Clean Water is Environmental Justice

By Nancy Stoner

Hanging in my office is a list of EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s priorities for the EPA. It is a focused list that identifies seven key areas which form the core of our mission. Working for environmental justice and protecting America’s waterways are both on this list. In the Office of Water, we understand that these two are not separate goals. Environmental justice shapes our priorities, frames our projects, and informs our actions. It embraces the idea that every community, regardless of its size and economic standing, deserves access to safe water.

Nancy on a tour of green infrastructure to reduce polluted stormwater in urban Baltimore.

At the EPA, we have universal standards for water quality, but many cities and towns in our nation are still grappling with reaching these standards.  Our environmental justice efforts acknowledge that people who lack resources must often use whatever water is nearest and available to them.  Through a variety of partnership programs, we work with these communities to implement projects that invigorate their economies, restore their waterways, and  help them provide clean water to their citizens.

Cities are an extremely important aspect of environmental justice as 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Through the EPA-led Urban Waters Federal Partnership, we are providing grants to improve water quality and reconnect urban citizens with their local waterways. Recent Urban Waters projects vary from citizen-run water monitoring networks to parks built on vacant lots using green infrastructure. With these grants, communities are able to tailor their projects to their needs, revitalizing their community while also securing cleaner water.

In rural communities, our environmental justice efforts focus on issues specific to each area. For example, we are working with communities in Appalachia to help clean up rivers and streams affected by mountain top mining. These waterbodies are crucial to residents for drinking, fishing, and swimming. We work with locals to minimize consequences to human health, help the local environment, and strengthen their economy.

When it comes to water, it is difficult to think of a single issue that does not tie into environmental justice. By focusing on how water issues affect people in their communities, we can expand the conversation on environmental justice and redefine our actions to ensure that everyone has access to clean and usable water regardless of where they live.

Click here for more information on the Office of Water’s environmental justice efforts.

About the author: Nancy Stoner currently serves in EPA as the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Prior to joining EPA, Nancy was Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Program.  In that capacity she guided projects to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters from contaminated stormwater, sewer overflows, factory farms, and other sources of water pollution, and led NRDC’s efforts to clean up and restore the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Before joining NRDC, Nancy worked as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the US Department of Justice and served as director of the Office of Policy Analysis in the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.