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100th Blog Post: Harnessing Momentum for the Next 20 Years of Environmental Justice

2014 August 5

By Mustafa Ali

In the more than two years since beginning this blog, we’ve presented many posts that have looked at what two decades of environmental justice has meant across the country. In our very first post, I said that we want to use this space to celebrate 20 years of environmental justice at EPA, as well as to discuss the future of the environmental justice movement in the next 20 years.

Over the past 99 blog posts, we have focused on highlighting those stories that often get overlooked in the dialogue about the environment and environmental justice. These are the stories of positive change that are helping to move many environmentally overburdened communities from surviving to thriving, as well as those stories that highlight the challenges that still exist. We featured an entire video series dedicated to powerful stories from environmental justice leaders who were on the forefront of the movement, advancing it with each innovative and tireless action that they took to defend their communities from pollution and harm. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of environmental justice at EPA, I want to go back to the beginning and share this video with you.

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I love this video because it captures the passion and energy of the environmental justice movement 20 years ago. To be clear, 1994 wasn’t the beginning of environmental justice. Civil rights and environmental leaders had been working on these issues for decades. But twenty years ago there was a new momentum, there was a sense of togetherness, and it was exciting.

In the early 1990s the words of environmental justice had not yet been cemented in the public lexicon. But the concept was beginning to take shape, and things were changing. I’m sharing this story with you now because I think it is so relevant today. Everywhere you look, it seems like the EJ movement is gaining new momentum. Things ARE changing. And that is one of the things I think this blog has captured well over the last 100 posts.

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One source of this new momentum is the energy from the multitudes of young people getting involved in the EJ movement. Worcester RootsToxic Soil Busters program is a great example. The program employs the local youth in Worcester to clean up and remediate hazardous lead-filled sites. Another post highlighted the efforts of a group of students who were doing research on environmental hotspots and used the feedback from surveys filled out from over 150 readers on this blog to complete a list of case studies on environmental justice. And there are many more avenues being developed to engage with younger people about environmental justice, like Mayah’s Lot, the environmental justice comic book, or Tox Town, which is a great tool for teaching children about chemicals and chemical safety.

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Another catalyst of momentum has been technology. For example, we shared stories like the one from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which is utilizing smart phone technologies to enable residents to track pollution and associated health effects in their neighborhoods. The Jordon River Commission in Utah has been using smartphones to engage young people to help clean up the river and make it more accessible for community residents, many of them from more ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods. And new tools being developed here at EPA (like the new community mapping tool C-FERST) and outside the agency (like the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas), are providing more information and data to residents to inform them of pollution problems and equip them with tools for protecting their communities.

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More than anything though, the environmental justice movement is being propelled forward by the ingenuity and hard work of everyday heroes in towns and cities all across the country. One illustration of this hard work is from the Clean Air Coalition, which used EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory data and other monitoring technology to hold a company accountable for violating the Clean Air Act to the tune of a $200 million settlement. Another example comes from Nuestras Raíces, which is training young people how to weatherize houses and make them more energy efficient. This effort not only provides jobs in the local economy but saves money for community residents. These stories are just a sliver of the multitude of stories that demonstrate the breadth and depth of positive results led by environmental justice advocates around the nation.

When I first started at EPA as an intern, the term environmental justice was brand new. I remember the enthusiasm and excitement that was emerging across the country as the movement was taking shape and gaining ground. As I travel across the country I see similar signs of that momentum everywhere I go. There are collaborative partnerships where communities are joining with state, local, and tribal governments, faith based organizations, and business and industry to make a positive change. So let’s keep pushing for change. Let’s keep going forward and make the next 20 years even more exciting and impactful as we strive to build a country that is safe and healthy for all to live, work, play, and pray.

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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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Mirabel Weriwoh permalink
    August 5, 2014

    Awesome work,Ali! Well written!I wish to honor everybody who fought and who is still fighting for EVERYBODY to live,play,pray and work in a safe and healthy environment. This is a very inspirational blog. Thanks for sharing this rich piece of information.I agree with Ali, let us continue to aspire for a positive change with respect to our environment.

