Accessible, Aware, Accountable: How the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is Responding to Your Concerns

By Marsha Minter

Public input undeniably has the power to shape how federal agencies are integrating environmental justice into their policies and programs. During my time at EPA, I have witnessed this on numerous occasions – notably, the creation of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG), which was assembled in response to public comments asking federal agencies to holistically address the myriad challenges and opportunities that face overburdened and under-resourced communities.

President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 12898, which creates the EJ IWG. Click on the photo to ready the Executive Order Summary.

President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 12898, which creates the EJ IWG. Click on the photo to ready the Executive Order Summary.

Since its creation in 1994, the EJ IWG has evolved in many interesting and unique ways by working alongside communities as they aim to become healthier, greener and more sustainable. Last year, the EJ IWG released “Fiscal Years 2016-2018 Framework for Collaboration.  This strategic document outlines goals for the next three years to advance greater federal agency collaboration to improve quality-of-life and support economic opportunities in communities overburdened with pollution.  The framework reinforces the federal family’s commitment to the original mission to “identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of [our federal] programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations,” which is defined in Executive Order 12898.

Click on the photo to read the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Framework for Collaboration for Fiscal Years 2016-2018.

Click on the photo to read the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Framework for Collaboration for Fiscal Years 2016-2018.

The cornerstone of the EJ IWG’s mission is to ensure that the federal government is

  • Accessible – that the government is easily reached by communities, advocates, and other stakeholders regarding environmental justice concerns;
  • Aware – knowledgeable of the environmental justice concerns and issues facing communities; and
  • Accountable – capable of explaining the actions and decisions related to the implementation of Executive Order 12898.

As part of our effort to be more accountable to the public, we are launching a webinar series to not only provide information on the programs, policies and activities of the EJ IWG but also to solicit feedback, explore opportunities and hear concerns from all of our stakeholders.

I believe that public forums of this nature are critical ways for community members to participate in generating solutions and actions to reduce environmental problems and expand environmental benefits that the EJ IWG, as an embodiment of the federal family, can help to support and lift up. The importance of these conversations, to which stakeholders bring invaluable experience, expertise, and knowledge, echo the 10th principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development Exit:

Environmental decisions are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens …[who] shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment held by public authorities, including … the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.

With that in mind, I am proud to invite you to participate in the monthly “Access and Awareness Webinar Series,” which are designed to increase public access to the EJ IWG and to increase community awareness of federal agency environmental justice strategies and holistic community-based solutions to address environmental justice issues.

To stay updated on all of the upcoming EJ IWG activities, webinars, and registration information, make sure to subscribe to the environmental justice listserv.

Please find more information on the specific webinar details below for each specific webinar:

Webinar #1 – Federal Agencies and Environmental Justice: Connecting Communities to Green Space, Healthcare and Jobs

Date: 8/11/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Please register for the first webinar here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/access-and-awareness-webinar-series-from-the-federal-interagency-working-group-on-environmental-tickets-26760830364

Webinar #2 – Increasing Awareness of Federal Grant and Resource Opportunities

EJ IWG convenes to discuss federal EJ strategies and initiatives.

EJ IWG convenes to discuss federal EJ strategies and initiatives.

Date: 9/8/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: An introduction on how to use the www.grants.gov website and current funding opportunities for communities facing environmental justice issues.

Webinar #3 – Creating Safe and Healthy Environments for Children

Date: 10/13/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: Children’s Health Month: Advancing the federal commitment of protecting children’s environmental health and safety.

Webinar #4 – Learning Together: Lessons Learned from Collaborative Place-Based Initiatives

Date: 11/10/2016
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm Eastern
Purpose: Overview of the EJ IWG Framework for Collaboration and showcasing the importance of effective federal collaboration.

I believe that this series will help everyone gain a deeper understanding of how federal agencies are collaborating to improve the health, quality-of-life, and economic opportunities in overburdened communities.

So, I look forward to hearing from all of us in the upcoming months!

About the Author: Marsha Minter is the Associate Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. In this capacity, she is responsible for managing the activities of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG).