Law and Advocacy Lab Launches
- Zsea Bowmani is collaborating with students and community partners to identify law and policy solutions to water pollution, food apartheid, concentrated heavy industries, and other environmental justice issues in the Bay Area and beyond.
Along with Tseming Yang (SCU School of Law), Bowmani leads the Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative’s newly-created Law and Advocacy Lab. The Lab trains law students and undergraduates to find effective and creative solutions to their clients' environmental legal needs, cultivating future environmental law students through undergraduate engagement, educating local governments and leaders in the value of incorporating environmental justice in their decision making, and further developing the University's expertise in environmental law and justice.
A graduate of SCU’s School of Law, Bowmani (‘14) teaches ENVS 120: Introduction to Environmental Law and Regulations in the U.S., and publishes broadly on the intersections of environment, race, gender, sexual orientation, human rights, and the law. He worked on these issues previously at the ACLU, UNESCO Cambodia, and other NGOs, and currently serves on the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco chapter’s Environmental Justice Committee, which he established last year, and as a board member of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.
In its first year, the Law and Advocacy Lab has engaged students and community partners in a broad array of projects.
In one effort, Bowmani and Law student Max Jones are developing a resource guide for community advocates to help them use California’s civil rights laws, which could be a potent tool to fight environmental discrimination. While federal civil rights law is limited to prohibiting intentional discrimination in government-funded programs and activities, California’s counterpart legislation also bans activities that have a negative and disparate impact on a protected group or person, intentionally or not. As part of their research, Bowmani and Jones visited with community partner All Positives Possible to witness firsthand how years of disinvestment, neglect, and a prioritization of heavy industries have contributed to the web of environmental injustices facing residents in South Vallejo and Rodeo, CA, which Max recounted in his reflection piece.
In another project, Bowmani and former law student Elias Rodriguez (‘21) investigated an animal rendering plant that has operated since 1969 in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, whose residents are mostly people of color and low-income. The plant's noxious emissions along with several other pollution sources put the neighborhood in the 90th percentile for pollution and health risks in the entire state. Bowmani presented the research at the Yale New Horizons in Conservation Conference and will provide a community update at the Bayview Hunters Point EJ Task Force meeting. The team is also working with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to identify ways to minimize Darling’s impacts on the community.
The Lab is also fostering undergraduate research. Environmental Studies and Sciences majors Declan Bernal and Emily Pachoud provided legal research and support for the 2021 People’s Earth Day Rally in San Francisco. Bernal and SCU alumna Alana Ako (‘21) also designed posters that were used during the rally in front of City Hall. At the request of our community partner Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Pachoud researched the parameters for declaring a Public Health Emergency for a situation like that facing the Bayview Hunters Point community. Ako and Bowmani also submitted public comments urging the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to deny the permit applications of several concrete manufacturers that for years have been polluting and operating illegally in the neighborhood, which suffers from elevated levels of air pollution that increases risks of respiratory disease and COVID-19.
In Imperial County, Pachoud and Bowmani helped partners Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and the Quechan Tribe investigate a proposed mine at Indian Pass, which would have used a toxic cyanide process to mine gold in an environmentally-sensitive area that is of enormous cultural and sacred significance to the Quechan and other Indigenous people in the region. KORE Mining, the Canadian company that claims it has valid mining rights, has withdrawn plans to conduct exploratory drilling in the Indian Pass area, while continuing to seek approval for exploration activities in other areas.