Planting the Seeds of Change: how youth involvement feeds families and promotes environmental justice across the country

IMG_7300

About the Author: Maya Bernstein Schalet is a youth organizer with the youth-led nonprofit New York 2 X Coalition, a network of young people working together to combat environmental and food injustice through urban farming and community organizing. She attends Wesleyan University and works for the Green Belt Movement.

As a high school organizer with New York 2X Coalition (NY2X), it was challenging to successfully coordinate a non-profit organization while also being a full time student. After meeting Matthew Tejada, the Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, I felt reinvigorated because, in speaking candidly about the environmental injustices facing communities across the United States, he urged us to take action to protect and improve our communities.

NY2X is a youth-led organization that mobilizes individuals across New York City to take on local environmental challenges. Leadership is passed down annually from generation to generation. Every year, we organize service trips that support sustainable solutions to environmental challenges in New York City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Albuquerque.

IMG_1107

Far too often, low-income communities of color are burdened by sites such as sewage treatment plants, factories, and garbage dumps, which pollute the water, air, and land. The neighborhoods in New Orleans, Albuquerque, and North Philadelphia where we work are all predominantly low-income, minority neighborhoods where fancy health food stores and green spaces like parks and gardens are rare. Through our work, we support these neighborhoods by working on urban farms and building green spaces.

Urban farms are places where community members can take control of their health and the health of their environment. The EPA hosts similar programs, such as the Urban Environmental Program or the Brownfields Community Supported Agriculture initiatives, which strive to enhance the quality of life for urban residents by building community capacity through urban agriculture projects.

10418276_787399511312208_7603008310760812222_n

With these types of programs, people can grow their own food and turn fallow land into thriving green space. Additionally, urban farms serve as centers for community organizing. If one feels empowered by taking control of what they eat and the health of their environment, they can be empowered in many other ways to work for their communities in positive ways.

11850705_10204692876186139_506363181331348786_oOn any given day during a service trip, you could find us composting, harvesting, weeding, painting, or doing maintenance on the farm. In addition to making the environment a cleaner, healthier place to live, these jobs teach participants that it is possible to take real action to solve huge issues like food inequity. Our participants learn, while toiling over the compost pile and dividing a field of dirt into neat rows, that change is possible with determination and teamwork. We see with our own eyes that it’s possible for empty lots to become gardens that provide healthy food, employment opportunities, and safe community spaces to neighborhoods that are too often ignored by those in power.

IMG_7076It is extremely important to us that our participants understand the connection between urban farming and social justice, so the organizers lead social justice workshops every day with a heavy emphasis on how food injustice and environmental injustice relate to other social injustices.

We discuss how low income and minority communities disproportionally bear the burden of these environmental harms. And we strive to improve these situations by supporting local communities in identifying ways to make change and which methods will create a just society.

IMG_7075

By the end of one of our trips, each participant is equipped with both a deep knowledge of injustice and the tools to make a difference. Everyone involved in these projects plays a beneficial role, whether it be the youth leader or the community member, in helping to educate others. And in the end, I truly believe that it is the cross-generational collaboration that these projects inspire that is key to creating a sustainable model for achieving environmental justice today and tomorrow.

10405572_10203809256505554_4809953957953204648_n copy

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.

A Recipe for Building Resilient Communities

About the Author: Elise Trelegan attended Hampshire College, where she studied photography and collaborative art, as well as fisheries conservation. She has worked with the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. as well as the National Park Service. She currently works as the Marketing & Development Coordinator for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station.

STAR Interns (002)

SEA S.T.A.R. (Students Teaching and Researching) Interns at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station

What happens when you bring together middle, high school and college students, researchers, local families, and community members on a beautiful day along Virginia’s Chincoteague Bay, in a town that lies just two feet above sea level?  If you’re thinking a beach party, well, you’re not totally wrong.

