Can One Community Organization Change an Entire City?

By Dr. LaToria Whitehead

I first met Dr. Mildred McClain as a doctorate student.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the very first conversation that I had with her regarding environmental health disparities in Savannah lead to a five year partnership between the federal government and a community-based organization.  Wearing two hats at that time, I had both a desire to increase lead testing for children in Savannah as a federal employee, and as a student I wanted to understand how an environmental justice organization could accomplish this task. Working with Dr. McClain in this partnership powerfully changed my perspective on how to do both.

Untitled-2Dr. McClain was the founder and director for the Harambee House Inc./Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ). She has been a human rights activist for over 40 years and she initially started the Savannah-based organization as a small focus group in 1991 to fight on behalf of a local subdivision built on contaminated site.  Eventually CFEJ would bring justice and awareness, both locally and nationally, about issues from chemical industries to food deserts to job development.

Like many EJ organizations CFEJ began with a sentiment of moral obligation to the community,  but there is something very special about how this organization works.  As a student, I was a bit naïve about the process of engaging communities. Working with CFEJ, I witnessed how she effectively engaged with the community and listened and responded to their concerns. I was able to see how her hard work and passion led to the trust, respect, and admiration of the Savannah community for Dr. McClain.

She was also very kind and considerate, and brought me along for the journey. I witnessed politicians opening their doors to her, and because I accompanied her, they spoke with me as well. Community leaders and people who resided in these communities their entire lives embraced me and talked with me, a complete stranger, because of her. As a result of the partnership there was an increased awareness about childhood lead poisoning and an increase in the number of children that were tested for high blood lead levels. There was also a new awareness among politicians about a lead ordinance in Savannah, which has been on the books since 1973, and a political taskforce was created by CFEJ to ensure that the ordinance is sufficiently enforced.

As a student, these experiences would forever change my understanding and approach to environmental justice from learning side-by-side with a real EJ champion. There is a multifaceted approach to achieving what we all call environmental justice.  Alongside this approach, comes trust, respect, honor, knowledge, empowerment, long days and long nights.  This description is not only symbolic of environmental justice, but it also embodies the character of Dr. McClain. After interviewing many people in Savannah, the common theme of all of these conversations was about how enlightenment and empowerment from CFEJ helped change their communities.  Among many other lessons, I’ve learned that trust and relationships are fundamental in the EJ world. Thank You, Dr. McClain.

About the AuthorDr. LaToria Whitehead is an Environmental Justice Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. She’s also an adjunct professor of Political Science for Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

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.

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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.

You Can Help Make Better Government Policies

By Victoria Robinson

As the designated federal officer for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), I’m happy to announce that EPA is inviting nominations to be considered for appointment to the NEJAC, a federal advisory committee.

Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act in recognition of the fact that federal agencies benefit significantly when they receive advice from voices outside of the government. EPA established the NEJAC in 1993 to provide independent and timely advice and recommendations to EPA about integrating environmental justice into the agency’s work. Through meeting with the public and consolidating advice from members who represent a broad range of viewpoints, the NEJAC provides recommendations that incorporate community and other stakeholder perspectives and helps the government do a better job of considering environmental justice in the agency’s everyday activities.

While each member may bring a different perspective to committee meetings, the one thing all NEJAC members share is a passion for environmental justice.  They each want to make a difference in their communities and in other communities across the country. Through their work on the NEJAC these individuals have been instrumental in formulating nearly 700 recommendations to EPA about a wide variety of major public policy issues. For instance, NEJAC recommendations have influenced a variety of EPA’s programs and policies, including the Brownfields program, permitting processes,  consultation with tribes and interactions with indigenous communities, and monitoring of air toxics around our nation’s schools. That is why I am always excited to welcome new leaders onto the NEJAC, because I know that they will bring the energy and ideas necessary to keep building upon these important efforts.

The NEJAC is made up of approximately 26 members who are appointed from a broad spectrum of stakeholders representing community-based groups, business and industry, academic and educational institutions, state and local governments, indigenous organizations and federally-recognized tribal governments, and non-governmental and environmental groups. Within each of these sectors, members that can offer technical perspectives on subjects such as  public health, climate change adaptation, environmental financing, equitable development, and community sustainability, are sought that reflect the issues and subjects currently being evaluated by the NEJAC.

