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

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

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPA Continues Support for Local Preparedness/Prevention Activities

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

In 2014, after several catastrophic chemical facility incidents, I represented EPA as a Tri-Chair for the creation of The Report for the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, to recognize the central role of local community preparedness to advance safety of chemical plants. Local communities – working through Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) – are the lynchpin to advancing safety of chemical plants, as well as other hazards such as the transport of chemicals and oil by rail. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), these local and state organizations receive information from more than 400,000 chemical plants about the volumes and hazards of chemicals. (This contrasts with the 12,500 chemical plants that we have direct oversight through the Risk Management Planning Program.) They then have the responsibility to analyze the information and develop plans for the safety of their communities from chemical plant accidents, working with local community members and organizations, as well as representatives from the chemical plants.

Enhancing Local Planning under EPCRA

To strengthen local planning efforts, we released a new guide for LEPCs that encourages collaboration through outreach to facilities, illustrating the importance of public safety and the need to comply with EPCRA, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent chemical accidents. This guide discusses the requirements of the EPCRA, roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in local preparedness efforts, how to develop an emergency response plan, tools for planning and response, and how to enhance community engagement and public access to information. LEPCs and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) play a key role in meeting the goals of EPCRA.

Public Engagement

We also recognize that members of the public have a role to play in assisting the LEPC or TEPC to understand the unique needs of the community regarding communication about the chemical risks and emergency response procedures. For example, individuals with special medical needs, such as the elderly, disabled/handicapped, children, and those with transportation challenges. Tailoring outreach to meet the specific considerations of the local community enables effective participation in the planning process and an efficient response to ensure safety of the public.

LEPCs and TEPCs notify the public of their activities and hold public meetings to discuss the emergency plan with the community, educate the public about chemical risks, and share information on what is to be done during an emergency (i.e., evacuation or shelter-in-place). LEPCs and TEPCs ensure procedures are in place for notifying the public when a chemical accident occurs (via reverse 911 or other system) and that the public understands what to do when they receive that information.
We’re also working with industry associations to develop and distribute similar communications to plant managers and process safety officials to clarify their role and responsibilities in engaging LEPCs and communities in emergency preparedness and response planning efforts. Efforts focusing on community involvement, evacuation and shelter-in-place planning, environmental justice issues, and vulnerable populations are critical to enhancing chemical facility safety, for both employees and the surrounding communities. It takes engagement from all partners to make an impactful change and increase chemical facility safety for those working in and living around hundreds of thousands of chemical plants around the nation.

While we are aware of extensive engagement in communities throughout the nation to collectively address the issues mentioned above, we recognize that there are communities where industry, government, and community partners would benefit from support from the EPA in strengthening their local efforts. I understand this importance and encourage communities to utilize existing tools and resources to work together to achieve local goals.

Tools and Resources

To assist state, tribal, and local agencies in collecting, managing, and using this information, we worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO). CAMEO (http://www2.epa.gov/cameo) is a system of software applications used to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. CAMEO assists chemical emergency planners and responders to access, store, and evaluate information critical for developing emergency plans. CAMEO is updated frequently to address needs raised by users throughout the nation. The most recent upgrades will help support local communities and first responders in their planning efforts.

Together, we can work to continue to strengthen the preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities. We are committed to continuing our support to all of you working every day to protect human health and the environment.

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

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

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

Giving Grants to Make a Difference

By Sheila Lewis

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

EJ_Collage_Pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refining Environmental Justice

Matt Tejada Matt Tejada

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we do.

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

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

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

Meaningful Implementation Requires Meaningful Involvement

By Tom B.K. Goldtooth

About the Author:  Tom B. K. Goldtooth is the Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, formed in 1990 to address environmental and economic justice issues.  Mr. Goldtooth is Diné and Dakota, and, since the late 1980s, has been involved with environment related issues and programs, working within tribal governments and grassroots communities to develop indigenous-based environmental protection infrastructures, and with indigenous peoples worldwide to address environmental and climate justice concerns.


 

Aerial view

One year ago this month, EPA released its Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples . “All tribal and indigenous communities deserve environmental and public health protection,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Indian Country Today. “… [EPA is] reinforcing [its] commitment to tribal communities, especially in addressing issues of Environmental Justice.”

In the years preceding EPA’s new tribal/indigenous policy, there was no framework in place to facilitate building consensus between Tribes, industry, and threatened Indigenous communities and members.

