20th Anniversary

100th Blog Post: Harnessing Momentum for the Next 20 Years of Environmental Justice

By Mustafa Ali

In the more than two years since beginning this blog, we’ve presented many posts that have looked at what two decades of environmental justice has meant across the country. In our very first post, I said that we want to use this space to celebrate 20 years of environmental justice at EPA, as well as to discuss the future of the environmental justice movement in the next 20 years.

Over the past 99 blog posts, we have focused on highlighting those stories that often get overlooked in the dialogue about the environment and environmental justice. These are the stories of positive change that are helping to move many environmentally overburdened communities from surviving to thriving, as well as those stories that highlight the challenges that still exist. We featured an entire video series dedicated to powerful stories from environmental justice leaders who were on the forefront of the movement, advancing it with each innovative and tireless action that they took to defend their communities from pollution and harm. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of environmental justice at EPA, I want to go back to the beginning and share this video with you.

I love this video because it captures the passion and energy of the environmental justice movement 20 years ago. To be clear, 1994 wasn’t the beginning of environmental justice. Civil rights and environmental leaders had been working on these issues for decades. But twenty years ago there was a new momentum, there was a sense of togetherness, and it was exciting.

In the early 1990s the words of environmental justice had not yet been cemented in the public lexicon. But the concept was beginning to take shape, and things were changing. I’m sharing this story with you now because I think it is so relevant today. Everywhere you look, it seems like the EJ movement is gaining new momentum. Things ARE changing. And that is one of the things I think this blog has captured well over the last 100 posts.

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One source of this new momentum is the energy from the multitudes of young people getting involved in the EJ movement. Worcester RootsToxic Soil Busters program is a great example. The program employs the local youth in Worcester to clean up and remediate hazardous lead-filled sites. Another post highlighted the efforts of a group of students who were doing research on environmental hotspots and used the feedback from surveys filled out from over 150 readers on this blog to complete a list of case studies on environmental justice. And there are many more avenues being developed to engage with younger people about environmental justice, like Mayah’s Lot, the environmental justice comic book, or Tox Town, which is a great tool for teaching children about chemicals and chemical safety.

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Another catalyst of momentum has been technology. For example, we shared stories like the one from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which is utilizing smart phone technologies to enable residents to track pollution and associated health effects in their neighborhoods. The Jordon River Commission in Utah has been using smartphones to engage young people to help clean up the river and make it more accessible for community residents, many of them from more ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods. And new tools being developed here at EPA (like the new community mapping tool C-FERST) and outside the agency (like the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas), are providing more information and data to residents to inform them of pollution problems and equip them with tools for protecting their communities.

Clean Air Event

More than anything though, the environmental justice movement is being propelled forward by the ingenuity and hard work of everyday heroes in towns and cities all across the country. One illustration of this hard work is from the Clean Air Coalition, which used EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory data and other monitoring technology to hold a company accountable for violating the Clean Air Act to the tune of a $200 million settlement. Another example comes from Nuestras Raíces, which is training young people how to weatherize houses and make them more energy efficient. This effort not only provides jobs in the local economy but saves money for community residents. These stories are just a sliver of the multitude of stories that demonstrate the breadth and depth of positive results led by environmental justice advocates around the nation.

When I first started at EPA as an intern, the term environmental justice was brand new. I remember the enthusiasm and excitement that was emerging across the country as the movement was taking shape and gaining ground. As I travel across the country I see similar signs of that momentum everywhere I go. There are collaborative partnerships where communities are joining with state, local, and tribal governments, faith based organizations, and business and industry to make a positive change. So let’s keep pushing for change. Let’s keep going forward and make the next 20 years even more exciting and impactful as we strive to build a country that is safe and healthy for all to live, work, play, and pray.

About the author: Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Acting Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rights Become Reality

By Miya Yoshitani

Nearly two decades ago, when I came to the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) as a youth organizer, we did an exercise with our teen participants asking them to fill in a timeline of AAPI history. We would place the colorful sticky notes on the timeline to mark key moments – Chinese laborers build the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Filipino and Japanese farmworkers strike for better pay, Executive Order 9066 putting 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps, the fight for the International Hotel. A history steeped in institutional racism and inspiring leadership with real victories from community organizing.

