Collaboration

Strength in Numbers: Tackling Environmental Challenges By Collaborating with the Neighbors Next Door

by Johnny DuPree

Rural communities in Mississippi face a seemingly insurmountable number of challenges to gaining access to a variety of resources. Access to healthcare and infrastructure is particularly difficult. In 2009, nearly one in five Mississippians lacked health insurance.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Mississippi has the highest rate of heart disease and cancer deaths in the country, and also ranks among the top for stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease related deaths.  Mississippians are extremely vulnerable to environmental and public health issues, and are at high risk for going without the basic necessities required for healthy lifestyles. Furthermore, the wide range of extreme weather events, most notably Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2008 flooding of the Mississippi River, has compounded the difficulties many individuals already face throughout the state.

Affordability is the main issue that plagues most rural Mississippi communities.  Community projects that require hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars are challenging at best, nearly impossible at worst. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that members of communities where the median income level for a family of four barely reaches $25,000, do not have the ability to meet the basic needs required for healthy lifestyles. Healthy food, access to health care, updated infrastructure, and uncontaminated water supplies are essential to every community, but are also very costly for many small Mississippi towns to tackle on their own.

The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors has committed to the cause of environmental protection and economic stability for all communities. The formation of a network of more than 40 mayors with health care providers, private businesses, entrepreneurs, local legislators, and community members, has created an atmosphere of collaboration that promotes innovative ways of dealing with these challenges.  The backbone of this regional collaboration is that there is strength in numbers – that the issues facing these communities cannot be solved by a single town alone.

Our regionalized approach has allowed for the swapping and sharing of ideas, practices, resources, and strategies across communities.  Communities are beginning to pool resources that provide water, waste control, food, and electricity resources to all residents.  Take for example my city, the City of Hattiesburg, where we have agreed to share trucks and other similar resources with neighboring towns to facilitate the transport of needed materials. Other towns have committed to sharing water infrastructure to serve areas that are particularly isolated.  The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors created Surplus Donation, a new initiative that allows for donations of surplus items between “active member mayor cities.”

Part of our action plan focuses on increasing community awareness and education about environmental issues in the state of Mississippi.  Others have taken notice of our successful collaboration. In 2014, the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors received a $1.4 million EPA grant to reduce lead exposure and mitigate the negative impacts of old, inadequate housing stock for low-income, minority families and children throughout the Mississippi Delta.  With the funding provided by EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreements Program, the MCMB will create a network of African American mayors, health care providers, and community members to develop a “Lead Contamination Action Plan” that will help to identify the homes that have significant exposures, work with area health care facilities to test children’s toys and clothing for lead residue, and develop and implement lead abatement measures.

This effort includes identifying and reducing sources of environmental health and safety risks across rural Mississippi communities. One well-documented example stems from the clustering of Mississippi’s swine concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) in low-income, minority communities—and the negative health impacts that accompany them. The waste from large-scale industrial hog farming can contain pathogens, poisonous heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can reach nearby homes and drinking water sources. To make matters worse, the odors and fumes from the hog waste often drift to nearby communities, carrying with it respiratory and eye irritants including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Location and demographics should not prevent anyone from gaining the same access to important resources.  Rural Mississippi towns have found that resource pooling enables small, rural communities the opportunity to receive the utilities they need at a more reasonable cost.  We believe that if you can help people in Mississippi, you can help anyone in the United States. We have all of the issues here in Mississippi, if you can solve them here, you can solve them everywhere.

About the Author: Johnny Dupree, President of the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors, has served as Mayor of the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi since 2001.  Prior to that, he served 10 years as a member of the Forrest County [MS] Board of Supervisors.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA-State Collaboration Expands Opportunity for Shared Results

by John Linc Stine

Addressing inequities so that all citizens can pursue healthy and fulfilling lives is one of our most important jobs in public service. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has challenged state agencies in Minnesota to reduce disparities in all areas of public services and outcomes. As Commissioner of the state’s environmental agency, I have made it my mission to embed the principles of environmental justice into all aspects of the work we do now and in the future.

