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SEER, environmental justice, and diversity—Toward implementing the 2021 ABA resolution

Norman A Dupont


  • Addresses how the Section is implementing this resolution to serve EJ concerns and the overall interests of inclusion of all diverse and vulnerable populations.
  • Focuses specifically on SEER related initiatives.
  • Demonstrates that the Section continues its focus on these critically important issues for all its members.
SEER, environmental justice, and diversity—Toward implementing the 2021 ABA resolution
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Overview of ABA 2021 resolution for environmental justice

In August 2021 the ABA House of Delegates adopted a Section initiated and sponsored Resolution No. 513. That resolution provided for the ABA to advance environmental justice (EJ) programs and further resolved that the ABA urges all organizations with law-related practices to “consider the perspectives and communities of color, indigenous communities, low-income communities and other vulnerable populations.” This article is one of a series in Trends addressing how the Section is implementing this resolution to serve EJ concerns and the overall interests of inclusion of all diverse and vulnerable populations. This article focuses specifically on SEER related initiatives, although SEER and other ABA Sections, Divisions and Forums are also participating in an overall ABA Environmental Justice Task Force set up as a result of Resolution No. 513. 

The Section’s EJ, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and events since August 2021

Immediate past chair, Michelle Diffenderfer, made many leadership position appointments for the ABA 2021–2022 year. Among those appointments, Michelle selected Gwen Keyes Fleming as special advisor on environmental justice to the Council and Monty Cooper to head a Special Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In February 2022 the Section hosted a specific program focusing on tribal rights. COVID-related precautions caused this to be a virtual program, which means you can still view many of the excellent panel presentations, including How Tribes are Leading the Way in Responding to Climate Change and Who Is Steering the Boat? Understanding Water Quality Regulation in and Around Indian Country.

A webinar presentation on Environmental Lawyers of Color: Mentoring for the Future was held in March 2022.

 In March, the Section’s environmental justice advisor established a specific webpage devoted to EJ issues and discussion of those issues within the Section. SEER has a separate webpage on its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

In April 2022, Council voted to continue support and keep as an active resolution a prior resolution sponsored by the Section and adopted by the ABA in 2002, ABA Resolution No. 110. That resolution focuses on negotiation and settlement of Native American reserved water rights throughout the United States.

In April 2022 SEER recorded two separate discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion led by Dawn Siler-Nixon. The first program discusses “Intersectionality–Impact of Shared Experiences,” while the second discusses “Intentionality–dentifying and Counteracting Unconscious Bias, While Building Cultural Competence.

In July 2022 the Section sponsored the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association’s annual Lavender Law Conference held in Los Angeles. This event attracted over 1000 participants.

In September 2022 the Section will host its 30th Fall Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The Fall Conference will feature a number of “can’t miss” programs including at least two with particular focus in the areas of EJ and diverse communities: 1. “Does the Arc of Environment Enforcement Bend Towards Justice” and 2. “Empowering Local Communities and Contaminated Sites.” Other panels at the Fall Conference will consider EJ aspects in a variety of environmental fields, including a panel examining the Biden Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) focus on Clean Air Act and related aspects of EJ. Information on registering for the Fall Conference and its many EJ/diverse community programs is now available on the 30th Fall Conference registration page

Section publications involving EJ and diverse communities since August 2021

Section publications, including this publication (Trends), Natural Resources & Environment (NR&E), the 2022 Year-In-Review, and committee articles have similarly echoed the Section’s focus on EJ and diverse communities. For example:

NR&E’s fall 2021 issue on Environmental Justice featured a wide variety of articles on this topic. Authors Lauren Bachtel, Kerry McGrath, Andrew Turner, and John Bobka discussed “Navigating Environmental Justice Issues in Federal Permitting.”

NR&E’s spring 2022 on Land issues included a lead article involving an examination of the bases for tribal recovery of resources under CERCLA. In a moving article in its “Perspectives” feature, author Ian Smith discussed his personal observations on returning to a Tribal lands area and “Celebrating the Restoration of the National Bison Range to Its Rightful, Tribal Owners.” This same issue also featured Jose Almanzar and Paul Schauwecker describing “How ESG Efforts Can Promote Environmental Justice.”

In its May/June 2022 issue, Trends featured two articles of interest to lawyers in the EJ and diverse community fields. Bernadette Rappold, Lawrence Pittman, and Travis Kline analyzed the search for environmental justice in an era of statutory, regulatory and scientific uncertainty. In the same issue, Jessi Fierno reviewed Richard Rothstein’s book: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America and its lessons for society that aims to address and remedy legacy discrimination.

The Year-in-Review-2021 was composed of contributions from 27 of the Section’s substantive committees summarizing important events from the perspective of each of those committees. EJ was a significant component in many committee contributions, as discussed in the “Highlights” introduction specifically addressing developments related to EJ.

A number of Section committee articles also directly addressed EJ issues since the adoption of the ABA resolution last August. In April 2022, Robert A. H. Middleton and Daniel J. Deeb discussed new efforts to place environmental justice “front and center” in EPA’s overall agenda. Richard Spradlin separately wrote “EPA: A Palpable Change in the Air” concerning the efforts of EPA Administrator Regan to focus agency enforcement actions on disadvantaged communities.

Section membership programs remain focused on recruiting and retaining members, including those from diverse communities

The Section’s membership service group remains committed to attracting members from all backgrounds. The membership service group is home to the Special Committee for Diversity Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. The membership group also is home to the separate and long-standing “Membership Diversity Enhancement Program,” which has produced a number of current leaders in the Section.

Individual SEER Committees have also focused on Environmental Justice issues, including the Climate Change, Sustainability and Ecosystems Committee, which has now appointed vice chairs specifically focused on EJ matters.

Whether viewed from one of its specific service-focused groups (programs, publications, or membership), on a Committee-based perspective, or from an overall perspective of the entire Section, much has been done to meaningfully implement ABA Resolution 513 on EJ and diversity. As examples in this article demonstrate, the Section continues its focus on these critically important issues for all its members.