In her role as Deputy Director, Climate and Health, Betsy Lawton works on a variety of public health law issues, bringing a community lawyering perspective to her work on climate change, health equity, broadband access, and rural public health. Before joining the Network, Betsy spent over a decade working to improve water quality and represented a broad range of individuals and communities facing water pollution problems. Betsy received her J.D., and a Certificate of Environmental Law, from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2004 and her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame.

Articles & Resources

Public Health Law Strategies to Prevent and Reduce Human Health Impacts of Climate Change

Law & Policy InsightsEnvironment, Climate and HealthMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityMental Health and Well-BeingEmergency Legal Preparedness and Response

July 9, 2024
by Betsy Lawton and Jill Krueger

Public health law plays a critical role in protecting communities from the current and future health threats posed by climate change. Based on their work with communities and public health professionals, the Network’s Climate and Health team has identified 10 public health law strategies to equitably prepare communities for the health impacts of climate change.

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­State and Local Efforts to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis – Northern Region Summary­

Issue BriefMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityRacism as a Public Health Crisis

July 9, 2024
by Betsy Lawton

This Issue Brief, part of a series of analyses looking at resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis in each region of the country, summarizes resolutions in the northern U.S. states of Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. This analysis focuses primarily on resolutions passed by state and local governments, including city councils, county boards, city and county executives, school boards, and boards of health.

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Well Water Quality Concerns Call for Increased Testing

Law & Policy InsightsEnvironment, Climate and HealthMechanisms for Advancing Health Equity

March 20, 2024
by Betsy Lawton

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five private wells contain unhealthy levels of contaminants. Concerns over contaminated well water have only intensified given the impact on water quality from the increasing number of natural disasters due to climate change. The current state of private well water quality calls for law and policy interventions, particularly the implementation of laws governing water quality testing for private wells.

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Legal Strategies and Local Solutions to Equitably Mitigate the Health Impacts of Climate Change

WebinarsEnvironment, Climate and HealthMechanisms for Advancing Health Equity

February 21, 2024
by Betsy Lawton

While climate change requires mitigation efforts on a global scale, local mitigation and solutions for climate adaptation are equally critical to reduce the negative health outcomes and address the health threats posed by climate change. Attend this webinar to learn how climate change can be integrated into a health department’s core mission and work; and law and policy strategies to mitigate the adverse and inequitable health impacts.

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The National Climate Resilience Framework Provides a Roadmap for Needed Policies and Programs to Better Prepare Communities for Adverse Conditions

Law & Policy InsightsEnvironment, Climate and Health

November 30, 2023
by Betsy Lawton

Wetlands absorb and slow floodwaters, help alleviate drought conditions, absorb pollutants, and when left undisturbed, store more carbon than forests. Despite their amazing natural features that help counteract the impacts of climate change, many states currently do not protect wetlands beyond what the Clean Water Act requires, and recently, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated protections for wetlands that have been in place for decades.

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­Racial Equity Interests and Needs Assessment

ReportMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityMechanisms for Advancing Public Health

September 22, 2023
by Betsy Lawton, Carrie Waggoner, Chris Alibrandi O’Connor, Dawn Hunter, Kerri McGowan Lowrey, Phyllis Jeden and Sara Rogers

By May of 2020, the realities of the inequitable toll of COVID-19 on communities of color became starkly evident, and the murder of George Floyd sparked a renewed movement for racial justice in the United States. During this time, the Network began earnestly exploring how best to respond and be of assistance in a rapidly changing environment. An internal Health Equity Work Group (HEWG) was established to create a space for connection and learning, and to identify ways to collaborate across regions to be responsive to what we were observing and experiencing. One of the early actions identified by the HEWG was to “evaluate what services and supports Network users are interested in” via tools like an environmental scan, stakeholder interviews, and focus groups. This report explores the process that was undertaken to answer that question and the key findings and themes relevant to health and racial equity work across a variety of public health practitioners and organizations.

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Wetlands Essential to Combatting the Health Effects of Climate Change Are at Risk

Law & Policy InsightsEnvironment, Climate and Health

September 19, 2023
by Betsy Lawton

Wetlands absorb and slow floodwaters, help alleviate drought conditions, absorb pollutants, and when left undisturbed, store more carbon than forests. Despite their amazing natural features that help counteract the impacts of climate change, many states currently do not protect wetlands beyond what the Clean Water Act requires, and recently, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated protections for wetlands that have been in place for decades.

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Six Policies that Advance Black Health and Wellbeing

Policy BriefMechanisms for Advancing Public HealthCivic Engagement and VotingMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityReproductive Health and Equity 

February 23, 2023
by April Shaw, Betsy Lawton, Dawn Hunter, Jennifer Piatt, Kathleen Hoke, Mosalewa Ani and Sara Rogers

In honor of Black History Month, Network attorneys and staff have highlighted six policies that have the power to reduce health disparities and improve outcomes for Black people and communities of color throughout the United States. This policy brief serves as a practical tool to help public health professionals, leaders, and partners share strategies that can advance, rather than threaten, Black health and wellbeing over the long-term.

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Taking Action to Address the Human Health Impacts of Climate Change

Law & Policy InsightsEnvironment, Climate and HealthMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityMechanisms for Advancing Public Health

November 30, 2022
by Betsy Lawton and Jill Krueger

The Lancet Countdown’s annual report, “Tracking Progress On Health and Climate Change,” highlights the immediate need for a health-centered response to climate change. Recognizing the need to build a shared understanding of how public health law can and should help mitigate climate change, presenters and attendees at the Network’s first-ever Climate and Health Equity Summit, held in Minneapolis in October, highlighted numerous legal and policy strategies to mitigate climate change and lessen its impacts on human health.

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Breast Cancer Screening, Research, and Treatment are Essential—So is Prevention

Law & Policy InsightsMechanisms for Advancing Health EquityMechanisms for Advancing Public Health

October 19, 2022
by Betsy Lawton

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to remind people of the prevalence of breast cancer, which will impact one in eight U.S. women—a growing number of which are women of color and women under 50 years of age. These realties call for policies that prevent exposure to chemicals linked to increased risk, while simultaneously continuing to support low-cost and convenient early detection methods and life-saving treatment that can address the current racial disparities in relative survival rates and identify breast cancer at earlier, more treatable stages. 

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Understanding the Intersection Between Climate Change, Housing, and Public Health

Webinars

May 3, 2022
by Betsy Lawton and Brianne Schell

Climate change is a public health threat that has already begun to erode the availability of safe and accessible housing, a critical social determinant of health. Climate-caused extreme weather events, like increased flooding are not experienced equally across all populations; rather, the primary harms are being disproportionately experienced by frontline communities of color and those living in low-income neighborhoods. Health equity requires identifying law and policy solutions that prioritize the needs of communities most vulnerable to climate harms and understanding the role that climate change plays in undermining housing security. Attend this webinar to learn about these topics, which will include a climate-focused lens as well as identifying law and policy approaches to housing affordability and availability. 

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