EPA’s improved approach to implementing Executive Order 12898 with tribal officials and Indigenous peoples is a significant step in the right direction. Specifically, the policy outlines the importance of “… early meaningful involvement opportunities for federally recognized tribes, indigenous peoples, and others living in Indian country, at all stages of Agency activity, including the development of public participation activities, the administrative review process, and any analysis conducted to evaluate environmental justice issues.”

Containing 17 principles, the policy is simple to understand and straightforward in outlining how EPA will engage and make decisions based on input from tribal governments, Indigenous peoples, and others living in Indian country.

So, how will this new policy improve environmental justice for Tribes and Indigenous peoples?

Environmentally and culturally harmful practices of extractive industries (e.g. mining of uranium, coal, metals, and other natural resources) on tribal trust lands and traditional indigenous territories has and will continue to be a particular environmental justice concern. Therefore, EPA’s expansion of public involvement and working with “key points of contact in affected communities” is important.  This requires meaningful dialogue and participation of tribal traditional cultural practitioners, spiritual leaders, and community members working on the frontlines for environmental justice and to protect treaty rights.

Collaborative Problem-Solving Meeting with Tribal Government Officials, Indigenous Peoples, EPA and other stakeholders - Fort Berthold, North Dakota

Collaborative problem-solving meeting with Tribal government officials, Indigenous peoples, EPA, and other stakeholders at Fort Berthold, North Dakota.

Under this policy, Indigenous community members can take advantage of various forms of conflict resolution (including “tribal and indigenous peoples’ traditional consensus building and decision-making practices…”) to work with EPA to address threats to the environment and human health in Indian country and other areas of interest to Tribes and Indigenous peoples.

EPA’s technical assistance and guidance can help communities and citizens participate effectively in government outreach and public participation processes, and effect positive environmental justice outcomes. The more that tribal officials, grassroots organizations, indigenous community members, and others living in Indian country, engage with each other, the more likely indigenous social, economic, cultural, and spiritual interests will be preserved and enhanced for future generations.

This new policy was years in the making. Since the 1990s, our network’s frontline communities have called for these policy changes.  Throughout the process, EPA consulted with tribes and engaged many tribal members and Indigenous organizations in an effort to develop a policy that could help improve the protection of the environment in Indian country.

Even though there are challenges, Indigenous peoples and grassroots organizations, as well as tribal representatives, are encouraged to work with EPA to effectively implement the policy to help provide solutions to current environmental problems, protect our sacred sites, and avoid destruction of the natural systems that sustain all life on Mother Earth.

We must be sure to move forward with this policy in a way that:

  • Emphasizes implementation processes for meaningful participation of tribal members and indigenous communities and organizations
  • Improves relationships between federally recognized tribes and government agencies and between other Indigenous peoples and government agencies
  • Provides effective environmental, ecosystem, and public health protection
  • Protects Indigenous lifeways and treaty rights

EPA representatives and I will discuss Implementing EPA’s Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, at the Tribal Lands and Environment Forum on August 19 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Come join us.

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

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

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

County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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

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

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

Transforming Reflections into Action: Civil Society and Human Rights

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (source: US Mission Geneva)

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (source: US Mission Geneva)

By Danny Gogal

For the second time in nearly five years, the United States reported to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council about its work to provide for human rights in the U.S.  In May, EPA was a part of the U.S. Delegation that traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to present information about the ways the U.S. has been implementing the more than 170 recommendations received from the council during the U.S.’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session, held in 2010.

The presentation was preceded by the U.S government’s UPR report that was submitted to the council in February 2015.  For the first time, the report included a section about the environment, which highlights U.S work on addressing the causes and impacts of climate change.

U.S. Delegation for 2015 UPR (courtesy US Geneva Mission website).

U.S. Delegation for 2015 Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland (courtesy US Geneva Mission website).

During the May session, the U.S. delegation also received more than 340 additional recommendations from approximately 120 countries, including recommendations focusing on the need for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improved farmworker safety, improved water and sanitation services, and protection of indigenous lands and sacred sites.

Preparing for review and receiving recommendations also creates a unique opportunity for national governments to engage directly in dialogue with civil society on their own human rights record.  As part of that process, the U.S. also held a consultation on May 11 for American non-governmental organizations, during which environmental issues played a more prominent role.  Many groups raised concerns about climate change and hazardous waste cleanups.  The EPA representatives talked about how the Agency’s Clean Power Plan proposed rule and various EPA cleanup programs stand to address some concerns of communities with environmental justice issues.