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Today, as APEN’s Executive Director, I feel honored to be part of the work that continues to add more organizing victories and milestones to the AAPI history timeline, and I keep with me the lessons learned from APEN’s founders and from the environmental justice movement about empowering those most directly affected to lead the charge for change.

When I got to this fight, President Clinton’s Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice was the news of the day. This order acknowledged the rights of all people to a clean and healthy environment, but no stroke of a pen can turn rights into reality. It’s the tireless organizing, the calling and knocking and persuading and energizing that produce the legal, administrative and corporate victories of which APEN and our EJ allies are rightly proud.

This order continues to be a critical milestone – official acknowledgement of the disproportionate and unjust environmental damage caused by pollution on communities of color and low-income working class communities.

Untitled-1Making this order more than words on a page continues to guide and animate our efforts towards environmental justice. Low-income Asian American and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, communities living on the fenceline of refineries, next to freeways, in cancer allies, near incinerators, coal mines and dirty power plants. We continue the fight for environmental justice, acting as a powerful emerging force to confront one of the greatest environmental injustices of our times: the destabilization of our climate.  Here, we share with you a powerful short film about a new generation of leaders – through the Our Power campaign.  This grassroots effort, driven by Richmond’s low-income communities of color, is educating and empowering Richmond resident’s to be on the frontlines in the struggle for building a resilient and thriving local clean energy future.

Untitled-3In California, the federal recognition of the importance of environmental justice through Executive Order 12898 has been a catalyst for helping us advance innovative state policies in recent years. For example, APEN and other Asian American organizations were strong supporters of the recently passed SB 535, which ensures 25% of all revenue collected through the state’s cap and trade program benefit California’s most disadvantaged communities who are also the most impacted by climate change. This law is expected to drive billions in public dollar investments to low-income communities of color throughout the state.

This is just one of the many victories we have seen. Since the early days of the Executive Order, communities of color in California, like the low-income AAPI immigrant and refugee communities organized by APEN, have not only been on the frontlines of fighting pollution, but on the cutting edge of solutions on all fronts, including transitioning the state from a polluting fossil fuel based economy to a clean renewable energy economy. We have a vision for local, renewable energy that creates jobs, new models of ownership, and deep community resilience in the face of climate change.

While much has changed over the last 20 years, some essential things remain the same. Our will, our resolve and the courage of our communities have not altered, and neither has our gratitude for the tireless support of allies like you and champions of change within agencies like the EPA.

About the author: Miya has an extensive background in community organizing and working in the environmental justice movement. She was a participant in the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 and on the drafting committee of the original Principles of Environmental Justice. Miya first joined APEN staff in the mid-90s as a youth organizer. Today she serves as Executive Director-continuing on a 20 year journey of leading the fight for climate justice in California and trailblazing the path forward in bringing Asian American immigrant and refugee community voices to the forefront of environmental health and social justice.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Justice: Where Are We Now?

By Curt Spalding, EPA Region 1 Administrator

At the end of March, I was very pleased to participate in an Environmental Justice Conference at Harvard Law School to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on EJ, and to dialogue with stakeholders across all backgrounds about the future for EJ.

spaldingEnvironmental justice is critical to EPA’s mission: to protect human health and the environment.  Unfortunately many low-income communities and communities of color continue to bear a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution and its health effects which create barriers to opportunity and a need for greater access to the benefits that healthy communities provide.

In Region 1 we continue to work hard to find new and innovative ways to incorporate EJ into all of our programs, policies and activities. Our programs and staff are helping improve communities through our Brownfields program; working to eliminate lead poisoning in our poorest communities; cleaning our urban rivers; encouraging environmental justice leadership among our state and federal partners and promoting climate change education in low-income and diverse communities, among many other efforts.

