Environmental Justice in Action

The Power of Activism: how Goldman Prize winners have inspired change across the world

Author: Simone Walter

About the Author: Simone joined the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice after serving as an Agro-business Advisor in Madagascar with the United States Peace Corps. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy at Johns Hopkins University.

I met Pablo Fajardo Mendoza in 2009 while we were both working with Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW). Pablo came to ELAW to obtain legal assistance for his case in the Ecuadorian Amazon against a large industrial oil company, which at the time was one of the largest environmental legal battles in history.

He was the first Goldman Environmental Prize recipient that I have had the honor of meeting.

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Central and South America (Ecuador) with Ouroboros statue.

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Central and South America (Ecuador) with Ouroboros statue.

Known as the Nobel Peace Prize for environmental activists, the Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded annually to grassroots change agents from each of the world’s six inhabited continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island nations, North America, and South & Central America.

Pablo’s English was improving; my Spanish was still pretty bad. But, as we worked alongside each other, I became fascinated by his story. How does a person have the resiliency, against all odds, to defend their community and their environment?

On the 18th of April 2016, another six individuals joined Pablo in being named Goldman Environmental Prize recipients.

Pablo, with his unwavering commitment to protecting the environment and defending communities devastated by inequitable development, is a beacon of environmental justice.

But so is Máxima Acuña – a subsistence farmer, who has withstood ongoing lawsuits, brutal assaults, and violent eviction attempts by peacefully protesting against the construction of a mine on her land in the northern Peruvian highlands. And Leng Ouch – an attorney who surmounted great personal risk by going undercover to expose the illegal logging practices of corrupt tycoons that were robbing rural Cambodian communities of their livelihoods.

(left to right; top to bottom) Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, Destiny Watford, Edward Loure, Leng Ouch, Máxima Acuña, Zuzana Caputova [Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental] Foundation

[left to right; top to bottom] Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, Destiny Watford, Edward Loure, Leng Ouch, Máxima Acuña, Zuzana Caputova

While some Prize recipients have faced direct, visible danger, all of them have had to fight against laws and systems that do not protect those who are most burdened by environmental harms and most vulnerable to those risks. Like Edward Loure who works to empower Tanzania’s indigenous pastoral and hunter-gatherer communities by securing their legal rights to land and environmental stewardship. Or Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera who led a 15-year campaign to gain federal protection for the Puerto Rican Northeast Ecological Corridor, which is a critical nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. As well as Zuzana Caputova, an attorney for the only public interest environmental law organization in Slovakia, who established a legal precedent by successfully campaigning to shut down the landfills that were poisoning her community.

I once thought that these types of stories were confined to places outside of the United States in countries where political strife was commonplace and environmental protection was not legally codified. What I learned from the Goldman Reception, which is hosted annually by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is that these types of stories occur just a few miles away from where I live. Like in south Baltimore, where Destiny Watford, who began working in high school with her community to fight against plans to build the nation’s largest waste incinerator in their backyard.

I often think people would prefer to ignore the reality of these environmental injustices, but many do not have that privilege. Across the globe, communities are struggling to make their voices heard as decisions are being made that will directly impact their access to a clean and healthy environment.

Yet, frequently I wonder: but what can I do?

2016 Goldman Environmental Prize Reception, San Francisco CA

2016 Goldman Environmental Prize Reception [18 April 2016 – San Francisco, California]

What I have learned from Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and these amazing activists is that believing that you do not have the capacity to inspire change is the quickest way to give away your power. The Goldman Prize recipients have demonstrated that each of us has the power to enact positive change for our communities and for our shared environment. Their work and their stories point to the heart of why environmental justice – its inclusion of community voices, its focus on impacts to those most vulnerable, its consideration of local priorities and needs – has been and remains such a priority for us here at EPA.  And why it is incumbent upon all of us to hear these voices and remember their stories as we work to further environmental justice in all that we do.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Scalable Ideas: Small organizations tackling big problems

Author: Jerome Shabazz

About the Author: Jerome Shabazz is the founder and Executive Director of JASTECH Development Services, Inc., and the Overbrook Environmental Education Center. Under his leadership, the Overbrook Center has trained thousands of students on the Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Urban Stormwater Management and other subjects that reduce exposures to toxic substances at home and school. Jerome has over twenty years of training and development experience and has a Master’s of Science Degree in Environmental Protection & Safety Management from St. Joseph’s University.