This past June the organization I work for, Chincoteague Bay Field Station (CBFS), hosted its first of a series of community action days. This initiative of the Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge (SPARK) Living Shoreline Project brings together the community to learn about ways to adapt to climate justice issues like sea level rise, extreme storm events, and other climate-related changes.  These issues can have a detrimental impact on coastal economies by harming the tourism industry and forcing human displacement. These impacts are magnified when communities are not prepared, which is why it is important that we host such events.

These efforts, funded by an EPA Environmental Education Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have helped us establish Accomack County, Virginia’s first-ever living shoreline. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, living shorelines are the result of applying erosion control measures that include a suite of techniques which can be used to minimize coastal erosion and maintain coastal processes.  Minimizing erosion in a community that sits just a few feet above sea level is critically important. With extreme storm events like Hurricane Sandy and Super Storm Irene, small low-income communities like Greenbackville, Virginia are most likely to catch the brunt of the damage.

Communities work to restore the shoreline along Virginia's Chincoteague Bay.

Communities work to restore the shoreline along Virginia’s Chincoteague Bay.

But, it’s not just staff like me from the non-profit who are pushing this effort forward. Many activities at the site are youth-led. All of the projects completed during the community action day were researched and organized by a group of undergraduate students and recent graduates. With the help of a few dozen high school students, local families, and other community members, we were able to implement all of the shoreline improvements such as oyster castle installation which uses reefs formed by oysters to create protective shore barriers.

One of the best parts about this projects was that I witnessed the participatory model of environmental justice – students and families of all backgrounds were able to meaningfully engage in all facets of the project. In particular, the SPARK Living Shoreline Team families came from across racial, socio-economic, and cultural lines, many of whom will be most affected by climate change. By using green techniques for mitigating coastal erosion, CBFS hopes to use their Living Shoreline as a buffer to the residential community and to model practices and collaborative partnerships that can be replicated on other properties.

Over the course of the next year, this cadre of local families will monitor the effects of the community action day projects to determine the success of the actions. SPARK families are challenged to think critically about their place in the environment – geographically, culturally, and financially – and work together to create community solutions.

Community members learn invaluable skills regarding climate adaptation and resiliency.

Community members learn invaluable skills regarding climate adaptation and resiliency.

CBFS will continue to host seven more community action days and more than 800 students will visit the Living Shoreline to complete service learning projects and learn about building resilient communities in the face of environmental changes.  These activities take students and families through the full continuum of environmental education – from critical thinking activities, team-based problem solving, and environmental stewardship.

The community action day projects have taught me so much, not only about the importance of restoring the shoreline to mitigate climate impacts, but also the importance of working with those who will be most affected by those impacts. And so, I am thrilled to be able to continue to work alongside the Greenbackville community to restore our essential shoreline while incorporating valuable education in the process of putting environmental justice into practice to protect our communities and make them stronger, more resilient places to live.

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.

Young Environmental Leaders in Action: What will they do?

2010-07-27_EJPlenary_001

By Kevin Olp

There is such a thing as being too late – and when it comes to environmental injustices and climate change, that time could nearly be upon us. But, thankfully, there are young people who care very much about our future.

As I travel across the country, I am constantly inspired by the passions of young people who know that if we act now, if we plan for the future rather than our short-term interests, then we will not run out of time.

To me, this fervor is not surprising as this generation of young people is truly the first to feel the growing effects of climate change among many other long prevailing issues with pollution and ecological degradation. As a result, young people are acutely aware of these impacts not only upon the natural environment but also for the people who bear the burdens of an increasingly destabilized and intensifying climate.

I am renewed with hope when I speak to young people about their passions because I see that they seem to intuitively understand that at the intersection of social equity and climate change sits environmental justice; a movement defined by progress, passion and an unending dedication to protect and revitalize the most vulnerable communities across our country.

2011-06-24_UrbanWaters_007What I find truly most remarkable however is how young people are creatively constructing new solutions for these problems – despite the fact that they did not create them. And that’s why it’s so important for us to harness their voice, their passion, and their energy. I know that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy shares my sentiments as she has stressed on numerous occasions that “if we really want to acknowledge the fact that we’re doing this for our kids and it’s all about them, it’s certainly about time that they had a formal way of voicing their own opinion.”

