapidly to immediate community needs like land use and zoning decisions. SCSJ works to fill the near void of nonprofit organizations with the expertise and organizational structural ability to provide rapid response direct legal services. In other cases where additional capacity is needed, SCSJ has strong working relationships with partners from larger legal organizations. By involving other legal partners, we will build bandwidth for direct legal services to vastly more communities throughout the South through our coalitions than SCSJ could provide alone.
Environmental Justice News
DURHAM (Oct. 12, 2023) – Southern Coalition for Social Justice condemns the NC General Assembly’s decision to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of an anti-environment bill, House Bill 600. This new law poses a grave threat to the environment, public health, and the rights of vulnerable communities across North Carolina. The bill, which Cooper vetoed…Read More SCSJ condemns HB 600 override for putting big business over North Carolinians
In February 2022, SCSJ supported Mississippians gathering from across the state for a Summit focused on the environment and social justice.
SCSJ is hiring a Chief Counsel to guide our growing environmental justice program. Apply today.
In the early 2010s, SCSJ represented communities like the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood in the fight against landfill expansion in Black communities.