In Minnesota, we are fortunate to live in a state with a healthy natural environment that contributes to a high quality of life. This is due in large part to a long history of shared responsibility and action by all areas of society in our state to build and support healthy ecosystems and healthy communities, and responsive industries and a strong economy. However, we know not everyone has benefited equally. In Minnesota, as around the rest of our country, significant and unacceptable disparities exist between middle and upper income people and lower income residents and people of color and Native Americans. This includes gaps in educational and economic achievement and health outcomes.

For too long, many of us in government talked about injustices of the past and present without following up and putting our words into action. EPA’s renewed commitment to action and results about environmental justice has helped to revitalize efforts in Minnesota that had been simmering on the back burner. The ambitious and comprehensive foundation laid by the work of EPA’s Plan EJ 2014 not only advanced integration of environmental justice into federal programs; it also helped to stimulate and strengthen our own efforts by showing leadership, providing tools, and sharing experiences. EJ 2020’s emphasis on collaboration with states and other co-regulators will expand the opportunity for shared learning among states and the EPA – something I believe will only help strengthen our individual efforts.

In Minnesota, we are working to integrate environmental justice into all of our programs, using our expertise and resources to target our work where it will have the greatest effect in reducing past harm and preventing future harm. For example, in Minneapolis, we are piloting an initiative to engage and collaborate with significant air emission sources and community members to identify opportunities to improve air quality and address community concerns. We also are increasing our air monitoring in potentially overburdened communities around the state to better understand disproportionately impacted areas.  Our draft framework can be found at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/gp0r2d.

As we adjust the practices of our programs and capacity to address environmental justice needs, we are benefiting from the experiences of EPA, its Chicago regional office, and other states with more mature programs than our own.  We will do better work in this area by sharing knowledge.

EPA’s work is closely aligned with our approaches and goals in Minnesota. While we share many of the same goals, we bring different strengths and resources to bear that complement each other. For example, with more local knowledge and existing relationships with municipal governments and community groups, states are often in a better position to facilitate community engagement and support community-based efforts to advance environmental justice. With more resources for policy analysis, tools development, and scientific research, EPA fulfils an important role where individual states may have less capacity. The development of EJSCREEN is an example of this role. In these ways, EPA and MPCA can complement each other, moving us both toward our goals more efficiently.

As EJ 2020 takes shape, we look forward to working with EPA and other states to learn from each other and leverage our unique capacities to reduce disparities and improve quality of life for all.

About the author: John Linc Stine is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and chairs the Environmental Council of the States’ Air Committee.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EJ2020: Defining New Goals for the coming years

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Realizing environmental justice for all people, regardless of their race, income or educational status is a long journey. It will not come overnight, but EPA made an important step forward recently with Plan EJ 2014. That five-year strategic plan laid a foundation for integrating environmental justice in EPA’s programs by developing basic guidance in rulemaking, permitting and enforcement, and basic tools such as EJ Legal Tools and EJSCREEN. Now it is time to build on this foundation and expand collaborations with our partners toward making a bigger difference in the overburdened communities we serve.

That is why we are developing EJ 2020, our next strategy to advance environmental justice in EPA’s programs. EJ2020 will:

  • Deepen environmental justice practice within EPA programs
  • Strengthen our collaborations with partners
  • Demonstrate progress on outcomes that matter to communities

Today, we start community and stakeholder engagement on EJ 2020. We are already learning from the initial input on areas that we have yet to fully address. By engaging our partners at the state, tribal, local, and federal levels we’ve developed ideas like integrated and area-wide planning, green infrastructure, and advanced environmental monitoring. They’ve helped us understand the need to meet the challenge of climate change, and ways to demonstrate progress that matters to communities.

We have heard from local governments who have identified best practices in how they are addressing environmental justice. Communities from Santa Barbara, California to Bridgeport, Connecticut are coming up with solutions in areas such as green infrastructure, brownfields, climate adaptation, health disparities, reducing air emissions from the movement of freight, and issues in rural communities.

