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Harvest of Shame

2014 July 8

By Ashley Nelsen

Have you seen Edward R. Murrow’s documentary Harvest of Shame? It’s a Peabody-award winning film about the agricultural conditions of migrants in the 1960s. The opening scene is in Florida. It shows African Americans in a parking lot where labor contractors are repeatedly shouting, “Over here! Seventy cents!” while urging migrant workers to get on a bus to go work in the fields harvesting produce for 70 cents a day, often working in fields while they are being sprayed with harmful pesticides.

The Harvest of Shame vividly showed the American public the deplorable cycle of human poverty and labor abuse used to ensure the variety of produce at affordable prices we’ve come to expect. Fast forward to 2014, the demographic of migrant farm workers has changed to predominately Latino, but the challenges remain the same: poor and unsafe labor conditions and low wages.

My office at EPA, the Certification and Worker Protection Branch, realized that to reach this environmental justice population and educate them about pesticide safety would require more than the typical “top-down” government approach. To find such an invisible population we decided on a “bottom-up” approach involving partnerships with stakeholders who interact with farm workers on a regular basis.

Graphic for Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings DocumentWe partnered with the Association of Farm Worker Opportunity Programs, a national network of trainers who deliver pesticide safety training. Their newest training module, co-developed with EPA, is Project LEAF, which educates farm workers and their families on the hazards of take-home pesticide exposure. Another wonderful partner we have is the Migrant Clinicians Network, an association of clinicians in rural areas that educates healthcare providers on how to recognize, treat, and report pesticide poisoning. We also recently collaborated with physicians and subject matter experts to update our “Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings.” This manual is used nationally and internationally by healthcare professionals in treating patients with pesticide-related illnesses. Pesticides are often colorless and odorless, and symptoms of exposure mimic the cold and flu, making this manual instrumental for those providing healthcare for farm workers.

REI 3 CroppedWe also recently proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS, originally enacted in 1992, was developed to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. The proposed changes would require annual mandatory pesticide safety training, expanded posting of no-entry signs for some of the most hazardous pesticides, and, for the first-time ever, children under the age 16 would not be allowed to handle pesticides (unless on a family farm).

Language barriers, cultural differences, documentation status and physical migration continue to make the farm worker population virtually invisible in this country. However, by working with stakeholders who have the common interest of improving the well-being of the American farm worker, we at EPA are working to help end the harvest of shame.

NOTE: If you would like to support the proposed changes to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard by leaving a comment please visit: EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0184. Comments must be received on or before August 18, 2014. Additionally, you can click here for tips on how to effectively comment on EPA proposed rules and changes.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, September 2009. She became passionate about farm worker issues after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Kiva Fellow in Latin America.

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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Journeys of Light: When Women Power Meets Green Power

2014 July 3

“I am talking of a place…a fertile place, full of rice and wheat fields and ponds in the middle of those fields choked with lotuses and water lilies, and water buffaloes wading through the ponds and chewing on the lotuses and lilies. Those who live in this place call it the Darkness. Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness.”

– The White Tiger By Aravind Adiga

By Neha Misra

A Sundari tree in the Sundarbans National Park

Sundarbans literally means “beautiful forest” in Bengali

I grew up in an India of Light, in the heart of urban Delhi with many privileges of a booming middle class brought by liberalization of the Indian economy in the early nineties. In 2005, for the first time, I got to see the India of Darkness up-close. I was working on a project for the Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development in the Sundarbans region of India, one of the most biologically productive natural ecosystems on Earth, known for the world’s largest mangrove forests. While rich in biodiversity, Sundarbans is also one of the most densely populated and poorest parts of our world, and highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

During my field research, I learned that having something seemingly as simple as a solar light bulb could mean so much to the people of Sundarbans. One story particularly made a deep impact. I learned how women who had solar light could, for the first time in their lives, go to sleep peacefully without worrying about a snake biting them in their mud homes in the thick of night. The presence of solar lights reduces the risk of this hazard. This connection between light and a peaceful sleep (and life itself!) was new to me. The contrast between the lights of Delhi, as I knew it (despite its perennial power cuts), and darkness of Sundarbans could not have been more profound.