All across the nation, small environmental justice organizations are challenged with “scaling-up” –taking ingenuity and initiative to address larger concerns in spite of our small size – in order to address widespread environmental issues in our communities. And that’s what our organization in Philadelphia, Juveniles Active in Science & Technology, or JASTECH Development Services, Inc., has been all about: developing innovative and collaborative solutions for improving the built and natural environments of our city.

In 2002, JASTECH applied for and received an EPA Clean Water Act grant to transform a former brownfields site into the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OEEC). We built the OEEC to empower students to learn both in the academic context and as participants in community reform. Since its inception, the OEEC used sustainable strategies that “do more with less,” by developing dynamic solutions to overcome obstacles typically associated with organizations who have limited resources and small staffs.

In 2014, during a visit to the OEEC, EPA’s Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr., remarked how impressed he was with the Center. During a conversation about how our small, nimble non-profit needed support to help our ideas grow bigger through partnerships, Mr. Elkins suggested that we call our concept “scalable ideas.” Since then, this has described our approach to developing collaborative partnerships that deconstruct large community-wide problems into manageable tasks.

GSI Program students doing a field inspection of a rain garden

OEEC students doing a field inspection of a rain garden

The OEEC puts this in action with what we describe as the “3A” approach: Awareness + Assessment + Application. Awareness being the education of, and relationship to the issues; Assessment is taking inventory of community partners, inputs and resources; and Applications are sustainable solution-based remedies. An example where the OEEC put these “scalable ideas” into action is through educating the public on Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflow problems. The OEEC worked collaboratively to build a 15-week green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) training program for local youth. Chevelle Harrison, Philadelphia Water’s Director of Student Engagement said, “GSI teaches students that their actions have a direct impact on the environment.”

The GSI program is a robust partnership based on Philadelphia Water’s Green City and Clean Waters plan and included the US Forest Service, Penn State Center Engaging Philadelphia, PA Department of Environmental Education, AKRF Engineering and others.

Blog pic 1Through the program, students from Philadelphia high schools conceptualize solutions that reduce strain on the city’s combined sewer system. The students are charged with learning “the power of small” – deconstructing the complicated concepts of pollution from sewer overflows into a series of achievable best management practices that can be realized on a neighborhood level.

Prototype for Curtis' fish farm and vertical plant growing system that utilizes rain water as supplemental “make-up” for water that’s lost through transpiration.

Prototype for Curtis’ fish farm and vertical plant growing system that utilizes rain water as supplemental “make-up” for water that’s lost through transpiration.

Before taking part in the GSI program, high school student Ayanna T. never thought much about stormwater and how it affected the city around her.  “I just thought about the sewer, to be honest,” Ayanna said. “I didn’t know there were other ways you could save [stormwater] and use it.” Now, Ayanna can easily list innovative approaches to green stormwater management, and she ticks off three: “bioswales, tree trenches and pervious pavement.” Devan Curtis, a participant in the GSI program, was challenged with finding ways to redirect and reuse rainwater before it runs off into the stormwater collector system. Curtis, who is currently studying civil engineering at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has spearheaded the development of an aquaponics system that is now in the works.

All too often, we hear about how bigger is better. However, we are inspired by the people in our community who demonstrate that when you think creatively, small ideas can conquer big problems. Whether it’s our students, a citizen scientist, activists, concerned parents, or any of the other “army-of-ones” who inspire big changes with “scalable ideas,” one remedy at a time…we all benefit from their contributions.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Announcing the Youth Leaders for EPA’s Youth Climate Justice Work Group

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

About the author: Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization.

