Plan EJ 2014

20/20 Vision: Inspiring Us to Act

By Jalonne White-Newsome

I’ve been wearing glasses since the age of five because my vision has always been pretty bad.  So I was surprised when my eye doctor told me during my last exam that my vision had actually improved and my eyes were getting stronger! I was shocked because I assumed my vision would get worse as I got older.  But, luckily, that was not the case.

While my physical eyesight has improved over time, my view and perspective about environmental protection and public health have changed as well.

When I worked as an engineer at a chemical manufacturing facility, located adjacent to a low income community of color in Texas, I saw the importance of environmental regulations, and I also saw the need for compliance and enforcement to protect communities that had been dumped on for years.  My vision sharpened when I moved on to work in state government, where I organized environmental justice meetings to foster multi-stakeholder conversations about re-building trust between government and citizens, and working to develop holistic, participatory solutions to solve complex environmental and economic challenges.  Later, as a public health researcher who used science and tools to unpack the cumulative impacts of climate change, poverty, and disease on the elderly, my vision became clearer again.

Little did I know that almost every element of my work at the state and local level to protect public health and the environment was shaped by EPA’s agenda.  Whether it was recognizing the importance of compliance and enforcement, building trust between government and communities, or using research to inform policy and advocacy, these elements – and many more – continue to be critical pieces of EPA’s agenda and the agenda of many advocates working for environmental justice across this country.

Now, as an environmental justice advocate who works on federal policy, I have learned the importance of vision.  EPA has a vision that’s 20/20.  What is laid out in its draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda Framework (currently out for public comment) builds on the accomplishments of Plan EJ 2014 to carve a vision for the work that will continue through the next five years.

But most importantly, EJ 2020 is about moving this vision to reality.  EPA’s vision has been sharpened by its experience with environmental justice leaders across this country who have continued to engage, participate, criticize, and push the Agency to work to eliminate the environmental injustices that persist in communities across this country.

It is time to be clear that the expectations from communities are greater. Affected communities must be engaged early in the game. Agency actions must include an adequate EJ analysis. All programs and efforts should be transparent and evaluated through a collaborative process with multiple partners.  The vision of this Administration and the EPA must be clear.

The time is now that the “frames” that seek justice – Executive Order 12898, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EPA’s guidance on considering environmental justice in rulemaking, EJSCREEN, and soon, EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda – will allow the Agency to implement the priorities laid out in EPA’s draft framework.

The vision is clear and we know what we need to further environmental justice. EJ 2020 – coupled with intentional community engagement and accountability – is the framework that can get us there.

About the author:  Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is the Director of Federal Policy for WE ACT for Environmental Justice.  She is based in Washington, DC.

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-State Collaboration Expands Opportunity for Shared Results

by John Linc Stine

Addressing inequities so that all citizens can pursue healthy and fulfilling lives is one of our most important jobs in public service. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has challenged state agencies in Minnesota to reduce disparities in all areas of public services and outcomes. As Commissioner of the state’s environmental agency, I have made it my mission to embed the principles of environmental justice into all aspects of the work we do now and in the future.

In Minnesota, we are fortunate to live in a state with a healthy natural environment that contributes to a high quality of life. This is due in large part to a long history of shared responsibility and action by all areas of society in our state to build and support healthy ecosystems and healthy communities, and responsive industries and a strong economy. However, we know not everyone has benefited equally. In Minnesota, as around the rest of our country, significant and unacceptable disparities exist between middle and upper income people and lower income residents and people of color and Native Americans. This includes gaps in educational and economic achievement and health outcomes.

For too long, many of us in government talked about injustices of the past and present without following up and putting our words into action. EPA’s renewed commitment to action and results about environmental justice has helped to revitalize efforts in Minnesota that had been simmering on the back burner. The ambitious and comprehensive foundation laid by the work of EPA’s Plan EJ 2014 not only advanced integration of environmental justice into federal programs; it also helped to stimulate and strengthen our own efforts by showing leadership, providing tools, and sharing experiences. EJ 2020’s emphasis on collaboration with states and other co-regulators will expand the opportunity for shared learning among states and the EPA – something I believe will only help strengthen our individual efforts.

In Minnesota, we are working to integrate environmental justice into all of our programs, using our expertise and resources to target our work where it will have the greatest effect in reducing past harm and preventing future harm. For example, in Minneapolis, we are piloting an initiative to engage and collaborate with significant air emission sources and community members to identify opportunities to improve air quality and address community concerns. We also are increasing our air monitoring in potentially overburdened communities around the state to better understand disproportionately impacted areas.  Our draft framework can be found at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/gp0r2d.

