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A Dream Realized: Community Driven Revitalization in Spartanburg

2014 August 26

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

Sometimes you wake up from a bad dream. You pray it’s not real but when you open your eyes, the reality of the situation is staring you right in the face.

An abandoned fertilizer plant in Spartansburg

Harold Mitchell faced a similar situation and learned about environmental injustice when family, friends, and neighbors in his Spartanburg, South Carolina community got sick — many of whom died young from cancer and respiratory diseases. His father and sister died due to health concerns suspected to be related to exposure to environmental contamination. Harold learned even more about this issue as he experienced similar health concerns. He began to investigate the contaminated sites in his community, and with the help of his neighbors and the support of EPA Region 4, he discovered the source of the public health and environmental problems in his community. In 1997, he founded ReGenesis to help make sense of what he was discovering and to tackle what officials once called an “impossible task” of turning around streets filled with crack houses and neighborhoods impacted by numerous environmental concerns, blight, and hopelessness. In the intervening 17 years, the ReGenesis collaborative partnership grew a $20,000 EPA environmental justice small grant into more than $250 million in public and private funding through partnerships with more than 120 organizations to transform these communities.

The story of ReGenesis is about a community and its remarkable leader being exposed to environmental contamination and then implementing collaborative problem-solving, which identifies a public health problem, brings people together to work collaboratively to envision, and implement broad solutions towards creating visible change. The story of ReGenesis is about a place that “couldn’t get any worse,” according to one resident, that is well on its way to being transformed.

Community members and partners cleaning up the Arkwright landfill

ReGenesis both represented and presented local community concerns as part of a dialogue to assess and clean up contaminated sites and address the myriad challenges facing the community. As the focus of ReGenesis evolved, the community-based environmental justice organization saw an opportunity to expand discussions with local government and environmental agencies to include equitable neighborhood revitalization. In 2000, the ReGenesis Environmental Justice Partnership was formed by representatives of ReGenesis, Spartanburg County, and the City of Spartanburg, South Carolina to promote equitable development for the Arkwright and Forest Park neighborhoods. As well, a dialogue between ReGenesis and Rhodia (now Solvay) began to address the communities’ concerns about having a chemical facility in the middle of the neighborhoods. Many felt that the chemical plant would be an impediment to redevelopment. But over several years and many discussions (both formal and informal), the local community and industry found common ground. The partnership continues today.

The new partnership brought considerable funding to the area, leveraging more than $250 million for the following reinvestment and development opportunities that benefit both residents and their industry neighbors:

One of several new healthcare centers in Spartansburg

  • Critical transportation changes now mean that the only road into the communities is no longer blocked by standing trains. With the addition of a vital second entrance into and out of the community, residents are no longer isolated. Emergency response drills mean that the community is prepared for any potential incident that could occur in the area.
  • The creation of several community health centers means that residents no longer have to travel long distances for medical care. The centrally-located facilities not only support school and behavioral health initiatives, but serve migrant healthcare needs as well.
  • More than 500 new affordable housing units for residents and workers led to the removal of severely distressed public housing and new homeownership opportunities.
  • Job training and employment programs that empower residents through economic opportunity.
  • Environmental cleanup of formerly contaminated properties have turned brownfields into viable properties, removing eyesores and affording other redevelopment opportunities, such as a solar farm that is planned.
  • Increased retail development, such as a long sought after grocery store, a pharmacy, and other shops located within the community.
  • A new state of the art community center that serves as a hub of activity for the community, from young to elderly residents.

In 2009, ReGenesis received the EPA 2009 Environmental Justice Achievement Award, for its long-term – and still ongoing projects addressing environmental hazards, economic development, health care, and housing in the Arkwright community.

Harold Mitchell listens to a community member's concerns

This transformation did not happen overnight. Nor was the journey easy. Now others are looking at ReGenesis’ work in Spartanburg as a national model of environmental justice achievement, as well as a national model of how community-private-public partnerships can work. This work has effectively addressed environmental protection and community revitalization issues in the Arkwright community in Spartanburg.

But as Harold Mitchell has said repeatedly, he could not have done it without the people of Arkwright. “The one thing that we did have was the mark of the people within the community itself. We went through three mayors, four city managers, turnover on (City) Council, but the only thing that didn’t change was a little acorn, which was the community, and that was the piece that kept everything moving here.”

