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Embracing Environmental Justice: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of E.O. 12898

2014 February 5

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By Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment is driven by a fundamental belief that regardless of who you are or where you come from, we all have a right to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy land to call our home. At the heart of that belief is our unwavering pursuit of environmental justice for minority, low-income, and tribal communities that have been long overburdened by environmental threats.

February 11, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” We’ve accomplished a lot over the past two decades—not only EPA, but all federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, community leaders, and partners in academia and business. We established the Office of Environmental Justice, the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council—one of the federal government’s most prolific advisory committees. We’re expanding outreach and enforcing laws to defend public health and hold polluters accountable. We’re highlighting ground breaking and life-altering stories through our EJ in Action Blog. And we’re investing in communities through innovative grants and expanding technical support to bring about greener spaces where we live, learn, work, play and pray.

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

That’s why I’m proud to declare February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month at EPA, highlighting our progress while also launching a yearlong effort to focus our environmental justice leadership and reaffirm our commitment to do even more. This effort supports our top priority to make a visible difference in the communities where we serve — because we know that local progress doesn’t just guide our actions; it’s the best measure of our success.

A critical step is making good on our Plan EJ 2014 commitments, our roadmap for integrating environmental justice throughout EPA’s policies and programs. It’s already helped us to better consider how the costs and benefits of our decisions impact those most vulnerable among us. Our Regions will continue expanding their on-the-ground work to support communities. And along with our federal partners, we’ll continue developing analytical and educational resources to advance environmental justice through the National Environmental Policy Act.

Untitled-3But we know there’s much more to do.  Too many communities of color, low-income families, and tribal populations are still overburdened with higher rates of asthma, heart disease, cancer, and strokes resulting from dirty air, unsafe drinking water, and more. Devastating impacts of climate change disproportionately threaten those least able to do to anything about them. Environmental and public health threats are barriers to economic mobility, holding back millions of families striving for middle-class security and a chance to get ahead. EPA has a central role in the President’s efforts to break down those barriers and expand opportunities for all Americans.

So throughout the year, tune in to EPA to find out more about the great events that are going on across the country to commemorate this historic milestone, and to find out about the exciting developments going on in EPA and across the government to advance environmental justice.  As EPA Administrator, I’m proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of our pursuit of environmental justice by recommitting our agency to the pursuit of equal opportunity for all—our most fundamental American ideal.

About the author: Gina McCarthy currently serves as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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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14 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan Oakwood permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Are you organizing an activity in West Virginia, especially since we are in the midst of an ongoing water disaster caused by 10,000 of MCHM being leaked into our water supply? 300,000+ citizens do not trust the water and 95% refuse to drink it. The economic impact of this crisis for the FIRST FOUR DAYS is $61 million. We are approaching four weeks of this madness.

    Just today, two schools closed due to widespread illness caused by the odor of the water. A teacher passed out and was rushed to the hospital via ambulance. Faculty and students are experiencing dizziness, sore throats and burning eyes. Yet we are told by your regional director and others that the water is “safe.”

    Your regional EPA director just concluded a news conference with Governor Tomblin that left everyone here more confused and angry. He said the EPA oversees water “systems” and does not concern itself with the water coming out of tap.

    This Obama supporter and life-long Democrat is mad as hell. The President and the EPA Director need to get down here now if you are serious about “environmental justice.”

    • Margaret Comfort permalink
      February 12, 2014

      Go Susan Oakwood Go! And you’d best get up to the U.P of Michigan and Northern WISC, and No. MN before the greedy corporate pigs destroy this area too – the next “sacrifice zone”. I grew up along the Tittabawassee downstate and I’ve seen the K’zoo River mess – and NEITHER is CLEANED UP. So, can we stop allowing messes to be made before we clean up the existing messes??? Aren’t you supposed to be in the business of PROTECTION (EPA) rather than trying to clean-up the un-clean-uppable??? Take back authority from the Michigan DEQ because they are nothing but Rio Tinto and other mining company puppets. Wake UP !!! Also, Enbridge and OUR BRIDGE, OUR STRAITS. PRICELESS. So help me God if those %$@#&*$ poison those STRAITS. WHY WHY WHY do you always TRUST THEM (the soul-less corporations) over US (the citizenry)???

  2. February 5, 2014

    Good to see the discussion of environmental justice and equity being highlighted this month. Looking forward to seeing this prioritization be realized at the local level!

  3. Bouchakour permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Congratulations to the ingenious idea to devote this month to protect the environment and all efforts to this purpose.
    Best regards

  4. Omega Wilson permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Administrator McCarthy, I appreciate your thinking and vision in planning outreach activities for the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898. The West End Revitalization Association (WERA) and collaborating partners are currently very involved with some activities where we have been invited to share lessons and practices for measurable outcomes with a combined toolkit of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898: 1) Feb 7th – WERA’s “Title VI Interagency and Fracking Complaint – April 2012″ for the Inaugural Environmental Law Society Symposium on Fracking at the North Carolina Central University’s School of Law, Durham, NC; and 2) March 18-20th – WERA’s “Engaging Federal Agencies on Community Voice Continuum Using Title VI” for EPA’s Clean Air Act Rulemaking and Permitting Training for EJ Communities, RTP, NC. Much of WERA’s successes have come by combining Title VI and EO 12898 to leverage federal administrative complaints without litigation. Very Appreciative, Omega & Brenda Wilson at West End Revitalization Association (WERA), Mebane, NC.

  5. Jane permalink
    February 6, 2014

    Sounds like atleast 1 Federal Agency (EPA) is taking Environmental Justice serious. Thank you Administrator McCarthy for standing up for all citizens.

