How Training Workshops Strengthen Environmental Justice Understanding

U.S. EPA Region 6 EJ Workshop, Arkansas LaQuinta Downtown Conference Center, June 16-18, 2015

U.S. EPA Region 6 EJ Workshop, Arkansas LaQuinta Downtown Conference Center, June 16-18, 2015

Environmental justice issues are inextricably linked to broader social justice concerns.

That relationship was clear last month at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6’s Environmental Justice Training Workshop, as a discussion on race, class, and environmental health was punctuated by reflections on the tragic massacre at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

The training workshop, held in Little Rock, Arkansas, was one in a series in each of the five states in EPA Region 6, designed to bring together affected communities, government officials, environmental advocates, social justice champions, faith leaders, and academic researchers. Speakers shared their powerful stories of challenge and success. Environmental justice issues weren’t discussed in isolation. Rather, they were considered as one aspect of social injustice facing many Americans that must be addressed. Protecting civil rights and reducing the burden of air pollution – it is all part of the mission to safeguard lives and health. As I listened, I was able to reflect on how my own life has instilled a deep commitment to working on issues like toxic air pollution and improving air quality in urban areas.

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Although the particular concerns that affected communities face in Arkansas may differ from those in Texas, many of the underlying challenges, such as access to data and linkages to civil rights issues, are similar. Fortunately, EPA has recently released a new tool to help environmental justice communities across the nation. EJSCREEN debuted publicly less than one week before the EJ Training Workshop, which meant participants saw a first-hand demonstration of how the new environmental justice screening tool pulls in demographic and environmental data to help understand risks and vulnerabilities in communities.

EJSCREEN was released in the middle of the feedback period for EPA’s new environmental justice strategy framework, known as EJ 2020. This framework lays the foundation for how EPA will make progress on environmental justice issues over the next five years and how stakeholder partners can work in tandem to advance the work. Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) comments on the draft framework centered on ensuring that environmental justice considerations were integrated into EPA’s voluntary programs, as well as highlighting ports and goods movements as priority national environmental justice issues for EPA.

While EDF advocates for cleaner air in Texas and across the country, we will integrate and elevate the commitment and knowledge shared at the EJ Training Workshop. The efforts of entire communities of individuals and organizations are what will ultimately drive improvements in environmental health.

As the nation reflects on the need for greater social justice, the EJ Training Workshop was an important step in supporting and strengthening the environmental justice community.

Image Credit: Randy Schoening/Raylo Creative

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