With that in mind, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice is proud to announce our “Youth in Action” series, which will be published every week on the Environmental Justice in Action blog.

5937105034_2989bdffa0_bWe have been working with young activists to give them a platform to share their stories and the work they have been doing to promote environmental justice in their communities. Our young authors demonstrate that they are leaders who are taking charge of this movement! Their stories hail from Washington state to Texas to New York and they touch on a myriad of topics ranging from energy democracy to urban farming to climate refugees.

We are so excited to honor the incredible work of these young people. Their stories are truly incredible! I am certain that you will enjoy reading them as much as I have, and leave you feeling motivated and inspired towards action.

If you are a young person who is interested in having your environmental and climate justice work highlighted on the blog, then please contact Simone Walter (walter.simone@epa.gov) for further information.

About the Author: Kevin Olp is the Director of Communications for the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.                              

EPA_Student and Bacterica

                                                

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.

Building the Next Generation of Climate Justice Leaders

About the Author: Joanna Stancil is the Senior Advisor for State and Private Forestry at the U.S. Forest Service. She is a member of the Climate Change Sub-Committee of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. This subcommittee is responsible for leading the charge of the EMI Climate Justice Initiative.

If the future belongs to our youth, then we must include our youth in addressing our future’s key issues, such as climate change and climate justice.

In 2015, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG), in collaboration with the White House, announced the Educate, Motivate, and Innovate (EMI) Climate Justice Initiative. The goals of this initiative are to educate by providing a two-way learning experience, motivate by igniting interest in climate justice, and innovate by embracing opportunities for creative thought and action.

IMG_0087

Student Panel during EMI Workshop at the 2016 National Environmental Justice Conference

This initiative would be incomplete, however, if it did not target those most disproportionately impacted by climate change. It has been well documented that the impacts of a warming and increasingly unstable climate are already weighing more heavily on underserved, low-income, minority, and tribal communities. That’s why the EMI initiative builds collaborative relationships between federal government agencies and Minority-Serving Institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.

Earlier this year, three students were selected and asked to share the projects they had been developing in their local communities during the EMI’s inaugural training workshop held as part of the 2016 National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program.

Picture11

Soh-Yoke Bravo,  from Florida International University, examined the relationship between reforestation and carbon sequestration.

Lauren Wiggins and Kelley McClelland, from Tennessee State University, investigated air quality using funding from the Toxic Release Inventory Challenge. Soh-Yoke Bravo, from Florida International University, examined the relationship between reforestation and carbon sequestration.

The workshop focused on the effects of climate change on communities and featured training on EPA’s EJSCREEN, an environmental justice screening tool that provides users powerful data and mapping capabilities to access environmental and demographic information. Hands-on training with EJSCREEN allowed participants to explore how the tool can help them identify and better understand potential community vulnerabilities. Users identified communities they were concerned about and used the tool to better understand demographic and environmental trends for the area.

Lauren Wiggins and Kelley McClelland, from Tennessee State University, investigated air quality using funding from the Toxic Release Inventory Challenge.

Lauren Wiggins and Kelley McClelland, from Tennessee State University, investigated air quality using funding from the TRI Challenge.

Due to the success of the inaugural EMI workshop, we are excited to announce that the 2nd annual EMI workshop will be held during the March 8-10, 2017 National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program in Washington, DC.

The EMI initiative has released the Call for Student Abstracts to all students attending Minority Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges and Universities, who are interested in participating in the EMI workshop. The workshop at the 2017 National Environmental Justice Conference will provide a forum for the selected students to share their work addressing the impacts of climate change on communities with environmental justice concerns.

We are looking for abstracts that address resiliency, adaptation and mitigation with a focus on relationships between climate change and climate justice and human health, environmental health, culture, traditional practices, and/or economic development.