    I look forward to hearing what the other 16 Agencies/Departments will be doing to not only celebrate EO12898 but there plans to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are being protected.


  6. Malinda Dumisani permalink
    February 6, 2014

    What a great blog and a fantastic resource! Will certainly ensure that I pass the word on a state level about this great resource to mark the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898 in the Golden State of California. It’s a great way to share what other best practices are happening in the nation so we don’t have to re-invent the wheel to move EJ forward. Thanks!

  7. Kim Tristani permalink
    February 6, 2014

    I will share this great news with as many as I can. I look forward to the other blogs and videos the series will be rolling out to celebrate EJ month and EO12898.

  8. gene lane permalink
    February 7, 2014

    support a moratorium on fracking

    Communities Ask Congress: Come See What Life is Like in the Gas Patch

    By Katherine Cirullo

    Residents whose water has been contaminated speak out against fracking on Capitol Hill. Left to Right: Craig Stevens, Ray Kemble, John Fenton. Not picutred: Steve Lipsky

    According to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, making her agency “active and visible” in the communities it serves is a top priority. As of yesterday, she even went the full mile and declared February “Environmental Justice Month.” What’s ironic is, the EPA has yet to make communities affected by fracking-related water contamination a top priority. They’ve received no justice. Instead, they’ve been abandoned and left to advocate for themselves and many others.

    “There’s a possibility that thousands of people we represent can get some help if we stand up,” said John Fenton, of Pavillion, Wyoming as he stood courageously in front of a room full of congressional aids, reporters and allies. “Knowing that, maybe it’s worth being the example.”

    As we’ve blogged before, Fenton, along with Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pennsylvania, Steve Lipsky of Parker County, Texas and Craig Stevens of New York years ago turned to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the connection between their contaminated water and nearby oil and gas drilling. The EPA intervened on behalf the communities, but, to no avail, as it eventually dropped all three investigations. After months of nation-wide public pressure and despite a recent EPA Inspector General report that asserts the EPA was justified in its initial intervention in Texas, the agency refuses to re-open the cases. Moreover, the Obama administration refuses to meet with these people who have been affected by water contamination ‑ those who now devote their lives to making sure that the truth is heard and that thousands of others are protected.

    Yesterday, John, Ray, Steve and Craig came to Washington, D.C. to continue their mission to expose the harmful effects of fracking. Only this time, they came to demand Congress’s help. At a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), Stop the Frack Attack and Americans Against Fracking, these activists, joined by Josh Fox, director of Gasland and Gasland 2, urged Congress to listen to their stories, share them, and pressure the Obama administration to re-open the abandoned water contamination investigations that leave them without drinkable water. “Support the people that you’re supposed to support,” declared Fenton.

    With hopes that those who were in the room who hold the power to make a difference would listen, these folks spoke out, because to them, there is no possibility of giving up the fight. As Craig Stevens said, “There are only so many ticks on the time bomb before we’ll have to find another planet to live on…we are tired of companies putting our lives at risk for selling natural gas to foreign countries.” He followed with a quote from Ghandi: “Earth provides enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.”

    At yesterday’s briefing, the folks who have been living on the front lines of fracking exposed just how far-reaching the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling are. Ray Kemble testified that almost every small industry and local business he knows has had to shut down. “Water is everything,” he said. “We still don’t have water in Dimock… I’m tired of having to truck it in when I used to have a perfectly good well.”

    John Fenton, a cattle rancher, asked how many in the audience have eaten an Angus beef burger. Hands rose. His point was clear before he even continued. Fracking affects our food, too. “Their [the cattle’s] water comes from these wells.”

    Steve Lipsky, a homeowner from Parker County, Texas held up a photograph of his tap water on fire. “If the oil and gas industry could perform this method of drilling correctly, then they wouldn’t need exemptions from the rules [of the Safe Drinking Water Act].” “The truth is the truth,” he said.

    According to a spokesman from Matthew Cartwright’s office, the debate around this issue amongst Congress is so primitive that there virtually is no debate. The misnomer that there are no reported cases of fracking-related water contamination is an alarmingly popular sentiment on Capitol Hill. Fenton’s response: “If you don’t believe us, come see what life is like in the gas patch.” These folks live with fracking-related water-contamination. Researchers have the science to back it up.

    The number of people affected by the oil and gas industry is large and growing. Fracking contaminates water and air, it threatens public health and destroys communities. It is unacceptable for the Obama administration to deny this and allow the EPA to hand water contamination investigations over to states or to private companies with profit-driven interests.

    In honor of EPA’s Environmental Justice Month, take action now by telling the Obama administration to meet with the people who have been affected by fracking and to re-open the water contamination investigations. Protecting our air, water, health and safety needs to be a top priority.

  9. Liam permalink
    February 8, 2014

    I hope we will finally get focused on EJ and place the resources and attention on the communities that need them the most. It would be a real shame to celebrate the 40th anniversary and change in a substantive way had not happened. Thank you for this blog that always tells it like it is and keeps me updated on some of the things happening across the country.

  10. Robert permalink
    February 12, 2014

    There are so many partners who need to play a strong role in partnership with communities, to really make the changes that will make all communities healthy and sustainable. I appreciate the work of EPA but I feel that many of the other Federal agencies and Departments have not given enough attention to this issues.

    We really need them to do more! They have many more resources than EPA and play a huge role in the assistance of addressing these past injustices….Hopefully President Obama’s recently released EJ Proclamation will help them get refocused!


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  2. Embracing Environmental Justice: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of E.O. 12898 | Environmental Justice | EcoJustice.TV
  3. EPA Declares February 2014 Environmental Justice Month | coloradoee

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