But while we continue to strive to make sure that we protect our most vulnerable communities, opportunities like the Environmental Justice Conference at Harvard remind me that there are many brilliant and hardworking people Untitled-1across the country coming up with many different innovative ways to advance environmental justice. I heard some very inspirational stories from activists like Hilton Kelley who shared his story about his community of Port Arthur, Texas and about its continued fight for clean air and water.  I also heard stories from community organizers like Mela Bush from the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition who helped bring public transportation options to the Fairmount Line in Boston.

At the conference we also talked about climate change, which is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face today, especially in Region 1. We have learned from storms like Hurricane Sandy that coastal areas need to begin building resilience in their communities, they need to adapt infrastructure and come up with mechanisms to handle sea level rise and storm surge.  City officials from Bridgeport shared their innovative approaches as a city taking ground breaking steps to improve resiliency and advance the community through an initiative called Rebuild by Design.  The city is taking design proposals to develop a resilience framework that focuses on protecting Bridgeport against climate change and flooding caused by storm surge and rainfall, while also stimulating environmental restoration, economic development, and neighborhood revitalization.

Click to watch keynote address by Dr. Robert Bullard

Click to watch keynote address by Dr. Robert Bullard

A key theme that came out of the conference was to look ahead.  Conference participants focused on answering tough questions, such as how we can collectively make visible differences in EJ communities now and into the future.  From my experiences at the conference and from talking with these many EJ advocates and stakeholders reinforced for me how important it is to holistically look at how a community can be sustained and how we can work collaboratively to help a community make progress.  It’s about capacity building, and using strong networks of people to move projects forward.  It’s about education and empowering communities.

I was excited to see these forward thinking and innovative approaches across the country, and I know that all of us that attended from Region 1 are grateful for the opportunity. It certainly reminded me how important it is to gather all of the brilliant minds out there to share their innovative solutions to advance environmental justice.

About the author: Since joining the EPA leadership team in February 2010, Spalding has been leading a holistic approach to finding environmental solutions in New England. He’s emphasized efforts in community engagement, sustainability, environmental justice and green economy. Spalding has focused our efforts in the region on three cross-cutting initiatives: climate change, stormwater and community prosperity.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Addressing Crucial Water Issues in Our Communities

Reposted from EPA Connect Blog

By Nancy Stoner

This year, we here at EPA celebrate the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to address environmental disparities in minority and low-income communities. We’ve certainly accomplished a lot since the order was signed, but sadly, too many people still breathe dirty air, live near toxic waste dumps, or lack reliable access to clean water. But we continue to make progress in all of those areas, and here in EPA’s Office of Water, I’m proud of how we’re helping communities across America—both rural and urban—addressing their most crucial water issues.

Last fall, I was in Laredo, Texas and visited a community near the U.S.-Mexico border called the colonias, which until recently did not have regular access to clean water. Thanks to funding from EPA’s U.S.-Mexico Border Infrastructure Program, 3,700 people in the colonias now have access to a modern sewer system. We also have a program that provides funding for the planning, design and construction of wastewater infrastructure for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Providing access to clean water to people who have never had it before is one of the most important things we have the power and resources to do.

In 2012, I traveled to Baltimore to help announce funding from EPA’s Urban Waters program that’s being use to educate residents in the Patapsco watershed about the benefits of water conservation and give people the know-how to reduce water usage at home. Urban waterways can provide myriad economic, environmental and community benefits, and EPA is helping dozens of communities across the country reconnect with these important, valuable resources.

Our drinking water program is also providing substantial funding to help improve small drinking water systems across the country, which comprise more than 94% of the nation’s public drinking water systems. Small systems, those that serve fewer than 3,500 people, face unique financial and operational challenges in providing drinking water that meets federal standards. Last year, we provided close to $13 million to help train staff at small systems and give them tools to enhance system their operations and management practices.

This year, I’m proud to celebrate 20 years of EPA’s work to make a visible difference in communities across the country. We’ve made so much progress over the last two decades, and I know we’ll make even more over the next 20 years.

About the Author: Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Looking Back and Moving Forward on Environmental Justice: Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society Hosts National Conference

By Sam Caravello, Gen Parshalle, and Cecelia Segal

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For decades, grassroots activists and their allies have worked to end environmental disparities between communities. The environmental justice movement, which grew out of the civil rights movement, questioned why low income communities and communities of color are beset by more polluting industries, suffer higher rates of asthma and cancer, and enjoy fewer environmental amenities like parks and access to nutritious food.

