NYU Law to launch new initiative targeting environmental racism

This Fall, the Law School will launch the NYU Law Environmental Justice Laboratory (EJL). The EJL will work with partners, including impacted communities, to address longstanding environmental racism and build a just, decarbonized future. Two of the Law School’s centers—the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law (CRIL) and the Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law—will work together to develop and oversee EJL’s strategic direction and operations.

A gift from attorneys Marie Napoli LLM ’01 and Paul Napoli provides for the establishment of the EJL.

“This gift innovatively targets the intersection of two areas of pressing social concern, environmental harm and racial inequity,” said Dean Troy McKenzie ’00. “Environmental justice has been an emerging area of focus here at the Law School and across the country. This funding will enable us to significantly expand that work and contribute meaningfully to the field. I’m grateful to the Napolis for their extraordinary generosity.”

The EJL will provide law students with a unique opportunity to engage in cutting-edge policy advocacy, litigation, and research in the field of environmental justice. It will aim to develop a critical mass of legal practitioners, academics, and clinicians dedicated to addressing environmental problems that disproportionately burden communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, and promoting environmental and social change.

“Through this broad-based approach, the Environmental Justice Laboratory will help to train the next generation of environmental justice advocates and serve as a significant force in addressing past environmental injustice and shaping a more equitable future for all of us,” said Associate Professor of Clinical Law Vincent Southerland, faculty director of CRIL.

“I appreciate the generosity of the Napolis in funding this important initiative,” said Professor Katrina Wyman, faculty director of the Guarini Center. “I look forward to partnering with people inside and outside of NYU Law to realize the potential of the Environmental Justice Laboratory.”   

During their 30 years of law practice, Marie and Paul Napoli have focused on complex litigation. Among the cases they have handled are claims for contamination to land and water supplies from petroleum, chemicals, and other toxins. Their environmental advocacy extends to several high-profile matters involving environmental justice and public health, including the Flint, Michigan, water contamination case and a lawsuit against 3M, also for chemical contamination of drinking water. Through their work on these matters, they witnessed firsthand the disproportionate impact of environmental pollution on communities of color across the country. The Napolis’ connection to the NYU Law is multigenerational: Their daughter is a Class of 2026 JD student, and Paul’s father, Joseph Napoli, received his LLM from the school in 1973.

In a statement, Marie and Paul Napoli said, “We are delighted to announce our gift supporting the Environmental Justice Lab, a testament to our deep commitment to advancing environmental justice and supporting the critical work that lies ahead in this essential field. Recognizing the monumental challenges and the imperative need for dedicated research and advocacy, we are confident that there is no better place to address these issues than with the team at NYU Law. Under the leadership of Professors Southerland and Wyman, and with valuable input from Dean McKenzie, it is our hope that the Environmental Justice Lab will stand as a beacon of hope and progress in the quest to tackle some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.”

Posted April 22, 2024