Of particular interest are:

  • Technical environmentalism – green apps
  • Geo-mapping
  • Forest or landscape impacts and community solutions
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Capacity building
  • Green and renewable energy: just transition, just sustainability
  • Climate change impacts: water/sewer infrastructure enhancement
  • Wetlands protection
  • Human health and safety reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Impact of residential and commercial development

Interested individuals should visit this webpage, or contact Joanna Stancil for additional information on how to submit their abstract.

These young minds are indeed the next generation of climate justice leaders and we are honored to offer opportunities for them to expand their knowledge about the environment and climate and to hone their leadership skills.  We truly believe that with help from these young people, we will be able to address our climate concerns with solutions that are equitable and sustainable.

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 ‘So What?’ of EJSCREEN

map layersBy Hallah Elbeleidy

We exist in a time when geography is increasingly being recognized as a primary indicator for who, in our societies, benefits from access to resources and who does not. Mapping tools have the unique ability to show relationships between variables that may not have seemed relevant before. Although I, as a geographer, have a vested interest in promoting the relevancy of my discipline, you don’t have to look further than EJSCREEN, EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, to draw these same conclusions.

However, I still think it’s imperative to ask, “so what?”

Perhaps the most daunting time in my graduate career was having to answer the “so what?” of my chosen research topic, the cause of all causes that impassions me until this day. The “so what?” of research motivates me to ask even more difficult questions like who will benefit from a project, what are its impacts and, ultimately, do I have the passion to get it done.

Click on the photo to Launch the EJSCREEN tool!

Click on the photo to Launch EJSCREEN!

My experiences in academia, and the non-profit and public sectors have taught me that well-designed instruction at all stages in a project are imperative to success, and these same experiences have shown me that this consideration is overlooked at times. Practicing education can take place internally among project organizers and externally where outreach to the public can have a profound effect on the success of a project or, I daresay, a mapping tool.

As a research fellow with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), my goal is to get to the crux of this “so what?” dilemma with EJSCREEN, and the path I am taking to answer this question is education. I believe the next step forward must be creating outreach materials to educate the public on the uses of EJSCREEN, the people affected, and why it matters.

I am developing case studies that exemplify how federal, state, and community stakeholders employ EJSCREEN because I believe it is a practical and fruitful exercise and so do you, according to the feedback you provided us. In addition, OEJ is launching the EJSCREEN user impact survey, a short survey designed to capture how you are using the mapping tool to further your analyses in your personal and professional lives. Share with us a time when you used EJSCREEN, the results, your analysis of those results, and your recommendations for improving the tool. The survey will be open until November 8, 2016. We will select a variety of responses that reflect the diversity of our users and will showcase these stories on EPA’s EJSCREEN website based on unique uses and innovativeness.

Make sure to check out the EJSCREEN user impact survey website to learn how to submit your questions, comments, and suggestions about the survey! You can access this website at https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen/ejscreen-user-impact-survey.

Click on the photo to learn how to use the EJSCREEN tool.

Click on the photo to learn how to use the EJSCREEN tool.

The goals of answering the “so what?” of EJSCREEN are to provide a rich set of examples the public can use to inspire them to make new connections between health and environment that are not always apparent; build on their EJSCREEN knowledge by practicing how to recreate a particular result featured in the case study; collaborate with others who are working on environmental justice in their community or region; and share these stories with others who want to learn more about environmental justice.

Help us succeed by participating in the EJSCREEN user impact survey. The ability for us at the EPA to implement change, after all, is inextricably bound to you—the public—and your trust in, use of, and feedback to what we create.

This research is supported by an appointment to the Research Participation Program for the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and the EPA.

About the Author: Hallah Elbeleidy received an MS in Geography from Penn State University in 2015. Her thesis examined tensions between privatization and ecological preservation in the city using Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey as a case study. She was awarded an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellowship with EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) where she is designing and building educational materials on EJSCREEN case studies.

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 National Environmental Justice Advisory Council: advancing intergenerational principles of environmental justice

NEJAC Members at the 2016 Meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi

NEJAC Members at the 2016 Meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi

By Karen L. Martin

It is an exciting time to be working on environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency. The Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) has been revitalized with renewed vigor. The products of Plan EJ 2014 are being used throughout the EPA and around the entire country.

