Courtesy Melissa Sims

Melissa Sims is a senior counsel with the law firm Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman. She is representing 16 Puerto Rican municipalities in a groundbreaking class-action lawsuit aimed at holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for damage caused by extreme weather. If successful, Sims’s creative legal strategies could expose the fossil fuel industry to huge financial damages and provide a roadmap for future plaintiffs.

What is the single most important action you think the public, or a specific company or government, needs to take in the next year to advance the climate agenda?

Addressing the needs of impoverished and marginalized communities is pivotal in the fight against climate change. These groups often bear the brunt of climate change, facing its direct repercussions with minimal resources at their disposal for mitigation and resilience. A holistic strategy to tackle climate change must therefore prioritize their needs, consisting of elements like policy equity, community involvement, economic upliftment, and the development of resilient infrastructure. It’s essential to focus on public health, public awareness and education, land and housing rights, adaptation funds, partnerships with grassroots movements, local solutions, corporate accountability, and global disparities.

What is the most important climate legislation that could pass in the next year?

The “A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act,” reintroduced in the House and Senate in 2023, would overturn the SCOTUS verdict in Alexander v. Sandoval. This decision argued that a regulation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not permit private lawsuits based purely on evidence of disparate impact. Granting a private right to sue polluters for harming communities would be a landmark achievement for the environmental justice movement, reshaping how pollution is overseen, how environmental regulations get implemented, and how affected communities influence regulatory decisions.

Where should climate activism go in the next year?

Looking ahead, climate activism must center its efforts on countering the uneven effects of climate change on communities of color and those in poverty, while also pressing for corporate accountability. Over the next year, the activist roadmap might consider launching educational campaigns, fortifying grassroots movements, advocating for policy reforms, and holding corporations in check. Moreover, activism should involve investors and shareholders, champion cleaner and more sustainable alternatives, fortify community resilience, and build international partnerships. By using these tactics, climate activism can ensure the safeguarding of the most at-risk populations and ensure corporations are responsible for their environmental and societal footprints.

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