  2. MArvin S. Robinson, II permalink
    August 5, 2014

    [ YES ]…..Absolutely this video nailed IT, great phenomenal conceptual summary about the Origin of the ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE Movement. A ‘learning experience journey': inside a Learning Experience Journey.

    A special SALUTE to the Citizens Clearinghouse for HAZWASTE , who later serves through the name of Center for HEALTH and ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: and all the “Hazel JOHNSONS” who have crossed-over to the other side of the ‘Twin-Mirrors’ of LIFE, struggling to make a difference and helping us understand the processes of Life- Learning commitments to our “CAUSES”; then and now !!!
    Blessings to each of those who are responsible for this presentation to commemorate the original Ordinary PEOPLES Movement of and for ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.
    We still have so much MORE to do, THANKS so very much and may GOD continue to BLESS our beloved journeys’ futures.
    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    QUINDARO RUINS / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2015

  3. Jalonne White-Newsome permalink
    August 6, 2014

    Thank you for compiling this wonderful montage of great leaders that paved the way and continue to shape the conversation for justice! Wonderful and inspiring!

  4. Robert permalink
    August 7, 2014

    I really enjoyed the video and the recap of all of the great blogs you have highlighted over the last year. Thank you for continuing to share innovative stories that are happening around the country!

    Dr. Regan

  5. Bradley S Hayes permalink
    August 8, 2014

    Their is a war right now in the state of Kentucky, we know that our children are poisoned daily by mining chemicals, women and men, we know that America gets 43% of their energy from coal, we need energy in America, also clean water, what are the chances that federal government and coal could work together and put containment tanks at mines to filter chemicals out of water? They can put scrubbers on smoke stacks, why not containment tanks for our waterways, not only would KY be more healthy, but also this nation’s waterways.

  6. Omega Wilson permalink
    August 11, 2014

    Compliments to Mustafa Ali and his team for producing and posting the blog YouTube EJ stories. Our WERA Story was posted in December 2012. When invited to speak for college activities, I encourage students and faculty to check our blog post and others. So many know climate change and global warming but know little or nothing about environmental justice. WERA is evolving new and young academic and legal partners as a result.
    If Mustafa’s schedule allows, I would like to see a mini-series of veteran EPA EJ regional staffers who have worked with EJ grassroots groups for years. The inside pro and con from people like Cynthia Peurifoy of Region 4 and Richard Grow of Region 9 would be an interesting insight on how far regions has progressed on EJ over the last 20 years. Great working with you guys, Omega & Brenda Wilson, West End Revitalization Association, Mebane, NC Region 4

  7. Kim permalink
    August 16, 2014

    Mustafa I have to second what Mr. Wilson said, this is an excellent video and your team is doing a great job with the EJ in Action Blog. I have seen you speak before and you are a great champion for social justice issues, and I like the fact that you always give homage to the leaders who have mentored you over the years. I look forward to the day when a story is done on your work and commitment to Environmental and Social Justice.

    I left a comment on an earlier blog saying that I hope the rest of your Agency catches up with the innovative work that you are doing by ensuring that the voice of the community is being highlighted and shared! Keep up the exceptionally good work.

    Kim

  8. Liam permalink
    August 17, 2014

    Congrats on reaching 100!!! I have enjoyed and learned a lot from many of the stories in your series.

  9. Devorah permalink
    August 17, 2014

    Thank you for the great work that you are doing. Climate change is a real issue that will effect us all, from the cities to the country we all have the opportunity to get involved and make a difference.

  10. Mel permalink
    August 26, 2014

    Mustafa keep sharing the truth, you have a huge amount of support from many different stakeholders across the country. This is a very good educational tool for those who don’t know much about the development of E.O. 12898.

  11. Robert permalink
    September 6, 2014

    You have been doing an excellent job, keep up the good work.

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