And, the Office of Environmental Justice is completing the finalization of our EJ 2020 Action Agenda: our strategic plan for implementing environmental justice in the agency for the next four years.

There is real momentum behind environmental justice at the EPA.

And in the thick of all of that work, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) has been there.

There are still plenty of challenges ahead and there is much work that remains to be done. NEJAC Poster3Whether it be ensuring safe drinking water for our most vulnerable populations, using data from new monitoring methods to grapple with the impacts of climate change and the future of climate justice for our country’s youth, or looking at how we measure community-driven impacts of our environmental justice work, NEJAC continues to help propel us forward on the path of environmental justice.

The EPA established the NEJAC in 1993 to obtain independent perspectives from a broad spectrum of stakeholders involved in the environmental justice movement. As a federal advisory committee, the NEJAC is chartered to provide the Administrator with advice and recommendations on integrating environmental justice considerations into the agency’s programs, policies, and day-to-day activities.

The issues around environmental justice are often complex and involve deeply held opinions, which is why the NEJAC provides an environment for all parties to express their viewpoints. As the NEJAC grows over the decades, we have seen how new people brings new leadership, new ideas, and new ways of approaching these ever complicated problems.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy listens to feedback during a 2015 NEJAC meeting.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy listens to feedback during a 2015 NEJAC meeting.

This vitality, that is brought by new NEJAC members, to keep finding innovative solutions is the energy that is both welcome and needed to keep pushing environmental justice forward.

While the NEJAC looks ahead, we are also focused on the intergenerational period that the environmental justice movement is currently in. The NEJAC is not the environmental justice movement, but it occupies an important place in environmental justice conversation nationally and provides a forum for critical voices to inform the EPA and federal policymaking around environmental justice issues.  And we fortunately happen to have just the leaders on board to help us navigate these intergenerational times.

It is with great excitement that we welcome back a host of environmental justice elders, such as Richard Moore, the first chair of the NEJAC, who will serve again as NEJAC Chair during these critical next two years. He will be joined on the council by long-time environmental justice leaders Dr. Mildred McClain from Harambe House in Savannah, Georgia and long-time Memphis area advocate Rita Harris with the Sierra Club. We are also appointing Jill Witkowski-Heaps and Javier Torres as co-vice chairs.

In addition, we are pleased to announce four additional members from the new generation of environmental justice leaders.

From burgeoning young community activist, Dr. Erica Holloman of the Southeast CARE Coalition, to Arsenio Mataka, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at California EPA. We are thrilled to have a strong industry perspective thanks to Gregory Bertelsen, the Senior Director of Energy and Resource Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers and Sylvia Marie Orduño, a community organizer with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

This is an incredible, talented, and dedicated slate of both veteran and new NEJAC members and we are confident that their guidance will ensure that the perspectives of the community and the direction of the environmental justice movement throughout this country remain central to our work at the Agency.

About the Author: Karen L. Martin serves as the National Program Manager for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. She has worked with communities on environmental issues for over 20 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.

Designing Our Future: engaging students on how to plan with an environmental justice mindset

~3122862[1]About the Author: Kofi Boone is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University. His work focuses on the changing nature of communities and developing tools for enhanced community engagement and design.

Communities negatively impacted by city planning processes are most often the communities that lack the opportunity to participate in designing the environment around them. Whether it be the placement of amenities like parks or access to public transportation infrastructure, the narrative tends to be the same: low-income and minority populations aren’t involved in the design-making.

But I think that this problem presents an increasingly important opportunity for students interested in designing and planning for environmental justice.

Last year, North Carolina State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture offered its first “Environmental Social Equity and Design” environmental justice course.  With this course, I sought to illustrate that the alignment between social justice and design, though not new, is nevertheless still imperative.

Click on the photo to read the strategies on "Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities."

Click on the photo to read the strategies on “Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities.”

EPA regards this intersection, also known as equitable development, as an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities with policies and programs that reduce disparities and foster healthy and vibrant communities.