A typical kerosene lamp in the developing world

A typical kerosene lamp in the developing world

Fast forward to late 2009. I was living and working in the midst of the bright lights of America. On the heels of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I was distraught with the lack of significant progress addressing climate equity and its relation to extreme energy poverty. There are 1.6 billion people in the world without a single light bulb. Four out of five people lacking access to electricity live in rural areas. 70% are women and girls who spend up to 40% of their family income on inefficient and dangerous fuels like kerosene. And according to an IFC report, fuel based lighting is responsible for carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to those from 30 million cars annually. Every day, women and children inhale smoke equivalent to two packs of cigarettes due to indoor air pollution. How can we create a bright future if women and girls around the world continue to live a life of darkness, and not one of possibilities?

Solar Sister Hawa leading a training session

Solar Sister Hawa leading a training session. Credit Solar Sister 2014.

My thoughts kept going back to Sundarbans. I wanted to be a part of a bottom-up solution. So I became a part of Solar Sister, a start-up social enterprise marrying “woman power” with “green power,” and doing so through market-based and locally driven innovation. Solar Sister combines the breakthrough potential of clean energy technology (like portable solar lamps, mobile phone chargers and, more recently, clean cookstoves) with a women-centric direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in Africa.

Since our small beginnings in 2010 training 10 women in Uganda as Solar Sister entrepreneurs, today Solar Sister has recruited, trained and mentored more than 724 women in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan who have brought the life-transforming benefits of clean energy to over 113,550 Africans.

Solar Sister Valentina Tiem

Solar Sister Valentina Tiem. Credit Solar Sister 2014.

One Solar Sister at a time, we are bridging the wide rift between those living in light versus those in darkness whom I first saw in Sundarbans. For example, I met with Solar Sister Valentina Tiem from Hydom, Tanzania, a local leader and community health officer responsible for mobilizing women from more than 20 women’s savings groups in her community. Valentina is using income from her Solar Sister business to pay her children’s school fees, while being readily available to assist with child birth, all with her own solar light and charged mobile phone in hand.

Solar Sister is continuing to invest and expand its network of women entrepreneurs while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions and lowering air pollution exposure for countless families across Africa. Some key lessons for us: first, that engaging and empowering women leaders can have a transformational impact on transitioning our world from energy poverty to green prosperity. Second, cutting edge advances in technology, targeted skills training and capital must be matched to ensure that the products reach where they are needed the most. Third, achieving an impact at scale calls for innovative public, private, and people partnerships. This is not just one nation’s or one gender’s issue. It’s a human issue, and we all can do something to share the light.

About the Author: Neha Misra is the Chief Collaboration Officer of Solar Sister. She also serves as a Solar Suitcase Ambassador for We Care Solar, which is bringing solar power to remote maternal health clinics around the world. When not advocating for women’s role in clean tech, Neha is a poet and a contemporary folk artist, connecting the dots between creativity and social innovation for building a sustainable society. Follow her on Twitter: @LightSolar

Neha Misra spoke on the Environmental Protection Agency’s April 29th panel “Women as Climate Leaders: Building Resilience Across Our Communities”. This event was an important part of EPA’s Earth Month celebrations.

 

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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Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge to Adapt to Climate Change

2014 July 1

By Rosalyn LaPier

My grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall, learned about nature and plants from her grandmother and her great-grandmother. Their knowledge stemmed from an intimate relationship with the environment that was formed over generations of time and through generations of women. Today we call this Traditional Ecological (or in some cases, Environmental) Knowledge, or TEK for short.

My grandmother taught me her knowledge. However unlike what most people think, it was not an informal activity. Instead it was a formal process of learning. The Amskapi Pikuni, now known as the Blackfeet, believe in a process they call “transferring.” The Blackfeet believe that both tangible and intangible items are considered personal property which can be bought and sold. A tipi, which is tangible, or a name, which is intangible, are given equal value as property. However, instead of using the words “buy” or “sell,” the Blackfeet use the word “transfer.”