"We believe that every nation benefits from having a mirror held before it.  Every nation has challenges, and can reach greater heights by participating seriously in the UPR.  This process provides us the vital opportunity to self-assess, to listen to others, and to more effectively address the concerns of individuals in our country." -- Opening Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper, U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

“We believe that every nation benefits from having a mirror held before it. Every nation has challenges, and can reach greater heights by participating seriously in the UPR. This process provides us the vital opportunity to self-assess, to listen to others, and to more effectively address the concerns of individuals in our country.” — Opening Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper, U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

The U.S. government is again seeking to engage civil society and is hosting a UPR town hall meeting on Monday, July 20, to seek input about which of the new recommendations the U.S. should support in the current UPR cycle. The consultation also will provide an opportunity to discuss the process for considering the recommendations.  The town hall consultation is scheduled from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, at the George Marshall Center, Main State Department Building, in Washington, D.C.  Please RSVP to: UPR2015@state.gov.

Established with the creation of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, the UPR is a peer review mechanism in which each UN member state is engaged in a dialogue about its human rights record.  The process provides an opportunity for all UN member states to discuss their own human rights records in an open, international forum. It also allows for the sharing of best practices and recommendations.

The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice has the lead for facilitating the Agency’s implementation of the human rights treaty recommendations pertaining to the protection of the environment and public health.  I look forward to working with those individuals and organizations interested in the implementation of the U.S. government’s accepted UPR recommendations.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background.  He is currently serving as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreements, and has been working on tribal and indigenous peoples environmental policy and environmental justice issues for the past 28 years.  He is the Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, and has worked in various capacities for the Agency’s environmental justice program over the past twenty-three years.

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

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

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

Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Gina McCarthy Gina McCarthy
Kenneth F. Hackett Kenneth F. Hackett

Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change.  He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.

As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most.  No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.

Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana.  The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.

The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.

For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation.  Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems.  When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.

A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat.  We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.

President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis.  When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.

That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation.  Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do.  We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.

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

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

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

Strength in Numbers: Tackling Environmental Challenges By Collaborating with the Neighbors Next Door

by Johnny DuPree

Rural communities in Mississippi face a seemingly insurmountable number of challenges to gaining access to a variety of resources. Access to healthcare and infrastructure is particularly difficult. In 2009, nearly one in five Mississippians lacked health insurance.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Mississippi has the highest rate of heart disease and cancer deaths in the country, and also ranks among the top for stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease related deaths.  Mississippians are extremely vulnerable to environmental and public health issues, and are at high risk for going without the basic necessities required for healthy lifestyles. Furthermore, the wide range of extreme weather events, most notably Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2008 flooding of the Mississippi River, has compounded the difficulties many individuals already face throughout the state.

Affordability is the main issue that plagues most rural Mississippi communities.  Community projects that require hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars are challenging at best, nearly impossible at worst. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that members of communities where the median income level for a family of four barely reaches $25,000, do not have the ability to meet the basic needs required for healthy lifestyles. Healthy food, access to health care, updated infrastructure, and uncontaminated water supplies are essential to every community, but are also very costly for many small Mississippi towns to tackle on their own.

The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors has committed to the cause of environmental protection and economic stability for all communities. The formation of a network of more than 40 mayors with health care providers, private businesses, entrepreneurs, local legislators, and community members, has created an atmosphere of collaboration that promotes innovative ways of dealing with these challenges.  The backbone of this regional collaboration is that there is strength in numbers – that the issues facing these communities cannot be solved by a single town alone.

Our regionalized approach has allowed for the swapping and sharing of ideas, practices, resources, and strategies across communities.  Communities are beginning to pool resources that provide water, waste control, food, and electricity resources to all residents.  Take for example my city, the City of Hattiesburg, where we have agreed to share trucks and other similar resources with neighboring towns to facilitate the transport of needed materials. Other towns have committed to sharing water infrastructure to serve areas that are particularly isolated.  The Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors created Surplus Donation, a new initiative that allows for donations of surplus items between “active member mayor cities.”

Part of our action plan focuses on increasing community awareness and education about environmental issues in the state of Mississippi.  Others have taken notice of our successful collaboration. In 2014, the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors received a $1.4 million EPA grant to reduce lead exposure and mitigate the negative impacts of old, inadequate housing stock for low-income, minority families and children throughout the Mississippi Delta.  With the funding provided by EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreements Program, the MCMB will create a network of African American mayors, health care providers, and community members to develop a “Lead Contamination Action Plan” that will help to identify the homes that have significant exposures, work with area health care facilities to test children’s toys and clothing for lead residue, and develop and implement lead abatement measures.