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr., is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, DC. Prior to going into environmental consulting twelve years ago, Tim served as U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

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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Urban Air Toxics Report Shows Reduced Pollution in Communities

2014 August 21

By Janet McCabe

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Reducing toxic air emissions has been a priority for EPA, and I am proud of the progress that we’ve made in communities across the country. Today, we released our Urban Air Toxics Report to Congress - the second of two reports required under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to inform Congress of progress in reducing public health risks from urban air toxics. I want to share some of the highlights with you.

The report shows significant nationwide reductions in toxic chemicals in the air in our communities. That’s good news for public health, because the Clean Air Act identifies 187 hazardous air pollutants, about half of which are known or suspected to cause cancer. Many can cause other health effects, such as damage to the immune, respiratory, neurological, reproductive and developmental systems.

And while emissions of air toxics affect everyone living in this country, the data tell us that the risk can be higher for people living in cities, and particularly those in low income and minority neighborhoods.

But, we’re making significant progress: Since 1994, we found a 66 percent reduction in benzene and a nearly 60 percent reduction in mercury from sources like coal-fired power plants. Levels of lead – a dangerous neurotoxin that can affect the brain development of children – are down nearly 85 percent in outdoor air. The report also finds that we’ve removed about three million tons of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) per year from the air in our communities by controlling emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes. We’ve also reduced toxics air pollution from businesses like dry cleaners and autobody shops that are located right in our neighborhoods.

   Click to Read the Report

Click to Read the Report

And we’re continuing our work to make communities healthier. For example, we recently proposed updates to emission standards for petroleum refineries. There are nearly 150 petroleum refineries across the country and the facilities are often located near communities. Our proposed standards would reduce emissions of chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylene by 5,600 tons per year. For the first time, EPA is proposing to require fenceline monitoring to help ensure that emissions standards are met and nearby communities are protected. The data will be available for the public to see – transparency helps the community understand what’s in the air and helps with compliance. Common-sense strategies such as these will help us further reduce toxic air pollution and protect public health in communities across United States.

Administrator McCarthy has said that, “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.” EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation works everyday to to address environmental inequity in minority and low income communities and to give everyone the opportunity to participate fully and meaningfully in the regulatory process.

We are working closely with state, local and tribal agencies to promote local, area-wide and regional strategies as we continue to address air toxics. We also support a number of community-based programs that help residents understand, prioritize and reduce exposures to toxic pollutants in their neighborhood. I am very proud of the accomplishments outlined in today’s report, but I know we still have much to do to bring clean air to our communities. I am excited to continue our work with communities, businesses and state, local and tribal governments to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals and protect public health and the environment.

About the author: Janet McCabe is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), having previously served as the OAR’s Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator.

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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Commitment to Environmental Justice Leads Fish and Wildlife Service to Study Anacostia River Fishing

2014 August 19

Cross-Posted from Fish and Wildlife Service’s Open Spaces

By Kim Lambert

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Approximately 17,000 people, many African American or Hispanic, eat fish they catch out of the Anacostia River each year, and often share their fish with hungry people, according to a study commissioned by the Anacostia Watershed Society. But the watershed contains toxic hotspots caused by pollution such as PCBs, PAHs, metals and other compounds for local facilities.

As part of its commitment to Environmental Justice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with Anacostia Watershed Society, University of Maryland College Park and the Anacostia Community Museum to study the patterns of urban anglers (subsistence, recreational and cultural) and fish contaminants in the Anacostia River region.

Environmental Justice recognizes that low-income or disadvantaged populations of color are often unfairly burdened by environmental hazards and unhealthy land uses, and may have higher exposure and health risks. And the Service collaborates with its stakeholders and partners to minimize or eliminate these hazards.

On a hot Saturday morning in July, the partners sponsored a fishing day as part of the Community-Based Assessment of Exposure for Subsistence Fishers in the Anacostia River Region (CAESARR), a study about people who fish or consume fish from the Anacostia River Watershed. The event was a fun opportunity for participants to learn how to fish, get information about the river and health issues, and catch fish for the project. About 45 people attended and the fish were processed for scientific research. Estimates on the amount of PCBs, metals, contaminants and pesticides in the fish will be issued to urban anglers when the study is done.