I assisted students, from a range of disciplines, to gain experience with the issues and opportunities melding the worlds of environmental design with equity and justice. Frequently, questions were raised to challenge the students, such as:

How did “equity” become the most common contemporary term used when discussing these challenges?

How does “equity” differ from “justice” – or its predecessor, “environmental racism,” particularly in regards to the roles designers and planners play in these situations?

To facilitate the course, guest speakers shared their real world experiences working in communities. Dr. Danielle Spurlock, Anita Brown-Graham, and Randy Hester spoke about environmental justice and design in an academic context while practitioners like Vernice Miller-Travis, Alisa Hefner, and Carlton Eley of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice provided the insights they learned through project implementation.

Mr. Eley spoke to the significance of the course in saying that teaching environmental justice isn’t new. However, teaching environmental justice in the context of planning and design represents an important milestone. The bulk of course activity was the action-based research, which pushed students beyond the comfort of the academic setting and into active hands-on environmental work. These projects helped to illustrate to students that there is often an extreme contrast between the design work that receives mainstream attention and the social and environmental inequities that continue to plague communities.

Tia Hall, Cultural Alchemist at Spirithouse, leads a discussion on transportation equity. Students researched the social impacts of changes in the route of the Bull City Connector: a free Durham city bus that no longer connects routes throughout the city to the Durham Station.

Tia Hall, Cultural Alchemist at Spirithouse, leads a discussion on transportation equity. Students researched the social impacts of changes in the route of the Bull City Connector: a free Durham city bus that no longer connects routes throughout the city to the Durham Station.

Students were matched with several local groups to provide technical assistance in their on-going efforts. These included working with Spirithouse Inc. on transportation equity issues ranging from disparities in access to Durham’s free circulator bus to perceptions of safety in a local urban trail. Students worked with the Duke Durham Partnership’s Quality Of Life Project to document ten years of strategies to stabilize a near downtown neighborhood by embracing growth and minimizing displacement.

Another group of students provided inventory and analysis to support an informal downtown public space, Chickenbone Park, as a democratic space. Another group explored street economy and produced short video biographies showing the daily lives of people, such as Joe’s Story, working in informal urban sectors, like the Food Vendors in Durham.

These opportunities provided students the ability to discuss land use and community design strategies with community-based organizations, local and regional decision-makers, developers, and other stakeholders who are all striving to build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive neighborhoods. Much of this framework was borrowed from the EPA’s framework on “Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities: Strategies for Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Development.”

The overall reception of the course by students and local groups was overwhelmingly positive. I am certain that due to the continuing demand by students for more exposure to these issues it will soon be the expectation, rather than the exception, that design schools incorporate the tenets of environmental justice and equitable development in their curriculums

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.

Finding a Home for Environmental Justice: HUD Seeks Input on EJ Strategy Update

EJustice_008

About the Author: James Potter is the Environmental Justice Coordinator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jim is the co-chair of the Goods Movement Committee of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) and has participated on the EJIWG since 2006.

The ongoing housing and economic crisis has touched every family across the United States – but for low-income and minority communities, this crisis has been particularly devastating. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we believe that all communities deserve equal protection from health hazards, equitable access to the federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment where they can work, live, and play.

HUD, a member of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG), is charged by Executive Order 12898 to develop a strategy for incorporating the principles of environmental justice into our work. We have made it a priority to update our strategy regularly, in order for us to meet with environmental justice stakeholders, get their input, and keep the strategy relevant to the needs and requests of those communities facing environmental justice issues.

It is now time for our current strategy to be updated.

BaltimoreMd_002We want our new strategy to reflect the needs and challenges of the communities disproportionately burdened by environmental injustices; therefore, we are organizing a series of public outreach meetings across the country. In order to make a plan that can have lasting positive impacts, we need to hear from you! We ask community residents and environmental justice advocates to tell us what we are doing right and what we can do to improve our work. This will be a first-hand opportunity to speak directly to the federal staff who work every day to ensure that environmental justice and equitable development are incorporated into everything that we and our grant recipients do.

