Advocate for Environmental Justice

Luke Cole ’89, a leader in the environmental justice movement—which holds that many minority neighborhoods have become toxic dumping grounds—died June 6, 2009, in a traffic accident in Uganda at age 46. Cole was executive director of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that he co-founded in 1989.

As head of the center, Cole played a key role in several important cases, including winning a victory for the mostly Hispanic residents of Kettleman City, Calif., when a state court halted the construction of a toxic waste incinerator and invalidated the county’s environmental impact report based on its failure to translate the report into Spanish.

He also did extensive work to protect the environmental legal rights of American Indian tribes, most recently in Kivalina, Alaska, settling a case against a major zinc producer whose mining operations were fouling the water supply of the Inupiat village.

He served on the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in the 1990s, co-founded the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment and co-wrote the book “From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement.” He taught at institutions including Stanford Law School, where a professorship has been established in his name.

At HLS, Cole was a mordant cartoonist for the Record and a leading student activist. Professor Randall Kennedy recalled: “He was one of the most memorable students I have had the good fortune to know.

“He was a big guy with a big personality—the sort of person who is very passionate about things, and who never let his passions dim. It’s a tremendous loss.”