Federal EJ Strategies Mark a Major Development in the Advancement of Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Since the start of the Obama Administration, we at EPA and other federal agencies have made tremendous strides toward addressing the public health and environmental problems that exist in many low-income, minority, and tribal communities across the country.

Ever since the EPA and the White House reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in 10 years, we are collaboratively and comprehensively bolstering environmental justice efforts across federal programs, policies and activities.

Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than our recent release of federal agency environmental justice strategies. More than 10 EJ IWG agencies released or updated their strategies which include efforts to, monitor pollution, provide grants and technical assistance to stakeholders, and improve job training. For example, the Department of Commerce is providing competitive grants to support workforce development in economically distressed and underserved communities. I often hear when I am out in communities, that efforts like these make a real difference, both for the participants who receive job training and the neighborhoods they serve. Find out more about the efforts EPA has planned in our strategy, Plan EJ 2014.

These strategies also encourage agencies to work together to ensure the necessary resources and expertise are available to address challenging environmental justice issues. The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is an excellent illustration of how, by working together, the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Transportation (DOT) and EPA are helping to improve access to affordable housing, provide more transportation options at lower costs, and protect the environment in communities nationwide. This partnership is making a big difference in communities, including Bridgeport, Conn, where more than 90% of the population is low-income or minority.

In 2010, Bridgeport was chosen to be one of EPA’s EJ Showcase Communities, a project that seeks to bring together government and other organizations to improve the delivery of services in communities with environmental justice concerns. Now, through improved collaboration between federal agencies, Bridgeport community leaders are leveraging more than $25 million to advance environmental justice—including a $14 million Department of Education grant that is helping low-income and minority students become college ready and an $11 million grant from DOT to support infrastructure improvements including creating bikeways and connections between the waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods.

Through continued collaboration, like the effort in Bridgeport, EPA, federal agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia, can each play a role in ensuring that all communities are protected from environmental harm and benefit from important federal government activities.

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

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