Rosalyn and her grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall

My grandmother lived to be 97 and I spent the 20 years before her passing learning about Blackfeet plant knowledge and environmental knowledge from her. We did this by traveling across the reservation to different plant ecosystems, alone or with the whole family, and even traveling off the reservation to old Blackfeet gathering sites. I paid her each time she “transferred” her environmental knowledge to me. Towards the end, when she decided my learning was near completion, she announced; “Now you are an old woman like me.”

In those 20 years I learned something that she had not intended to teach me. In central Montana and southern Alberta in Canada (the traditional homelands of the Blackfeet), global climate change has impacted the environment that the Blackfeet have relied on for both medicinal plants, used for healing, and edible plants used for subsistence. New research conducted in the Rocky Mountains reflects what we’ve been learning as each year passed — instead of the short growth cycle in the spring and summer which we were accustomed to, the seasons have lasted longer, plants now grow earlier and live longer and bloom at different times. Plants that once grew at the same time now grow at different times in the seasonal cycle. For some plants these differences are dramatic.

For those who do not spend time outdoors it may be difficult to fully appreciate the change that is occurring. But for those who live off the land, such as farmers, ranchers, and those with subsistence lifestyles, climate change is having a real impact. It impacts the health and well-being of countless Native peoples who rely on gathering plants for both medicinal and edible purposes. More importantly, climate change impacts the spiritual life of Native peoples.

Winter thunderstorms are becoming more frequent in Montana

Winter thunderstorms are becoming more frequent in Montana

But we are adapting. The Blackfeet, similar to other tribes, schedule their ceremonial activity according to seasonal cycles. But with the cycles destabilizing, we now need to adjust each year to the volatile weather. For example, the Blackfeet conduct their Thunder-pipe ceremony at the sound of the first thunder which marks the return of rain. At the ceremony, serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia) are planted to celebrate the renewal of life. Traditionally, first thunder occurred in spring. The first thunder now happens much earlier in the year, sometimes even in the winter when it is unwise to plant in Montana.

The Blackfeet are now in the process of adapting and evolving to what some environmentalists call a new Earth. The TEK I learned from my grandmother is from the old Earth. However it still has value and the Blackfeet will continue to find new ways of gathering plants, new methods of identifying changes in our weather, and ways to further our traditions. Climate change will continue to affect the Blackfeet’s environment, ultimately impacting our lifestyle and spiritual life. But as we learn new TEK practices, we will be able to work better with nature and continue the process of transferring our “new” Traditional Environmental Knowledge to the next generation.

Rosalyn has worked for 20+ years with several national and regional Native non-profits including the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (who protected Native lands and natural resources), Americans for Indian Opportunity (who strengthen emerging Native leaders and governments) and Piegan Institute (who preserve and promote Native languages). Rosalyn has also worked at a Native college for 12 years, both as an Instructor and program director, and She also serves as a member of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC).

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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Follow EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series!

2014 June 26

On June 25th EPA launched a summer-long Climate Justice in Action blog series, kicked off by a video from Administrator Gina McCarthy. The series focuses on the unequal burdens climate change places on low- income and minority communities and the innovative solutions communities are taking across the country to fight climate change and prepare for its effects. As a part of the series EPA has created this Interactive Climate Justice Map that allows for environmental justice and climate change stakeholders from all backgrounds to upload stories about actions being taken in their communities to combat climate change.

Please take the time to contribute your story! EPA will collect all of your submissions over the course of this campaign, which will be highlighted in various ways throughout the summer. This will also be a great educational opportunity by compiling successes and lessons learned from a variety of stakeholders to demonstrate the full breadth of activities taking place across the country to combat climate change.

So tune in here throughout the summer to follow our stories, tell us about your successes and hard work, and join the conversation on climate 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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Ways that Weatherization Works: Climate Justice through Revitalization

2014 June 26

By Kerry N. Doi

When I first came to Los Angeles from Hawaii in the late 1950s I remember the smog being so thick that, at times, you could barely make out the shape of a building that was only a few blocks away. As kids growing up we couldn’t run around outside for more than 20 minutes because the air quality was so bad that your lungs would burn.