These outreach meetings will be held across the country at HUD field offices during the first half of September.

  • Detroit, Michigan: September 8, 2016
  • Charleston, West Virginia: September 13, 2016
  • Boston, Massachusetts: September 16, 2016

These meetings will be held in each city at 10:00 a.m. Photo identification will be required of participants to access the building. We know that we must speak with those most impacted by our programs and actions as we look to the future of our work creating strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. During the listening sessions, we will be asking about what this strategy means to attendees, how they’ve been affected by climate change and what environmental justice looks like to them.

USEPA photo by Eric Vance

Community Meeting BP Oil Spill 2

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re located in one of the cities listed, please come talk to us. You will help us make a better plan so that we can craft strategies that have meaningful impacts for your community. If you are unable to attend the meetings however, there will be additional opportunities for you to contribute to our update. These meetings are just the start. Join EPA’s EJ Listserv to receive current information on the release of the public comment period.

The updated EJ Strategy will be available for public comment later this fall. An announcement in the Federal Register will be followed by public notices so that anyone interested in our environmental justice work can provide suggestions. Feel free to contact me via email or telephone at 202.402.4610 if you have additional questions regarding the listening tour, the public comment period, or the update to our EJ strategy in general.

Access to affordable housing impacts us all. But I know that this challenge impacts us differently, which is why I am honored to be a part of these upcoming listening sessions. I look forward to meeting with all of you and discussing the ways that we can engage with you and your communities to promote the principles of environmental justice in all of the work that we do at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I believe that with your help, we will be able to design a strategy that does truly incorporate the principles of environmental justice and equitable development.

TangierIslandVa_002

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.

Clean Energy in a Revitalized Spartanburg

Re-posted from the White House Blog

By Rohan Patel

Vulnerable communities around the country are transforming their neighborhoods through collaborative partnerships. When their voices, ideas, and visions are honored, amazing things can happen.

Almost 20 years ago, residents in Spartanburg, South Carolina, began to formulate their vision for change. It started with assistance from EPA’s regional office in Atlanta, when the community discovered the sources of public health and environmental problems in their neighborhoods. As a former mill town, Spartanburg had faced disinvestment for many years. As manufacturing facilities shut down, a 30 acre dump site and a three acre site with leaking underground storage tanks was left behind, exposing residents to toxic air and water pollution.

But that wasn’t the end of the story of Spartanburg; it was the beginning of the revitalization and renewal of the community. In 1997, longtime resident Harold Mitchell prompted EPA to investigate the causes of rare cancers and respiratory diseases that were affecting his family, friends, and neighbors in Spartanburg. The link to the legacy of pollution from years past became clear. Mitchell soon founded a program called ReGenisis to address these significant environmental concerns and to reverse the blight, disinvestment, and hopelessness impacting the neighborhood.

Over the last 20 years ReGenesis has led a collaborative and transformational effort to revive Spartanburg. It started with a $20,000 EPA environmental justice small grant, a program that has provided over $24 million to over 1,400 community-based organizations. Mr. Mitchell and his community members did something extraordinary – they leveraged that $20,000 into more than $300 million in public and private funding to turn things around. With investments from federal, state, and local government, as well as private foundations, ReGenisis spearheaded the effort to clean up the Superfund sites, bring in 500 affordable housing units, six health clinics, job training programs and many other amenities that sparked far-reaching positive changes in Spartanburg. This model inspired EPA to develop its Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Model and subsequent CPS grant program.

Today, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Clean Energy Savings for All Summit to highlight one of the crowning achievements of the revitalization effort in Spartanburg: the Arkwright Solar Farm, which is being built directly on top of one of the Superfund sites that was responsible for environmental contamination in the community. It’s a powerful symbol of the transformation that has happened in these communities. What once was a source of pollution and blight, the former Arkwright landfill is now being covered with 12,000 solar panels that will bring jobs and a source of clean energy that can power almost 500 homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

For authentic and sustainable change to happen, it must be driven by communities. The story of Spartanburg is a lesson in how government can partner with communities, empower them to find solutions to their problems, and develop innovative and collaborative strategies to make them a reality. The solar farm is the latest chapter in the story of the revitalization of Spartanburg, and we are excited to continue to raise awareness of these examples so other communities across the country can follow the path from surviving to thriving.

