ELI Board Pledges Action to Eliminate Racial Disparities & Realize Environmental Quality for All

December 2020

(Washington, D.C.): The Environmental Law Institute reaffirmed its stand against racism and the institutional structures that perpetuate it, and committed itself to more fully integrate environmental justice into its vision and mission, per a Board Statement released this afternoon. The Statement on Racism and Environmental Justice identifies a set of immediate and longer-term actions to eliminate racial disparities via transformative change and commits ELI to annually assess and publicly report on its progress.

“Given profound injustices demonstrated this year, emblematic of deep-seated and pervasive systems of injustice and discrimination, and heightened risks to vulnerable communities that flow with such phenomena as pandemics and climate change, there is urgency across the ELI community to achieve more progress on racial issues that are salient in the environmental sphere,” explained Benjamin F. Wilson, Chairman of ELI’s Board and Chairman of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., the largest and oldest environmental law firm in the United States. 

“ELI’s vision of a “healthy environment, prosperous economies, and vibrant communities founded on the rule of law’ and our mission ‘to foster innovative, just, and practical law and policy solutions to enable leaders across borders and sectors to make environmental, economic, and social progress’ connect strongly with environmental justice goals,” noted ELI President and former EPA General Counsel Scott Fulton. “We see a doubling down on environmental justice as an important expression of the Institute’s mission-central work.” 

Using ELI’s unique multi-sectoral, cross-discipline, nonpartisan platform as a fulcrum for change, the Board pledged to: (1) support as foundational to environmental rule of law those laws, policies, and practices that eliminate racial disparities experienced by communities of color in their protection from environmental harms; and (2) promote transformative approaches that will contribute to the realization of environmental quality for all.

“ELI is already respected and admired by those working on environmental justice,” commented ELI Board Member and former Department of Interior Solicitor, Hilary Tompkins. But at this moment in time, it is important that ELI revitalize its EJ efforts and increase its leadership profile on these issues of racial inequity in the environmental law and policy arena.”

Near-term actions include hiring an Environmental Justice Coordinator, establishing an Environmental Justice Law Clerk program with Howard University Law School, identifying gaps in environmental justice scholarship, and creating a Pro Bono Clearinghouse to match communities experiencing environmental injustices with law firms willing to volunteer legal services on behalf of these communities.

Longer-term initiatives identified by the Board include developing products and programs that connect environmental justice with corporate sustainability and environment, social, and governance policies and priorities; identifying opportunities to advance environmental justice internationally; and pursuing and cementing relationships with ally organizations, both law and non-law focused, to better inform and guide ELI’s environmental justice activities.

The Statement is accompanied by an Accountability Roadmap for Race and Environmental Justice Commitments. This document, which should be read in conjunction with the Statement, identifies who will be responsible for these undertakings and the timeframe for action.

ELI’s Board of Directors, which arrived at gender parity for the first time this year with 20 women and 20 men, has also made major strides in recent years towards a racial composite that is reflective of America and with diverse interests within the environmental imperative.

ELI President Scott Fulton and Board Chair Ben Wilson are available for interview upon request.