We are benefiting from everyone’s robust experience learned over several decades of work.

There are a number of powerful examples of what can happen when collaborative partnerships come together between federal, state, and local governments, communities, and other stakeholders. One of those inspiring stories is the Salt Lake City Children’s Environmental Health & Environmental Justice Initiative which is working with nine neighborhoods in central and west Salt Lake City, Utah. This project brought together more than a dozen local, state, and community-based organizations with the purpose of making a visible difference in their communities. They designed a unique community engagement model to fit the needs of the neighborhoods, created a profile report characterizing community environmental and health concerns, and created an environmental data map for the West Side community. This work has allowed the community to play an important role in the design of the West Salt Lake Master Plan. As a result of the community’s active participation in the process, they have been able to increase attention on:

  • Supporting/funding community initiated ideas through the Community Implementation grants
  • Creating increased mobility and transit use options through a city-wide discount transit pass
  • Aligning city and school district opportunities through a Community Learning Center Strategy
  • Increasing understanding of affordable housing choices through a Housing needs assessment

By honoring the culture of a community and including their voices and ideas in the planning process, we can create healthier and more vibrant communities and truly make a visible difference that is rooted in the values and priorities of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

This effort shows how critical it is for EPA to strengthen our collaborations with the communities we serve, our government partners, and all stakeholders. We hope that everyone committed to achieving the goals of environmental justice will work with us to produce a vision and plan for EJ 2020 that is relevant to the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Several years ago, I learned that we cannot solve all the intractable problems associated with environmental justice right away, especially during a period of rising demands and dwindling resources. I am reminded of the old adage that if it was so simple, it would have been solved a long time ago. Therefore, we must be strategic. We need your best thinking about key things we should focus on to most effectively and realistically advance our common goal of achieving beneficial outcomes for our most overburdened communities.

About the author: Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Acting Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Grassroots Mojo

by Fred Tutman

The recent 50th Anniversary commemoration of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights brings to mind the long history of grassroots organizing, and the role the local Selma freedom movement played to help raise the civil rights conversation to national prominence.

In making the connection from Selma to today, we need to remember that there is a power, an inspirational wallop, that flows from small grassroots movements, like those that served as the foundation of the civil rights movement and today’s environmental justice movement. The civil rights movements not only achieved their own local goals but served to pursue larger ones as well.

The grassroots have a powerful “mojo” with a deeply inspirational history of achievement. Grassroots causes have a track record of success that channel the raw energy needed to change the world in order to make it more just. Grassroots causes are also inherently democratic, compassionate, equitable, empowering, and diverse! The fact that such movements generally lack money is unimportant, as their lack of cash is more than made up for with their zeal, ingenuity, and passion. Grassroots causes can produce charismatic and highly effective leadership. My own grassroots heroes include people like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ. Nobody paid them lots of money to be change agents.

A true grassroots movement generally draws its strength and vision from rank and file participants, while empowering the people and communities from which that same power and initiative flows. These mostly unpaid and localized grassroots groups often have intensely active and engaged members who control the priorities of their movement.

So while grassroots groups build coalitions and campaigns around mutual self-interest and shared moral commitment, top down ones often do so around issues that can rally more people and more money. And why not? These groups surely have more expenses and compete with other similar groups on national and international stages for both members and resources. But the key is that while both forms of advocacy can do vital and worthwhile work, they rarely do exactly the same work, nor should we always expect them to! Recognizing distinctions between top down organizations and grassroots movements is vital when understanding how true community-based advocacy works, and how such work occasionally clashes with well-meaning institutionalized environmentalism.

Despite these differences, if there is one thing of which I am certain, large top down movements need grassroots partners as well as a deeper appreciation of the rich potential of grassroots work and environmental justice.

I have heard it argued that these distinctions are unimportant because, regardless of the business model, grassroots and big environmentalism “all want the same things.” But it’s important to realize that communities don’t usually band together simply because “everybody” wants clean air and water. They do so more forcefully because their sense of place is threatened by dirty air and water. The reality of attacking a local threat is a much stronger motivator than an issue that is a diffuse and amorphous threat that attracts empathy and donations. The momentum generated by a movement serving actual communities and local constituencies presents an enormous advantage in terms of the payload it can deliver.

