I spent my summer in Portland working for OPAL, a grassroots organization formed in 2005 to organize low-income, people of color communities around environmental justice issues. As a young organization, OPAL is building its brownfield redevelopment program through its work with Groundwork Portland, a coalition land trust aiming to reclaim vacant and contaminated lands for conservation and community redevelopment. Groundwork Portland received funding to focus on risk reduction around lead, toxins, hazardous waste, solid waste and built environment issues in people of color and low-income communities. OPAL is leading this effort and, as a law clerk, I was able to help as OPAL begins to address the legal and policy questions around brownfield redevelopment.
As a law clerk for OPAL, my primary responsibility was to research and write about two major topics. For the first half of my PILP project, I researched the feasibility of establishing a legal clinic based around environmental justice needs. I contacted environmental clinics around the country and collected data about their structure, funding mechanisms, connection to local community and, where appropriate, their approach to addressing environmental impacts on low-income and people of color communities. I also looked into some practical issues related to establishing an environmental justice clinic in Portland.
In the area of urban renewal funding and brownfield redevelopment, I specifically researched: what tools and resources are available that might offset gentrification and displacement (such as inclusionary zoning, real estate transfer tax, etc.); national urban renewal models and policies; and the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as a means of funding urban revitalization. This research led to more questions than answers and I plan to continue addressing those questions through my work with Environmental Justice Advocates (EJA), a student group at Lewis& Clark Law School. I also drafted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA, which asked for information about how environmental justice is addressed in the region.
My PILP experience truly helped me to get to know local community members and develop a deeper understanding of the legal landscape surrounding environmental justice, municipal development, land use, and brownfields. All of this will be invaluable to me as Student Co-Coordinator of EJA at the law school. Many of my projects are ongoing, and I hope to engage other Lewis & Clark students and foster a deeper relationship between EJA, OPAL, and environmental justice communities in the Portland Metro area.
Thanks to PILP for making it possible!