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Summary of Dialogue with 2008 TRI National Training Conference Attendees

February 12, 2008
Arlington, Virginia

Collaboration with Environmental Justice (EJ) Community
Panel Discussion

  1. Introduction by EPA’s Director of  the Office of Environmental Justice, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

    • Issues of disproportionate environmental impacts have been around a long time, but really emerged in the 1980s when a movement of community-based organizations began to seek information on environmental contamination in their communities

    • 1992 - EPA established the Office of Environmental Equity, which became the EJ office

    • 1994 – President Clinton signed an executive order requiring Federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their missions

    • In 2005, EJ was included in the EPA strategic plan

    • Environmental information plays an important part in EJ, as does obtaining input from communities

  2. EJ Participant 1 from a community-based organization that addresses air pollution, transportation, and respiratory disease issues.  Has developed a collaborative project with Columbia school of public health and related research. Heinz award winner (2003).

    • East Harlem has highest asthma rates in the US and high rates of other diseases.  Some of this is due to disproportionate impact of pollution in their community

    • WE ACT was founded in March 1988 to address ongoing West Harlem community struggles around the poor management of the North River Sewage Treatment Plant and the construction of the sixth bus depot across from an intermediate school and a large housing development -- a densely populated and heavily trafficked area. WE ACT evolved into an environmental justice organization committed to empowering the community to become a vocal, informed and proactive force that determines and implements its vision of what its environment can and should be. 

      • When the group tried to find out about emissions from the diesel bus depots and sewage treatment plant, they couldn’t find any data, so they had to do their own research as a community.  Lack of data in context has resulted in exclusions of communities of color in environmental decision-making.

    • Using science to advance EJ

      • By demystifying the science, activists and communities can learn to use environmental data for their benefit. 

      • Low-income/ethnic groups are suspicious of the use of science

        • Communities know that the food they eat is linked to toxins and health problems, but EPA’s risk assessment method is based on assumptions that are not relevant to this population (e.g., 170 pound white male). 

        • Is science on our side?  Gives example of one community where data were used to determine there were no public health impacts from environmental contamination.

        • Communities need to do their own analyses and show the disproportionate impact on environmental problems.

        • WE ACT received an EPA CARE grant last year and will look at all aspects of environmental pollution across all media.  How to do this?  EPA referred them to data sources they didn’t know existed.  But then they found out EPA wants to curtail the TRI data and access.  This is a step in wrong direction.  When begin to understand TRI, they realize it is an honor system that doesn’t always work.  Why aren’t their sewage treatment plants and water discharges found in TRI data?  They have recommendations on kinds of data that should be collected.

        • NRDC’s Environmental Scorecard overlaid TRI data with other information and it shows cancer risks for HAPs for people of color, Caucasians, by income, poverty level, job classification, etc.  EPA should also correlate these data and show impacts on communities.  This is what they want to be able to do with their grant project.

  3. Co-chair of EPA Community Action for Renewed Environment (CARE) in Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances).  Worked on cumulative risk issues and a community air toxics screening how-to manual.  CARE is a multi-media program to deliver EPA resources to communities.  It has 50 projects across the US, and is a community-driven effort.  

    • The EJ program and CARE grant program attempt to bring communities together to use data.  Need to bring together pieces of information that can answer the questions that communities are asking.

    • Communities face very complex problems regarding the health of their community. The only way to solve these problems is to build collaborative partnerships that can bring together needed data and develop a process where this information can be used to solve the complex problems that communities face.

    • CARE was started in response to a report on multiple stressors and cumulative risk that called on EPA to look at risks in a multi-media way so communities can address their issues.  CARE attempts to integrate data in way to help communities solve their problems.  It is a cross-Agency program, bringing together four major EPA programs and integrates these programs with communities.

    • Level 1 grants (34 in place) – (this is what WE ACT has) – The purpose is to get a better understanding of community environments and help them identify priorities.  This is done using TRI and other EPA data.  Capacity building – helps the community form the partnership, get data, interpret data, and identify priorities.  The partnership includes representatives from the state, local public health and environmental organizations, churches, industry, and other sectors of the community. EPA also provides a representative in the partnership.  EPA shares its data and can help find partners.  The EPA representative represents all of the Agency and all of its data. The partners share information on the data they have and issues they face. 

    • Level 2 grants – help communities address the priorities they identify with the Level 1 grants.

    • Lessons learned from the 34 Level 1 grants:

      • It was hard to find EPA people who can serve in the EPA support role since they don’t know about all the EPA programs. Therefore, EPA formed a national support team of risk assessors from all four environmental topic areas and provides support to the EPA representative. Need people on these teams.

      • Need to go into these partnerships without any stovepipes and represent the Agency as a whole.

      • Need to adopt the goals of the community partnership – improving the health of the community.

      • Need to be there with belief that by providing this information, EPA will make a significant difference and help make progress.  This is necessary to keep people engaged in the community partnership.

  4. Questions and Answers

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