Although air pollution in Los Angeles has drastically reduced since then, we need to find ways to continue improving environmental conditions for our children and families, especially in communities that suffer more than their share of the environmental burden.

It’s well documented in urban cities like Los Angeles that low income and ethnic minority communities bear a disproportionate amount of adverse health impacts from environmental burdens. However, it is often overlooked that these same communities are also at the forefront of addressing climate change.

ScreenShot_CalEnviro2 0Low income and ethnic minority communities have a wealth of knowledge that, when combined with data and standardized government information, provide a holistic picture of the pollution burdens and socioeconomic vulnerabilities within our neighborhoods. According to CalEnviroScreen 2.0, half of the statewide population of ‘Disadvantaged Communities’ resides in Los Angeles County. These are neighborhoods that are densely populated and include historically low income, ethnic minority communities where residents look to strategies that can mitigate the causes and adapt to the impacts of climate change while providing revitalization opportunities to their communities.

As President and CEO of the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), I have witnessed firsthand the passion that our communities of color have for a greener Los Angeles. PACE’s Weatherization Program is run by our diverse, multi-lingual staff, which is the foundation for PACE’s reputation as a resource for low income, ethnic minority populations. Over the past 38 years, we have built familiarity and trust with these neighborhoods and aim to create a meaningful relationship with each community member. Our staff is fluent in over 40 different languages/dialects and provides cultural sensitivity that enables PACE to access and empower disadvantaged communities.

Untitled-1PACE’s Energy and Environmental Services Program has grown with funding from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Today, PACE serves 26 zip codes in Los Angeles and is one of the largest contractor agencies for the State of California, Community Services Department.

Overall, our Energy and Environmental Services Program has assisted over 284,000 homes throughout Southern California since the inception of the program. This hard work has resulted in more than $2 billion in savings for residents by lowering energy bills, which helps low income residents to stay in their homes, especially when faced with issues of displacement and gentrification.

Weatherization

What we have also seen, is that weatherization Assistance Programs also have the potential to offer workforce training, expand green industry opportunities and create much needed jobs. At PACE, these jobs not only provide benefits and career ladder opportunities but also living wages at $15-$35 per hour. With the infusion of ARRA funding in 2009, PACE’s Weatherization Program doubled in size and was able to create/retain 60 jobs!

“My wife and I fled our home country of Ethiopia in order to escape the violence and political upheaval. In ‘81 we came to the U.S. as refugees. It was 31 years ago when I started at PACE that they gave me just a screwdriver and a hammer. Over time I was trained as an installer and now I am a field supervisor. I was able to buy a house and put two children through school. I thank God for the strength he gave me to take care of PACE’s Weatherization Program. As a result, the program has taken care of me all these years.”

- Asrat Feissa, Field Supervisor of PACE’s Weatherization Program

PACE is proud to be a part of this movement toward addressing climate change. As we continue to build on our efforts to address the environmental injustices resulting from the warming climate, we look forward to continuing our efforts in comprehensive community development, with a triple bottom line—lessening our carbon footprint, creating green jobs, and helping people to save on energy costs. In this way, we hope that our efforts will also allow the children of our future to not suffer from asthma because of too much smog caused by dirty energy, or the long-term consequences from climate change inaction.

About the Author: Kerry N. Doi has honed and demonstrated his experience and expertise in all forms of community economic development. In his 38 years as President and CEO of Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE. On the national level, Kerry is a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and is a founding member and the former national chair of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD), a national association of Asian and Pacific Islanders engaged in community development.

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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Announcing EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series

2014 June 25

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Untitled-2Climate change is real, its impacts are enormous, and we are already seeing these effects across the planet today. And while we are deeply engaged in a discourse about the extent of the disruptions and devastation that a changing and destabilized climate causes, we don’t talk nearly enough about how those burdens will be shared in our country.

