Community Engagement

Public Participation – A Bedrock Principle for Human Rights

by Lupe Aguirre, Neelam Mohammed, and Leslie Morales

Public participation is an essential component of a vibrant and truly representative democracy. It requires meaningful opportunities for the public to provide input during decision-making as well as free and simple access to information about government agencies and their activities. Yet, it is challenging to facilitate public engagement in a nation as large, complex, and varied as the United States.

On October 7, 2014, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law hosted the United States Government Consultation on Environmental Issues. This session was held in advance of the second review of the human rights record of the United States by the U.N. Human Rights Council, scheduled for May 2015.

As interns with the school’s International Human Rights Law Clinic (the Clinic), we were tasked with coordinating this historic effort in collaboration with government officials and community groups. Bringing together numerous advocacy groups, members of the public, and officials from seven federal agencies, the session provided an important opportunity to directly engage a variety of stakeholders about pressing environmental issues.

Developing an inclusive and effective Consultation required thoughtful coordination. The planning process involved advocates, community members, and government officials to determine the agenda and topics to be discussed. Participants (whether attending in person or by phone) could submit written comments in advance of the session to create a record of public input. Dozens attended the Consultation in person and dozens more joined by phone, allowing those who could not travel to the session to participate.

In the months since the Consultation, we have posted several videos of the individual panel sessions to allow those who were not able to participate to listen to the full discussion. Lastly, we drafted a summary report outlining the main points of discussion and providing resources for further engagement.

Although each panel focused on a distinct issue (climate change, water issues, and environmental/public health protections and members of vulnerable communities), a common theme that arose was the need for meaningful public participation to identify and address environmental challenges. We know public participation is a bedrock principle of human rights, but how can that principle be put into practice?

Due to its national scope and the array of relevant issues, the Consultation on Environmental Issues presented our team with complex questions:

  • How do we reach diverse communities across the country?
  • How do we facilitate the opportunity for affected community members to speak?
  • How do we keep the conversation going well into the future?

Answering these questions offered both insights into the challenges as well as best practices in creating opportunities for engagement.

During the Consultation, community members and advocates from around the nation identified problems in their communities and offered solutions. They asked for more opportunities to engage with the government and to lift barriers to that engagement by addressing linguistic, geographic, and temporal challenges to participation. The dialogue reminded us that direct contact with affected community members can reveal issues that may otherwise fall through the cracks, and that the knowledge of local communities is a critical component in crafting creative solutions to environmental challenges. Having all stakeholders at the table ensures the development of responsive and sustainable solutions to real world problems. So while providing inclusive processes can be complicated, it is well worth the effort.

We saw what public engagement looks like in action at the Consultation in October and hope that government at all levels will provide more opportunities for meaningful community engagement. However, coordinating national events is not the only path to achieve public engagement; it can be accomplished in simpler and smaller ways. Such opportunities should not only be available when the United States is on the eve of a review before the U.N. or some other significant event. Rather, a continuing dialogue between government and the public is necessary to tackle environmental and other social justice issues.

Moving forward, the Clinic continues to work with local environmental justice advocates to advance universal access to clean and affordable water by engaging with California state officials and raising these important issues before international human rights bodies.

NOTE: On February 20, 2015, the U.S. State Department is holding a civil society consultation on the U.S. government’s second UPR, in Washington, DC, with an option to dial-in by phone.

About the Authors: Lupe Aguirre, Neelam Mohammed, and Leslie Morales are law students at the International Human Rights Law Clinic, UC Berkeley School of Law, who are scheduled to graduate in 2016. Lupe’s interest in social justice was sparked by her work with vulnerable low-income immigrant communities in Southern and Central California before entering law school; she plans to continue serving at-risk communities as a public interest lawyer. Neelam developed an interest in environmental justice issues after taking courses at Berkeley Law focused on the importance of clean energy development and the rights of individuals disparately impacted by fossil fuel-generated energy. Leslie was drawn to international human rights through her volunteer work providing legal services to immigrants and asylum-seekers as she became aware of the many injustices faced by low-income and minority groups in the U.S. and abroad, including in her family’s native Guatemala.

