Legal Aid of the Bluegrass is in the early stages of developing an environmental practice, focused specifically on environmental justice issues that disproportionately impact poor populations.
Kentucky is well-known for some of the most stunning natural beauty in the country. However, a lesser known reality is that people who live in poverty in our region are less able to enjoy a clean natural environment for no other reason than their position on the socio-economic ladder. As an organization dedicated to “Protecting Families, Ensuring Fairness, and Changing Lives,” we strive to guarantee all people have natural and built surroundings protective of human health and the environment.
The connection between environmental justice and poverty may not be immediately obvious. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has gone a long way to helping people connect the dots but many still view environmental threats to human health as isolated, almost coincidental, events. In fact, enormous swaths of the population today take healthy surroundings for granted, which is something to celebrate and has not always been the case in this country and is still not the case in much of the world. People expect clean, drinkable water when they turn on the tap; to feel safe that the ground and creek where their kids play is unspoiled by chemical contamination; that the paint on their walls does not threaten the development of their children; or that going for a run in their neighborhood is not dangerous due to particulate matter and other air pollution; the list goes on.
Not all people have been equally delivered from environmental distress. Sadly, there are many people in Kentucky who wake up each day to a very different environmental reality because they are poor. Due to zoning, lack of purchasing power, historical housing trends, and a number of other factors, the poorest neighborhoods are often located closest to the greatest sources of pollution. Even in areas where a well-regulated industrial facility currently operates, the environmental burden disproportionately falls to the impoverished in the immediate vicinity in the form of compromised air and water quality, not to mention the large truck traffic, often carrying raw materials and waste through residential neighborhoods where kids play.
Legacy pollution is another issue, left from industrial facilities that have long since closed but leave behind years of nearly unregulated pollution from an era prior to modern-day environmental laws. The contamination left behind can persist in the soil, groundwater, and surface water for years, often migrating away from the original source, towards unsuspecting residents.
The possibilities for our new environmental efforts are nearly endless given the breadth of the issues already facing people living in poverty. We will seek to pick up the laboring oar when we are uniquely qualified to do so. As we search for our niche, please feel free to pass your own ideas along.