I recently had the opportunity to see the government’s reemerging emphasis on collaboration in action at the EPA’s Beyond Translation event in Durham, NC, on October 6. During the event, I participated in a significant discussion focusing on the local Hispanic community, and ways the EPA could more effectively respond to the environmental health needs of this population. As I watched leaders from the Latino community interact with members of the EPA in an open discussion about the needs of their community, I was encouraged and reflected on a historic and collaborative meeting that had just taken place last month.
On September 22, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson and Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley brought together five federal cabinet members, reconvening the federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG). Created in 1994 by Executive Order, the Working Group had not met in over a decade.
The reactivation of the EJ IWG signals a significant shift in perspective: a perspective that once again places value on the intersection of environmentalism and social justice. Following the mandate of the original order, the group will work to support the integration of environmental justice into the mission of each federal agency, following the Order’s original mandate for “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.”
While it’s inspiring to hear of federal initiatives, the fruits of such labors are often difficult to discern in midst of the bureaucratic backdrop. Participating in Beyond Translation let me make a personal connection to the EPA’s take on environmental justice and I have to say that I think they got a lot right. Discussion with the community is a great place to start; follow through is even better. Only time will tell how that piece plays out.