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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Community-driven Revitalization: Tying it Together in Freeport, Illinois

by Melissa Friedland

The East Side of Freeport, Illinois, is a remarkable place. This African-American neighborhood has been home to families for generations. Residents have a strong sense of community and deep affection for the area. However, frequent flooding from the Pecatonica River has not just damaged homes but impacted the community’s economic vitality. The community also has vacant former industrial areas, petroleum contamination, and has been subject to illegal dumping at the CMC Heartland Superfund site. These have exacerbated the legacy of racial segregation, strained relationships with civic leadership, and diminished access to community amenities.

In 2013, community members began to tackle these challenges. Their goal: to make it possible for Freeport’s East Side to again support quality housing, thriving businesses, and public amenities. At the outset, stakeholders identified two key outcomes for the project – reducing flooding impacts and addressing floodway regulations. Properties in the neighborhood’s floodplain are subject to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state floodway regulations as activities such as rebuilding and improving housing and commercial space after flood events are considered. Residents have indicated that addressing these challenges could lay the foundation for pursuing additional neighborhood revitalization goals.

To help make this happen, EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI) and Region 5 office sponsored a reuse planning process for the CMC Heartland site and other contaminated properties in the neighborhood. The year-long effort brought local residents and business owners together with city officials and federal agency staff.

Building trust and relationships was the first priority, as a legacy of poor communication and strained relations between the community and the local government threatened to derail progress. A pro-bono Cultural Competence training brought city staff and neighborhood residents together. Breakthroughs followed, as participants shared their experiences and people realized that everyone at the table was interested in addressing past challenges and ensuring a brighter, more sustainable future for the East Side. The training was an early turning point that enabled participants to understand each other’s perspectives and plan for the future.

Reducing Flood Impacts

011080410 FEMA assists IEMA with flood assessments

With good working relationships in place, the work shifted to understanding where and how flooding was affecting the neighborhood. During several working sessions, residents and city staff developed a detailed map that incorporated community feedback about areas of concern as well as technical floodplain information. In a follow-up session, participants explored ways to manage stormwater differently. Where traditional gray infrastructure approaches rely on pipes, sewers, and other physical structures, green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff at its source, protecting water quality, and benefiting communities through improved air quality, enhanced recreational opportunities, revitalized neighborhoods, and even enhanced climate resiliency.

Participants then prioritized a set of goals for reducing flood impacts, including addressing areas where floodwaters enter homes and block street access, ensuring safe access to a neighborhood school, tackling areas of standing water, and designing green infrastructure features to beautify the East Side neighborhood and the Stephenson Street entrance corridor.

Addressing Floodway Regulations

East Side residents, city staff, and elected officials knew that engaging with FEMA was essential to reducing flooding impacts and supporting community revitalization. Parties developed a joint statement describing how the neighborhood’s economic vitality and housing quality have been impacted over time by its location in the floodway where residents contend with recurring major and minor flood events. East Side residents would like to work with FEMA on the best possible ways to maintain and improve their homes.

In a presentation to FEMA in 2014, the group invited agency staff to join a dialogue to focus on finding solutions. In addition, a plan that focused on flood impact reduction and neighborhood revitalization was developed with the support of the EPA Superfund Redevelopment Initiative and Region 5. More information can be found in the final report.

Through its work with communities, EPA’s goal is make a visible and lasting difference. The East Side project shows how these efforts can lead to new partnerships, vital innovations, and long-term revitalization.

About the author: Melissa Friedland manages EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, an EPA initiative that helps communities reclaim cleaned-up Superfund program sites.

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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Commitment to Environmental Justice Leads Fish and Wildlife Service to Study Anacostia River Fishing

Cross-Posted from Fish and Wildlife Service’s Open Spaces

By Kim Lambert

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Approximately 17,000 people, many African American or Hispanic, eat fish they catch out of the Anacostia River each year, and often share their fish with hungry people, according to a study commissioned by the Anacostia Watershed Society. But the watershed contains toxic hotspots caused by pollution such as PCBs, PAHs, metals and other compounds for local facilities.