You can submit your application for membership to the NEJAC by downloading this electronic form and following the instructions to submit your application. In order to fill the anticipated vacancies by May 2012, nominations should be received by February 20, 2012. For additional details regarding the nomination process and to learn more about the NEJAC, please visit http://www.epa.gov/environmental justice/NEJAC/index.html, or call the EPA Office of Environmental Justice at (202) 564-2515.

Consider the NEJAC – it might be a perfect fit.

About the author: Victoria Robinson is the Designated Federal Officer (DFO) for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee. Since 2003, she has been responsible for the day-to-day management of the NEJAC, managing the committee in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

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.

Come learn about environmental justice and equitable development at New Partners for Smart Growth!

By Megan McConville

Last time I visited Kansas City, Missouri, my host took me to the Green Impact Zone, a 150 square block area that has experienced severe economic decline. During our visit we also met with community leaders, local and regional policymakers, and federal partners who are working collaboratively to transform the area.  We saw the challenges facing the neighborhood—the vacant structures, run-down housing, and dilapidated streets—but we also saw improvements to the Troost Avenue Bridge that accommodate pedestrians and buses, heard about home weatherization projects, and learned about the Neighborhood Leadership Committee, the Community Leadership training program, and other community engagement efforts.

Since then, Green Impact Zone leaders have begun redevelopment projects that will turn vacant buildings into affordable housing, small businesses, and community facilities; train unemployed residents to find jobs; improv sidewalks throughout the neighborhood; and much more.

Troost Bridge After Improvements

The Green Impact Zone is just one of many innovative efforts I’ll learn about when I return to Kansas City February 6-9, 2013 for the 12th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. Last year’s conference had over 1,500 attendees, including environmental justice leaders from across the United States. The premiere smart growth conference in the U.S., New Partners explores all aspects of the field, from community revitalization, affordable housing, and small town livability to green building, health, and climate change adaptation.

The afternoon of February 6, I’ll attend a workshop titled Sustainable Neighborhoods, Thriving Residents: Strategies for Building Equitable Communities, which will explore how low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities are integrating land use and economic development strategies to revitalize their neighborhoods and build residents’ skills and wealth.  Leaders from community organizations, governments, and businesses will share how they are knitting together planning, infrastructure investment, development policies, workforce training, business assistance, and other approaches to improve the physical environment, create jobs, avoid displacement, and encourage inclusive economic growth.

As the conference continues, the agenda is packed with environmental justice and equitable development-focused events (PDF), such as sessions on green zones, cleaning up freight projects, fair housing, and engaging industrial neighbors in smart growth projects.  And, there are networking opportunities for people interested in regional equity and public health, and tours of diverse Kansas City neighborhoods.

The registration deadline for the conference is coming up on January 18, so make sure to sign up before it’s too late.  I’ll be there and I hope to see you there too!

About the author: Megan McConville is a Policy & Planning Fellow in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She explores how overburdened communities can combine smart growth and environmental justice strategies to improve their neighborhoods, health, and quality of life.

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.

Are you getting the basic amenities your taxes paid for?

By Omega Wilson

Many African American communities, like the Mebane, North Carolina community where I grew up, and tribal areas, lack access to basic public health amenities.  The denial of or lack of access to “up-to-code” infrastructure (safe drinking water, sewer collection, paved streets, sidewalks, and storm-water management) contributes to disparities in health. Long-term exposure to deficient infrastructure often leads to disproportionately adverse health effects in low-income and minority communities than are evident in predominantly higher-income communities.

Infrastructure code standards are paid for by taxpayers, regulated by federal agencies (under the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act etc.), and maintained by state and local governments. However, in low-income and minority communities, homeowners may not get a return on their property, income, and sale taxes in the form of “basic amenities” that other higher income areas take for granted.

Removal of 20,000 Gallon Underground Petroleum Storage Tanks

In 1994, when the North Carolina Department of Transportation revealed plans for the construction of 27-mile highway through two African American communities in Mebane, our residents became aware that federal laws prohibited the use of federal money to destroy houses, churches, and cemeteries without fair compensation. Homeowners already had been denied basic amenities for decades and leaking underground storage tanks, that threatened our well water and ground water, had yet to be cleaned up.