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

You see, not all people bear an equal amount of the burden posed by climate change. The sad truth is the majority of the impacts will be felt in our more vulnerable communities, in neighborhoods filled with people who are already struggling to get by. In low income communities, these impacts have already been distressing, including heat-related illness and death; respiratory ailments; increases in the proliferation of infectious diseases; unaffordable rises in energy costs; loss of farm land, and crushing natural disasters.

It’s also under-appreciated that within these same communities, the seeds of positive action are being sown to adapt and be more resilient to climate change. Thousands of individuals and organizations in low income areas and communities of color are joining hands on the frontlines to counteract the effects of climate change. These actions are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making our cities and towns more resilient to its effects, and doing everything they can to offset these impending challenges.

And that’s why I am excited to start the conversation with EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series. Climate justice is a movement that has been defined by its stakeholders – in the grassroots, in academia, in government – and so rather than EPA attempting to articulate what climate justice is, this blog series will allow you to help define and expand the boundaries of climate justice.

Click on the Map and Follow the Instructions to Share your Story!

 

We have also created an interactive Climate Justice in Action Map. You can use the map below to submit your story and provide further perspective. When you tell us about what you are doing, make sure to describe how your work is improving your communities right now. We need to make clear that when we talk about climate justice, we are not just talking about saving the planet for future generations, but also about creating good paying jobs, healthier and safer communities, and preventing future economic devastation by mitigating the effects of climate change.

Untitled-7Lastly, in order to truly turn the tide on climate change, we all need to work collaboratively. My hope is that through this climate justice campaign you just might think about things a little differently. You may read about projects from other stakeholders that make the light bulb go off for you. Hopefully you contribute your knowledge and share what you’ve learned so others can build from your experience.

We’ll do our part to share your stories. Throughout the summer we will be highlighting your submissions in various ways. At the conclusion of the campaign, we will compile and share all of the stories to keep the conversation going. So, please participate, join the conversation, and make this a meaningful dialogue about how we can work together to put climate justice in action. Your comments and contributions will give a fuller and richer understanding of climate justice than EPA could accomplish alone.

About the author: Mustafa Ali currently serves as the Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice at EPA.

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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There’s Something Different about the Jordan River

2014 June 10

By Seung-min Kang

Most people are fully aware that helping out our neighbors and the environment benefits everyone and deserves recognition.  However, the thought of doing a good turn or even getting recognized for it often is not enough to attract people’s interest or ignite their sense of stewardship. If it were, people would clean up their local river after work rather than watch TV.

To raise awareness and promote community engagement in the local watershed, the Jordan River Commission (JRC), in partnership with Salt Lake County and the Center for Documentary Expression and Art (CDEA) in Salt Lake City, Utah, developed an innovative idea for a new outreach program funded by EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program. Their project offers an approach which is not only valuable in meeting water quality goals for the Jordan River Watershed, but unique in the way it captures the community’s attention and encourages their active participation.

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

The Jordan River flows west of the city, in an area populated by a number of low-income, ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in contrast with the City’s more affluent, less diverse east side. Within these neighborhoods, a quarter of the residents are school age, ranging from 5 to 19. However, the river had never been a safe and healthy place for these kids to play, nor could the community enjoy the riverfront because of continuing problems with mounting garbage and illegal dumping, as well as declining water quality.

JRC and CDEA decided to clean up this “diamond in the rough” to allow kids and their families the chance to enjoy up close and personal the beauty of a clean environment. The partnership took a unique path –  engaging neighborhood youth to positively impact water quality by increasing their awareness of the watershed and empowering them to make changes. Their 8-week long in-school Artists/Scholars-in-Residence program includes classes in environmental literature, photography, and writing. The program intentionally bucks the notion that all environmental learning programs are science-based.  Yet it introduces students to the connections between science and history, science and art, and ecology.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the JRC's website.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the website.

This is a great chance for students who are not interested in science to interact with the environment while learning new skills. In addition, student’s photographs, stories, poetry and other information are integrated into the partnerhip’s mobile website, which is accessible for many low-income residents whose only access to technology is through their cellphones.  Armed with just a smartphone, each student helps map the Jordan River trail and identify “interpretive stops” that provide information about the specific areas.  All of the spots on the trail have a numerical stop number where people can learn about each stop by typing its number into the website.