That is why it’s especially important for large, well-funded environmental groups to explore fresh ways to jump on local bandwagons, instead of the other way around. And the fastest way to satisfy the need for diversity in environmentalism is to build stronger connections to grassroots advocacy.

So how do we forge stronger bonds between the larger and more nationally influential organizations to invest more deeply in local work? One way is to better understand that local advocates are drivers and not passengers along for the environmental ride. It is important to remember that the civil rights movement was really a series of grassroots efforts, like the Selma march, of ordinary citizens determined to end racial injustice, not only locally but across the United States. Success came when they banded with others, locally and with other like-minded souls from around the country.

There is no greater calling than doing grassroots work that helps real people and real communities, as well as the nation and the planet.

About the author: Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper, has served more than 11 years as the Riverkeeper for Maryland’s longest and deepest intrastate river. Fred also is an adjunct instructor at historic St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he teaches an upper level course in Environmental Law and Policy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Public Participation – A Bedrock Principle for Human Rights

by Lupe Aguirre, Neelam Mohammed, and Leslie Morales

Public participation is an essential component of a vibrant and truly representative democracy. It requires meaningful opportunities for the public to provide input during decision-making as well as free and simple access to information about government agencies and their activities. Yet, it is challenging to facilitate public engagement in a nation as large, complex, and varied as the United States.

On October 7, 2014, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law hosted the United States Government Consultation on Environmental Issues. This session was held in advance of the second review of the human rights record of the United States by the U.N. Human Rights Council, scheduled for May 2015.

As interns with the school’s International Human Rights Law Clinic (the Clinic), we were tasked with coordinating this historic effort in collaboration with government officials and community groups. Bringing together numerous advocacy groups, members of the public, and officials from seven federal agencies, the session provided an important opportunity to directly engage a variety of stakeholders about pressing environmental issues.

Developing an inclusive and effective Consultation required thoughtful coordination. The planning process involved advocates, community members, and government officials to determine the agenda and topics to be discussed. Participants (whether attending in person or by phone) could submit written comments in advance of the session to create a record of public input. Dozens attended the Consultation in person and dozens more joined by phone, allowing those who could not travel to the session to participate.

In the months since the Consultation, we have posted several videos of the individual panel sessions to allow those who were not able to participate to listen to the full discussion. Lastly, we drafted a summary report outlining the main points of discussion and providing resources for further engagement.

Although each panel focused on a distinct issue (climate change, water issues, and environmental/public health protections and members of vulnerable communities), a common theme that arose was the need for meaningful public participation to identify and address environmental challenges. We know public participation is a bedrock principle of human rights, but how can that principle be put into practice?

Due to its national scope and the array of relevant issues, the Consultation on Environmental Issues presented our team with complex questions:

  • How do we reach diverse communities across the country?
  • How do we facilitate the opportunity for affected community members to speak?
  • How do we keep the conversation going well into the future?

Answering these questions offered both insights into the challenges as well as best practices in creating opportunities for engagement.

During the Consultation, community members and advocates from around the nation identified problems in their communities and offered solutions. They asked for more opportunities to engage with the government and to lift barriers to that engagement by addressing linguistic, geographic, and temporal challenges to participation. The dialogue reminded us that direct contact with affected community members can reveal issues that may otherwise fall through the cracks, and that the knowledge of local communities is a critical component in crafting creative solutions to environmental challenges. Having all stakeholders at the table ensures the development of responsive and sustainable solutions to real world problems. So while providing inclusive processes can be complicated, it is well worth the effort.

We saw what public engagement looks like in action at the Consultation in October and hope that government at all levels will provide more opportunities for meaningful community engagement. However, coordinating national events is not the only path to achieve public engagement; it can be accomplished in simpler and smaller ways. Such opportunities should not only be available when the United States is on the eve of a review before the U.N. or some other significant event. Rather, a continuing dialogue between government and the public is necessary to tackle environmental and other social justice issues.

