2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Erin Gaines

Erin Gaines

Name of Host Organization: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
City, State: Victoria, Texas
Issue area: Environmental Justice, Health Care Housing/Homelessness
Sponsors: The Ottinger Family Foundation; Anonymous

The Project

Erin promoted access to safe housing in underserved neighborhoods along the Texas Gulf Coast by addressing health and safety hazards from nearby industries through litigation, administrative advocacy, and community education.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Low-income communities of color bear disproportionate health and safety burdens from industrial facilities sited in their neighborhoods. As shown by the 2013 West Fertilizer Company plant explosion in Texas, industrial facilities can also pose catastrophic risks to nearby communities. Gulf Coast residents living alongside some of the largest industrial plants in the country face increased risks of chronic health problems as well as daily nuisances from dust, loud noises, and odors. Yet few people have access to adequate healthcare or the ability to move to safer neighborhoods. This project will fill a critical gap in legal services by working to stop harmful health impacts or to obtain resources for residents to move to safer neighborhoods.
Fellowship Highlights: 
In the past two years, Erin has:
• Participated in twelve high impact litigation including a historic settlement resulting from a Title VI Civil Rights complaint filed on behalf of individuals in the historically African American neighborhoods in Corpus Christi
• Filed administrative comments on seven proposed expansions of industrial air and water pollution sources advocating for greater protections for residents of nearby low-income communities
• Analyzed environmental safety data and performed legal research to evaluate the potential for a citizens' suit against companies with health harming practices
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Erin will:
• Continue as a staff attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to fight for environmental justice and fair housing in Texas
• Coordinate with other attorneys to expand this work

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