Who's Doing Good in Our Corner of the World? SPOTLIGHT on the ELPC

Posted by Ecogardens
Here in the Midwest the Great Lakes are one of our most precious environmental and cultural resources.

We recently got an introduction to the complex problems surrounding environmental equity. The very real connection between racial inequality and climate change is serious and the everyday problems people in our own communities are facing because of environmental inequalities are pervasive and persistent.

It got us thinking about those who are already out there fighting for environmental equity here in the Midwest. Through their passion, they are working to make our communities healthier, stronger and far more equitable than they have been in the past. 

Different neighborhoods in different cities can experience vastly different environmental equity.To dig a little deeper, we recently sat down with Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. With offices doting the Midwest, the ELPC works through litigation to protect public health and the environment – the perfect crossroads of environmental equity issues. In their work as the leading environmental legal advocacy group in the Midwest, the ELPC demonstrates that economic development and environmental protection can be achieved, especially when worked on in tandem.

In his role as President and Executive Director, Mr. Learner is responsible for the ELPC’s strategic leadership and policy direction, and as such, has great insight into the on-the-ground issues facing the region, and what the ELPC is doing to make a difference.

They start with this mission: “We advocate, innovate, and litigate to protect the Midwest’s environment from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains.” 

With that as a guiding principle, the issues ELPC focuses on is staggering in its complexity and importance: climate change; clean energy, air, water, and transportation; and protecting wild and natural places.

Factories and industries tend to concentrate in low income neighborhoods, causing long term health and environmental issues.

To make a dent in these issues, the ELPCC works with elected officials to shape ambitious policies that will make true progress – progress that you can see in the health of our communities and in the wild spaces of the Midwest. 

In their work, the ELPC takes care to humanize these broad issues. Mr. Learner points out, “When you dial back these larger issues to the real problems people face on the ground – realizing something like “clean water” in the Midwest actually affects over 42 million people and is a basic human need – means that we have to hold polluters in our region accountable for our neighbors to have safe water to drink.”

And as you may remember, the great lakes represent 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, so protecting this critical source for safe drinking water and its wildlife ecosystems is extremely important. 

The ELPC operates with the idea that the Midwest is “ground zero” in the battle against climate change. 

Air quality, access to clean water and safe housing are disproportionately distributed across the Midwest.

As America’s crossroads, with the transportation sector the leading source of carbon pollution, the region has struggled with numerous sources and types of air pollution. At the same time, the Midwest is poised to offer real solutions and the ELPC has proven their dedication to projects that improve clean vehicle adoption, shutting down dirty coal, reducing mercury and other air toxins.

To this point, Mr. Learner says, “I’ve always stood by the saying that if we want to make progress, we have to do it in the middle of the country. The Midwest has the largest concentration of coal production in the country. We’re also the agricultural breadbasket. I believe that to really make progress on the national level, fixing things here at home in the Midwest is the right place to focus.”

With this idea in mind, the ELPC is laser-focused on bettering the region's environmental health and social justice, in the hopes that progress here will reverberate through the country. A strategy, which Mr. Learner says, has been the fulcrum of the work at ELPC since its inception. “For over 25, we’ve been leaders in aggressively working on repowering the Midwest with renewable energy solutions and improving our energy efficiency.”

To make progress towards advancing the renewable energy solutions throughout the Midwest, the ELPC has been at the forefront of the clean energy economy. In this position, they strive towards removing the red tape and barriers to a distributed clean energy system that is affordable and equitable, with less pollution. “Solar power especially is a great solution to this,” Mr. Learner says. “If we focus on solar energy plus storage, we change the way we all live. And really, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to the energy problems we face.”

Environmental equity cannot be achieved without also tackling social justice issues.

On a personal level, Mr. Learner has long held a passion for environmental equity. “In high school and college I was always an environmental advocate. Early on in my law education and career, I knew I wanted to be an effective public interest attorney. So I began my career in civil rights with the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest. There I really saw the connection between civil rights and environmental issues.”

“The fact of the matter is, people have the right to live in clean, safe communities. This is a basic right that is worth fighting for. The right to breath healthy, clean air. The right to live in communities without toxic threat. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great people along the way at the ELPC and we’ve really grown into a powerhouse in the Midwest for advocating for these rights.” 

Check out some of the great work Mr. Learner and his team are doing to tackle environmental equity issues through their work at the ELPC, and follow along with us at Ecogardens as we turn a spotlight on more of our local heroes.

Check out another one of our spotlights here: Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Interested in discussing an upcoming green infrastructure project you have?  Let's talk!



Topics: Green Infrastructure

Subscribe Here!