Georgia

Celebrating an EPA Ethic of Public Service

In October of last year, EPA employees, along with hundreds of thousands of other federal employees, were furloughed due to a lapse in appropriations.  During the government shutdown, 94% of EPA staff was unable to do the important work that Americans depend on for a clean and healthy environment.

Our scientists and inspectors were prevented from keeping our air and water safe to breathe and drink. Vehicle certifications couldn’t be completed, industrial chemicals and pesticides couldn’t be evaluated, and hazardous waste sites couldn’t be cleaned. Small business couldn’t receive our assistance in learning about grants and loans to continue building our clean energy economy. And on a personal level, our employees and their families made tremendous sacrifices just to get by.

But through it all, I heard stories from furloughed EPA employees who volunteered in their communities, in food banks and shelters – still finding a way to give back. The stories were nothing short of amazing, which is why I’d like to share some of them. I’m so proud to work alongside the EPA community every day, including the tough ones. The creative, innovative work both inside and outside the Agency by EPA staff speaks for itself, and we’re going to continue to find ways to celebrate that work. Here’s a sample of those stories of compassion, perseverance, and volunteerism during the shutdown: More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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.

National Award for Smart Growth Achievement Comes to Atlanta

Historic Fourth Ward Park. Photo credit: Gwen Keyes Fleming

Historic Fourth Ward Park. Photo credit: Gwen Keyes Fleming

 

As a former resident of Atlanta, I was delighted to learn that the “Overall Excellence” winner of this year’s National Award for Smart Growth Achievement is the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park. This EPA award provides much-deserved recognition for a project that has cleaned up old industrial areas and transformed them into fantastic amenities for Atlanta’s residents and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. has led a collaboration between government agencies, residents, businesses, neighborhood groups, foundations, and nonprofits to clean up and repurpose 22 miles of abandoned railroad corridor around downtown Atlanta. Building the Eastside Trail and the Historic Fourth Ward Park was the first stage of this transformation.

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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.

Can One Community Organization Change an Entire City?

By Dr. LaToria Whitehead

I first met Dr. Mildred McClain as a doctorate student.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the very first conversation that I had with her regarding environmental health disparities in Savannah lead to a five year partnership between the federal government and a community-based organization.  Wearing two hats at that time, I had both a desire to increase lead testing for children in Savannah as a federal employee, and as a student I wanted to understand how an environmental justice organization could accomplish this task. Working with Dr. McClain in this partnership powerfully changed my perspective on how to do both.

Untitled-2Dr. McClain was the founder and director for the Harambee House Inc./Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ). She has been a human rights activist for over 40 years and she initially started the Savannah-based organization as a small focus group in 1991 to fight on behalf of a local subdivision built on contaminated site.  Eventually CFEJ would bring justice and awareness, both locally and nationally, about issues from chemical industries to food deserts to job development.

Like many EJ organizations CFEJ began with a sentiment of moral obligation to the community,  but there is something very special about how this organization works.  As a student, I was a bit naïve about the process of engaging communities. Working with CFEJ, I witnessed how she effectively engaged with the community and listened and responded to their concerns. I was able to see how her hard work and passion led to the trust, respect, and admiration of the Savannah community for Dr. McClain.

She was also very kind and considerate, and brought me along for the journey. I witnessed politicians opening their doors to her, and because I accompanied her, they spoke with me as well. Community leaders and people who resided in these communities their entire lives embraced me and talked with me, a complete stranger, because of her. As a result of the partnership there was an increased awareness about childhood lead poisoning and an increase in the number of children that were tested for high blood lead levels. There was also a new awareness among politicians about a lead ordinance in Savannah, which has been on the books since 1973, and a political taskforce was created by CFEJ to ensure that the ordinance is sufficiently enforced.

As a student, these experiences would forever change my understanding and approach to environmental justice from learning side-by-side with a real EJ champion. There is a multifaceted approach to achieving what we all call environmental justice.  Alongside this approach, comes trust, respect, honor, knowledge, empowerment, long days and long nights.  This description is not only symbolic of environmental justice, but it also embodies the character of Dr. McClain. After interviewing many people in Savannah, the common theme of all of these conversations was about how enlightenment and empowerment from CFEJ helped change their communities.  Among many other lessons, I’ve learned that trust and relationships are fundamental in the EJ world. Thank You, Dr. McClain.

About the AuthorDr. LaToria Whitehead is an Environmental Justice Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. She’s also an adjunct professor of Political Science for Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

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.