As part of its commitment to Environmental Justice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with Anacostia Watershed Society, University of Maryland College Park and the Anacostia Community Museum to study the patterns of urban anglers (subsistence, recreational and cultural) and fish contaminants in the Anacostia River region.

Environmental Justice recognizes that low-income or disadvantaged populations of color are often unfairly burdened by environmental hazards and unhealthy land uses, and may have higher exposure and health risks. And the Service collaborates with its stakeholders and partners to minimize or eliminate these hazards.

On a hot Saturday morning in July, the partners sponsored a fishing day as part of the Community-Based Assessment of Exposure for Subsistence Fishers in the Anacostia River Region (CAESARR), a study about people who fish or consume fish from the Anacostia River Watershed. The event was a fun opportunity for participants to learn how to fish, get information about the river and health issues, and catch fish for the project. About 45 people attended and the fish were processed for scientific research. Estimates on the amount of PCBs, metals, contaminants and pesticides in the fish will be issued to urban anglers when the study is done.

In many ways the river is a well-kept secret for the recreational opportunities it offers, including biking, paddling, and surprising beauty and solitude. “It is in our hands to protect our planet and these beautiful species living in it,” according the Sonia Banyuls of Spain, as she walked along the river banks. Lisa Peterson brought seven Boy Scouts to the event because it was a “great fishing opportunity and so educational for the kids.”

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says, “The human health consequences of high fish consumption by vulnerable populations in the Anacostia River and a highly contaminant watershed are important public health issues.”

Dr. Wilson adds that there has been limited research on fish contaminants in the region, so it hasn’t been possible to establish exposure and risk assessments.

In addition to the work of the partnership, the Service is completing a report titled Analysis of Contaminant Concentrations in Fish Tissue Collected for the Waters of the District of Columbia. For this project, the Chesapeake Bay Field Office sent 38 samples of fish from Anacostia and Potomac rivers for study for contaminant concentrations. The District will use the results to update the current Public Health Advisory, which warns the public not to consume bottom feeding species and limit their consumption of other species. The report will be available in about two months according to Fred Pinkney, of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

Beyond enhancing fishing safety, understanding exposures for these populations can help with the Anacostia revitalization efforts.

The Anacostia River flows from Maryland into the District of Columbia, where it empties into the Potomac River about one mile from the U.S. Capitol. The 8.4- mile tidal river is part of a 176-square-mile watershed that is home to roughly 860,000 people as well as 43 species of fish and more than 200 species of birds. The Service’s Environmental Justice Program website can be found at

About the author: Kim Lambert has managed the Environmental Justice Program for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2001. She serves on numerous environmental justice panels and boards. In 2013, Kim received a Proclamation from the Board of Directors of the National Environmental Justice Conference, Inc.

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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Psst! Health Impact Assessments Offer New Pathways to Healthier Environments

By Aaron Wernham

It’s no secret that residents of low-income communities frequently experience serious health problems as a result of their living environments. Air pollution and substandard housing are a root cause of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Inadequate access to healthy foods increases the risk of diabetes and obesity. A growing body of research shows that a lack of economic and educational opportunity also results in poorer overall health. Seeking ways to respond to this challenge, policymakers across the country are turning to health impact assessments or HIAs.

A map of completed HIAs in the US

Click to see an interactive map of completed HIAs in the US

A health impact assessment is a fast-growing tool that helps ensure that proposed policy changes will improve health, especially in low-income and predominantly minority communities that are often disproportionately exposed to environmental risks such as air pollution and poor-quality housing. HIAs use a flexible approach that brings together public health expertise, scientific data, and input from community and other stakeholders to examine the potential health risks and benefits of key policy proposals. Based on the potential effects identified, HIAs provide practical recommendations to capitalize on opportunities to improve community health and to minimize any potential health risks before it’s too late to correct them.