This effort includes identifying and reducing sources of environmental health and safety risks across rural Mississippi communities. One well-documented example stems from the clustering of Mississippi’s swine concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) in low-income, minority communities—and the negative health impacts that accompany them. The waste from large-scale industrial hog farming can contain pathogens, poisonous heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can reach nearby homes and drinking water sources. To make matters worse, the odors and fumes from the hog waste often drift to nearby communities, carrying with it respiratory and eye irritants including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Location and demographics should not prevent anyone from gaining the same access to important resources.  Rural Mississippi towns have found that resource pooling enables small, rural communities the opportunity to receive the utilities they need at a more reasonable cost.  We believe that if you can help people in Mississippi, you can help anyone in the United States. We have all of the issues here in Mississippi, if you can solve them here, you can solve them everywhere.

About the Author: Johnny Dupree, President of the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors, has served as Mayor of the City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi since 2001.  Prior to that, he served 10 years as a member of the Forrest County [MS] Board of Supervisors.

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

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

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

A Promise Fulfilled: Environmental Justice at work in Spartanburg, SC

Gina McCarthy Gina McCarthy

I just got back from visiting Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city of 180,000 and a national leader on environmental justice issues. Back in 1997, the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright on the south side of the city were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields, and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals. But local resident Harold Mitchell was determined to improve the quality of life for his family and community and set out to address the root of the problems.

Mitchell went door to door, letting folks know about the health concerns they faced, and founded ReGenesis, a community organization committed to environmental justice in Spartanburg. In 1997, ReGenesis was awarded an Environmental Justice small grant of $20,000 from EPA. Over time, the city, county, state, and federal government agencies got involved—and since then, Spartanburg has turned that grant into more than $270 million in investments in the community.

Today, community health centers, affordable housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center stand because of the collaborative efforts the Superfund and Brownfields programs, the community and a host of local partners. A solar generation facility is being planned where an old chemical plant once stood. New mixed-use housing has replaced old, unsafe stock. Community members have been trained in asbestos abatement—and they’ve found work not just in Spartanburg, but in Virginia, where they helped renovate the Pentagon, and in New Orleans, where they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

I had the chance to meet Harold Mitchell—now a South Carolina state representative—and visited the former Superfund and Brownfield sites with Mayor Junie White, and other county officials.

After seeing these dramatic changes for myself, I heard from the community leaders who made it happen. We met inside the new community center—a major investment in the quality of life of Spartanburg residents. It was incredible to see what they’ve achieved by putting the community in charge of its own destiny.

Spartanburg is a shining beacon of what’s possible when folks impacted by community decisions have a seat at the table. As the Superfund program celebrates 35 years of revitalizing communities, I was thrilled to celebrate such an amazing success story because at the core of EPA’s mission is the belief that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the right to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

That said, we’ve still got work to do. Too often, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by pollution and health risks. Those same communities are vulnerable to the devastating floods, fires, storms and heat waves supercharged by climate change.

To make matters worse, the carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause chronic disease and chase away local businesses and jobs. Power plants, our biggest source of carbon pollution, are often located in these areas, casting their shadow over communities already vulnerable to environmental health hazards.

That’s why EPA is doubling down on efforts to fulfill the promise of environmental justice. Spartanburg’s success helped us develop a collaborative problem-solving program for vulnerable communities, helping communities give a voice to those who’ve too often been left out of important planning decisions.

EPA recently released EJScreen, a tool that lets anyone see the pollution burden in their neighborhoods, and explore how various decisions could improve their quality of life. We’ve also awarded more than 1,400 EJ small grants to date, and we’ll continue to give local communities the training and expertise they need to address pollution challenges.

And this summer, we’re finalizing a Clean Power Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants. Under our standards, our nation will avoid more than 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in 2030—and will protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

Last week in Charleston, President Obama gave a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of this month’s tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church and a champion for Spartanburg’s revitalization, as well as renewable energy, in the South Carolina Senate. Speaking to Rev. Pinckney’s legacy, the President called on all Americans to fulfill the promise of a more equal, more just society.

By putting environmental justice at the heart of what we do, EPA is responding to that call.

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

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

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