Community Protection and Environmental Justice


Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo represents labor unions, environmental health and environmental justice organizations and other public interest groups working to reduce or avoid exposures to polluted or hazardous air, soil and water, address the lack of access to parks and open space and other public services, and proactively work to improve the poor land use planning practices and deficient environmental review processes that are too often the source of these problems.  For many decades, ABJC has represented coalitions of labor unions and environmental and community groups seeking to reduce these environmental burdens, which disproportionately affect certain populations, including working families, people of color and low-income communities. The firm worked with labor unions and fence-line communities in securing the first Industrial Safety Ordinance in Contra Costa County designed to reduce impacts on workers and local communities from existing industrial operations. ABJC has a particular expertise in advocating for environmental and other laws that ensure a safe working environment for construction workers and their families, who are often the first to be exposed to soil contamination, construction emissions and unsafe building materials.

In representing California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) before the California Energy Commission, the firm provided evidence that pollution control equipment manufacturers were willing to guarantee much lower emission rates for nitrous oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO) and ammonia from power plants. For toxics, the firm represented CURE when it was the first to identify the danger of acrolein emissions (even before the state officially recognized the level of risk) and advocated that an oxidation catalyst be required to reduce this risk. As a result of ABJC’s advocacy, the Energy Commission now requires these lower emission rates on all new power plants. These are the lowest emission rates in the nation.

ABJC was also the first in power plant siting proceedings to identify the significance of exhaust emissions from construction equipment and was the first to advocate for the use of oxidizing soot filters to reduce such emissions. Ultimately, project applicants entered into environmental settlement agreements with CURE in which they agreed to the lower emission rates and the use of oxidation catalysts and oxidizing soot filters.  Again, the Energy Commission now mandates this equipment and lower construction emission rates on all projects. ABJC’s advocacy has prevented literally thousands of tons of NOx, VOCs, CO, ammonia, and toxics emissions in California every year.

The firm has also significantly influenced state policy governing the regulation of water use in new power generation facilities.  On behalf of CURE, the firm consistently advocated that power plants use recycled water or dry air cooling, citing State Water Resources Control Board Resolution 75-58 regarding the use of fresh water for power plant cooling. The power plant project applicants ultimately agreed, and by 2003 the California Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report (and every report thereafter) relied on the State Water Resources Board policy cited by the firm to establish the Commission’s policy against using fresh water for power plant cooling.

Throughout the photovoltaic (“PV”) solar power plant boom since 2010, ABJC has represented CURE as one of the only participants in numerous CEQA proceedings at the local level. While PV solar power plants can drastically cut California’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, they also require development on hundreds to thousands of acres and can have a variety of impacts on California’s resources. CURE’s participation in the public review process has resulted in extensive measures to mitigate impacts to biological resources, state jurisdictional waters, soil contamination, water and air quality, and public health. As a result, CURE has facilitated a prosperous and sustainable renewable energy economy in California.

On behalf of other labor and community organizations, ABJC has achieved similar success in advancing environmental, social, and economic goals. ABJC advocates for public access to the coast, mitigating water quality impacts from runoff, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from construction and operation of projects, and designing projects to minimize risks from geologic hazards.  ABJC also advocates for investigation, disclosure and mitigation of contaminated soils, among other hazards and impacts. For example, in 2006, ABJC represented local unions challenging the City of Richmond’s approval of a condominium project without adequate investigation of contaminated soils. The firm identified discrepancies in agency reports that led the Department of Toxic Substances Control to conduct new soil tests, even though the agency had already closed its investigation of the site. The new testing discovered antimony (a toxic metal that causes severe public health risks) at levels that exceeded California thresholds for hazardous waste. As a result, the project developer implemented additional measures to address the contamination, public health and air quality issues raised by the unions.

ABJC’s record of environmental achievement on behalf of labor unions has not gone unrecognized. In 2005, CURE’s chair was honored by the California League of Conservation Voters with the Byron Sher Environmental Leadership award. Many of the firm’s environmental achievements are also featured in a 2005 report published by the Planning and Conservation League entitled Everyday Heroes Protect the Air We Breathe, the Water We Drink, and the Natural Areas We Prize: Thirty-Five Years of the California Environmental Quality Act.