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 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.

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 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.

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


By Administrator Gina McCarthy

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

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

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

EPA Grant Awarded to Clean Anacostia River in Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The 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.

Dynamic Redevelopment for Everyone

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Mariposa is home to a diverse group of residents who benefit from neighborhood events, nearby amenities, and proximity to public transit. Photo courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.

By Brett VanAkkeren

Since the mid-1990s, communities have used smart growth development strategies, such as reinvesting in areas that have been neglected or abandoned, to improve the health and welfare of residents.  These strategies make fiscal sense because communities can reuse existing infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, for new construction; environmental sense because communities can clean up and reuse abandoned sites instead of paving over farms and open space; and  economic sense because new development can attract new jobs and investment.

While reinvestment can create desirable places that attract new residents, it can also displace existing residents who can no longer afford to live there. The question in underserved communities is how to grow in ways that benefit both new and existing residents.  The answer lies in equitable development.

denver light railEquitable development is the integration of environmental justice with smart growth development strategies. (See Carlton Eley’s blog post from December 18.) Ideally, the result leads to affordable housing, easy access to nearby jobs and services, affordable public transportation, the removal of environmental health hazards, access to healthy food, and safe ways to walk and bike to everyday destinations.

In Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority supported equitable development by building an affordable housing complex called the Mariposa District near a light rail station. While planning for the Mariposa project, the Authority conducted a Cultural Audit, a health Impact Assessment, a pedestrian quality audit, and three environmental design charrettes that led to intensive community involvement. These tools allowed community members to have meaningful input into decision-making in their community. Other cities can use these tools to replicate Mariposa’s success.

(Watch a video about the Mariposa District, winner of EPA’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Equitable Development.)

The 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, February 13-15 in Denver, will offer opportunities for activists, community developers, local government officials, and many others to learn how communities can integrate environmental justice approaches into smart growth and community development programs. The conference kicks off with a half-day equitable development workshop on February 13.  Tours on February 13 and 16 will take participants to see a variety of equitable development projects in the Denver area, including the Mariposa district. Several conference sessions also will focus on equitable development.

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Click to read the report

You can find other useful resources on equitable development and smart growth strategies in a report  by EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC) and Office of Environmental JusticeCreating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities:  Strategies For Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice And Sustainable Communities, as well as OSC’s Smart Growth and Equitable Development web page. Using equitable development approaches, smart growth practitioners all across the country have helped address the challenges of redevelopment in disadvantaged communities. By attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference to hear from leaders in this work, you can learn new approaches to take back to your community to help it flourish in ways that benefit everyone.

About the author: Brett VanAkkeren, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, has worked on smart growth issues at EPA for more than 15 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.

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

By Richard Moore

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Richard speaking at 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit

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

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

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NEJAC Public Comment Session

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The 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.

The Path to Sustainable Communities Starts Here!

By Camilla Warren

My first Brownfields Conference was Boston, 2004 – a chilly, wet event where my eyes were opened to the possibilities for revitalizing all brownfields: urban, rural, industrial, railyard – you name it! These sites were becoming coffee shops, farmers’ markets, community gardens, welcome centers, boutique manufacturers, indoor putt-putt courses, and on and on. Anything is possible!

But how? With what? The 2013 Brownfields Conference is one great way you and your community  can learn how to get started, keep momentum, and achieve sustainable communities.

Many classes are for those just beginning to learn about Brownfields, including sessions with small and rural communities in mind. There are also sessions for communities working to address environmental justice concerns, including job development, public health findings and improvements in Brownfields communities, and community engagement. Every session has application to environmental justice issues.

Community workday in West Atlanta

Because cleaning up Brownfields is integral to addressing pollution and poverty in low-income and minority communities, an EJ Caucus Event is planned for Wednesday evening, May 15 at the Omni Hotel. Important topics will be discussed such as EJ policy, revitalization and jobs, economic development, EJ and public health, brownfields, and sustainability. There will also be local “community champions” who will share their experiences and experts in these fields will be serving as facilitators!

