EO 12898

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

By Mustafa Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rights Become Reality

By Miya Yoshitani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sam Caravello, Gen Parshalle, and Cecelia Segal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EPA’s 20th Anniversary on Environmental Justice: A Perspective on Community Work

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Reposted from EPA Connect Blog

By Mathy Stanislaus

I am excited about the 20th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 12898.  Former President Bill Clinton signed EO 12898 on February 11, 1994. I was not there, but I knew the people who were. Some of those people are no longer with us, so today I honor them.

It seems like just yesterday that I started my career right out of law and engineering school. Since that time, I have worked fervently with and for communities ensuring that they have a say in environmental decisions that affect their lives, their children’s lives, and the lives of fellow community members. The well-being of those community members is always in the front of my mind, and drives my work each day.

My foundation for working with communities started with my work on addressing issues such as solid waste facilities, Superfund sites and power plants. Through the redevelopment of brownfields, I sought to advance the renewal of New York’s low- and moderate-income communities. My experiences and the challenges I faced there generated fervor in me to press for greater consideration and inclusion of affected communities in environmental decision-making. I brought the same fervor to EPA when I came to the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response in June 2009.

Every day, I implore the people I work with to consider communities in everything they do – whether it’s permitting a facility, engaging stakeholders in the rulemaking process, or helping our state and local partners understand the importance of listening to the issues or challenges of their constituency.

I often ask myself and my staff, “What action can we take to make a community healthier and more economically sound?” That type of thinking is an important component in many recent programs and policies developed during my tenure. Brownfields’ Area-Wide Planning GrantsCommunity Engagement Initiative (CEI); Chemical Plant Safety and SecurityEnvironmental Workforce Development and Job Training Program (EWDJT); safe recycling facilities; andTechnical Assistance for Communities (TASC) are examples of this thinking.

So, as you can see, I have carried my whole-hearted commitment to serve throughout my career. In my professional life, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing people and I owe most of my successes – both personal and professional – to these people.

At EPA, we will continue to look for opportunities to create healthy, green and sustainable communities. Feel free to share any opportunities that we may be missing.

Happy 20th Anniversary to all of you!

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), leading the Agency’s land cleanup, solid waste and emergency response programs. Mr. Stanislaus is a chemical engineer and environmental lawyer with over 20 years of experience in the environmental field in the private and public sectors. He received his law degree from Chicago Kent Law School and Chemical Engineering Degree from City College of New York. 

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

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Mama Johnson: A Visionary Who Inspired Her Country

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

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

By Cheryl Johnson

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

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

Hazel (right) at the presidential signing of EO 12898

Hazel (right) at the presidential signing of EO 12898

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

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

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Former Administrator Lisa Jackson talking about the legacy of Hazel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Charles Lee

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

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

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

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

Over 100 EPA CARE Grants Have Been Awarded

Over 100 EPA CARE Grants Have Been Awarded to Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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