In many ways the river is a well-kept secret for the recreational opportunities it offers, including biking, paddling, and surprising beauty and solitude. “It is in our hands to protect our planet and these beautiful species living in it,” according the Sonia Banyuls of Spain, as she walked along the river banks. Lisa Peterson brought seven Boy Scouts to the event because it was a “great fishing opportunity and so educational for the kids.”

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says, “The human health consequences of high fish consumption by vulnerable populations in the Anacostia River and a highly contaminant watershed are important public health issues.”

Dr. Wilson adds that there has been limited research on fish contaminants in the region, so it hasn’t been possible to establish exposure and risk assessments.

In addition to the work of the partnership, the Service is completing a report titled Analysis of Contaminant Concentrations in Fish Tissue Collected for the Waters of the District of Columbia. For this project, the Chesapeake Bay Field Office sent 38 samples of fish from Anacostia and Potomac rivers for study for contaminant concentrations. The District will use the results to update the current Public Health Advisory, which warns the public not to consume bottom feeding species and limit their consumption of other species. The report will be available in about two months according to Fred Pinkney, of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

Beyond enhancing fishing safety, understanding exposures for these populations can help with the Anacostia revitalization efforts.

The Anacostia River flows from Maryland into the District of Columbia, where it empties into the Potomac River about one mile from the U.S. Capitol. The 8.4- mile tidal river is part of a 176-square-mile watershed that is home to roughly 860,000 people as well as 43 species of fish and more than 200 species of birds. The Service’s Environmental Justice Program website can be found at http://www.fws.gov/environmental-justice/.

About the author: Kim Lambert has managed the Environmental Justice Program for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2001. She serves on numerous environmental justice panels and boards. In 2013, Kim received a Proclamation from the Board of Directors of the National Environmental Justice Conference, Inc.

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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Psst! Health Impact Assessments Offer New Pathways to Healthier Environments

2014 August 14

By Aaron Wernham

It’s no secret that residents of low-income communities frequently experience serious health problems as a result of their living environments. Air pollution and substandard housing are a root cause of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Inadequate access to healthy foods increases the risk of diabetes and obesity. A growing body of research shows that a lack of economic and educational opportunity also results in poorer overall health. Seeking ways to respond to this challenge, policymakers across the country are turning to health impact assessments or HIAs.

A map of HIAs in the US

Click to see an interactive map of HIAs in the US

A health impact assessment is a fast-growing tool that helps ensure that proposed policy changes will improve health, especially in low-income and predominantly minority communities that are often disproportionately exposed to environmental risks such as air pollution and poor-quality housing. HIAs use a flexible approach that brings together public health expertise, scientific data, and input from community and other stakeholders to examine the potential health risks and benefits of key policy proposals. Based on the potential effects identified, HIAs provide practical recommendations to capitalize on opportunities to improve community health and to minimize any potential health risks before it’s too late to correct them.

HIAs can be used to inform decisions in a variety of policy areas, from transportation and housing to energy and education. A recent evaluation published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that federal, state, local, and tribal legislators, public agency officials, and many others are using HIAs to craft smarter policies that promote safer and healthier communities.

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One assessment completed in 2013 gave low-income communities in North Minneapolis a voice in planning a new transit system. The Bottineau Transitway’s proposed light rail routes travel through several low-income neighborhoods where residents experience higher-than-average rates of serious health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. With that in mind, Hennepin County’s Department of Housing, Community Works, and Transit conducted an HIA alongside the project’s environmental impact statement, a study that guides county, state, and federal planning.

The assessment found that the transitway system could significantly improve health in North Minneapolis by reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, providing greater access to grocery stores and healthy food, and opening up employment and educational opportunities in other parts of the city. Based on the findings, county officials developed a set of recommended actions to maximize the transitway’s health benefits. Today these officials are increasing outreach to underrepresented minority stakeholders, promoting residential and commercial growth that will benefit low-income communities, and working to ensure that affordable housing remains available. As a result, the Bottineau Transitway will be more responsive to the community’s needs and ultimately support a healthier North Minneapolis.

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Assessments carried out in Alaska beginning in 2007 to answer health questions raised by Alaska Native communities regarding proposed oil and gas and mining projects led to the use of HIAs as a routine part of the state’s permitting process. The first of these informed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) consideration of proposed oil and gas leasing in the Northeast National Petroleum Reserve. Village residents raised questions about health effects related to air quality, the potential for contamination of local fish and game (a critical source of food), and social changes related to the influx of nonresident workers.