As I travel across the nation, I see the incredible work that young people are doing to make our country stronger. The power of youth is undeniable. Their leadership has been a driving force in many of the most successful social justice movements globally. From the Civil Rights movement to the Chicano movement and the American Indian movement, each of these and many more have been driven by young people addressing the injustices happening in their communities.

The legacies of these movements can be seen today throughout the environmental and climate justice movements across the country. Young people are engaged and thinking critically about tackling these challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Capture

Click to Watch the Video Announcement for the Work Group

And that is why I am pleased that today EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced that we have selected 15 emerging young leaders to participate in the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s (NEJAC) Youth Perspectives on Climate Justice Workgroup. The workgroup is comprised of young people, ages 18 to 29, at the forefront of the fight against climate change. They will assist EPA in developing strategies and finding opportunities to combat climate change and to empower other young people to take on the challenge. These youth will amplify the diversity of the NEJAC by contributing unique backgrounds and perspectives that will enhance the work of the Council.

They have relevant hands-on experience from working with communities on projects related to climate change, health and adaptation, environmental science, and economic resilience.

And these young leaders have already accomplished amazing things.

Like soon-to-be high school graduates, Stefan Petrovic, who co-founded a youth initiative emphasizing climate activism, and college-student William DiGravio, who founded the award-winning Students for Climate Action organization, to Kathy Tran, who collaborated with vulnerable populations nationally and internationally while pursuing her doctoral degree.

While Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye was working internationally on a climate change campaign in Ghana, Anthony Torres was working with various non-profit development agencies in Washington D.C., and Nikita Robinson has continued to work with her tribal community to combat the impacts of climate change in Alaska.

Their work with nongovernmental organizations is vast: varying from Amber Vignieri who works as a Communications Coordinator at Elevate Energy to Eriqah Vincent who works as the National EcoLeaders Coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation to Amanda Nesheiwat who is a UN Representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development.

They are fluent in utilizing critical mapping and data tools, like Melake Getabecha, who used mapping tools to show heat vulnerability in communities in Colorado.

Students in Youth Workshop at NEJAC Meeting

Students in Youth Workshop at NEJAC Meeting

They are civil activists – like Yudith Nieto – who works with groups nationally and internationally to build inter-generational movements that advocate for environmental justice, and civil engineers – like Kayla DeVault – who is designing a program on her Native reservation to allow students and professionals to work with tribal communities on climate adaptation and sustainability projects.

They are well versed in critical thinking and cross-cultural communications skills. Devin Crowther have presented a national conferences; Samantha Parker served as an international delegate in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference; and Samantha Shattuck led workshops on youth engagement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Peru.

I know that collaborating with these young people will improve the capacity of the NEJAC and the EPA to develop strategies and to find unique opportunities to combat climate change. If we are willing to create a space for their voices, advice and recommendations, their innovation, energy and ideas can position our country to be leaders in the emerging climate economy.

Congratulations to all those selected! We are excited to learn from you and work with you towards addressing these incredible challenges and opportunities.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

My Second Christmas

By Althea Moses

About the author: Althea Moses serves as EPA Region 7’s Environmental Justice Coordinator and the Deputy Director of the Enforcement Coordination Office. Her passion is helping people.  She is a proud Civil Engineering graduate of Prairie View A&M University of Texas.

Almost without exception for the past 15 years I have had what I consider a second Christmas – a day when my heart rate rises like it did when opening gifts when I was a kid. The date I’m referring to is the due date for Environmental Justice grant applications. The sense of anticipation – waiting to learn what projects are being proposed – is what Charlie felt when peeling back the wrapper of a Wonka Bar.

My first gift is reading through the proposals. Many times the applications are from organizations and people whose paths I come across regularly. Through their applications, local communities introduce themselves and their communities. I get most excited though about proposals for communities of which I was previously unaware.