Moving forward, the Clinic continues to work with local environmental justice advocates to advance universal access to clean and affordable water by engaging with California state officials and raising these important issues before international human rights bodies.

NOTE: On February 20, 2015, the U.S. State Department is holding a civil society consultation on the U.S. government’s second UPR, in Washington, DC, with an option to dial-in by phone.

About the Authors: Lupe Aguirre, Neelam Mohammed, and Leslie Morales are law students at the International Human Rights Law Clinic, UC Berkeley School of Law, who are scheduled to graduate in 2016. Lupe’s interest in social justice was sparked by her work with vulnerable low-income immigrant communities in Southern and Central California before entering law school; she plans to continue serving at-risk communities as a public interest lawyer. Neelam developed an interest in environmental justice issues after taking courses at Berkeley Law focused on the importance of clean energy development and the rights of individuals disparately impacted by fossil fuel-generated energy. Leslie was drawn to international human rights through her volunteer work providing legal services to immigrants and asylum-seekers as she became aware of the many injustices faced by low-income and minority groups in the U.S. and abroad, including in her family’s native Guatemala.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Collaborative Problem Solving: A Tool to Address Fracking Concerns

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By Danny Gogal

The continuous passing of rumbling eighteen wheeler trucks, utility vehicles, pick-up trucks and cars witnessed on April 8, 2014, is a familiar site to those visiting or living in New Town, North Dakota. Located within the Fort Berthold Reservation, it is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes (TAT) – Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. The regular flow of traffic in such a remote town is the result of the burgeoning business of oil and natural gas extraction, made possible by advances in technology for accessing oil and gas in shale formations found deep in the Earth through horizontal drilling and the fracturing of rock, commonly referred to as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I arrived in the afternoon to begin a three day training workshop on collaborative problem-solving, appropriate dispute resolution, and environmental laws. EPA supported the workshop in response to a TAT community-based representative’s request for an interagency meeting and training in North Dakota for tribes, indigenous organizations and tribal members on issues of environmental justice.

Untitled-3The unprecedented amount of oil and gas development has enhanced job opportunities, significantly lowered unemployment, and is bringing in substantial revenues to the TAT, resulting in the elimination of the tribes’ debt.  However, it is also straining the reservation’s infrastructure, overstretching the resources (personnel and financial) and capability of the TAT’s departments. This, of course, includes the environmental department, which is facing significant environmental and public health concerns, such as the proper disposal of hydraulic socks and fracking fluids, and concerns about the flaring of gas.

The TAT tribes’ government faces challenges that are experienced by virtually every other government: the need to grow their economy to obtain revenue to meet the needs of the community and to do it in a sustainable way.  This is not easy, and is even more challenging in Indian country due to the myriad of laws and regulations and the unique political status of federally recognized tribes.  However, experience has shown that sustainable development can be effectively accomplished when the key parties are meaningfully involved, the necessary tools are available and used, and an appropriate collaborative approach is utilized.

Untitled-1Approximately 40 tribal community-based representatives, TAT tribal government officials, academia, business and industry, state government representatives, traditional peacemakers, and federal officials from the departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Land Management, and Environmental Protection Agency, participated in the workshop.

The workshop provided training on collaborative problem-solving approaches, dispute resolution techniques, including mediation/negotiation processes, skills and tools, federal statutes that pertain to environmental and public health protection, grants/financial assistance programs, federal tribal and community-based programs, and federal Indian law and policy.  It also provided the participants the opportunity to enhance or build new working relationships and identify issues of mutual interest for which they can collaborate to address their environmental and public health concerns, as well as other quality of life interests of the TAT communities.

I am hopeful that one or more collaborative approaches will effectively be used to address the range of concerns facing the TAT communities.  I am encouraged by a participant’s statement on the evaluation form noting that a key benefit of the workshop was “meeting people to build collaborative relationships with.”  Additionally, at the Workshop, a tribal council member noted his support for a public meeting with oil and gas developers to enhance understanding of interests and concerns among the stakeholders on the reservation.

