By Gina McCarthy
I got my start working at community health centers in Canton, Massachusetts. That was more than 35 years ago. What motivated me then, and still drives me today, is my desire to help people lead healthier, safer lives.
Far too often, I’ve seen how minority, low-income, and indigenous groups are most affected by environmental and public health challenges. I’m proud that for more than twenty years, EPA has worked to ensure that these overburdened communities benefit from the same environmental protections as other communities. This has been a priority of mine since my first days working in Canton, and it’s been a top priority for us here at EPA.
We’ve made tremendous progress over the past eight years. Through EJ 2014 – EPA’s first strategic plan – we built stronger relationships with local and community leaders. We integrated environmental justice into every EPA program. And we strengthened our partnerships across the federal family.
This progress is important, but we still have a lot of work to do. With EJ 2020, EPA’s next four-year strategic plan for environmental justice, we’re building on this foundation as we work together to turn this progress into even more action. This plan was developed based on robust public input – through thousands of comments on previous drafts, from more than one hundred meetings across the country, and four national webinars.
EJ 2020 has three overarching goals:
- To deepen environmental justice practice in EPA’s programs that improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
- To work with federal, state, tribal, community, and industry partners to expand our impact across the country; and
- To measure the progress we’re making on our most significant environmental justice challenges.
Each of these goals supports our efforts to expand our on-the-ground work and make an even greater and lasting impact where our help is needed the most. And as we develop more comprehensive ways to gauge our progress, we will better ensure that every American enjoys the benefits of living in a cleaner and healthier community.
Confronting our shared challenges requires innovative solutions and unwavering dedication. In a period of increasing challenges related to climate change and crumbling infrastructure, our capacity to confront our obstacles depends on the strength of our partnerships. EJ 2020 provides a roadmap for us to move forward, together, in a more productive and holistic way. This means listening to community leaders and residents and better understanding the burdens they face so that we strategically focus our resources. This is how we will truly make a difference in our country’s most overburdened communities.
EJ 2020 isn’t just about having words on paper. It’s about having concrete strategies that guide us through the next four years and beyond. And when I think back to the lessons I learned in Canton, I am proud of the lives that EPA has changed and the communities we’ve strengthened both in my hometown and in hometowns across the country. Everything we’ve accomplished makes me even more optimistic about our shared future.