The HIA, which was completed in 2008, brought together the tribal government and the BLM to address these concerns. Ultimately, the BLM adopted additional protections for hunting and fishing areas to protect local food sources andprovide new monitoring for pollutants in the air and food supply near villages. Collaboration among tribal governments, state and federal regulators, and health officials on this and several other HIAs between 2007 and 2009 demonstrated the value of this approach and ultimately led to the establishment of the state’s HIA program.

The secret’s out. The voices of community members, influential champions, and other stakeholders can be deployed in ways that build momentum for considering and adopting HIA recommendations. Nationwide, more than 300 HIAs have been completed or are underway in diverse communities (view them on the Health Impact Project’s interactive map), demonstrating the power of HIAs as a tool to help decision makers develop healthier communities and environments.

About the Author: Aaron Wernham, M.D., is the Director of The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is a national initiative dedicated to promoting the use of health impact assessment in the United States.

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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Port Arthur Texas – Climate Justice Hits Home

2014 August 12

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By Hilton Kelley

Texas is considered the “Energy State.” In 2013 it was the leading crude oil-producing state in the nation; its 27 refineries exceeding even the production levels of off-shore production. That year Texas was also the leading natural gas producer in the country. Port Arthur, Texas, my home, sits on the Louisiana-Texas border on the Gulf Coast, right in the heart of this Texas energy hub. Port Arthur also is home to four major oil refineries, four chemical plants, one petroleum coke plant, and an international chemical waste incineration facility.

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Many residents of Port Arthur, particularly those in the low income community of color, in the city’s Historic west side, have been and continue to be disproportionately negatively impacted by carbon emissions, volatile organic compounds, and known carcinogens from these facilities. Based on a local door-to-door community survey, one out of every five households here has someone who suffers from chronic respiratory illnesses, many of whom are children. According data compiled by the Texas Cancer Registry, the county’s cancer incidence rate is 25% higher than the state average. We have a large number of people in our community who have been diagnosed with cancer and liver and kidney disease. A separate study by the University of Texas Medical Branch found that the residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people who live 100 miles away to suffer from heart and respiratory problems, nervous and skin disorders, and other illnesses. The health problems endured by my friend Paula and her family are examples of the devastating impacts pollution is having in my community.

Smoke rises from Deepwater Horizon

The question of how much pollution one community can bear takes on a whole new meaning when talking about climate change. The ferocity of recent hurricanes has been unexpected, bringing in storm surges that reached to the top of the 100-year levee. Due to rising sea levels, a portion of Highway 87 leading to Galveston along the Gulf Coast has not been open for years because large sections have been washed out. Vast amounts of coastal marshlands and wetlands, which serve as natural sponges that trap and slowly release storm waters, are contaminated largely due to oil spills, big ones like the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, as well as smaller ones too. There is a massive sinkhole in the Louisiana wetlands which is possibly leaking chemical waste from a very large underground injection well.

Hurricane Ike over the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Ike over the Gulf of Mexico

The emergence of serious storms and other significant weather changes only exacerbates the problems we are dealing with. Like the Murphy Oil flooding following Hurricane Katrina, storm surges will wash chemicals from their confinement into our neighborhoods. It’s not just the major storms that wreak environmental havoc on coastal areas like ours that are home to oil and gas production facilities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike (a Category 2 storm) caused hundreds of releases of oil, gasoline, and dozens of other substances into our air and water, facilities were damaged causing explosions and other catastrophes that only compound the suffering of my friends, neighbors and future generations.

The time to deal with climate change and related issues like chemical safety, chemical reduction, and community resiliency is now — people are dying because of over-exposure to dangerous substances. Human and wildlife habitats are being lost. Just as important, we are losing the culture and way of life of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. We must do more to get local, regional, and State governments involved in the fight to reduce and combat climate change. Time is of the essence.

This must happen! Not next year, not next month, but right now.

About the author: Hilton Kelley is the Executive Director and Founder of Community In-power and Development Association Inc. In 2011, he received the prestigious Goldman Prize for his efforts on environmental justice.