Finally, plans for the a public meeting of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (IWG) to focus on the environmental justice concerns of federally recognized tribes and indigenous peoples is still being planned and is projected to be held in September 2014 in Bismarck, North Dakota.  I encourage tribal governments, indigenous community-based organizations, tribal members, and other interested parties to attend the meeting to discuss how we can work collaboratively to effectively address environmental justice issues in Indian country and in other tribal areas of interest.  Information on the IWG public meeting will be available soon on the IWG web site.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25 years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past twenty-two years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Planning to Overcome Injustice!

By Carolina Martinez

“I had no idea we had the right to make changes in our community; that we could say: we don’t want this here because it’s bad for our health.”- Maria, resident of Barrio Logan, a neighborhood in San Diego.

R_AIR3MAIN_trucks_slfMaria’s child came home one day to tell her he was having difficulty breathing at school during his gym class. Shortly after, his doctor diagnosed him with the beginning stages of asthma. Maria, like many parents in her neighborhood, made the connection between her son’s respiratory problems and the warehouse with dozens of heavy duty trucks travelling daily on her block. She lived across the street from heavy pollution, and now her family was suffering the impacts.

Unfortunately, her story isn’t uncommon. In fact, Barrio Logan is the highest at-risk community in San Diego and in the top five percent in the state for hazards of toxic pollution. As an urban planner I can relate to Maria, but I think most people in environmentally compromised communities don’t know they can have a say about the layout of their neighborhood.

However, residents can — and should — play an active part in the community planning process. And now, with Environmental Health Coalition’s (EHC) groundbreaking video, Creating Healthy Neighborhoods: Community Planning to Overcome Injustice, you have the tools to step up and create positive neighborhood change more than ever! We developed this 20-minute video that uses real-life examples to illustrate a seven-step process we can all use to participate in community-led planning and become better advocates for our neighborhoods and win healthy community visions.

Residents like Maria literally live and breathe the effects of environmental injustice in their neighborhoods. No one is better qualified to recognize and propose solutions than local community members, but the planning processes can feel intimidating and land-use policy often sounds like a foreign language. Residents need to know they have a voice, and with Creating Healthy Neighborhoods, families just like Maria’s learn to speak out in the policy and planning processes impacting their community.

EHC Title Creating Healthy CommunitiesSo how can you get started steering your community towards a better future? How can you ensure your children grow up in a healthy, safe neighborhood? With this video (available online and on DVD in both Spanish and English) Environmental Health Coalition walks you through the seven steps to successfully pursue environmental justice for your community through community-engaged planning while highlighting true stories from community members just like you.

When we created this revolutionary tool we wanted to make something to help advocates gain a fuller understanding of their communities and take action to create healthier, more vibrant and livable communities. And although we’ve only just released it, at the conferences and events we have presented the video at, I have seen people who had little initial knowledge of these issues become very enthusiastic about the community planning process. In fact last week was the first time we presented it to our most involved members in EHC and they loved it! They relayed that the video was engaging and easy to understand, and they are excited to use this video to educate their neighbors on healthy land use principals.

People throughout the country endure impacts of toxic pollution every day because of poorly planned land-use policies, but it does not have to be this way, and you have the power to change it. So remember: community planning is power. Understanding how to become involved in land-use and planning processes in your community is first step towards a better community for your family today and for generations to come – What will you change?

About the author: Carolina Martinez is a Policy Advocate at the Environmental Health Coalition.  She is responsible for supporting residents in National City, a low-income majority Latino community, advocate for land use policies that respect their priorities, improve health, and are consistent with environmental justice principles.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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President Obama’s Proclamation on Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Earlier this month I was very excited to share President Barack Obama’s official Presidential Proclamation commemorating February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. While this may seem purely symbolic, the proclamation is much  more than a symbolic gesture.  It is a very visible statement from the White House firmly re-committing this Administration’s dedication to making sure that we, “live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.”  This commitment has been echoed throughout EPA and other agencies, and indeed the entire country during this anniversary month.

