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April 12, 2013

Environmental Justice -- For Today & For The Future

EJ Briefing Photo2
Consider these facts: African-American children are six times more likely to die from asthma than other children. Race is the number one factor in predicting the location of toxic waste sites in America, and there is a direct relationship between the rate of poverty in a community and cumulative environmental impacts.
 
This is not new information. Leslie Fields (pictured sitting above), Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership program discussed these incredible statistics on Tuesday, at a briefing for congressional staff on environmental justice and building healthy communities. She spoke alongside leaders from other environmental justice organizations including Jalonne White-Newsome and Cecil Corbin-Mark from the Harlem-based "WE ACT for Environmental Justice", and Dr. Nicky Sheats (pictured speaking above) from the "Center for the Urban Environment" from New Jersey.
 
Together, these advocates and leaders are fighting to relieve the staggering disparity in this country of how different people are affected by environmental hazards. Poor and minority communities bear a disproportionate burden from pollution, climate disruption, and other environmental threats compared to white and more affluent communities. Their briefing was meant to get environmental justice on everyone’s radar, especially lawmakers.

"Children grow up sick and compromised when they grow up in compromised communities," said Fields. She spoke about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination for any program that receives federal funding. This has been a useful tool in fighting many environmental injustices, according to Fields.
EJ Briefing Photo
Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome (pictured at the podium above) from WE ACT for Environmental Justice discussed urban air toxics, which is only one of the many problems that affect at risk communities. Because of some failing regulations, "super-pollution," the overabundance of multiple types of pollution, concentrates in certain areas and turns neighborhoods into toxic air pockets. Children and adults living in highly contaminated areas are at higher risk of respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infertility.

The panelists emphasized that environmental justice is not an issue, but a perspective. Decision makers have to incorporate this perspective into every stage of development for programs and projects that may affect the environment. Most importantly, community members should engage as much as possible to protect their health and communities through environmental justice actions. The Sierra Club has a number of local environmental justice programs throughout the country. Locate a program near you on the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Regional Programs page.

--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern

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