Twenty years ago, government began to respond. In 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, which made Environmental Justice a national priority and gave activists hope that politically underrepresented communities overburdened by environmental harms would soon have a voice and vehicle for bringing about justice. State governments began responding, too. In 1994, only four states addressed environmental justice by law or executive order. Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of environmental justice law, executive order, or policy, demonstrating recognition of environmental justice as a critical issue deserving government attention. For more details see EJ Milestones and Accomplishments: 1964-2014, a report by the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s Executive Order, the Harvard Law School Environmental Law Society (HELS) will be hosting the National Association of Environmental Law Societies (NAELS) 26th Annual Conference on March 28–29, 2014, with the theme “Environmental Justice: Where Are We Now?” The conference will focus on three themes: progress on the goals of environmental justice, the social justice aspects of today’s national, and international environmental movements, and strategies to ensure that environmental justice is a priority in future environmental work.

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The two-day conference will feature speeches from leaders in the field, including former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson; Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice;” and Professor Gerald Torres, who, as counsel to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, worked with communities to help draft the President’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice. The conference will also feature seven panel discussions, each focused on an important aspect of environmental justice advocacy. Topics will range from strategies for achieving environmental justice to food justice and access to clean energy.

The EPA has been instrumental in helping HELS plan and prepare for the conference. In addition, EPA staff and other federal partners will facilitate breakout sessions on March 29. These sessions will engage conference attendees—students, academics, and community activists—in a productive discussion about milestones achieved in environmental justice and strategies for improvement and moving forward. We will share the outcomes of these discussions more broadly with federal representatives after the conference.

Although much progress has been made over the past twenty years, there is still plenty of work to be done. Living in an environmental justice community can have a severe impact on health and quality of life. Zip code is a strong predictor of health, and too often the heaviest environmental burdens and the highest percentage of low-income and minority residents are concentrated in the same zip codes. The California EPA reports that the 10% of California zip codes most burdened by pollution contain 32% of the state’s toxic cleanup sites. Meanwhile, a recent NAACP report notes that African Americans spent $41 billion on energy in 2009, but only held 1.1% of energy jobs and only gained .01% of the revenue from energy sector profits.

There is clearly a need for continued action to work towards achieving environmental justice goals. The 2014 NAELS Conference promises to make a valuable contribution to the conversation on environmental justice by reflecting on past challenges and successes in the movement, and by bringing together current and future advocates to plan for the next 20 years of work in the field.

To learn more about the 2014 NAELS Conference, please visit the HELS website for the conference. To learn more about environmental law at Harvard Law School, please visit the Environmental Law Program website.

About the Authors: Sam Caravello, Gen Parshalle, and Cecelia Segal are students at the Harvard Law School, class of 2015.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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President Obama’s Proclamation on Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Earlier this month I was very excited to share President Barack Obama’s official Presidential Proclamation commemorating February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. While this may seem purely symbolic, the proclamation is much  more than a symbolic gesture.  It is a very visible statement from the White House firmly re-committing this Administration’s dedication to making sure that we, “live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.”  This commitment has been echoed throughout EPA and other agencies, and indeed the entire country during this anniversary month.

As a federal employee, I understand the important role the federal government plays in advancing environmental justice, but I also believe that the only path to a healthier and more resilient country is through the hard work and leadership of communities and individuals. This reaffirmation by the President  sets the stage for all of the U.S., states, and tribal governments to continue to work together, side-by-side, to ensure that we continue to deliver on the letter and spirit of the executive order signed 20 years ago this month.

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 12898

ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

downloadTwo decades ago, President William J. Clinton directed the Federal Government to tackle a long-overlooked problem. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and tribal areas disproportionately bore environmental burdens like contamination from industrial plants or landfills and indoor air pollution from poor housing conditions. These hazards worsen health disparities and reduce opportunity for residents — children who miss school due to complications of asthma, adults who struggle with medical bills. Executive Order 12898 affirmed every American’s right to breathe freely, drink clean water, and live on uncontaminated land. Today, as America marks 20 years of action, we renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.

