Brockton and West Bridgewater Residents Bring First State Environmental Justice Case to Supreme Judicial Court

Date of Release: 
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Press Contact(s): 

Staci Rubin, Alternatives for Community & Environment, (617) 442-3343 x236, staci@ace-ej.org
Virginia Jeppson, Citizens for a Better Brockton, (508) 587-6615
Ed Byers, Stop The Power, (508) 326-1029

[Boston - March 4] Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) will hear the first state environmental justice case, entitled City of Brockton, et al. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board and docketed as SJC-11406. The case presents claims by affected residents that the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) improperly approved a plan to build a dirty fossil-fuel power plant in a low-income community of color without adequately taking account of the requirements of the state's Environmental Justice Policy.

Residents of Brockton and West Bridgewater have campaigned against Brockton Power, LLC's proposed power plant for more than seven years because it would create more pollution and public health hazards in a densely-populated community already overburdened by polluting facilities. Brockton has higher rates of asthma, premature mortality, and cardiovascular hospital admissions than the statewide average. Said Brockton resident Barbara Carchidi, "This is simply the wrong location for this very large polluting and potentially dangerous facility – it is less than a third of a mile from schools, elderly communities and
hundreds of people who live and work in the area."

Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies, and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. Under the 2002 Massachusetts Environmental Justice Policy, certain state agencies, including the EFSB, must make environmental justice an integral consideration in their programs.

"Historically, multinational corporations, with projects such as this, are known to locate such projects in poor densely-populated areas where residents are too poor or politically unconnected to fight back. It's ironic that Brockton, a classic example of such a community, is now being forced to defend itself in the state's highest court as if it were the perpetrator of a misdeed for daring to fight such a travesty," said Laurie Matthews, an East Bridgewater resident involved with a community group opposing the power plant.

Today, the SJC will hear and consider the environmental justice arguments made on behalf of eight Brockton and nine West Bridgewater residents, who are represented pro bono by Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE) and the law firm of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. The residents, who are joined in these arguments by the City of Brockton and the Town of West Bridgewater, contend that the EFSB failed to make findings on key evidence and misconstrued the scope of the Environmental Justice Policy.

This case has generated significant attention. Three organizations filed briefs as amici curiae - friends of the court - explaining why they support the position of Brockton and West Bridgewater residents. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice stated in its brief that:

  • "[t]he Commonwealth's laws and policies must be crafted and interpreted in a substantively robust manner to overcome the systemic inequalities that fostered environmental injustice in the first place."

Hands Across the River Coalition, an environmental justice organization in New Bedford, stated in its brief that this case is "about the right of all people in the Commonwealth, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or socio-economic status, to equal protection from an unfair share of environmental pollution from industrial operations." The Conservation Law Foundation, in its brief, provided specific examples of various ways in which the EFSB could have met its obligations with respect to the Environmental Justice Policy.

ACE is proud to have supported the Brockton and West Bridgewater residents for the past seven years through our Environmental Justice Legal Services program. ACE is hosting a viewing party at 2181 Washington Street, Suite 301 in Roxbury today starting at 8:45 a.m. where ACE members, allies, and supporters will gather to watch the oral argument via a live webcast from the court online at http://www2.suffolk.edu/sjc/ and to show their support for the fight for equal access to justice and the right for all residents to be decision-makers in our neighborhoods.

 

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