Another gift is the sense of fulfillment that comes from the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of a community in need. It’s not the words on the paper that’s exciting – it’s the possibility of what can be achieved. This excitement comes from all I have seen and learned over the years about the possibility of what can be accomplished through projects that are funded at a relatively small amount compared to many other government grants.

EPA’s EJ grants program, both Small Grants and EJ Collaborative Problem Solving, inspire sheer amazement when I consider the level of creative leveraging through partnerships and volunteers to achieve outputs and outcomes one might compare to projects ten times their monetary size.

Emerging Tools

Click to read

Yet another gift is how gratifying it is to see people who started at the neighborhood level with an EJ Small Grant working to understand and address local challenges, now recognized as environmental justice leaders. We have seen tools developed and then used to educate and assist parents and caregivers in reducing children’s asthma attacks and the number of school-days missed.  We have seen the organizing of lead screening events, which taught children as young as pre-school age what it means to avoid and protect themselves from environmental hazards.  How do you explain that lead dust is invisible in soil, so play on the grass?  There’s a preschool curriculum that was developed and demonstrated which does just that!

There are many lessons I have learned from working with grantees which have transformed how I approach my work:

    • Meet people where they are – physically as well as in their understanding. It is amazing the number of people who can be reached, the results achieved, and the resources saved when we go to places where our target audience gathers. We can engage them in a manner in which they relate.
    • Take the time to understand and value what is important to the communities in which you work. This is key to connecting in such a way that encourages mutual understanding, which may result in positive change.
    • “Each one, teach one.” Train-the-trainer is a model that allows projects to be sustaining well beyond funding. When we use this approach, we multiply what we can achieve.
    • Communities want to know what they don’t know about human health and environmental issues.
    • When you bring information about a problem, bring information about the solution. This is hard – it does not excuse us from bringing information about a problem – but challenges us to work hard to find the solution. Sometimes solutions are found through outside partnerships.

EPA’s EJ grant programs are among the smallest pots of money in the agency, but oh, the good they have done educating, empowering, building capacity, and ultimately, making a visible difference in communities across the country.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Teaching to Lead

By Malavika Sahai and Jonathan Leslie

About the Authors: Malavika Sahai and Jonathan Leslie were summer interns at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. Malavika is studying Environmental Policy and Planning and Geography at Virginia Tech.  Jonathan is studying Economics and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.  Both will be graduating in Spring 2016.

2015 EPA Intern EJ Wkshp

At 8:30 a.m. on a hot summer day, interns from across EPA’s headquarters filed into a training room to dedicate their morning to a workshop about environmental justice. We found ourselves rushing at the last minute to pull at least a dozen more chairs around tables to accommodate a surge of attendees eager to learn about environmental justice.  By 9:00 a.m., the room was packed with more than 70 young people representing a wide range of law schools and undergraduate universities united in their passion for environmental protection.

Last summer, EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice hosted its first annual EPA Intern Environmental Justice Workshop to share information about environmental justice to an up-and-coming generation of environmental leaders.  Beyond offering an overview of environmental justice – its history, goals, and the current scope of the movement – OEJ wanted to start a dialogue with young people spending a summer interning at EPA on how to be a part of the workforce that contributes to environmental decision-making.

The workshop opened with a bit of a self-assessment, with attendees offering up personal definitions of “environmental justice.” It was clear that the audience generally understood the context of the environmental justice movement and the importance of protecting underserved communities against environmental hazards. However, over the next four hours, the scope of their knowledge was expanded beyond basic statements about equity to  a more personal, more resonant message about how they could help bring about environmental justice.

During the course of the workshop, we learned about environmental justice from a variety of perspectives.  Multiple speakers both from within EPA and others working locally to address issues in their own communities, discussed their work to extend environmental protection to underserved communities.  They emphasized that environmental justice is neither just an office at EPA nor is it merely a movement that is happening somewhere else.  Rather, it is an awareness that must be present in every decision that we make, that full environmental protection cannot be achieved without incorporating the voices and concerns of local residents and advocates during every step of the process.  Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome of WeACT noted that as we seek sustainable solutions to new environmental problems resulting from climate change, we must also ascertain that these solutions are equally sustainable for all populations.

