It is with broken heart that I report the death of one of this nation’s most important and innovative environmental attorneys.
Luke Cole graduated with honors from Stanford, and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He could have done anything. He could have gone to work for any law firm in the country, and made a fortune. Instead, he moved to San Francisco and co-founded the non-profit Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. As described on their website:
The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment is an environmental justice litigation organization dedicated to helping grassroots groups across the United States attack head on the disproportionate burden of pollution borne by poor people and people of color. We provide organizing, technical and legal assistance to help community groups stop immediate environmental threats. In the 16 years that CRPE has been helping the poor and people of color resist toxic intrusions and protect their environmental health, among our many victories we have beaten toxic waste incinerators, forced oil refineries to use cleaner technology, beaten a 55,000-cow mega-dairy, stopped numerous tire burning proposals, helped bring safe drinking water to various rural communities, stopped a garbage dump on the Los Coyotes reservation in southern California, and empowered hundreds of local residents along the way.
His recent work included a groundbreaking case that is succinctly explained by his law school classmate, Ann Carlson:
Cole was well-known for his work on numerous leading environmental justice cases, including as counsel for the Native Village of Kivalina in its pathbreaking case seeking damages from large greenhouse gas emitters from the melting away of their Alaskan village.
If that sounds like he was tilting at windmills, you didn’t know Luke. He wouldn’t have pursued such a case if he hadn’t believed he could win it. His successful pioneering work, taking on the California dairy industry, made him the cover boy of the February, 2002 issue of California Law Magazine, in an article titled: Got Manure? How Environmental Lawyer Luke Cole Brought Dairy Construction in the San Joaquin Valley to a Standstill.