As a federal employee, I understand the important role the federal government plays in advancing environmental justice, but I also believe that the only path to a healthier and more resilient country is through the hard work and leadership of communities and individuals. This reaffirmation by the President  sets the stage for all of the U.S., states, and tribal governments to continue to work together, side-by-side, to ensure that we continue to deliver on the letter and spirit of the executive order signed 20 years ago this month.

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 12898

ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

downloadTwo decades ago, President William J. Clinton directed the Federal Government to tackle a long-overlooked problem. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and tribal areas disproportionately bore environmental burdens like contamination from industrial plants or landfills and indoor air pollution from poor housing conditions. These hazards worsen health disparities and reduce opportunity for residents — children who miss school due to complications of asthma, adults who struggle with medical bills. Executive Order 12898 affirmed every American’s right to breathe freely, drink clean water, and live on uncontaminated land. Today, as America marks 20 years of action, we renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.

Because we all deserve the chance to live, learn, and work in healthy communities, my Administration is fighting to restore environments in our country’s hardest-hit places. After over a decade of inaction, we reconvened an Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group and invited more than 100 environmental justice leaders to a White House forum. Alongside tribal governments, we are working to reduce pollution on their lands. And to build a healthier environment for every American, we established the first-ever national limits for mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

While the past two decades have seen great progress, much work remains. In the years to come, we will continue to work with States, tribes, and local leaders to identify, aid, and empower areas most strained by pollution. By effectively implementing environmental laws, we can improve quality of life and expand economic opportunity in overburdened communities. And recognizing these same communities may suffer disproportionately due to climate change, we must cut carbon emissions, develop more homegrown clean energy, and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that we are already feeling across our country.

As we mark this day, we recall the activists who took on environmental challenges long before the Federal Government acknowledged their needs. We remember how Americans — young and old, on college campuses and in courtrooms, in our neighborhoods and through our places of worship — called on a Nation to pursue clean air, water, and land for all people. On this anniversary, let us move forward with the same unity, energy, and passion to live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with programs and activities that promote environmental justice and advance a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Gina McCarthy

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dynamic Redevelopment for Everyone

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Mariposa is home to a diverse group of residents who benefit from neighborhood events, nearby amenities, and proximity to public transit. Photo courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.

By Brett VanAkkeren

Since the mid-1990s, communities have used smart growth development strategies, such as reinvesting in areas that have been neglected or abandoned, to improve the health and welfare of residents.  These strategies make fiscal sense because communities can reuse existing infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, for new construction; environmental sense because communities can clean up and reuse abandoned sites instead of paving over farms and open space; and  economic sense because new development can attract new jobs and investment.

While reinvestment can create desirable places that attract new residents, it can also displace existing residents who can no longer afford to live there. The question in underserved communities is how to grow in ways that benefit both new and existing residents.  The answer lies in equitable development.

denver light railEquitable development is the integration of environmental justice with smart growth development strategies. (See Carlton Eley’s blog post from December 18.) Ideally, the result leads to affordable housing, easy access to nearby jobs and services, affordable public transportation, the removal of environmental health hazards, access to healthy food, and safe ways to walk and bike to everyday destinations.

In Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority supported equitable development by building an affordable housing complex called the Mariposa District near a light rail station. While planning for the Mariposa project, the Authority conducted a Cultural Audit, a health Impact Assessment, a pedestrian quality audit, and three environmental design charrettes that led to intensive community involvement. These tools allowed community members to have meaningful input into decision-making in their community. Other cities can use these tools to replicate Mariposa’s success.

(Watch a video about the Mariposa District, winner of EPA’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Equitable Development.)

The 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, February 13-15 in Denver, will offer opportunities for activists, community developers, local government officials, and many others to learn how communities can integrate environmental justice approaches into smart growth and community development programs. The conference kicks off with a half-day equitable development workshop on February 13.  Tours on February 13 and 16 will take participants to see a variety of equitable development projects in the Denver area, including the Mariposa district. Several conference sessions also will focus on equitable development.