About the author Rohan Patel: Special Assistant to the President, Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Senior Advisor for Climate and Energy Policy.

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.

Stakeholder Engagement: Shaping Environmental Justice Near Ports

By Sabrina Johnson

Communities across the country benefit from access to consumer goods, but near-port communities bear a disproportionate burden from the environmental impacts of port activities. It has been well documented that ports and related industry operations frequently impact minority and low-income communities. Near-port communities may experience disproportionate health outcomes due to cumulative environmental exposures from port operations and port-related facilities. Air pollutants are found in higher concentrations along roads and corridors where there is significant truck or rail activity (https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/nearroadway.htm).  Important corridors such as these are found within or near ports.  An analysis in one study showed that millions of people living in the vicinity of 47 ports were exposed to diesel particulate matter levels that were above levels in areas farther from these facilities.

Untitled-4

Click to watch a video on the impacts one community is facing from goods movement issues.

Equipping/empowering overburdened near-port communities to effectively engage with ports and participate in decision-making about environmental, health, and other community-driven concerns associated with port-related activities and corresponding freight transport is a critical component for effectively addressing environmental problems in these communities. We can do this by improving environmental performance at ports and equipping industry and community stakeholders with information, skills, and guidance to develop and implement collaborative solutions that reduce air pollutants and other environmental impacts.

And that’s why we’re excited to let you know about EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality’s near-port community capacity building project and how you can get involved!  The project involves broad stakeholder outreach and participation that has resulted in the development of strategies, tools and information for near-port community and port engagement.   Pilot projects will test and refine the capacity building tools to help communities and ports to develop effective collaboration.

The centerpiece of the project is the Capacity Building Toolkit consisting of:

  1. Untitled-3

    Click to open the documents

    Ports primer for communities: An interactive tool and reference document provides an overview of planning and operations at ports, and characterizes the port industry sector – including environmental and community health impacts associated with port activities. Case studies provide further exploration into challenges and approaches for resolution.

  2. Untitled-2Community action roadmap:  An implementation companion for the Ports Primer that provides a step-by-step process for building capacity and preparing community stakeholders to engage nearby port facilities and influence decision-making on issues that may impact local land use, environmental health, quality of life, and other associated issues of community interest.
  3. Untitled-1Environmental justice primer for ports: Designed to inform the port industry sector of the perspectives, priorities, and challenges often unique to communities with EJ concerns. In addition to orienting the port sector about EJ considerations, this resource is structured to provide step-by-step guidance to improve the effectiveness of port/community engagement in addressing concerns of impacted residential communities.

You can review and provide comments on the draft tools, which are posted for public comment until September 14, 2016. Click here to access draft tools:  www.epa.gov/ports-initiative

Additionally, ports and near-port communities can apply through our website to become a pilot project location to test and refine the draft capacity building tools and associated processes. Applications are also due September 14, 2016.  Direct technical assistance to community and industry stakeholders will be provided during the pilot projects. To apply for the pilot opportunity:  www.epa.gov/ports-initiative/pilot-opportunities-port-and-near-port-community-collaboration.

Please take time to review these materials, provide comments, and apply to submit your community or port for a pilot project. Only through robust engagement, innovation and collaboration can we achieve our shared vision to improve environmental health outcomes for communities affected by ports and associated goods movement facilities.

About the Author: Sabrina Johnson is a Senior Policy Analyst in the EPA’s Office of Transportation & Air Quality (OTAQ). She leads OTAQ’s Near-port Community Capacity Building Project and played a principal role in planning the “National Conversation on Ports” webinar listening sessions and the “National Port Stakeholders Summit.” She also participates on the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group Goods Movement Committee.

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.