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Government by the People: Looking Back at the NEJAC After 20 Years

2013 September 10

By Richard Moore

Richard Moore 2

Richard speaking at 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit

20 years ago, when I was appointed as one of the first members to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), I remember very clearly we decided that we wanted to make this a different type of government advisory council. The NEJAC was established by the EPA in order to obtain advice and recommendations from a diverse group of stakeholders involved in environmental justice. This was a big deal for the environmental justice community because it helped give legitimacy to the decades-long fight for the EJ movement. And so when the first board of the NEJAC convened we made a decision that we were going to make this advisory council truly representative of the people.

We wanted to lift up the voices of the grassroots, and make sure that the issues that were being addressed by the Council were the issues that people on the ground in our communities were facing. When we convened our first meetings, we made it clear to communities across the country that we were going to make sure that their voices would be heard. And sure enough, in those early meetings hundreds of concerned residents showed up to testify about the problems their communities were facing, and to hear what EPA and other Federal agencies were doing to address the disproportionate impacts that were happening across the country.

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NEJAC Public Comment Session

I remember the revelations that people had when they heard others from cities and towns far away talking about the same problems they were facing in their own backyards. It was transformative. The people in these meetings learned that the pollution in their neighborhoods wasn’t an accident, it was happening everywhere and in some cases it was deliberate. More importantly, they also saw what types of solutions were being tested across the country to address these injustices.

From these public comments the Council also started forming recommendations to deal with the disproportionate pollution problems we were facing. We proposed to the EPA a grant program that specifically focused on providing financial support to benefit communities with environmental justice concerns. We also recommended EPA provide expert support to help give communities equal representation when controversial permits or government actions were being proposed. These recommendations were the foundations for the EJ Small Grants Program and the Technical Assistance Grants.

In 1995, the EPA and NEJAC co-sponsored a series of dialogues across the country that provided an opportunity for environmental justice advocates and residents of impacted communities to give input on revitalization of abandoned properties called “brownfields.” Out of these public dialogues, the NEJAC developed “The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope” report. A consistent theme throughout the report was the importance of seeking and including communities in decisions and planning. Taking these recommendations into consideration, EPA took a number of actions to improve its Brownfields program. For example, EPA agreed to create a Brownfields Job Training Grants Program, which now spends over $3 million annually in low income and minority communities.

When we first convened the NEJAC 20 years ago we didn’t want to play by the rules. We wanted to make a new type of advisory council that would vigilantly fight for the rights of every resident to be heard by the government. Over the years the Council has elevated community concerns and made recommendations on many vitally important issues; from school air toxics monitoring and gulf coast restoration, to US/Mexico border issues and tribal consultation. Let’s hope that the Council maintains that spirit, and continues to expand the conversation around environmentalism over the next 20 years.

About the author: Mr. Moore served as the Executive Director of Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (Southwest Network), in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1993 to 2010. Mr. Moore has served on numerous government and nongovernmental committees and panels, including chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and member of the National Council of Churches EcoJustice Task Force and the Congressional Black Caucus National Environmental Policy Commission. In 2010 Moore transitioned from director of SNEEJ to Senior Advisor. He currently is the program director for Los Jardines Institute in Albequerque New Mexico.  

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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21 Responses leave one →
  1. Carlton Eley permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Thank you Richard! Where does one begin if you are asked to recall 20 years of history and results? You captured it so well, and you left me wanting more. I hope you will continue writing and publishing your thoughts on environmental justice for the benefit of current and future generations. We need these lessons in leadership and courage.

  2. Jane permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Mr. Moore thank you for keeping the history of the movement alive and the focus on the future true. I hope the next generation will continue the important work that you and many others started so many years ago.

  3. Kim permalink
    September 11, 2013

    It’s great to see that the EJ in Action Blog highlights those who have blazed the trail of social justice and environmental justice. Thank you Mr. Moore for all you have done to help make our environment healthier for all of the people and not just some of the people.

    Kim

  4. Robert permalink
    September 14, 2013

    Richard,

    You have touched the lives of many with your work and dedication to environmental justice and public health.

    Dr. Regan

  5. Judy Hatcher permalink
    September 15, 2013

    Thank you, Richard! I appreciated reading this overview–I appreciate all that you’ve done for this movement over the years.

    Judy

  6. Judy Robinson permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you, Richard Moore, for your incredible service to this nation and for your consistently high quality work for justice these many decades. I am so grateful to have you as a leader, a mentor, colleague and friend in the movement. Thank you –Judy

  7. Marian Naranjo permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Richard for all that you do. It has been a pleasure working with you over the years. I look forward forward to the continued work to come!