The information these students have gathered is now being made available to thousands of Salt Lake County residents to encourage them to explore the Jordan River. Moreover, people can alert officials about maintenance or water quality concerns by using the “Report an Issue” button on the website. Thus, by using popular technology, JRC and CDEA leave the door open for anyone to be involved in exploring, cleaning, and maintaining the river.

Everyone should have access to public rivers, and it is up to us to make sure that they are maintained for this generation and generations to come. This great program shows that people do care, and by empowering local students and using the right technology, JRC and CDEA are enabling affected residents to make a visible difference in their community and to take charge of protecting their watersheds.

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

About the author: Seung-min Kang is an intern in the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Water. She is from Seoul, Korea and attends Ewha Womans University, where she is studying English language and literature and plans to graduate in February 2015. Since she thought that she didn’t know anything about the environment, which is one of the critical social issues, she decided to work for EPA to challenge herself and learn. 

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

2014 June 5

Untitled-2

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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Storytelling to Confront Injustice

2014 June 3

By Dale Slongwhite

I first heard the term “environmental justice” in October 2009 when my daughter Karen invited me to attend the first annual Environmental Justice Summit at Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando, an event she was helping to organize. I did not even know what the term “environmental justice” meant. I attended the conference as a show of support for her efforts to make a positive change in the world.

But something happened halfway through the day that converted me from a supportive mother to an individual willingly drawn into the middle of the fray.

Untitled-1

Click to Hear Linda Lee’s Story

An African American woman, a former farmworker on the many now-closed Lake Apopka farms, spoke about her experience crawling on her knees in the scorching Florida sun, down seemingly endless rows hacking at lettuce with a machete for twelve hours a day, six days a week, for decades. She spoke about women gathering their skirts around another woman as a make-shift bathroom since there were none in the field; about gobbling down a sandwich after hauling a crate of corn to the truck; about crop duster planes dropping pesticides without asking workers to leave the fields; about high incidences in her neighborhood of lupus, eczema, and cancer. And about 18 funerals in one weekend.

CornMuleTrain3

Farmworkers pack vegetables on a large vehicle called a mule train.

She started working summers and weekends at the age of seven, standing atop the mule train twelve feet off the ground pushing crates down the chute for other women to pack vegetables. She was the same age as me — I pictured my summer days at age seven — lounging on the beach in Connecticut, riding my bike around the block, engrossed in Writer magazine dreaming of becoming a published author.

The stories of these women, these farmworkers, haunted me until I could no longer sit on the sidelines. But what could I do for a whole community ten minutes from my house whose residents now suffered life-threatening illnesses? I’m not a lawyer, so I couldn’t fight a legal battle. I’m not a doctor, so I couldn’t offer healthcare. I’m not a scientist, environmentalist, or lobbyist. I’m just a writer.

Just a writer! I could craft stories about the harmful effects of pesticide exposure, about heat stroke, and about labor laws we all take for granted that do not apply to farmworkers. I could write so that others who live in their own worlds away from environmental injustices could be made aware of what it takes to harvest our food.

 

Click to Hear Mary Ann Robinson's Story

Click to Hear Mary Ann Robinson’s Story

I interviewed 11 African American former farmworkers, who told stories of pregnant women bending over in the fields harvesting or planting right up until the time of delivery. Many of these babies were born with low birth weights, physical or mental disabilities, or stillborn. I heard stories of snakes in the fields and trees. I heard stories of indebtedness.

I learned that these same individuals went home to neighborhoods that housed toxic dumps trucked in from other parts of the country; that race is the biggest factor when it comes to the location of municipal landfills and incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, and Superfund sites.

Click to Hear Mary Tinsley's Story

Click to Hear Mary Tinsley’s Story

I could tell people about Mary who sees all sorts of doctors for her lupus, which she believes was caused by exposure to chemicals and pesticides in the fields. She has sympathy for people working in the fields.

