The short answer to the question, "Does the public have the right to protect its environment?" is a resounding yes. The efforts and the misfortune of people and their communities who experienced problems in Love Canal, New York and Hinkley, California near the end of the 20th century prompted the US Congress to pass specific laws that created specific rights for individuals and communities to ensure the public has access to both resources and recourse if there are dangers present.
Exercising your Rights
The key to exercising your environmental rights is to have an awareness of which resources are available to you and your community. That is normally accomplished by either approaching NGOs that focus on the environment and act as umbrella organizations for community efforts or working within your rights directly as a citizen and accessing government agencies and information provided by them. Environmental advocate Timothy G. Mara says citizens have every right to oppose threats to their environment and community. The right to protect one’s community can be asserted through the use of proper legal channels and persistent activism.
Although there are many advocacy groups for various rights, environmental organizations that exist solely to ameliorate specific complaints about the local environment are few and far between. One of the best ways to get connected with a regional or local group is to contact a well-known organization that works on behalf of your community. Greenpeace and The Southern Environmental Law Center are two examples of advocates that may be able to point you in the right direction, depending upon your need. You might also find it worthwhile to ask the local community college about references for building your own issue-oriented community advocacy group.
The Environmental Protection Agency has long been a consumer advocate when it comes to monitoring and regulating environmental compliance vis-a-vis US environmental law. If you find that there is a violation or suspect one within your community, looking at their website will not only show you what your rights are, it will also provide you with information on actions that you can take—this is normally quite useful to the majority of people visiting. A lot of their focus has to do with the quality of the environment remaining in compliance with existing federal law.
There are a variety of online resources available that can help you to understand better the threat facing your community. To start with, all facilities that use chemicals or toxic substances in their manufacturing processes in your area are required to file MSDS or material safety data sheets with the government. You can access those sheets to find out what is being stored locally and may be contributing to the problem. You can also cross-reference what each substance might be doing to the environment by looking in the EPA Tri database.
Overall, if you are concerned about a threat to your community environment, there are a lot of options available to you. Spending the time to organize a movement that will enforce your rights as a protector of your environment is never a waste.