This was written by Almeta Cooper and Sam Schmitz:
On September 26, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), whose mission is to provide leadership for the agency for its environmental justice and external civil rights priorities. Because Moms Clean Air Force, since its inception, has consistently advocated for and supported environmental and health justice for Black, brown, and low-income communities, the creation of the OEJECR aligns with Moms Clean Air Force’s goals to implement equitable solutions in addressing air pollution and the climate crisis.
EPA announced the opening of the OEJECR, or Office of Environmental Justice, in Warren County, North Carolina. This is considered to be the birthplace of environmental justice. Over 40 years ago, a dangerous chemical waste landfill was located in Warren County and prompted protests by the local African American community. At that time, Warren County residents had the lowest per capita state income and represented the largest concentration of Black people in North Carolina.
Just as Warren County is known as the birthplace of environmental justice, Dr. Robert Bullard is known as the “Father of Environmental Justice.” Dr. Bullard defines environmental justice as “equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.” He notes that pollution is correlated highly with race and class, creating injustice and vulnerability for low-wealth communities and communities of color. EPA’s definition of environmental justice also emphasizes the importance of equitable development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies.
Dr. Bullard was among the many climate leaders supporting the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice. “For decades, communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate impacts from environmental contamination and for decades we have been fighting to elevate their stories and deliver protections equally, for everyone,” he explained. “EPA’s efforts under this new office will deliver progress for the communities that need action now.”
The Office of Environmental Justice will be tasked with distributing $3 billion in environmental justice grants that were allocated as a result of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Law.
“President Biden is delivering on his promise to bring action and resources to communities that have been underserved for far too long,” said EPA Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice Robin Collin. “Under Administrator Regan’s leadership, EPA’s new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights will have more than 200 staff and billions of dollars to solve environmental challenges in communities across the country. These resources will change how EPA operates and embed equity, civil rights, and environmental justice into all the work we do.”
The creation and mission of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice is another important step in assuring that Black, brown, and low-wealth communities are no longer disproportionately burdened by the impacts of the climate crisis. Equally important is that our communities must become actively engaged in monitoring how these valuable resources are used by EPA and other agencies and at the state level. Our communities must speak up about the useful and effective implementation of these resources and must hold elected officials and regulators accountable.
We encourage you to reach out to your regional EPA offices to share the importance of environmental justice and thank them for their ongoing work to keep our communities healthy and safe.