    Marian Naranjo, Director, Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE)

  8. Michele Roberts permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Richard, for all of the great work that you continue to do. It is indeed a pleasure working with you in this struggle. Today, I am full of thanksgiving because I have learned so much from you and many others in this movement, who are TRULY committed to justice! Thank you for being one who honors and values impacted people speaking for themselves. Richard, YOU, have been a true, brother, mentor and friend and I give thanks!

    Michele L. Roberts, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA)

  9. Omega Wilson permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Richard, you were very helping in expanding the “Community Voice” when I served as community NEJAC member from 2007 to 2010. Your dedication to facilitating environmental justice input to improve and implement public health policies and civil rights enforcement is a model to follow. Stay safe and well my friend. Omega Wilson, West End Revitalization Association (WERA), Mebane, NC.

  10. Sue permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Richard — Your impact on national environmental policy has been immeasureable. Everyone privileged to work with you has a better and more compassionate perspective on the world. Thank you for your leadership on environmental stewardship and social justice.

  11. Marva E. King, PhD permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Richard! You have been an inspiration to me over the 19 years I have been privileged to be in your presence. You have trained me to realize what it truly means to be a public servant. So many government workers forget what we are really here to do — and that is to serve the public. It is not to make a name or title for ourselves, it is to protect the public health and environment of our Nation’s people. Through your grace and leadership I pray you continue to be successful in teaching others to do just that. Peace, Marva

  12. Rick Hind permalink
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Richard! Your unwavering leadership was recently evident at the Sept. 11-12 NEJAC meeting Atlanta when the EPA for the first time committed to putting new disaster prevention requirements for high risk chemical plants on the table. This was a direct result of your efforts in October 2011 that prompted the NEJAC to send it’s March 14, 2012 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/332041-nejac-letter.html
    It’s now up to all of us to make sure these initial victories lead to REAL on-the-ground changes that protect those who are disproportionately at risk of serious injury or death. You lead, we’ll follow, Rick

  13. Jason permalink
    September 17, 2013

    Richard,

    Thank you to you and the other leaders who have blazed the trail for the next generation of social justice leaders.

    Jason Anniston

  14. MaKara Rumley permalink
    September 17, 2013

    Mr. Moore:

    Your contribution to the EJ movement serves as inspiration for the next generation. I am the next generation, and am committed to maintaining and enhancing the legacy that you have created.

  15. Tim Fields permalink
    September 17, 2013

    Richard, Thank you for reminding us all of what we are supposed to be doing in serving our fellow residents of this planet! It was also great to be reminded of the great leadership that you have provided for many years on critical environmental justice issues. You are a true inspiration to all for your commitment, knowledge, and passion on these important issues in the past, at present, and in the future! Continue pressing on toward the mark! We will be with you when we get there! Tim

  16. Tim Jakes permalink
    September 18, 2013

    Mr. Moore, I had the chance to participate in the NEJAC meeting last week. I must applaud the work of the NEJAC, you and the other leaders who have stayed the course over the decades. I was extremely impressed with the session where the past heroes and sheroes were highlighted and their contributions to environmental justice. Mr. Mustafa Ali’s words moved me, and your words motivavted me to do more to address the social injustices that still exist. The reports and activities you shared are now apart of my library of understanding of how to address some of the environmental injustices that are happening.

    We need more leaders like you and those in the environmental justice movement, and as my father always says, ” Be the leader you would like to see”. Thank you again and may god bless and keep you.

    Tim Jakes

  17. Stephenie Hendricks permalink
    September 18, 2013

    Thank you Richard for your devoted work to stop chemicals exposure for all of us. It takes enormous courage and commitment to fight in the battle to protect our environmental health, especially with the institutionalized racism that has been virtually codified by chemical industry supported officials in decision making positions. May we all rise to the occasion and emulate your persistence and integrity!

  18. Jen Sass permalink
    September 18, 2013

    Dear Richard – Thank you so much for your vision, energy, dedication, strong back and warm heart, and a lifetime of work for justice and health. I look forward to many more years of working together to create healthy communities for now and future generations. Always with my respect and admiration.

  19. Andy Igrejas permalink
    September 18, 2013

    Great blog, Richard! Thanks for making sure communities are heard and for helping to make NEJAC a different kind of government committee.

  20. Joe Bruss permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Dear Richard – Thank you for writing this blog. I am proud to have served as the lead for the Brownfields Job Training Program for the past 9 years and am grateful for the strong nexus the program has with benefiting low-income and minority residents – as well as the Brownfields Program at large. I am happy to report that because of the Brownfields Job Training Program, more than 11,800 unemployed and severely under-employed residents of waste-impacted communities have been trained, and of those, more than 8,400 have obtained employment in the environmental field. Thank you for helping to lay the foundation of a great program that really demonstrates environmental justice in action!

  21. Devorah permalink
    November 18, 2013

    Great blog with lot of educational information on the NEJAC.

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