Targeted Brownfields Site Assessment at University Avenue in Atlanta

You can also participate in educational sessions that show the journey communities take when revitalizing their neighborhoods. You will see how communities converted their assets into down payments on revitalization: empty theatres in Birmingham, vacant storefronts in Columbia, and land next to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta were all utilized to enhance and improve local economies and create urban greenspace. The sessions will include great local speakers who remade their communities and want to share their advice and successes to help you learn more about what you can do in your neighborhoods!

Please consider joining us at the 2013 Brownfields Conference and begin your journey!

About the author: Camilla Warren is the EPA Region 4 Revitalization Project Manager and 2013 Brownfields Conference Local Coordinator.  Camilla has over 27 years of combined project and management experience in various types of contaminated properties, including Nonpoint Source, Hazardous Waste, Federal Facilities, Brownfields, and National Priorities List sites. She currently provides revitalization support to other EPA Brownfields project managers and communities throughout the southeastern states, and has designed a number of nationally known Brownfields successes.

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.

Strong Leaders Matter

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Leadership is important. In the many years I have worked on environmental issues, I have never seen such a rapid transformation around the agency’s work on environmental justice, as I have observed under the leadership of former Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. During her tenure I have witnessed a refocusing of efforts, and a new enthusiasm throughout program offices, regions, and other federal agencies related to environmental justice.

Lisa (left), Cheryl (center) and Hazel (right)

Administrator Jackson’s video, her final as EPA Administrator, is very important for our video series commemorating the 20th anniversary of environmental justice in EPA, because she chose to talk about another great leader in the EJ movement, Hazel Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was affectionately known as the “Mother of Environmental Justice” for her tireless work in the field of social justice for over 40 years. Mrs. Johnson founded the nonprofit “People for Community Recovery” in 1979 at the Altgeld Gardens public housing development on the Southside of Chicago where she lived, in order to address the disproportionate environmental and public health impacts inside her community.

Over the last 20 years, I was privileged to meet Mrs. Johnson a number of times, and hear numerous stories about her guidance and leadership in helping to create the movement that we now call environmental justice.  She lived by the principal that communities should have the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.  One of the things I will always admire about Hazel Johnson was her enduring tenacity for creating positive transformation in communities.

As a trailblazing activist, Hazel brought national attention to EJ and inspired countless other leaders to devote their lives to these issues. In many ways, she helped shape the way we understand the relationships that exist between pollution problems, non-compatible land uses and low-income and minority communities. Because of Mrs. Johnson’s early work around “toxic doughnuts,” a term she used to define the numerous polluting facilities that encircled her community – researchers are now looking at the cumulative impacts that many neighborhoods are facing, and this represents a major shift in assessing risk.

Over the years her work touched and involved many different people, including a young community activist named Barack Obama who helped work on a project to clean up asbestos in Altgeld Gardens properties. Her work with other EJ activists lead to President Bill Clinton signing Executive Order 12898 which focuses federal attention on the environmental and human health conditions in minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.

This video underscores the importance of leaders as a part of any movement, and I want to thank both former Administrator Jackson and Hazel Johnson for their commitment to the protection, revitalization and restoration of all communities. Their legacies will continue to grow in present and future generations.

About the author: Mustafa Ali currently serves as the Associate Director for EPA’s Office of Environmental 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.

Reducing Pollution For All American Families

Originally posted on the White House Blog

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

When I first became Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I made a list of my priorities for the Agency. Working for environmental justice was at the top of that list. Ensuring equal environmental protections for all Americans is the unfinished business of the environmental movement.

It’s a simple idea – that all Americans are entitled to clean air to breathe, safe water to drink and a healthy community to raise their families – but often, it is America’s low-income and minority communities that bear the brunt of our country’s pollution.