Because we all deserve the chance to live, learn, and work in healthy communities, my Administration is fighting to restore environments in our country’s hardest-hit places. After over a decade of inaction, we reconvened an Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group and invited more than 100 environmental justice leaders to a White House forum. Alongside tribal governments, we are working to reduce pollution on their lands. And to build a healthier environment for every American, we established the first-ever national limits for mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

While the past two decades have seen great progress, much work remains. In the years to come, we will continue to work with States, tribes, and local leaders to identify, aid, and empower areas most strained by pollution. By effectively implementing environmental laws, we can improve quality of life and expand economic opportunity in overburdened communities. And recognizing these same communities may suffer disproportionately due to climate change, we must cut carbon emissions, develop more homegrown clean energy, and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that we are already feeling across our country.

As we mark this day, we recall the activists who took on environmental challenges long before the Federal Government acknowledged their needs. We remember how Americans — young and old, on college campuses and in courtrooms, in our neighborhoods and through our places of worship — called on a Nation to pursue clean air, water, and land for all people. On this anniversary, let us move forward with the same unity, energy, and passion to live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with programs and activities that promote environmental justice and advance a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Gina McCarthy

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mama Johnson: A Visionary Who Inspired Her Country

Cheryl Johnson,left, and her neices Jazlyn  Keyonna, visit Cheryl's mother, Hazel Johnson at her home in Altgeld Gardens on Chicago's south side.

Cheryl Johnson, left, and her neices Jazlyn and Keyonna, visit Cheryl’s mother, Hazel Johnson at her home in Altgeld Gardens on Chicago’s south side

By Cheryl Johnson

Three years ago, my mother, Hazel Johnson, widely regarded as the “mother of the environmental justice movement,” made her transition from this world she so loved.  As her daughter, I knew firsthand what an extraordinary woman she was and understood there was a guiding force behind the struggles she endured for her fellow man.

As I reflect on her life’s work, I now see she was a woman truly ahead of her time, a true visionary who forecasted the negative outcomes from failing to address blighted environmental and social justice conditions. It turns out that my mom was nearly correct in many of her predictions. If you ever had the opportunity to have been around Hazel Johnson or even heard her speak at one of the many environmental venues she graced, you too would have been witness to her foresight into the harmful effects of high levels of pollution in our air, water, and land.

Hazel (right) at the presidential signing of EO 12898

Hazel (right) at the presidential signing of EO 12898

She was talking about environmental justice before anyone knew what to call it. She also had the foresight to understand the impacts of climate change very early on, especially as it would impact our low income and minority communities. This February 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898. My mother had the honor of playing an instrumental role in its creation with her fellow EJ advocates, and leading up to the Order’s signing on February 11, 1994, Hazel did not describe the harmful impacts on the environment using the familiar term “climate change,” but she did express alarm about the “changes in our weather patterns.” The global citizens of the 21st century are all witness to the extremes in our weather from terrifying floods to severe cold systems.

My mother didn’t know the term “brownfields” before it was coined in 1992, but she constantly spoke out about the growing plague of abandoned industrial facilities and lands which she know would become environmental graveyards for “black and brown communities” that now infect the landscape of our urban meccas. She labeled our own community, the Altgeld Gardens, as ‘the toxic doughnut’ (video link), a symbol that describes a place where people’s lives are engulfed in environmental degradation from environmental exposures and hazards.

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Former Administrator Lisa Jackson talking about the legacy of Hazel

Most important of all, Hazel M. Johnson inspired hundreds of people around the country, if not thousands to seek environmental justice. Her actions inspired people to pursue environmental career opportunities with the purpose of preserving our rights and basic need for survival on this great Earth.  She was the North Star that brought attention to urban environmental pollution issues in her own backyard and grew into the moniker “Mama Johnson” to legions who shared the fervent passion for environmental justice in their communities across the country.

As we mark the 20th Year Anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, pause to reflect on the significance of the legacy she and her fellow justice fighters have left for us as a continual reminder to fight for equal environmental protection for every community that suffers with mother earth.