As a result, we organized the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) to challenge the planned 8-lane interstate corridor. Residents learned from U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials that every taxpaying community is entitled to basic amenities guaranteed by the government. WERA translated this “common knowledge” into a list of public health disparities and drafted administrative complaints at DOJ under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and referenced the environmental justice Executive Order 12898 of 1994. DOJ asked six branches of the federal government to investigate the oversight of civil rights and public health guidelines during the  highway planning process that had been going on for 16 years, without opportunities for public input.

As a result, there has been a moratorium on construction of the highway since 1999, in order to ensure that actions to mitigate the potential impacts of the construction are put in place. Additionally, more than 100 African American homeowners have had sewer lines installed for the first time, even though homes have been within two-to-three blocks from the municipal sewer treatment plant since it was constructed in 1921. Property owners were required to dig up underground storage tanks and dispose of them. And, federal matching block grants were distributed to rehabilitate houses and repair sidewalks and streets.

My experience working to improve local health and environmental conditions by ensuring that communities have access to infrastructure that reduces health disparities has taught me that we should each ask ourselves: is my community getting the basic amenities our taxed paid for?

About the author: Omega R. Wilson is President of the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) of Mebane, N.C. Founding board chairman in 1994 when WERA incorporated as 501-( c)(3) non-profit community development corporation (CDC). He led board and staff through capacity building as a community-based environmental protection (CBEP) organization under U.S. EPA guidelines. Wilson is a former member of the U.S. EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and Advisory Committee for the Environmental Leadership Program – Southeast Regional Network, and he is also a member of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. Wilson’s educational background includes media and communications, community organizing, and environmental justice leadership.

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.

Tox Town: A Great Tool for Learning About Chemicals in our Environment

By Judy Kramer and Andrew Plumer

Have you ever wondered which chemicals are in your community and what impacts they may have on your health? Chemicals are routinely used to support all parts of American life and are integral in our agricultural, commercial, and industrial processes. Although our way of life depends on the use of many chemicals, their potential environmental impact cannot be ignored. Understanding the relationships between these substances and our environment is critical to promoting safe practices and protecting public health.

Tox Town Southwest Scene

We at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) have an interesting interactive website that introduces middle school, high school, and college students, as well as educators and the general public, to toxic chemicals in their everyday environment. Tox Town uses graphics, sounds, and animation to show the connections between chemicals, the environment, and the public’s health. There are six distinct neighborhoods in Tox Town: city, town, farm, port, US border regions, and a new US Southwest scene. Each neighborhood is toured by selecting “Location” or “Chemical” links.

Tox Town presents the facts on everyday locations where toxic chemicals and substances might be found with non-technical descriptions of the chemicals. There is information about how the environment can affect human health. We also provide links to chemical and environmental health resources from trusted sources. Like all of our neighborhoods, our new Southwest scene demonstrates the uniqueness and some similarities of the environmental health issues we all face today.

In collaboration with Diné College, a tribal college for the Arizona and New Mexico Navajo Nation, the Southwest has very specific environmental hazards like abandoned mines, uranium tailings, and dust storms. With Tox Town, we at the NLM seek to inform the public about the environmental health concerns in their “own backyard” but also with areas with which they may not be familiar.

The US Southwest scene can be used as an educational tool not only for students and the general public living in the Southwest, but also for those of us living in other parts of the country that are unaware of the unique environmental health concerns for those living in this region. Tox Town can present environmental issues in an easy to understand manner that makes explaining the concept of environmental justice to the general public interesting and engaging.  Tox Town also offers some resources in Spanish, and has a text version. We also have resources especially for teachers.  Check out this great new resource and let us know what you think of the new Southwest scene and Tox Town in general.

About the authors: Judy Kramer is a Public Health Specialist, and a contractor for ICF International, working with the National Library of Medicine on Specialized Information Services. Judy oversaw the development of the Tox Town US Southwest scene and is a member of the K-12 team that produces educational resources for educators. Andrew Plumer is an Outreach Librarian for the National Library of Medicine, and also works on Specialized Information Services. Andrew is part of the K-12 team that produces educational resources for educators.

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.

One Prescription for Healthier Brownfield Communities – A Community Clinic Please!

