The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council: advancing intergenerational principles of environmental justice

NEJAC Members at the 2016 Meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi

NEJAC Members at the 2016 Meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi

By Karen L. Martin

It is an exciting time to be working on environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency. The Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) has been revitalized with renewed vigor. The products of Plan EJ 2014 are being used throughout the EPA and around the entire country.

And, the Office of Environmental Justice is completing the finalization of our EJ 2020 Action Agenda: our strategic plan for implementing environmental justice in the agency for the next four years.

There is real momentum behind environmental justice at the EPA.

And in the thick of all of that work, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) has been there.

There are still plenty of challenges ahead and there is much work that remains to be done. NEJAC Poster3Whether it be ensuring safe drinking water for our most vulnerable populations, using data from new monitoring methods to grapple with the impacts of climate change and the future of climate justice for our country’s youth, or looking at how we measure community-driven impacts of our environmental justice work, NEJAC continues to help propel us forward on the path of environmental justice.

The EPA established the NEJAC in 1993 to obtain independent perspectives from a broad spectrum of stakeholders involved in the environmental justice movement. As a federal advisory committee, the NEJAC is chartered to provide the Administrator with advice and recommendations on integrating environmental justice considerations into the agency’s programs, policies, and day-to-day activities.

The issues around environmental justice are often complex and involve deeply held opinions, which is why the NEJAC provides an environment for all parties to express their viewpoints. As the NEJAC grows over the decades, we have seen how new people brings new leadership, new ideas, and new ways of approaching these ever complicated problems.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy listens to feedback during a 2015 NEJAC meeting.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy listens to feedback during a 2015 NEJAC meeting.

This vitality, that is brought by new NEJAC members, to keep finding innovative solutions is the energy that is both welcome and needed to keep pushing environmental justice forward.

While the NEJAC looks ahead, we are also focused on the intergenerational period that the environmental justice movement is currently in. The NEJAC is not the environmental justice movement, but it occupies an important place in environmental justice conversation nationally and provides a forum for critical voices to inform the EPA and federal policymaking around environmental justice issues.  And we fortunately happen to have just the leaders on board to help us navigate these intergenerational times.

It is with great excitement that we welcome back a host of environmental justice elders, such as Richard Moore, the first chair of the NEJAC, who will serve again as NEJAC Chair during these critical next two years. He will be joined on the council by long-time environmental justice leaders Dr. Mildred McClain from Harambe House in Savannah, Georgia and long-time Memphis area advocate Rita Harris with the Sierra Club. We are also appointing Jill Witkowski-Heaps and Javier Torres as co-vice chairs.

In addition, we are pleased to announce four additional members from the new generation of environmental justice leaders.

From burgeoning young community activist, Dr. Erica Holloman of the Southeast CARE Coalition, to Arsenio Mataka, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at California EPA. We are thrilled to have a strong industry perspective thanks to Gregory Bertelsen, the Senior Director of Energy and Resource Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers and Sylvia Marie Orduño, a community organizer with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

This is an incredible, talented, and dedicated slate of both veteran and new NEJAC members and we are confident that their guidance will ensure that the perspectives of the community and the direction of the environmental justice movement throughout this country remain central to our work at the Agency.

About the Author: Karen L. Martin serves as the National Program Manager for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. She has worked with communities on environmental issues for over 20 years.

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