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.
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.
But 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.