HIAs can be used to inform decisions in a variety of policy areas, from transportation and housing to energy and education. A recent evaluation published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that federal, state, local, and tribal legislators, public agency officials, and many others are using HIAs to craft smarter policies that promote safer and healthier communities.


One assessment completed in 2013 gave low-income communities in North Minneapolis a voice in planning a new transit system. The Bottineau Transitway’s proposed light rail routes travel through several low-income neighborhoods where residents experience higher-than-average rates of serious health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. With that in mind, Hennepin County’s Department of Housing, Community Works, and Transit conducted an HIA alongside the project’s environmental impact statement, a study that guides county, state, and federal planning.

The assessment found that the transitway system could significantly improve health in North Minneapolis by reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, providing greater access to grocery stores and healthy food, and opening up employment and educational opportunities in other parts of the city. Based on the findings, county officials developed a set of recommended actions to maximize the transitway’s health benefits. Today these officials are increasing outreach to underrepresented minority stakeholders, promoting residential and commercial growth that will benefit low-income communities, and working to ensure that affordable housing remains available. As a result, the Bottineau Transitway will be more responsive to the community’s needs and ultimately support a healthier North Minneapolis.


Assessments carried out in Alaska beginning in 2007 to answer health questions raised by Alaska Native communities regarding proposed oil and gas and mining projects led to the use of HIAs as a routine part of the state’s permitting process. The first of these informed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) consideration of proposed oil and gas leasing in the Northeast National Petroleum Reserve. Village residents raised questions about health effects related to air quality, the potential for contamination of local fish and game (a critical source of food), and social changes related to the influx of nonresident workers.

The HIA, which was completed in 2008, brought together the tribal government and the BLM to address these concerns. Ultimately, the BLM adopted additional protections for hunting and fishing areas to protect local food sources andprovide new monitoring for pollutants in the air and food supply near villages. Collaboration among tribal governments, state and federal regulators, and health officials on this and several other HIAs between 2007 and 2009 demonstrated the value of this approach and ultimately led to the establishment of the state’s HIA program.

The secret’s out. The voices of community members, influential champions, and other stakeholders can be deployed in ways that build momentum for considering and adopting HIA recommendations. Nationwide, more than 300 HIAs have been completed or are underway in diverse communities (view them on the Health Impact Project’s interactive map), demonstrating the power of HIAs as a tool to help decision makers develop healthier communities and environments.

About the Author: Aaron Wernham, M.D., is the Director of The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is a national initiative dedicated to promoting the use of health impact assessment in the United States.

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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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.


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.


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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Preparing for a Changing Climate – Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses

By Ann Carroll


Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites – many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.

The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years – the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.


Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed? Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.


But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable – children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources – are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.

Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.


Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.

Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.


A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.

Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.


About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for over ten years. She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse. Ann is working on a doctorate in Environmental Health at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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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Clean Power, Cleaner Communities

By Jalonne White-Newsome

My daughter and I love to cook together, and one of our favorite shows is “Chopped,” where chefs come from across the country and are given 20 to 30 minutes to create an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert with a mystery basket of ingredients. This show is intriguing in that all the chefs are working with the same ingredients, but ultimately, the way they decide to transform the basket of ingredients is unique. While the Food Network was not the first thing on the minds of EPA’s rule writers, I believe the EPA is providing yet another opportunity for us to create a program that will not only be fulfilling, but enhance the quality of life for all.

At the end of July, environmental advocates across the country will be testifying at public hearings to make their voices heard about EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be produced from one of the largest sources of carbon pollution — power plants (or referred to in the plan as “electricity generating units”). This plan is the next big step in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan introduced last year, which set forth an agenda to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, build community resilience, and encourage energy efficiency.

Yes, this is a huge step forward in addressing climate change and there is a need for ALL voices to be heard, especially those of us who are disproportionately impacted by power plant emissions and numerous co-pollutants from exhaust stacks in our community. There is a need for us to not only be present at the public hearings across the country, but to start to engage with utilities, environmental agencies, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders – at the local and state levels – to ensure that equity is a major part of the state-implementation planning process for this proposed rule. Additionally, if you can’t speak at one of the public hearings, there are other ways to comment in writing. The comment period on the proposal is open until October 16, 2014, and you can click here for tips on how to effectively comment on EPA proposed rules and changes.