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Click to read the report

You can find other useful resources on equitable development and smart growth strategies in a report  by EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC) and Office of Environmental JusticeCreating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities:  Strategies For Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice And Sustainable Communities, as well as OSC’s Smart Growth and Equitable Development web page. Using equitable development approaches, smart growth practitioners all across the country have helped address the challenges of redevelopment in disadvantaged communities. By attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference to hear from leaders in this work, you can learn new approaches to take back to your community to help it flourish in ways that benefit everyone.

About the author: Brett VanAkkeren, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, has worked on smart growth issues at EPA for more than 15 years. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It Doesn’t Take a Fireman to Spot a Fire: Fighting Pollution with Citizen Science

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Shameika Jackson. Velma White and Ronesha Johnson are active reporters
to the map from Shreveport, LA.

By Molly Brackin

We have a saying at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB); “it doesn’t take a fireman to spot a fire.” Likewise, you don’t need to be a scientist to know something is wrong when you spot a black smoking flare that lasts an hour or you smell foul chemicals in the air. Since 2000, the Bucket Brigade has worked with communities and thousands of residents throughout Louisiana that neighbor oil refineries and chemical plants. Our mission is to support our communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.  To accomplish this, the Bucket Brigade model is to equip communities most impacted by pollution with easy-to-use tools that monitor their environment, inform residents, and can be used to improve industry accountability.

Untitled-1In early 2010 LABB introduced the iWitness Pollution Map to help Louisiana residents track pollution and associated health effects in their communities. Today there are over 11,000 reports of possible petrochemical pollution on the map.  The iWitness Pollution Map is an open-source online map that allows anyone with a phone to document and share their experience with pollution via voicemail, text, email or by using the online form.  Visitors of the map are able to see reports in real-time, identify possible pollution hotspots by viewing the geographic location of the reports, and sign up to get alerts.The map helps to validate a community’s experience with petrochemical pollution, but more importantly the map monitors incidents of the industry’s potential pollution impacts on the local community.

In a system that allows industry to self-report their emissions and accidents, citizens are extremely important watchdogs. There were over 1,200 citizen reports of pollution from the 17 oil refineries and two associated chemical plants in Louisiana in 2013 alone. Using the iWitness Pollution Map, citizens have reported smells, flaring events, roaring sounds coming from the facilities, and health effects among other things:

 “It’s extremely stinky outside right now, very chemically smelling.  I don’t know exactly what type of smell it is, but is very chemical and it seems to be coming from the plant off Scenic Highway.  I guess it is around 6pm in the evening.  It’s raining and no feel of anything but just definitely very smelly, very unnatural.  It’s thick outside.”– January 13th, 2013, Baton Rouge, LA

 “…That plant over there, that flare is going just like a train.   It been doing it all night long.  And I can hear it all on my porch on Broadway now.”-July 28th, 2013, Shreveport, LA 

“When I had gotten off of work at 2:30am there was a weird smell in the air. At 10am the smell woke me up it was all outside & inside my home, which brought on a migraine & nausea! I don’t know what the chemical is or if it’s even safe for us to be in our home right now. We live on the Westbank in Algiers. If someone could give us some information on this that would be fantastic. The news & fire departments are saying it’s a mystery & others say it’s coming from the Chalmette refinery.”– April 3, 2013, Algiers (New Orleans), LA

A mural painted by community members in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

A mural painted by residents in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

From consistent citizen reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map, the results of the data we have gathered provides crucial statements of real life everyday experiences from residents, which counter the claims of some local industries that their chemical releases have resulted in “no offsite impact.”  LABB triangulates the reports to the map with other available information (i.e. air monitoring data, facility self reports) and shares the analysis with impacted communities, federal and state enforcement officials, first responders and the media.

Some communities in Louisiana are overburdened by industrial pollution on a daily basis, but if no one reports it, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Thanks to these innovative tools, communities impacted by pollution have a visible, public platform to get their experiences documented and their voices heard!

Molly Brackin is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, where she serves as the Monitoring & Evaluation Associate. She holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, where she specialized in hazard mitigation and disaster planning.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.