Students in the Environmental Law Clinic will be arguing an environmental justice case before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in March 2011. The Clinic appealed a zoning decision on behalf of its clients, community residents in the historic African American neighborhoods of Cedar Heights and Fairmont Heights in Prince George's County, Maryland. The Clinic's student attorneys will submit appellant briefs and then argue before the Court of Special Appeals in March 2011.
In January 2010, Judge Thomas P. Smith of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County denied the Clinic's appeal of the Prince George's County District Council's decision to allow a concrete batching plant across the street from a residential neighborhood. Before the District Council and then the Circuit Court, the Clinic argued that the approval of the "special exception" to build the concrete batching plant was inappropriate because requisite health and safety studies requested by the Prince George's County Health Department were not performed.
In addition, these historic communities must already live with the legacy of numerous industrial facilities in the surrounding area including an aggregate rock crushing plant, a clay mining operation, an asphalt plant, and a recycling transfer station. The Clinic argues that the addition of another industrial facility, with the attendant noise, traffic and air pollution, would be unhealthy for local residents and violates county ordinances and state law. They also maintain that the concrete plant owners have failed to establish that the plant, in conjunction with the other industrial facilities, would be safe for area residents. The appeal presents a basic environmental justice issue on behalf of residents who may not otherwise have a chance to assert their rights: How much industrial burden is a traditionally residential community expected to bear?