This rule, I believe, will be a game changer. It is a federal rule but, similar to other federal regulations that are crafted in the Beltway, the State environmental agencies have the responsibility of creating a unique ‘menu of options’ to meet state-based carbon dioxide emission goals. This ‘menu’ can include things like improving emission rates through technological upgrades from power plants, converting current coal-fired utilities to natural gas, enhancing state-level renewable energy requirements, and other options. So while having options on any menu is a good thing, it is also crucial that environmental justice and social justice advocates across the country help create the ‘best menu’ possible – at the state level – that will ensure that EVERYONE feels full and satisfied.


To understand how you can chime-in, WE ACT for Environmental Justice is hosting a webinar next Monday, July 21st to unpack the Clean Power Plan and highlight some of the key equity concerns that could arise. We know that there are many local environmental challenges that require time, energy, and resources that, quite frankly, do not leave much space to work on federal policy. However, it is my hope that environmental advocates across the country will listen in, and see how much we really have at stake if we do NOT get engaged. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan will have a local/state impact that – in one way or another – will probably touch on issues of energy, air quality, alternative fuels, civil rights, green jobs, and education which align with the work you already are engaged in.

Let us all be at the table and make sure we make the menu work for all of us. There’s a lot at stake.

About the author: Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is WE ACT’s Federal Policy Analyst, based in Washington, DC. Prior to joining WE ACT, Jalonne was the inaugural Kendall Science Fellow with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), engaging in independent research on climate change adaptation and public health. While matriculating through the Environmental Health Sciences Department at the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, her dissertation research focused on understanding the public health impacts of extreme heat events, specifically related to indoor heat exposure and how the urban-dwelling elderly adapt to hot weather.



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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There’s Something Different about the Jordan River

By Seung-min Kang

Most people are fully aware that helping out our neighbors and the environment benefits everyone and deserves recognition.  However, the thought of doing a good turn or even getting recognized for it often is not enough to attract people’s interest or ignite their sense of stewardship. If it were, people would clean up their local river after work rather than watch TV.

To raise awareness and promote community engagement in the local watershed, the Jordan River Commission (JRC), in partnership with Salt Lake County and the Center for Documentary Expression and Art (CDEA) in Salt Lake City, Utah, developed an innovative idea for a new outreach program funded by EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program. Their project offers an approach which is not only valuable in meeting water quality goals for the Jordan River Watershed, but unique in the way it captures the community’s attention and encourages their active participation.

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

The Jordan River flows west of the city, in an area populated by a number of low-income, ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in contrast with the City’s more affluent, less diverse east side. Within these neighborhoods, a quarter of the residents are school age, ranging from 5 to 19. However, the river had never been a safe and healthy place for these kids to play, nor could the community enjoy the riverfront because of continuing problems with mounting garbage and illegal dumping, as well as declining water quality.

JRC and CDEA decided to clean up this “diamond in the rough” to allow kids and their families the chance to enjoy up close and personal the beauty of a clean environment. The partnership took a unique path —  engaging neighborhood youth to positively impact water quality by increasing their awareness of the watershed and empowering them to make changes. Their 8-week long in-school Artists/Scholars-in-Residence program includes classes in environmental literature, photography, and writing. The program intentionally bucks the notion that all environmental learning programs are science-based.  Yet it introduces students to the connections between science and history, science and art, and ecology.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the JRC's website.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the website.

This is a great chance for students who are not interested in science to interact with the environment while learning new skills. In addition, student’s photographs, stories, poetry and other information are integrated into the partnerhip’s mobile website, which is accessible for many low-income residents whose only access to technology is through their cellphones.  Armed with just a smartphone, each student helps map the Jordan River trail and identify “interpretive stops” that provide information about the specific areas.  All of the spots on the trail have a numerical stop number where people can learn about each stop by typing its number into the website.

