GreenLaw’s MaKara Rumley Makes Public Comments at National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Meeting

On Sept. 11, 2013 GreenLaw’s MaKara Rumley Made the following public comments at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Meeting in Atlanta, GA. The comments were well received and spurred a lively discussion from environmental justice colleagues and other attendees.

 

Brief description of concern:

My name is MaKara Rumley and I am an Environmental Justice Attorney with GreenLaw.  GreenLaw is a non-profit law firm, which enables me to provide my legal services to my clients free of charge.  We were founded over 20 years ago on the radical notion that air and water are not luxuries.  That’s why we use our legal and technical expertise to compel governments to enforce the law, and to challenge industries guilty of serious air and water pollution violations.  We are the only Georgia-based legal organization providing full-service legal assistance to the state’s nonprofit environmental watchdog groups and community groups.

 While matriculating at Spelman College as an engineering major in the 1990s, I took a class taught by Dr. Robert Bullard on environmental justice. Following the class, I immediately changed my major to sociology with a minor in political science and vowed to become an environmental justice attorney.  Today I am an environmental justice attorney living my dream. 

As an advocate I often become frustrated with the lack of results that I can garner for my clients.  My comments today concern a paradigm, which prevents citizens from challenging environmental abuses under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. 

While both Acts provide a Citizen Suit legal avenue for persons to challenge excessive polluters, the financial burden of bringing such a lawsuit is cost prohibitive.  These lawsuits cannot be advanced without retaining experts to scientifically challenge discharge or emission limits, provide modeling, and testify in court.  Even with providing my legal services free of charge my clients remain responsible for expert fees.  Expert fees can range anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on the case.  Fish fries and bake sales are just not enough to cover the necessary fees.

What I would like the NEJAC to advise EPA to do:

I propose that a portion of the fines that are collected from permit violators should be deposited into a fund that could assist with expert expenses in citizen suits.  This fund would serve to contribute a portion of the costs that a citizen plaintiff would need to retain an expert.  Providing this fund or something similar would go a long to enabling communities to meaningfully reduce pollution in their neighborhoods and bring offenders to justice.
 
Secondly, I need laws with teeth on cumulative impact.  It is hard enough to stabilize the existing pollution, it becomes overwhelming when having to then turn one’s attention to additional polluters when a community is already suffering.  Presently, in GA our Environmental Protection Division pretty much never disapproves a permit to pollute.  The GA EPD will give an applicant infinite opportunities to submit an application until they get it right.  We need EPA to have the authority to tell states that applying to get a permit to pollute should not be akin to applying for a driver’s license.
 
Thank you.