The wide-ranging discourse shared an underlying message: that the federal government cannot make accurate and informed decisions for protecting overburdened and underserved communities all by itself. Communities must play an active role in actions to extend environmental protection to their neighborhoods, because each community can be uniquely resilient as a result of facing multiple challenges armed with the specific knowledge of local priorities and needs.

The workshop ended as it started, with the question that began the event: “What does environmental justice mean to you”? As interns texted in answers, their responses were displayed on a screen in real time.  It was clear that a single message now resonated for most of the attendees: that community, education, and equity are crucial to informing environmental work.

As the crop of summer interns left the room, we were confident that this up-and-coming generation of environmental leaders who attended the workshop had taken their first steps toward integrating environmental justice into their work:  to be mindful to actively listen, to engage all involved individuals, and to seek external input at every level in the decision-making process.

Strong lessons indeed extend environmental justice into their futures, within their own communities, and throughout their chosen careers.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

by Arthur “Butch” Blazer

About the author: Butch Blazer serves as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Previously, he had served as the first Native American appointed as “State Forester” of New Mexico. [cross-posted from the USDA Blog on January 29, 2016]

 

thur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona led by Michelle Curry. Diné College is a community college serving the Navajo Nation.

Arthur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona led by Michelle Curry. Diné College is a community college serving the Navajo Nation.

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

The first step in establishing these community-to-college relationships is asking community members what type of assistance they need. We help bring everyone together and facilitate how to better meet these local needs in a creative way that also provides hands-on, real-world experience for the students and faculty in the region.

Mr. Burns described some exciting examples of CUPP program successes so far, such as how Tuskegee University architecture students developed an alternate transportation plan for the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail area that also improves access for families to food, health facilities and employment opportunities in rural Alabama.

In New Mexico, we met with the leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation. The Navajo chapter leaders were interested in how we could bring the CUPP program to their communities and involve students from local Tribal Colleges in delivering assistance. Community members also explained that bringing in Tribal College students would provide great role models for other Tribal youth and help develop strong mentoring relationships as well.

We hope to have several Tribal college CUPP partnerships by the spring 2016 semester.

The Navajo chapter leaders also told us about progress being made thanks to a recent USDA Rural Business Development Grant. The grant to Capacity Builders Inc., a local nonprofit, helps them deliver training for chapter officials and community members on how to identify, nurture and fund local business opportunities. This work helps the six chapters support and invest in businesses that create well-paying jobs and improve the quality of life for Tribal families. This is one of 28 such grants totaling $4.3 million Rural Development invested in Tribal communities to support business and regional economic development last year.

In Michigan, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently used 2014 Farm Bill conservation programs to help two Anishinaabe tribes increase production of wild rice. Wild rice, or manoomin, serves as a staple of the Anishinaabe diet and is culturally and spiritually important to them. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships are collaborating on nutrition projects that reduce high rates of food insecurity and help Latino communities meet their health goals through La Mesa Completa.

Support for CUPP along with investments and technical assistance like these highlight just a few of the many ways that USDA partners with local organizations to meet the goals in the Department’s 2016-2020 Environmental Justice Strategic Plan—and ensure that the place someone is born doesn’t determine her destiny.

Our draft Environmental Justice Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 and information on how to submit your comments are available on our Environmental Justice homepage and we encourage your input. The public comment period ends Feb. 14, 2016.

Michael Burns from EPA and USDA Deputy Undersecretary Arthur “Butch” Blazer meet with leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation regarding Federal environmental justice programs.

Michael Burns from EPA and USDA Deputy Undersecretary Arthur “Butch” Blazer meet with leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation regarding Federal environmental justice programs.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Coming to the Table: The Importance of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Justice

A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Photo: HHS
A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Photo: HHS

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr. is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Previously, Tim served as EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

Climate change is one of the major public health challenges of our time.  Certain individuals and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, low-income residents, and people of color.  As the conversation about climate change has grown, a new emphasis on climate justice has emerged, focusing on the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.  Climate justice has become a high priority focus of the environmental justice movement.

Recent calls for action to address the public health dangers of climate change have been joined by leaders such as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They and many other leaders agree that climate change is impacting communities across the country and around the globe, particularly those communities already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and social conditions.

This June, more than 100 people from a variety of government agencies, community organizations, academic institutions, and businesses came together in North Carolina to discuss the health effects of climate change as they relate to vulnerable populations.  Convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference encouraged stakeholders to share community challenges and priorities, as well as promising approaches and opportunities for collaboration for responding to emerging health effects.

Although the conference focused on the strategic elements described in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, the dialogue reflected the larger conversation around climate justice.  Federal staff highlighted federal efforts to build climate resilience and promote climate justice.  Representatives of community groups not only offered on-the-ground examples of how climate change is impacting vulnerable communities, they pointed to how they are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action. Other stakeholders discussed tools and resources designed to help communities better understand the health impacts of climate change and become more resilient to these impacts.

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

  • All stakeholders have a role in responding to the emerging health threats of climate change.
  • Community organizations and environmental justice representatives are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action.
  • Vulnerable communities need to be actively involved as programs, policies, and activities are developed and implemented to ensure climate justice.
  • Strategies are needed regarding how federal agencies could provide additional resources to increase the capacity of communities to address climate justice concerns.
  • Mechanisms should be developed to support workers who live and work in communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Relationships with communities should be established as climate change research is conducted, employing mechanisms such as citizen science and community-engaged research to help empower communities to develop useful information.

Participants also discussed the need to achieve more equitable distribution of technical and financial assistance in the face of limited local resources for addressing climate change.  To achieve this, it is important that government agencies better coordinate and share information about climate resiliency services.

The 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference is part of the ongoing dialogue about environmental justice and climate change, occurring 21 years after the signing of the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice and two years after the issuance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The dialogue among all stakeholders about climate justice and public health must continue.  I encourage you to continue to engage and take appropriate actions to address the health impacts of climate change.

Check out the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference Report and other conference materials, including a video from the meeting: https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/conference/hhs_climate_justice/

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

From the Lunch Counter to the Kitchen Table: Make Your Voice Heard on Climate Justice

 

 
By Makara Rumley

About the author: Makara Rumley, JD, is the Senior Advisor to the EPA Region 4 Regional Administrator. Her interest in the links between human rights and the environment had its roots in her work with Amnesty International, the National Geographic Society, and GreenLaw.

It’s amazing as I travel around the country, I see the energy, innovation, and thoughtful approaches that youth are developing to address the impacts of climate change. Today’s youth are uniquely positioned to elevate their voices and perspectives about this issue that impacts their lives today and tomorrow, as well as the lives of their future generations. Their focus on the most vulnerable communities is one of the driving forces behind the climate justice movement.

This commitment of positive social change has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Earlier this year, Jibreel Khazan, one of the Greensboro Four who began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, used the 55th anniversary of the protest as a call for youth action, noting that:

Climate change is young people’s ‘lunch counter moment’ for the 21st century. When my three classmates and I sat down at that lunch counter to end segregation we did not know what the outcome would be. We simply knew that we had to act. We had to take bold action for necessary change to come about. It is in the tradition of civil and human rights struggle that young people today are calling for action on climate change. It is the biggest threat to justice and opportunity our planet has ever seen.

Climate change is considered an environmental stressor that has catapulted a new generation of leaders and activists into the environmental movement. Youth constitute the majority of the population in many countries and have increasingly strong sense of social awareness and environmental perspectives. The efforts of the New York City Climate Justice Youth Summit as well as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Climate Change Initiative are evidence that an organized and forward thinking delegation of youth is taking root in the climate change conversation. It is critical that these voices be heard and viewpoints incorporated into policymaking.

We recognize the key role that youth play in bringing awareness to climate change and offering solutions to transform our societies towards a low-carbon and climate resilient future. It is essential that youth have a seat at the table and help inform the hard decisions that must be made that affect so many. Thus, the formation of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Youth Perspectives on Climate Justice Work Group is our effort to include young people in assisting EPA in addressing climate change concerns. This advisory work group is the first of its kind in any federal agency. We are looking forward to working with a geographically diverse group of emerging thought leaders in the climate change space. The work group will comprise up to 15 leaders between the ages of 18 and 29 to assist us in developing strategies and finding opportunities to combat climate change and empower other young people to take on the challenge. Applications for the work group are due to EPA by November 30, so spread the word.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it best in a recent blog when she wrote that

Fighting for environmental justice, and climate justice, echoes the spirit of America’s great civil rights leaders; it’s a spirit fueled by our moral obligation to leave our children a world safer and rich with opportunity. History proves even the most wrenching strains on justice can be unwound, with a committed, diverse, and vocal coalition of people calling for change. That’s why EPA, the Hip Hop Caucus, and organizations around the country are fighting for climate justice—so we can further fairness and opportunity for all.

We need your power. We need your voices. Act now. Your voice matters!

For more information about how to engage in this effort, contact me at nejac@epa.gov. More

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.

Giving Grants to Make a Difference

By Sheila Lewis

About the Author: Sheila Lewis has dedicated more than 30 years to federal service and has worked to support community-based efforts since 1999. She currently serves as the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C.

EJ_Collage_Pic

I am ecstatic that EPA today announced our latest round of Environmental Justice Small Grant projects. Take a moment to look at the project summaries that we have selected because they are a true reflection of what is happening in the environmental justice arena around the country.

One thing you’ll notice is how communities throughout the country are finding innovative ways to adapt to climate change and build resilience in their neighborhoods.  From Northern New Mexico to Chicago and Newport News, Virginia to Chickaloon, Alaska, community leaders have recognized both the challenges of preparing their communities for the impacts of climate change, while seizing the opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency to the places that need it most.

Something that you might notice is the number of gardening projects in both urban and rural settings, which will be used to teach people about resiliency, soil contamination, environmental stewardship, public health, entrepreneurship, and water conservation.  These projects are environmental justice through and through — aimed at improving the local environment by engaging, educating, organizing, empowering in efforts driven BY the community FOR the community.

A focus on youth inclusion and project leadership also stands out among this year’s projects.  We’re exci2008_EarthMonth_026ted to support so many projects that will bring local youth into environmental decision-making, helping to better position them to work toward improving their communities.  It goes along with what we’ve heard as a priority from our stakeholders around the country and is reflected in the Agency’s commitment to focus on youth engagement on climate change through our National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

It’s great that we can support so many projects and partners from across the entire country, support that is bolstered this year through funding of additional projects in the Gulf Coast area, thanks to our colleagues in the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.

But what’s even more exciting than what these discreet projects can achieve over the next year, is how they can build on this funding to leverage work that can be accomplished towards bigger solutions and real change in their communities.

At EPA, we recognize that making such change happen takes community leadership, long-term commitment, and a collaborative effort much bigger than just EPA and its grants to a specific organization.  In the more than 20 years since the inception of this grant program, we have been learning how to better work with communities and other partners to improve our ability to support such growth and change, most recently through Administrator McCarthy’s “Making a Visible Difference in Communities” initiative. We also will soon announce a call for proposals for our Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving cooperative agreements, which support community driven efforts at growing effective collaborations to identify and address larger issues in the community.

Evidence of the power of starting with a little support and growing partnerships towards larger solutions is evidenced in communities throughout the country. Whether in the port areas of San Diego or an industrial neighborhood in northern New York, communities with a little bit of support can make a lot happen.

Congratulations to those organizations selected to receive such support. We look forward to continuing to work with you on your path towards making change happen in your communities.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make 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 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.