I hope these stories move you. When you sit down tonight for your evening meal and experience the crunch of a carrot, the succulence of an orange, or the sweetness of a raspberry, remember the farmworkers who brought you that bountiful blessing.

We all have different talents, but we also have the same obligation to confront injustices, wherever we encounter them. Hopefully you will spread the message, and maybe there are even some who can do more than just tell stories. Maybe you can take action — before more farmworkers unnecessarily suffer another day just so that we all can eat.

About the Author: Dale Slongwhite is a professional writer and has been coaching writers for over 10 years. Her recent book, Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food, dives deeper into many of the issues surrounding Lake Apopka.

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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Rights Become Reality

2014 May 27

By Miya Yoshitani

Nearly two decades ago, when I came to the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) as a youth organizer, we did an exercise with our teen participants asking them to fill in a timeline of AAPI history. We would place the colorful sticky notes on the timeline to mark key moments – Chinese laborers build the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Filipino and Japanese farmworkers strike for better pay, Executive Order 9066 putting 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps, the fight for the International Hotel. A history steeped in institutional racism and inspiring leadership with real victories from community organizing.

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Today, as APEN’s Executive Director, I feel honored to be part of the work that continues to add more organizing victories and milestones to the AAPI history timeline, and I keep with me the lessons learned from APEN’s founders and from the environmental justice movement about empowering those most directly affected to lead the charge for change.

When I got to this fight, President Clinton’s Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice was the news of the day. This order acknowledged the rights of all people to a clean and healthy environment, but no stroke of a pen can turn rights into reality. It’s the tireless organizing, the calling and knocking and persuading and energizing that produce the legal, administrative and corporate victories of which APEN and our EJ allies are rightly proud.

This order continues to be a critical milestone – official acknowledgement of the disproportionate and unjust environmental damage caused by pollution on communities of color and low-income working class communities.

Untitled-1Making this order more than words on a page continues to guide and animate our efforts towards environmental justice. Low-income Asian American and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, communities living on the fenceline of refineries, next to freeways, in cancer allies, near incinerators, coal mines and dirty power plants. We continue the fight for environmental justice, acting as a powerful emerging force to confront one of the greatest environmental injustices of our times: the destabilization of our climate.  Here, we share with you a powerful short film about a new generation of leaders – through the Our Power campaign.  This grassroots effort, driven by Richmond’s low-income communities of color, is educating and empowering Richmond resident’s to be on the frontlines in the struggle for building a resilient and thriving local clean energy future.

Untitled-3In California, the federal recognition of the importance of environmental justice through Executive Order 12898 has been a catalyst for helping us advance innovative state policies in recent years. For example, APEN and other Asian American organizations were strong supporters of the recently passed SB 535, which ensures 25% of all revenue collected through the state’s cap and trade program benefit California’s most disadvantaged communities who are also the most impacted by climate change. This law is expected to drive billions in public dollar investments to low-income communities of color throughout the state.

This is just one of the many victories we have seen. Since the early days of the Executive Order, communities of color in California, like the low-income AAPI immigrant and refugee communities organized by APEN, have not only been on the frontlines of fighting pollution, but on the cutting edge of solutions on all fronts, including transitioning the state from a polluting fossil fuel based economy to a clean renewable energy economy. We have a vision for local, renewable energy that creates jobs, new models of ownership, and deep community resilience in the face of climate change.

While much has changed over the last 20 years, some essential things remain the same. Our will, our resolve and the courage of our communities have not altered, and neither has our gratitude for the tireless support of allies like you and champions of change within agencies like the EPA.

About the author: Miya has an extensive background in community organizing and working in the environmental justice movement. She was a participant in the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 and on the drafting committee of the original Principles of Environmental Justice. Miya first joined APEN staff in the mid-90s as a youth organizer. Today she serves as Executive Director-continuing on a 20 year journey of leading the fight for climate justice in California and trailblazing the path forward in bringing Asian American immigrant and refugee community voices to the forefront of environmental health and social 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.

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.