By Ann Carroll

The EPA brownfields program started in the mid-1990s, but as the program evolved over the last decade, we learned that the abandoned gas station, mine site or vacant scrap yard may be only one of the many issues facing communities.  In fact, many brownfield communities are also medically underserved areas. This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) designation means that there aren’t enough doctors, dentists, mental health or other health professionals to provide needed services.  This is especially problematic because many of these communities may be affected by legacy pollution that was left behind when plants closed down. Residents in these communities may lack vital services like vaccinations or preventive care that is important to disease management for diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions and care needs.

Opening of the Providence Community Health Centers

For one community, this reality changed with a new clinic opening on a former brownfield.  On July 16, I joined some of the EPA New England brownfields program team members in Providence, RI, along with community members, investors, and elected officials to celebrate the opening of the Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC).  PCHC is now the largest Rhode Island healthcare provider for women and children, serving one in four Providence residents. This new clinic integrates care for children and adults with behavioral health, a Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) nutrition program, and provides services to address asthma, diabetes, podiatry and dermatology, all under one roof.

There will also be a pharmacy opening next door, which will make filling prescriptions easy. The health center is located on the Federated Lithography Site, a former historic mill, which dates back to the 1880s. Brownfield grants totaling $600,000 funded the removal of lead paint and asbestos from around the 4.5 acre site and attracted an additional $40 million for construction and redevelopment.  Historic preservation and select demolition also allowed for the creation of a historic hybrid health care clinic that meets LEED ‘green building’ certification. Renovation of the remaining mill buildings will create doctors offices for Lifespan, an integrated health provider linked to Brown University.

The project also created 125 seasonal jobs during the two years of work. Nearly 25% of demolition and construction dollars supported local minority/women business enterprises and labor.  In a neighborhood where over 70% of children and 35% of families live below the poverty line, these jobs were especially important!

This seems like a prescription many brownfield communities would like filled.  Let’s learn from this Providence community and help Providence and other rural and urban communities reverse environmental pollution legacies to create healing today and a healthier tomorrow.  You can read more about this story in this New York Times article. Also, visit this website to see if you live in a medically underserved area, and click here to find out more about programs that HHS offers to medically underserved areas.

About the author: Ann Carroll has a science and public health background and has worked on environmental health issues in the US and internationally for close to 30 years and with the EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization for the last ten years.  She helps communities assess and clean brownfields and plan for their safe reuse.  Ann is working on a doctorate in environmental health as a  Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Livable Future.

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 Water is Environmental Justice

By Nancy Stoner

Hanging in my office is a list of EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s priorities for the EPA. It is a focused list that identifies seven key areas which form the core of our mission. Working for environmental justice and protecting America’s waterways are both on this list. In the Office of Water, we understand that these two are not separate goals. Environmental justice shapes our priorities, frames our projects, and informs our actions. It embraces the idea that every community, regardless of its size and economic standing, deserves access to safe water.

Nancy on a tour of green infrastructure to reduce polluted stormwater in urban Baltimore.

At the EPA, we have universal standards for water quality, but many cities and towns in our nation are still grappling with reaching these standards.  Our environmental justice efforts acknowledge that people who lack resources must often use whatever water is nearest and available to them.  Through a variety of partnership programs, we work with these communities to implement projects that invigorate their economies, restore their waterways, and  help them provide clean water to their citizens.

Cities are an extremely important aspect of environmental justice as 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Through the EPA-led Urban Waters Federal Partnership, we are providing grants to improve water quality and reconnect urban citizens with their local waterways. Recent Urban Waters projects vary from citizen-run water monitoring networks to parks built on vacant lots using green infrastructure. With these grants, communities are able to tailor their projects to their needs, revitalizing their community while also securing cleaner water.

In rural communities, our environmental justice efforts focus on issues specific to each area. For example, we are working with communities in Appalachia to help clean up rivers and streams affected by mountain top mining. These waterbodies are crucial to residents for drinking, fishing, and swimming. We work with locals to minimize consequences to human health, help the local environment, and strengthen their economy.

When it comes to water, it is difficult to think of a single issue that does not tie into environmental justice. By focusing on how water issues affect people in their communities, we can expand the conversation on environmental justice and redefine our actions to ensure that everyone has access to clean and usable water regardless of where they live.