Thirty five years ago, People for Community Recovery was formed to bring about environmental awareness not only for impacted communities, but to challenge government and businesses to become creative and innovative to protect our environment.  Today, I am stepping in her shoes to fulfill the dream of making Altgeld Gardens an environmentally sustainable village where community, government, universities and businesses can come to the table to create environmental solutions that will save the existence of the human species. I love you mom, and thank you again for all that you left for me and for our country.

About the author: Cheryl Johnson is the executive director of People for Community Recovery, founded in 1979 by her mother to address urban environmental pollution. Today, the organization continues to address that issue, as well as housing rights, youth issues and employment services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Evolving Visions of Environmental Justice: An EJ Pioneer’s Reflections on EO 12898 after Twenty Years

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By Charles Lee

In 1994, I had the distinct honor of being invited to the Oval Office for President Clinton’s signing of Executive Order (EO) 12898 on environmental justice (EJ).  As one of the persons who played a pioneering role in the birth of EJ, I want to highlight some of EO 12898’s impacts after twenty years.  The EJ executive order was a product of community activism, which formed the core of the EJ movement.  An abiding truth of EJ is that this community activism played a leading role in inspiring and catalyzing many truly visionary developments.  This is an underlying thread for all the impacts highlighted.

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Residents Installing a Rain Garden to Prevent Water Pollution for Green Zone Project in Kansas City, MO

First, EO 12898 helped to amplify the community action that inspired the EJ executive order’s development and issuance.  The EJ movement’s inherent vision is building healthy, equitable and sustainable communities for all people.  Communities of color, low-income neighborhoods and tribes led participatory democratic action that significantly influenced environmental decision-making.  The list of examples is endless — from relocating fuel tank farms in East Austin, Texas, revitalizing overburdened neighborhoods in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to building “green zones” in California and Kansas.  New models emerged, from local zoning ordinances to use of geographic information systems.  Activists, practitioners and scholars of all ages and backgrounds have joined the quest.  Among them was a young community organizer in the Altgeld Gardens housing project in Chicago’s polluted southside named Barack Obama.

Far sighted groups in all sectors of society have undertaken EJ initiatives.  The public health field has incorporated EJ in significant ways, especially through community-based participatory research.  Hundreds of universities now offer EJ courses or clinics, and a Ph.D. program in EJ now exists.  States and local governments have legislation, policies or programs that address EJ.  Whereas EJ was virtually unheard of in 1994, today it has an indelible foothold in the mainstream of society.

Over 100 EPA CARE Grants Have Been Awarded

Over 100 EPA CARE Grants Have Been Awarded to Communities

Second, EO 12898 provided direction on the integration of EJ in federal programs. Beginning in the 1990s, EJ advocates first articulated ideas on how to operationalize EJ in government programs. Through the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, they developed a public participation model plan and recommendations on using environmental statutes to address EJ issues.  Their recommendations on cumulative risk led to the CARE program.  They also laid the foundation for transforming brownfields redevelopment into community revitalization.

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First-ever White House Forum on Environmental Justice convened in 2009 to re-invigorate the EJ IWG.

But it was not until the Obama Administration that EPA developed Plan EJ 2014, a comprehensive roadmap for ensuring that EJ is, in former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s words, “a part of every decision.” Plan EJ 2014 resulted from extensive input from communities and other stakeholders.  Through Plan EJ 2014, basic guidance and tools for integrating EJ into EPA’s rulemaking, permitting, enforcement and community action efforts are being completed.  The Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (IWG), established by EO 12898, was revitalized.  Other agencies also issued important EJ guidance.  The IWG is now developing basic analytical resources for considering EJ in the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process.  NEPA is a touchstone of EO 12898.  In his Presidential Memorandum accompanying EO 12898, President Clinton identified it as an important tool for addressing EJ.

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Click the diagram to learn about how each of these issues play role in the revitalizing neighborhoods.

