Achieving Tangible Results for Vulnerable Communities

Charles Lee Charles Lee

Charles Lee, Senior Policy Advisor
Office of Environmental Justice, US EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Environmental Justice FY2017 Progress Report today. It is noteworthy that 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. The accomplishments highlighted in the report affirm through action how, after a quarter century of progress, environmental justice (EJ) is deeply ingrained in EPA’s fabric.

An overarching focus of the report is demonstrating tangible results in minority, low-income, tribal and indigenous communities. Here are four results that illustrate progress from the past year:

  1. As EPA’s environmental justice program matured over the past two decades, it grappled with the difficult task of demonstrating environmental outcomes in vulnerable communities. EPA developed measures for several significant national EJ challenges, one of which was fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5). In FY2017, EPA documented that the percentage of low-income people living in areas meeting the PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards increased from 43% during the baseline period of 2006-2008 to 92% in (2014-2016).
  2. EPA similarly provided national results for enforcement actions and the environment benefits of such actions in areas with potential EJ concerns. For example, 35% of the 217 million pounds of pollutants estimated to be reduced, treated or eliminated from enforcement actions in FY2017 were in such areas. EPA is able to provide these results because the Agency systematically reviews all enforcement actions for EJ considerations. The report also highlights the importance of the EJSCREEN mapping and screening tool, which provides the starting point for these assessments.
  3. EPA and its federal, state, tribal and local government partners continue to collaborate to benefit communities. The Omaha Lead Superfund cleanup, affecting over 175,000 persons in a 27 square-mile area, reduced the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels from 25% in 1999 to 0.3% in 2017. Other examples of beneficial collaborations are the improved air quality around ports, rail yards and freight distribution centers from $23.8 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funding and the number of community drinking water systems returned to compliance with lead and arsenic standards in the Pacific Southwest.
  4. The report highlights the many ways EPA supports communities as they travel their own journeys to community health and revitalization. For example, with an EJ grant, “Project Oka” helped the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma maintain clean sources of water. An Urban Waters partnership assisted residents of the Martin Pena Channel, one of the poorest and most environmentally overburdened neighborhoods in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in creating an urban farm.

These results are but a few of the many accomplishments highlighted in this year’s progress report. Many of the examples required decades of effort, and are a testament to the long-standing commitment, innovation and hard work of the EPA staff who do this work on a day-to-day basis. They provide lessons for how we can all work together more effectively to address disproportionate environmental impacts, health disparities, and economic distress in our nation’s most vulnerable communities so they are cleaner, healthier and more prosperous places to live, work, play and learn.

Read a full copy of EPA’s FY2017 Environmental Justice Progress Report, as well as previous reports.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Environmental Achievements

Charles Lee Charles Lee
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presenting Charles Lee with the EJ Pioneer Award at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting on February 11, 2014

 

As a Chinese-American and one of the individuals who played an instrumental role in our nation’s environmental justice movement, I believe that it is especially fitting that we use this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month to salute the many environmental contributions of the AAPI community. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order on environmental justice. Members of the AAPI community have contributed significantly to safeguarding our environment and promoting health and sustainability for our citizens.

As an advocate for environmental justice, I am excited about the various grassroots initiatives led by AAPI organizers over the last several decades that have aided traditionally underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. For example, AAPI community members in Richmond, California played a pivotal role in securing a multilingual warning system for local residents living in close proximity to a nearby oil refinery. Several years ago, Native Hawaiians organized a successful campaign to prevent polluters from continuing to dump waste in the Wai’nae coastal community. More recently, the Vietnamese-American community in East New Orleans, which is still rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, initiated a sustainable aquaculture system that is contributing to the Gulf Coast’s economic development efforts.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Climate Justice

Charles Lee Charles Lee

Climate change is impacting our lives today, including record high temperatures, reduced air quality, extreme weather, severe droughts and sea-level rise, just to name a few examples. While we all share this burden, these impacts greatly exasperate the many environmental and public health challenges in minority, indigenous and low-income communities. That’s why EPA promotes “climate justice” – a movement, building on more than 20 years of commitment to Environmental Justice, to protect disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

The impacts of climate change on our lives, families and communities are felt by everyone. In low income communities, these impacts are often devastating, including compromised health, financial hardship, and social and cultural disruptions. Often they are the first to experience heat-related illness and death, respiratory ailments, infectious diseases, unaffordable rises in energy costs, and crushing natural disasters. Continue reading

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.