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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Seeing the Whole Picture

2014 August 7

By Malavika Sahai

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I was in my freshman year of college in the spring of 2013 when I took my introductory Environmental Policy and Planning class. Although my professor covered a wide range of topics that fit under the umbrella of U.S. environmental policy, one lesson really stood out for me: her overview of environmental justice considerations in policy enforcement. She told the powerful story of Bayview Hunters Point, a low-income community of color in southeast San Francisco that had been home to a former naval shipyard and other industries that had polluted the area, severely impacting the residents. Despite decades of cleanup and redevelopment efforts, their struggle continues. I became inspired and emotionally involved in wanting to help other communities like Bayview.

Untitled-1Growing up in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, I had witnessed instances of low-income and minority communities being plagued by pollution problems. I saw that for residents living in urban areas with aging infrastructure and minimal green space, the impacts seemed worse. I had considered myself a budding social justice advocate, but it was not until that day, that lesson, that I realized there was a vibrant, working movement to achieve justice in such communities.

After that lesson, I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do with my career. Suddenly, all my papers for my other environmental classes incorporated discussions about environmental justice. I spent my free time searching the internet to learn more about environmental justice and how and where people were impacted. I wanted to talk about these issues with anybody who would engage in the conversation. I didn’t want to stop learning more.

In my sophomore year, my interest in environmental justice led me to declare a Geography minor, so I could better understand the connection between social issues, place, and the environment. I want to learn more about the way that social geography impacts environmental decision-making in different places, to preserve local culture and adapt to be more equitable and sustainable. As I continue to learn, I keep challenging myself to learn more about the intersection of environmental justice and other related social issues, such as using ecofeminism as a framework toward global justice and planetary health.

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Learning about environmental justice issues as a critical component in policymaking decisions has inspired me to pursue it professionally. I want to ensure that a clean environment and good public health are not mutually exclusive. Being an intern in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and collaborating with other environmental organizations as a part of my internship has broadened my understanding of the amount of work that’s already being done to address environmental justice issues across the nation, as well as what remains to be done. Learning about environmental justice has helped me realize that people have the power to make a change in the world and help one another. Learning about environmental justice in a classroom setting has helped me realize that environmental justice and environmental policy should be intertwined.

I am eternally grateful to my freshman environmental policy and planning professor for introducing environmental justice in the classroom, and my hope is that as time progresses, all environmental policy and planning programs in universities, and even high schools, teach their students about environmental policy and justice side by side.

About the Author: Malavika Sahai recently was a Summer intern at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. She is studying Environmental Policy and Planning and Geography at Virginia Tech, and plans to graduate in Spring 2016.

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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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.

Clean Air Event

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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Science for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes

2014 July 31

Cross-posted from It’s Our Environment

By EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy

Untitled-1Last week I signed the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, which clarifies how EPA works with federally and state recognized tribes, indigenous community-based grassroots organizations, and other indigenous peoples to address their environmental and public health concerns.

American Indian communities have been inextricably tied to the natural environment for generations. From cultural identify to sustenance, many of those unique traditions endure. That’s why I’m so excited about the six tribal environmental health research grants to tribal communities and universities that we recently announced.

EPA is proud to have a long and rich history of supporting environmental and public health protection for all communities. These EPA supported grants will increase our knowledge of the threats posed by climate change and indoor air pollution, while incorporating traditional ecological knowledge to reach culturally appropriate and acceptable adaptation strategies to address these threats.

There is a unique need for tribal-focused research to identify those climate-related impacts and to reduce associated health and ecological risks. EPA has been actively engaged in supporting such research, and I’m thrilled EPA is providing grants to further that work. The grants will support the study of the impacts of climate change and indoor air pollution on tribal health and way of life. Grantees include:

  • The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium located in Anchorage, Alaska will be looking at ways to assess, monitor, and adapt to the threats of a changing climate to the sustainability of food and water in remote Alaska native villages.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner, Washington will be examining coastal climate impacts to traditional foods, cultural sites, and tribal community health and well-being.
  • Yurok Tribe in Klamath, California will be identifying, assessing, and adapting to climate change impacts to Yurok water and aquatic resources, food security and tribal health.
  • Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana will research climate change adaptation and waterborne disease prevention on the Crow Reservation.
  • The University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will examine ways to improve indoor air quality and reduce environmental asthma triggers in tribal homes and schools.
  • The University of Massachusetts-Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts will measure indoor air quality in tents as related to wood smoke exposures and identify potential health risks in remote subsistence hunting communities in North America.

The health of our communities depends upon the health of our environment. These grants will help build prosperous and resilient tribal communities both now and for future generations. Like the enduring memories of my tour of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and tribal environmental program in North Dakota, they will have an impact long after my service as EPA Administrator.

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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Hip Hop is Acting on Climate!

2014 July 30

By Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.

We have students. We have celebrities, recording artists, and cultural influencers. We have academics and experts. And we have activists and community leaders. We even had the EPA Administrator. They all are working together to act on climate, to demonstrate that communities of color across this country want common sense climate solutions.

Untitled-1This past spring the Hip Hop Caucus organized the “Act On Climate Campus Tour” that visited Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and African-American neighborhoods around the country. Armed with the knowledge of the disproportionate life-threatening impacts of carbon pollution on our communities, African American communities have joined the call for climate action. From people, particularly poor African Americans, drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to our elderly passing away in the extreme heat waves in Chicago over the recent summers, to the homes and small businesses destroyed in our communities in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, the devastation and destruction of increasingly extreme weather caused by climate change is getting worse and more dangerous before our eyes.

As champions of health issues, the Hip Hop community knows that in the African American community we suffer disproportionately from higher rates of asthma and other respiratory and heart related diseases as well as cancer. We live closer to sources of carbon pollution, like power plants, which can be a major contributor to higher rates of morbidity and mortality. These proposed standards from the EPA would decrease pollution that is causing illness and death in our neighborhoods.

There is no doubt that the cost of life, the cost of health, and the economic cost of natural disasters and increasingly expensive energy and food, all which disproportionately impact communities of color, makes it imperative for us to act on climate. Short term and long term, these carbon pollution standards are good for African American communities. They will create jobs, save money, and protect public health.

Untitled-2The tales of energy rate increases by those who oppose these standards are wildly speculative. More importantly, they only tell one part of the story, because they do not account for the cost to communities of color of not implementing these standards. There is great economic cost of inaction. We are already paying more for air conditioning in a warming world. We are paying more for water and food produced in times of drought, and we are paying more for the cost of rebuilding after increasingly violent natural disasters. Curbing climate change through these power plant standards will also curb these cost-of-living increases that our communities are already experiencing.

Further, the speculative claim that our communities will suffer job losses if the proposed standards are approved do not account for the economic benefit from resulting job creation through green innovation. Every dollar put into clean energy creates three times as many jobs as putting that same dollar into fossil fuels.

This is a moment for great leadership. I know the Hip Hop community will continue to lead the fight and use our voices and talents in our great and continuous struggle in this country for freedom, for civil rights, and for access to economic opportunity and livable communities.

30123_393410242986_2746148_nThat is why the Hip Hop community must lead and must act to curb the impacts of climate change that our communities are suffering from now. Our success in getting young people, particularly young people of color, involved with environmental issues is because we harness the mass appeal of Hip Hop and the power of cultural expression to engage and mobilize collective action to affect change. For young people in urban communities, the Hip Hop Caucus provides an entry point to get involved that is fun and familiar. We frame the issues in relevant ways to mobilize our communities to action and we take a holistic approach to community empowerment. Ultimately, we exist for the collective of young people who are not drawn to traditional campaigns or organizations, but who need and want the knowledge, tools, and resources to become a recognized force that has the ability to effect change in this country and around the world.

This week, the EPA is holding public hearings across the nation to give people an opportunity to present data, views or arguments about the Clean Power Plan that we’ve spent months fighting for. These hearings are the most important event in our movement at this time in our fight for clean air and clean water. It is critical that people of color communities engage on this subject, whether they have attended in person or submit a public comment. If you can’t attend the hearings, you can submit comments directly to EPA until October 16, 2014. You also can leave your public comment: http://www.actonclimate.com/?ntl=true.

Can’t Stop, Wont’ Stop….All Power to the People!

About the author: Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, is a minister, community activist, and a national leader within the green movement. Rev. Yearwood has been successfully bridging the gap between communities of color and environmental advocacy for the past decade. Rolling Stone declared Rev Yearwood one of our country’s “New Green Heroes” and Huffington Post named him one of the top 10 change-makers in the green movement.

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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Preparing for a Changing Climate – Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses

2014 July 24

By Ann Carroll

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Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites – many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.

The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years – the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.

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Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed? Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on www.climate.gov, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.

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But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable – children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources – are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.

Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.

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Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.

Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.

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A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.

Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.

Resources:

About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for over ten years. She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse. Ann is working on a doctorate in Environmental Health at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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.