Progress has been painfully incremental and the goal of integrating EJ in federal programs will take tenacious and long-term effort.  EJ truly remains the unfinished business of environmental protection.  It is also important at this time to frame a larger vision for EO 12898 that includes proactively providing benefits essential for building wholesome prosperous communities, such as health care, housing, transportation, jobs, economic development, green space and food security.  Moving in that direction will go a long way towards truly fulfilling the vision of EO 12898 by explicitly articulating how EJ is an integral part of the missions of all federal agencies.

Third, EO 12898 served as a catalyst for action by states on EJ. Today more than 40 states and territories have EJ legislation, policies or programs.  The executive order also provided a template for state EJ efforts, which typically include a tandem of lead office, interagency process and/or advisory committee with a focus on public participation, environmental health or model projects.

Notable examples of state action include California’s pioneering Environmental Justice Act (SB 115), sponsored by former State Senator, U.S. Representative and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.  This law led to efforts to address cumulative risks and toxic hotspots, including AB 1330.  The state also developed CalEnviroScreen to identify overburdened areas and promote equitable distribution of resources.  For example, it will help identify disadvantaged areas in which to invest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund proceeds under SB 535.  Minnesota passed legislation requiring cumulative risk assessment for an overburdened area in South Minneapolis.  New York State passed the Article X Powerplant Siting Law that requires analysis of disproportionate environmental impacts and the state’s brownfields legislation created the Brownfields Opportunities Areas Program.

Community advocates played a significant role in shaping these efforts.  These examples are harbingers of the future.  They reflect the evolving vision of EJ advocates and indeed the future direction of policy making.  EJ legislation or policy must go beyond EO 12898 and address substantive issues.  We must do the hard work of incorporating EJ in multiple types of legislation or policies.

In conclusion, EO 12898 is only one step in a long journey.  We must continuously evolve EJ vision and action to meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.  We have certainly come a long way since 1994 when most decision-makers were groping for answers to elementary questions like: “What is EJ?”  Incredible opportunities have been created by all the good work of all parties.  We must rise to the paradigmatic challenges created by climate change, increasing health and income disparities, equitable development, sustainable communities, globalization impacts such as goods (freight) movement, and other issues.~3045199Challenges with use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act persist.  EJ issues will be local, regional, national and international.  If we are to rise to these challenges, we must nurture new generations of EJ leaders—knowledgeable about how to work in both communities and institutions, armed with stellar technical and legal skills, and most important, guided by audacious vision and commitment.

Charles Lee is the Deputy Associate Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Lee is widely recognized as a true pioneer in the arena of environmental justice. He was the principal author of the landmark report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. He helped to spearhead the emergence of a national environmental justice movement and federal action including Executive Order 12898, EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Embracing Environmental Justice: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of E.O. 12898


By Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment is driven by a fundamental belief that regardless of who you are or where you come from, we all have a right to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and healthy land to call our home. At the heart of that belief is our unwavering pursuit of environmental justice for minority, low-income, and tribal communities that have been long overburdened by environmental threats.

February 11, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” We’ve accomplished a lot over the past two decades—not only EPA, but all federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, community leaders, and partners in academia and business. We established the Office of Environmental Justice, the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council—one of the federal government’s most prolific advisory committees. We’re expanding outreach and enforcing laws to defend public health and hold polluters accountable. We’re highlighting ground breaking and life-altering stories through our EJ in Action Blog. And we’re investing in communities through innovative grants and expanding technical support to bring about greener spaces where we live, learn, work, play and pray.

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

That’s why I’m proud to declare February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month at EPA, highlighting our progress while also launching a yearlong effort to focus our environmental justice leadership and reaffirm our commitment to do even more. This effort supports our top priority to make a visible difference in the communities where we serve — because we know that local progress doesn’t just guide our actions; it’s the best measure of our success.

A critical step is making good on our Plan EJ 2014 commitments, our roadmap for integrating environmental justice throughout EPA’s policies and programs. It’s already helped us to better consider how the costs and benefits of our decisions impact those most vulnerable among us. Our Regions will continue expanding their on-the-ground work to support communities. And along with our federal partners, we’ll continue developing analytical and educational resources to advance environmental justice through the National Environmental Policy Act.

