EPA-State Collaboration Expands Opportunity for Shared Results

by John Linc Stine

Addressing inequities so that all citizens can pursue healthy and fulfilling lives is one of our most important jobs in public service. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has challenged state agencies in Minnesota to reduce disparities in all areas of public services and outcomes. As Commissioner of the state’s environmental agency, I have made it my mission to embed the principles of environmental justice into all aspects of the work we do now and in the future.

In Minnesota, we are fortunate to live in a state with a healthy natural environment that contributes to a high quality of life. This is due in large part to a long history of shared responsibility and action by all areas of society in our state to build and support healthy ecosystems and healthy communities, and responsive industries and a strong economy. However, we know not everyone has benefited equally. In Minnesota, as around the rest of our country, significant and unacceptable disparities exist between middle and upper income people and lower income residents and people of color and Native Americans. This includes gaps in educational and economic achievement and health outcomes.

For too long, many of us in government talked about injustices of the past and present without following up and putting our words into action. EPA’s renewed commitment to action and results about environmental justice has helped to revitalize efforts in Minnesota that had been simmering on the back burner. The ambitious and comprehensive foundation laid by the work of EPA’s Plan EJ 2014 not only advanced integration of environmental justice into federal programs; it also helped to stimulate and strengthen our own efforts by showing leadership, providing tools, and sharing experiences. EJ 2020’s emphasis on collaboration with states and other co-regulators will expand the opportunity for shared learning among states and the EPA – something I believe will only help strengthen our individual efforts.

In Minnesota, we are working to integrate environmental justice into all of our programs, using our expertise and resources to target our work where it will have the greatest effect in reducing past harm and preventing future harm. For example, in Minneapolis, we are piloting an initiative to engage and collaborate with significant air emission sources and community members to identify opportunities to improve air quality and address community concerns. We also are increasing our air monitoring in potentially overburdened communities around the state to better understand disproportionately impacted areas.  Our draft framework can be found at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/gp0r2d.

As we adjust the practices of our programs and capacity to address environmental justice needs, we are benefiting from the experiences of EPA, its Chicago regional office, and other states with more mature programs than our own.  We will do better work in this area by sharing knowledge.

EPA’s work is closely aligned with our approaches and goals in Minnesota. While we share many of the same goals, we bring different strengths and resources to bear that complement each other. For example, with more local knowledge and existing relationships with municipal governments and community groups, states are often in a better position to facilitate community engagement and support community-based efforts to advance environmental justice. With more resources for policy analysis, tools development, and scientific research, EPA fulfils an important role where individual states may have less capacity. The development of EJSCREEN is an example of this role. In these ways, EPA and MPCA can complement each other, moving us both toward our goals more efficiently.

As EJ 2020 takes shape, we look forward to working with EPA and other states to learn from each other and leverage our unique capacities to reduce disparities and improve quality of life for all.

About the author: John Linc Stine is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and chairs the Environmental Council of the States’ Air Committee.

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