As we adjust the practices of our programs and capacity to address environmental justice needs, we are benefiting from the experiences of EPA, its Chicago regional office, and other states with more mature programs than our own.  We will do better work in this area by sharing knowledge.

EPA’s work is closely aligned with our approaches and goals in Minnesota. While we share many of the same goals, we bring different strengths and resources to bear that complement each other. For example, with more local knowledge and existing relationships with municipal governments and community groups, states are often in a better position to facilitate community engagement and support community-based efforts to advance environmental justice. With more resources for policy analysis, tools development, and scientific research, EPA fulfils an important role where individual states may have less capacity. The development of EJSCREEN is an example of this role. In these ways, EPA and MPCA can complement each other, moving us both toward our goals more efficiently.

As EJ 2020 takes shape, we look forward to working with EPA and other states to learn from each other and leverage our unique capacities to reduce disparities and improve quality of life for all.

About the author: John Linc Stine is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and chairs the Environmental Council of the States’ Air Committee.

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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EJ2020: Defining New Goals for the coming years

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Realizing environmental justice for all people, regardless of their race, income or educational status is a long journey. It will not come overnight, but EPA made an important step forward recently with Plan EJ 2014. That five-year strategic plan laid a foundation for integrating environmental justice in EPA’s programs by developing basic guidance in rulemaking, permitting and enforcement, and basic tools such as EJ Legal Tools and EJSCREEN. Now it is time to build on this foundation and expand collaborations with our partners toward making a bigger difference in the overburdened communities we serve.

That is why we are developing EJ 2020, our next strategy to advance environmental justice in EPA’s programs. EJ2020 will:

  • Deepen environmental justice practice within EPA programs
  • Strengthen our collaborations with partners
  • Demonstrate progress on outcomes that matter to communities

Today, we start community and stakeholder engagement on EJ 2020. We are already learning from the initial input on areas that we have yet to fully address. By engaging our partners at the state, tribal, local, and federal levels we’ve developed ideas like integrated and area-wide planning, green infrastructure, and advanced environmental monitoring. They’ve helped us understand the need to meet the challenge of climate change, and ways to demonstrate progress that matters to communities.

We have heard from local governments who have identified best practices in how they are addressing environmental justice. Communities from Santa Barbara, California to Bridgeport, Connecticut are coming up with solutions in areas such as green infrastructure, brownfields, climate adaptation, health disparities, reducing air emissions from the movement of freight, and issues in rural communities.

We are benefiting from everyone’s robust experience learned over several decades of work.

There are a number of powerful examples of what can happen when collaborative partnerships come together between federal, state, and local governments, communities, and other stakeholders. One of those inspiring stories is the Salt Lake City Children’s Environmental Health & Environmental Justice Initiative which is working with nine neighborhoods in central and west Salt Lake City, Utah. This project brought together more than a dozen local, state, and community-based organizations with the purpose of making a visible difference in their communities. They designed a unique community engagement model to fit the needs of the neighborhoods, created a profile report characterizing community environmental and health concerns, and created an environmental data map for the West Side community. This work has allowed the community to play an important role in the design of the West Salt Lake Master Plan. As a result of the community’s active participation in the process, they have been able to increase attention on:

  • Supporting/funding community initiated ideas through the Community Implementation grants
  • Creating increased mobility and transit use options through a city-wide discount transit pass
  • Aligning city and school district opportunities through a Community Learning Center Strategy
  • Increasing understanding of affordable housing choices through a Housing needs assessment

By honoring the culture of a community and including their voices and ideas in the planning process, we can create healthier and more vibrant communities and truly make a visible difference that is rooted in the values and priorities of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

This effort shows how critical it is for EPA to strengthen our collaborations with the communities we serve, our government partners, and all stakeholders. We hope that everyone committed to achieving the goals of environmental justice will work with us to produce a vision and plan for EJ 2020 that is relevant to the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Several years ago, I learned that we cannot solve all the intractable problems associated with environmental justice right away, especially during a period of rising demands and dwindling resources. I am reminded of the old adage that if it was so simple, it would have been solved a long time ago. Therefore, we must be strategic. We need your best thinking about key things we should focus on to most effectively and realistically advance our common goal of achieving beneficial outcomes for our most overburdened communities.

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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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 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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