As a result, these communities are also hit harder by the many illnesses pollution is linked to – conditions like asthma, heart disease, cancer and strokes. Studies show that minority groups face a greater risk of having asthma, and once they have it, they are at a greater risk of needing emergency treatment. African-American children are hospitalized for asthma at twice the rate of white children, and asthma-related deaths among African-American children take place at a rate of four times that of non-Hispanic white children. Hispanic children — especially of Puerto Rican descent — also face higher rates of asthma.

Dirty air, polluted water and contaminated lands not only put families at higher risks of serious and potentially costly diseases – they also discourage new developments and new jobs. Poison in the ground often means poison in the economy. Limiting the economic possibilities of low-income and minority communities only makes it harder to break the cycle of poverty.

Shortly after I was sworn in, I asked EPA employees to make environmental justice part of every decision we make. I called on the whole Agency to think creatively and work hard to make certain that our efforts reach all communities. Plan EJ 2014 – the environmental justice strategy we unveiled more than two years ago– is the tool we created for answering that call. It is aimed at ensuring that environmental justice is integrated into all of EPA’s day-to-day responsibilities – everything from permitting, compliance and enforcement, to community-based programs and the work we do with other federal agencies.

As I prepare to leave EPA, one of my last acts as administrator is issuing the Plan EJ 2014 Progress Report. The report provides ample evidence of how far we have come in making environmental justice an integral and permanent part of EPA’s day-to-day business. It also details how we have mobilized the entire federal government to incorporate environmental justice into the work each agency conducts.

For the first time in our 42 year history, we have laid the groundwork for EPA to fully implement its environmental justice mission of ensuring environmental protection for all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or income level. I am proud of the work we have started and the progress we have made, and I am confident that it will continue long after I depart.

About the author: Lisa Jackson is the outgoing Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

My Journey as a Student in Understanding and Assessing the Impacts of Pesticides

By Sonam Gill

Growing up I spent the occasional weekend with my parents and brothers on Interstate 99 driving down from the Bay Area to Selma and Visalia, Calif. to visit family.  While bickering with my older brothers in the backseat during what seemed like a never-ending car ride, all I could see to the left, right, and up ahead were agricultural fields.  But, I had not realized the extent of pesticide use across the San Joaquin Valley until I began my internship with the Environmental Justice Program at EPA’s Regional Office in San Francisco.

Throughout the Valley, which is home to nearly 700,000 residents, many communities have raised concerns about issues related to pesticide use. Pesticides are linked to a range of health affects, from no adverse health affects at all, to minor irritations of the skin and eyes, all the way up to long term effects from repeated exposure. To help better understand the intersection between pesticide use and environmental justice, I was tasked with  helping to identify vulnerable communities in the San Joaquin Valley, as measured by social vulnerability, environmental impacts, and health impacts, specifically focusing on pesticides.

San Joaquin Valley

My challenge was to use existing data to create a surrogate for determining potential exposure. I spent most of my time during the internship working collaboratively with our Pesticide Office to do just that. We refined pesticide use data for the Valley by creating a ranking approach for pesticides based on toxicity and mapped areas of high use in order to help the agency make better informed decisions regarding EPA programs and pesticide regulation.

My experience working on this project at EPA has not only enhanced my knowledge about pesticides and their use in California, but it has also provided me with an opportunity to work on a issue that I feel personally connected to because members of my immediate family live in areas of the San Joaquin Valley where pesticide use rates are some of the highest. Through our efforts on this project, incorporating community perspectives and defensible interpretations of existing data, I was able to gain valuable experience working to help provide information that is critical to informing decision-making about pesticides.

About the author: Sonam Gill joined EPA’s San Francisco Office in June 2011 as a STEP Intern, and for Fall 2011 as an Environmental Justice Eco Ambassador. She double majored at the University of California Santa Barbara in Black Studies (BA) and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (BS), and this academic year she is wrapping up a dual Master’s program (MS Environmental Management and MBA) at the University of San Francisco.  She is currently writing her Master’s thesis on the cost-effectiveness of alternatives to highly applied agricultural fumigant pesticides.

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.