Conservation Law Center Launches New Legal Aid Program to Advance Environmental Health and Equity in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting

Courtesy photo provided by Gary Residents for Responsible Development

Written from press release

Bloomington, IN, January 18, 2024 – The Conservation Law Center (CLC) at Indiana University’s Mauer School of Law has announced the launch of its Environmental Legal Aid Program, dedicated to serving the environmental legal needs of residents, advocates, and community groups in Gary, Hammond, Whiting, and East Chicago (“the Region”), according to a press release. The initiative aims to address longstanding environmental challenges and promote justice in communities disproportionately affected by pollution.

The Environmental Legal Aid Program expands CLC’s mission of offering free representation to environmental non-profits dealing with crucial environmental health and justice issues, as well as conservation organizations working towards the protection of natural resources, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

Focusing on the Black and Hispanic communities in the Region, which have faced extreme levels of toxic pollution from heavy industry, the program seeks to combat high rates of asthma, cancer, and pollution-induced diseases. CLC aims to break down systemic barriers by providing legal, scientific, and technical resources, empowering residents to advocate more effectively for improved environmental protection.

Leading this effort is attorney Michael Zoeller, an environmental lawyer with over thirty years of experience, including advocacy for environmental justice initiatives during his tenure at the U.S. Department of Justice. Zoeller, along with CLC attorney Kim Ferraro, has been actively involved in representing local groups like Gary Advocates for Responsible Development (GARD) in challenging environmental decisions impacting the community.

GARD president Dorreen Carey emphasized the importance of additional expertise in navigating complex environmental issues, praising Zoeller and Ferraro for their instrumental role in representing community concerns to local industry and government agencies.

CLC’s Environmental Legal Aid Program operates on a “community lawyering” model, aiming to empower citizen-driven advocacy by conducting listening sessions, engaging with local activists, community groups, faith-based organizations, and other leaders to identify and address environmental challenges.

Christian Freitag, Director of Conservation Law Center, expressed personal excitement about the initiative, emphasizing the commitment to prioritize community-driven priorities. Attorney Mike Zoeller echoed this sentiment, stating his enthusiasm to advise and represent local activists passionate about shaping the future of their communities.

Founded in 2005, CLC is Indiana’s only nonprofit law firm dedicated to addressing pressing environmental problems through public interest litigation, policy advocacy, and legal tools. The Environmental Legal Aid Program aligns with CLC’s commitment to providing opportunities for law students to understand the intersections between environmental and social justice challenges.

For more information about Conservation Law Center and its programs, visit conservationlawcenter.org. Follow Conservation Law Center on Facebook and Instagram @conservlawcentr for updates.

References:

  1. PBS.org – Study on Air Pollution Disparities
  2. InsideClimate News – Gary, Indiana, Plastic to Jet Fuel

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