Chester

    The Chester controversy is a good environmental justice case study. By examining the Chester situation, the student is exposed both to a grassroots environmental justice campaign and a Title VI lawsuit (that ultimately reaches the U. S. Supreme Court).

    Chester is a town in Pennsylvania on the Delaware river. The town is 65% black, although the rest of the county is only 6.2% African-American. Sheila Foster, Justice from the Ground only: Distributive IneQuities, Grassroots Resistance, and the Transformative Politics of the Environmental Justice Movement, 86 Cal. L. Rev. 775, 789 (1998). Chester is home to a number of commercial waste sites, county municipal waste and sewage facilities, and over 60% of the waste-processing industries in the county. Id. at 790. These facts led a grassroots organization, Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL), to file a suit against the state environmental agency for discriminatorily concentrating the area's environmental burden in their majority-black town, contrary to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Michael Janofsky, Suit Says Racial Bias Led to Clustering of Solid-Waste Sites, N.Y. Times, May 29, 1996, at A15. CRCQL argued that "the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's (PADEP) approval of a permit to allow Soil Remediation Services, a private company, to build a waste treatment facility in an area that already had several solid waste processing plants placed a disparate burden on the predominately African-American population in Chester township." Bradford C. Mank, Is There a Private Cause of Action Under EPA's Title VI Regulations?: The Need to Empower Environmental Justice Plaintiffs, 24 Colum. J. Envtl. L. 1, 3 7 (19 99) .

    In Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living v. Seif, the U.S. District Court refused to recognize a private right of action under § 602 of Title VI. Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living v. Seif, 944 F. Supp. 413 (E.D. Pa. 1996). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, however, holding that a private right of action does exist. Chester Residents Concerned For Quality Living v. Seif, 132 F. 3d 925 (3d Cir. 1997). After the Third Circuit decision, the state revoked the permit belonging to Soil Remediation Services. The Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari and, while finding the case now moot, vacated the judgment of the Third Circuit as well, erasing the lower court's holding that allowed a private right of action. Seif v. Chester Residents Concerned For Quality Living, __ U.S. __, 119 S. Ct. 22 (1998).

    For CRCQL, the decision was a mixed blessing. Although the Supreme Court had limited the avenues that grassroots groups could use to promote environmental justice, the Soil Remediation Services plant was never opened in Chester.

    There are many sources available on the Chester controversy. I have included law review articles and newspaper articles as well as "propaganda" downloaded from a web site maintained by proponents of the CRCQL. Of all the sources, the Foster article is the best article on the Chester situation. Foster devotes her entire article on the Chester case, discussing how the town fell on hard times after experiencing much prosperity and growth. The author then argues that, despite the potential power of grassroots groups, proponents of environmental justice should also use other methods to combat environmental injustice. Foster at 841. The Mank article is also good, although it spends a great deal of time discussing the Third Circuit's opinion-- which is no longer good law because it was ultimately vacated without opinion by the Supreme Court.