President Barack Obama

President Obama’s Proclamation on Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Earlier this month I was very excited to share President Barack Obama’s official Presidential Proclamation commemorating February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. While this may seem purely symbolic, the proclamation is much  more than a symbolic gesture.  It is a very visible statement from the White House firmly re-committing this Administration’s dedication to making sure that we, “live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.”  This commitment has been echoed throughout EPA and other agencies, and indeed the entire country during this anniversary month.

As a federal employee, I understand the important role the federal government plays in advancing environmental justice, but I also believe that the only path to a healthier and more resilient country is through the hard work and leadership of communities and individuals. This reaffirmation by the President  sets the stage for all of the U.S., states, and tribal governments to continue to work together, side-by-side, to ensure that we continue to deliver on the letter and spirit of the executive order signed 20 years ago this month.

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 12898

ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

downloadTwo decades ago, President William J. Clinton directed the Federal Government to tackle a long-overlooked problem. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and tribal areas disproportionately bore environmental burdens like contamination from industrial plants or landfills and indoor air pollution from poor housing conditions. These hazards worsen health disparities and reduce opportunity for residents — children who miss school due to complications of asthma, adults who struggle with medical bills. Executive Order 12898 affirmed every American’s right to breathe freely, drink clean water, and live on uncontaminated land. Today, as America marks 20 years of action, we renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.

Because we all deserve the chance to live, learn, and work in healthy communities, my Administration is fighting to restore environments in our country’s hardest-hit places. After over a decade of inaction, we reconvened an Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group and invited more than 100 environmental justice leaders to a White House forum. Alongside tribal governments, we are working to reduce pollution on their lands. And to build a healthier environment for every American, we established the first-ever national limits for mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

While the past two decades have seen great progress, much work remains. In the years to come, we will continue to work with States, tribes, and local leaders to identify, aid, and empower areas most strained by pollution. By effectively implementing environmental laws, we can improve quality of life and expand economic opportunity in overburdened communities. And recognizing these same communities may suffer disproportionately due to climate change, we must cut carbon emissions, develop more homegrown clean energy, and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that we are already feeling across our country.

As we mark this day, we recall the activists who took on environmental challenges long before the Federal Government acknowledged their needs. We remember how Americans — young and old, on college campuses and in courtrooms, in our neighborhoods and through our places of worship — called on a Nation to pursue clean air, water, and land for all people. On this anniversary, let us move forward with the same unity, energy, and passion to live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with programs and activities that promote environmental justice and advance a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to 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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Children’s Health Month

 By Aaron Ferster

Chidren's Health Month LogoI can’t remember exactly when I turned against the “three second rule”—that myth that the piece of food you just dropped is safe to eat as long as you retrieve it from the ground within three seconds. It was probably shortly after my own kids first started to attempt to walk and snack at the same time, another exciting, terrifying period when you feel the need to watch their every move. 

Witnessing your kid stick even one, dirt-and-leaf-covered lollipop back into their mouths after fishing it out of the playground mulch pit will convert even the most ardent three-second-rule devotee.

Picking food up from the ground, playing in dirt, exploring the world through touch and taste are a normal part of child development: they are also some of the many behaviors that may mean trouble for young children.  From an environmental health perspective, these types of behaviors may increase the risk of exposure to potentially harmful chemicals or pesticides.

What’s more, pound-for-pound children eat, drink, and breathe in more than do adults. And because their bodies are still growing and developing, children are often more vulnerable to the ill effects of environmental exposures from pesticides and other chemicals.

Keeping children safe is the focus across the government this month: Children’s Health Month. As the Proclamation released by President Obama stated earlier today:

A safe environment in which our children can live and grow is essential to their well-being. Because clean water is the foundation for healthy communities, we are working to reduce contaminants in our drinking water by updating standards and better protecting our water sources from pollution. We are also building on the successes of the Clean Air Act to improve our air quality and help decrease harmful toxins that can lead to acute bronchitis, asthma, cancer, and impaired development.

Clean water, clean air, and fewer toxins in the environment will certainly go a long way toward protecting children. EPA scientists have been working to support efforts to achieve those goals for more than four decades.

Today, EPA research is providing a better understanding of how young people at every stage of development can be exposed to harmful substances in the environment, and what those exposures might mean to their health today and well into the future.

What those scientists and their partners are learning has real impact, supplying real-world information and illuminating actions that parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, public health officials, and others can take to protect children. It’s enough to permanently retire the old three-second-rule.

We’ll be sharing stories from that work throughout the month right here on It All Starts with Science. Please check back to learn more.  

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of the “It All Starts with Science” blog, and the father of two teenage daughters. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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