The information these students have gathered is now being made available to thousands of Salt Lake County residents to encourage them to explore the Jordan River. Moreover, people can alert officials about maintenance or water quality concerns by using the “Report an Issue” button on the website. Thus, by using popular technology, JRC and CDEA leave the door open for anyone to be involved in exploring, cleaning, and maintaining the river.

Everyone should have access to public rivers, and it is up to us to make sure that they are maintained for this generation and generations to come. This great program shows that people do care, and by empowering local students and using the right technology, JRC and CDEA are enabling affected residents to make a visible difference in their community and to take charge of protecting their watersheds.

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

About the author: Seung-min Kang is an intern in the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Water. She is from Seoul, Korea and attends Ewha Womans University, where she is studying English language and literature and plans to graduate in February 2015. Since she thought that she didn’t know anything about the environment, which is one of the critical social issues, she decided to work for EPA to challenge herself and learn. 

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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Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Environmental Justice: Majora Carter on Creative Leadership

By Sherrell Dorsey  


Click to watch video

I had the privilege of interviewing Majora Carter—the TED Talk sensation whose Greening the Ghetto presentation catapulted her work in environmental equity into global recognition and made even the most apathetic to green living consider the consequences of climate and community neglect. Carter’s public narrative and highly visible media persona represents only a small sample of how she is self-actualizing leadership in the work towards building sustainable communities one day at a time.

Charting her own path, she has set aside the proverbial soapbox for innovative entrepreneurship in environmentalism while meeting the challenges facing under-resourced communities today. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) in 2001, to do just that. SSBx played a major role in training local young residents to clean up massive areas of abandoned open space and transform it into the South Bronx Greenway, which has significantly increased the recreational space, expanded the waterfront access, and improved transportation safety in the South Bronx.

However, during this time she started to see the integral connection between the environmental injustices in the Untitled-1community, and the lack of sustainable jobs that help avoid unwanted pollution in the community. That’s why her new agenda is an endeavor that establishes a framework for financial literacy and entrepreneurship within the Hunts Point community. Carter has her sights set on eliminating the “digital divide” by dipping into the burgeoning technology sector with her new project, StartUp Box #SouthBronx.

The growing gap between the poor and rich in society has been evidenced by the digital divide—a concept that refers to a portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet.  Without access to technology, entire communities are left behind. Increasingly, computer literacy and the internet have become pathways for higher education, employment and entrepreneurship.

In the Bronx, where the median income is $34,300 (compared to $57,000 for NY State), less than 40 percent of residents have access to broadband internet. As the technology sector begins to grow, both the internet and mobile technologies provide economic development opportunities for those with the 21st century digital skills needed for the jobs that are coming.

Untitled-3With the launch of StartUp Box, Carter plans to leverage the new technology and education project to tap underutilized talents in inner cities. To do this, they have partnered with New York City-area computer games industry leaders to train local youth for quality assurance testing service jobs. This is an excellent way to train young people in jobs that will be relevant well into the 21st century, by providing them with exposure to a range of software development skills without advanced math or computer sciences education requirements.

Not only does this provide jobs to youth in areas where there may be few opportunities, but it also attracts software services businesses and other high tech investors by creating a local workforce with world-class tech, design, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship education.

Carter has established a rubric formula for creating sustainable impact that serves as a model for current and future leaders in social entrepreneurship seeking to scale their solutions to meet the needs of the communities they work in. Although she has accomplished so much to advance environmental justice, equity, and opportunity across the country, she says her work is just beginning. “We look at what is out there and not try to level the playing field. We have to get people on the field. Forget about leveling. They’re still in the parking lot. They’ve got no ticket to get into the stadium.”

Sherrell Dorsey is a writer, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Recently, Sherrell was awarded a Zoom Fellowship in public policy and serves in the office of Mayor Bill Finch in the City of Bridgeport where she leads the implementation of indoor air quality programs across the school district and coordinates the city’s green jobs task force. She contributes frequently to and Triple Pundit.


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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.