Untitled-3But we know there’s much more to do.  Too many communities of color, low-income families, and tribal populations are still overburdened with higher rates of asthma, heart disease, cancer, and strokes resulting from dirty air, unsafe drinking water, and more. Devastating impacts of climate change disproportionately threaten those least able to do to anything about them. Environmental and public health threats are barriers to economic mobility, holding back millions of families striving for middle-class security and a chance to get ahead. EPA has a central role in the President’s efforts to break down those barriers and expand opportunities for all Americans.

So throughout the year, tune in to EPA to find out more about the great events that are going on across the country to commemorate this historic milestone, and to find out about the exciting developments going on in EPA and across the government to advance environmental justice.  As EPA Administrator, I’m proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of our pursuit of environmental justice by recommitting our agency to the pursuit of equal opportunity for all—our most fundamental American ideal.

About the author: Gina McCarthy currently serves as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Government by the People: Looking Back at the NEJAC After 20 Years

By Richard Moore

Richard Moore 2

Richard speaking at 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit

20 years ago, when I was appointed as one of the first members to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), I remember very clearly we decided that we wanted to make this a different type of government advisory council. The NEJAC was established by the EPA in order to obtain advice and recommendations from a diverse group of stakeholders involved in environmental justice. This was a big deal for the environmental justice community because it helped give legitimacy to the decades-long fight for the EJ movement. And so when the first board of the NEJAC convened we made a decision that we were going to make this advisory council truly representative of the people.

We wanted to lift up the voices of the grassroots, and make sure that the issues that were being addressed by the Council were the issues that people on the ground in our communities were facing. When we convened our first meetings, we made it clear to communities across the country that we were going to make sure that their voices would be heard. And sure enough, in those early meetings hundreds of concerned residents showed up to testify about the problems their communities were facing, and to hear what EPA and other Federal agencies were doing to address the disproportionate impacts that were happening across the country.

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NEJAC Public Comment Session

I remember the revelations that people had when they heard others from cities and towns far away talking about the same problems they were facing in their own backyards. It was transformative. The people in these meetings learned that the pollution in their neighborhoods wasn’t an accident, it was happening everywhere and in some cases it was deliberate. More importantly, they also saw what types of solutions were being tested across the country to address these injustices.

From these public comments the Council also started forming recommendations to deal with the disproportionate pollution problems we were facing. We proposed to the EPA a grant program that specifically focused on providing financial support to benefit communities with environmental justice concerns. We also recommended EPA provide expert support to help give communities equal representation when controversial permits or government actions were being proposed. These recommendations were the foundations for the EJ Small Grants Program and the Technical Assistance Grants.

In 1995, the EPA and NEJAC co-sponsored a series of dialogues across the country that provided an opportunity for environmental justice advocates and residents of impacted communities to give input on revitalization of abandoned properties called “brownfields.” Out of these public dialogues, the NEJAC developed “The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope” report. A consistent theme throughout the report was the importance of seeking and including communities in decisions and planning. Taking these recommendations into consideration, EPA took a number of actions to improve its Brownfields program. For example, EPA agreed to create a Brownfields Job Training Grants Program, which now spends over $3 million annually in low income and minority communities.

When we first convened the NEJAC 20 years ago we didn’t want to play by the rules. We wanted to make a new type of advisory council that would vigilantly fight for the rights of every resident to be heard by the government. Over the years the Council has elevated community concerns and made recommendations on many vitally important issues; from school air toxics monitoring and gulf coast restoration, to US/Mexico border issues and tribal consultation. Let’s hope that the Council maintains that spirit, and continues to expand the conversation around environmentalism over the next 20 years.

About the author: Mr. Moore served as the Executive Director of Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (Southwest Network), in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1993 to 2010. Mr. Moore has served on numerous government and nongovernmental committees and panels, including chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and member of the National Council of Churches EcoJustice Task Force and the Congressional Black Caucus National Environmental Policy Commission. In 2010 Moore transitioned from director of SNEEJ to Senior Advisor. He currently is the program director for Los Jardines Institute in Albequerque New Mexico.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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