Click here for more information on the Office of Water’s environmental justice efforts.

About the author: Nancy Stoner currently serves in EPA as the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Prior to joining EPA, Nancy was Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Program.  In that capacity she guided projects to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters from contaminated stormwater, sewer overflows, factory farms, and other sources of water pollution, and led NRDC’s efforts to clean up and restore the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Before joining NRDC, Nancy worked as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the US Department of Justice and served as director of the Office of Policy Analysis in the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

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.

Environmental Justice: From Strategic Planning to Action

By Gary S. Guzy

What does it take to integrate environmental justice principles into our programs and services?

The answers poured in enthusiastically from senior officials across the Federal Government at a recent special Deputy Secretary-level meeting of the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group. I hosted this meeting along with U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to mark the completion of an historic strategic planning effort.

Building on the Obama Administration’s commitment to strong environmental and health protections for all Americans, Federal agencies and offices have been revisiting and re-invigorating their approach to environmental justice. We set out our roadmap for concerted Federal Government action last year in an interagency Memorandum of Understanding, in which agencies committed to publishing environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports on their implementation of those strategies. When the deputies gathered at our meeting, the final strategies had just been released. To ensure their relevance and rigorous implementation, the strategies reflect public input, and they focus on engraining environmental justice principles in core Government practices and programs.

We agreed it was time to transition from strategic planning to action. As a Working Group, we decided that  to succeed, we must prioritize our actions and leverage existing resources as much as possible, including through developing and expanding public-private partnerships and sharing best practices across agencies. I jotted down the following examples to give you a sense of what this means in practice:

  • Deputy Secretary David Hayes described the Department of the Interior’s work with private companies to help provide renewable energy to remote Native Alaskan communities.
  • Assistant Secretary Howard Koh from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the health impact assessment tools that the Department is developing will enable Federal decision-makers across the Government to identify and consider public health impacts, including those that disproportionately apply to low-income and minority communities.
  • The Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are developing staff and stakeholder training on environmental justice principles which may be applicable to other Federal offices as well.

As someone who worked in the Federal Government when we first began considering environmental justice principles two decades ago, I am heartened by where we are headed today. With newfound direction and momentum, we are answering the call for systematic and durable applications of environmental justice principles to our programs and services, so we can see meaningful results.

About the author: Gary S. Guzy is Deputy Director of the Council on Environmental Quality.

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.

Addressing Environmental Justice Concerns in Indian Country

By Daniel Gogal

He had just arrived home after driving straight from DC to his reservation in the southwest. He tells me about his visit with government officials and questions whether or not his efforts will result in federal or tribal government action. His goal is to ensure his neighbors  in his remote area of the reservation are informed about the dangers of using a local pond for livestock watering, which is contaminated  by runoff from a former uranium mine when it rains. This concern is like many I encounter that deal with serious issues affecting the public health and safety of indigenous communities across the country.

Over the past twenty years, I have been contacted by many tribal members, indigenous organizations and tribal government representatives about environmental and public health threats facing their communities and about the need to develop lasting, sustainable solutions. The problems are complex and the solutions require involvement from a wide range of federal and tribal agencies and other indigenous stakeholders. This makes addressing the concerns  a challenge, but a challenge we need to rise to the occasion to meet.

Through EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, we are working collaboratively to achieve environmental justice.  In 2011, we initiated a process to develop tribal and indigenous people’s environmental justice guiding principles and policy to clarify how EPA will work with the 565 federally-recognized tribes and indigenous stakeholders to address environmental justice issues.

To develop these principles/policies, we formed the Indigenous Peoples Work Group, of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and EPA’s Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Environmental Justice Work Group,comprised of agency staff.

Now, EPA is seeking comments on the four focus areas currently planned for the guiding principles/policy. A working draft of the guiding principles and policy are expected to be available for review by tribes and the public in July 2012.

We look forward to receiving your input on the four focus areas and on the draft policy when becomes available this summer. Just like concerns raised by the southwest tribal member who recently traveled to the nation’s capital to talk about the pollution problems facing his community, we need to hear from you. Your comments will help improve EPA’s ability to respond to your concerns about environmental justice issues impacting tribal communities.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25  years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past nineteen years.

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