Reflections on Juneteenth
Juneteenth, observed every year on June 19, is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It is the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Texas and the last enslaved African Americans learned of the Emancipation Proclamation--over two years after it was issued. In 2021, President Joe Biden formally marked Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Today, Clean Water Action is reflecting on the legacy of slavery and the racism that still stains this country, and learning of and creating opportunities for us to take action to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter. The link between the Black Lives Matter movement and the environmental movement is clear - we cannot have Environmental Justice without racial justice. You can check out and participate in Juneteenth activities and events for Black Lives being held by Six Nineteen.
Environmental Justice is one of Clean Water Action’s top priorities: addressing the environmental injustice that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. In this blog post, we’ll highlight our national and state Environmental Justice programs and some of the work being done by Black and Environmental Justice leaders here at Clean Water Action.
Through executive orders and other actions, the Biden administration has made addressing the disproportionate impact of pollution on people of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities a policy priority. Clean Water Action is engaging to make sure that these policies succeed and that concrete progress is made to reverse the patterns of environmental injustice. Three of the Justice-40 Initiative, an all-of-government effort to improve environmental justice outcomes, involve water programs. Clean Water Action’s National Water Projects Coordinator, Thea Louis, reviewed the first year of the Justice-40 initiative in a blog post here.
We are urging U.S. House members to co-sponsor and support the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 2021), a comprehensive approach to addressing longstanding environmental inequities that harm communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and Indigenous communities across the country.
Due to our country’s history of racial injustice, over a third of hazardous waste storage facilities exist in flood-prone areas, and are close to Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities. As usual, frontline communities will be hit the worst when disaster strikes. Clean Water Action urges the EPA to ensure these communities are kept safe from potentially disastrous chemical leaks through improving its Worst Case Discharge Rule. You can submit your comment to EPA here.
Clean Water Action led a series of Black History Month podcasts focused on Environmental and Racial Justice featuring the stories of Black leaders at Clean Water Action: Maurice Sampson, Eastern PA Director, and Vernice Miller Travis, the Executive Vice President for Environmental and Social Justice at Metropolitan Group, Vice Chair of Clean Water Action’s Board, and co-founder of WeAct for Environmental Justice. Listen to We All Live Downstream on your favorite podcast streaming platforms or www.cleanwater.org/podcast
Clean Water Action has helped lead the work in California to implement the Human Right to Water statement adopted by the legislature seven years ago. We have helped pass a series of laws providing new funding to small water systems serving largely BIPOC communities to better enable them to provide safe water to their customers. Most recently, we have been advocating for the interests of these communities as water resources dwindle in the state's record-breaking drought. We also continue to work with BIPOC communities in Kern county on air pollution from oil wells and refineries, and brought lawsuits that shut down two of the state’s largest open air oil and gas wastewater pits. Learn more and take action here.
Anacostia Park is a 1200 acre park system adjacent to the Anacostia River that plays an important role in the culture and community health of several predominantly Black neighborhoods east of the River. Investments in the stewardship and infrastructural maintenance of Anacostia park has been a long-standing challenge. Clean Water Fund serves as the fiscal agent and coordinator for the Anacostia Parks & Community Collaborative (APACC), a network of community leaders and organizations working together to make the Anacostia River and its park system better resources for residents of Wards 7 and 8. Over 90% of the District’s African-American residents live in Wards 7 and 8.
Clean Water through its leadership role in APACC helps raise and redistribute resources to environmental justice groups and leaders in the Anacostia. Clean Water has also been heping APACC advocate for the needs of area residents on issues like flooding, air quality and Park maintenance.
Clean Water Action is working with allies and partners to secure stronger equity commitments in CT’s Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P). This is an important opportunity to invest in a transportation system that prioritizes communities living on the frontlines of poverty, pollution, and the climate crisis.
This past spring, state legislators took an important step by committing 50% of proceeds to communities that breathe the dirtiest air and lack access to quality transit. The bill passed the Senate Environment Committee but did not reach the House. Moving forward, legislators have the chance to ensure that TCI-P includes other essential equity guardrails. Learn more.
Every community in the state of Maryland deserves to have their health and environmental safety treated with equity and integrity. Clean Water Action believes that your health and quality of life should not be determined by your zip code. We work with overburdened communities to ensure their voices are heard. We have helped organize and lead the Maryland table of the Mid-Atlantic Justice Coalition to advance Justice 40 principles and secured language mandating that 40% of spending in key areas related to environmental justice be dedicated to overburdened and low-income areas of the state. Learn more.
We are working to pass the Transit Equity Act, a bill designed to proactively enforce Civil Rights Act Title VI protections in Maryland in response to some of Maryland Governor Hogan's most egregious decisions. The MD Legislature passed the Transit Equity Act this past legislative session, however the Governor vetoed it. Maryland will have a new legislature and new governor after the election this year, and we will be working hard to educate these new representatives about this priority issue.
Clean Water Action is also working to ensure that Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) definition of “renewable” does not include energy sources that create local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions such as trash incinerators, woody biomass incinerators, and facilities that manufacture or capture methane. These facilities are overwhelmingly located in already overburdened, disproportionately Black, brown, and/or low-income communities.
The way we currently produce and use energy in the U.S. significantly contributes to the climate crisis and pollutes our water, air and communities. It also disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color. Many BIPOC and low-income communities struggle with high asthma rates and a lack of access to clean water and healthy foods. These are examples of environmental injustice. We believe that frontline and EJ communities should be protected and prioritized when it comes to addressing climate challenges. Clean Water Action works in Massachusetts to center the needs of underserved and marginalized communities in decision-making processes and work with trusted community leaders to address environmental and health issues caused by pollution and climate change.
Our canvass team is working to educate and mobilize residents in the EJ communities of Randolph and Taunton, knocking on doors and talking directly to local residents. In Randolph, PFAS contamination of their water supply and poor management of alternative safe drinking water sources has created barriers to access safe drinking water. We are working to spread information about PFAS as well as support efforts to address this crisis. In Taunton, we are collaborating with the Coalition for Social Justice and Clean Air Taunton to block the siting of Aries’ proposed sludge incinerator in the city. These types of facilities release PFAS from our waste into the air nearby residents breathe.
With the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Table, we are pushing for bills that address siting of energy facilities in EJ communities and require monitoring for air pollution. The air quality bill passed the Senate in modified format and is one of our main priorities for passage in the House between now and late July when the session ends.
We are supporting local activists in Saugus, MA in their fight to end operations at the toxic and unjust Wheelabrator incinerator and working for a just transition that stops the pollution and creates a zero waste solution to our waste crisis.
We have also continued our partnership with the City of Malden, an EJ community with the highest number of known lead service lines (LSL) in Massachusetts. Since 2021, we have helped the city apply for grant funding, wrote a letter of support to Representative Clark and Senator Warren, and organized with a local racial equity group to create a similar push from residents. Malden received about $4 million dollars and has agreed to cover both the public and private side of LSL replacement, making it far more likely that renters and low- income homeowners can now afford full LSL replacement. Learn more about our work here.
Clean Water Action continues to help lead Oil and Water Don’t Mix, the coalition opposing Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. Key partners in the coalition are MI’s tribal communities whose land and water rights are threatened by the pipeline. Clean Water has been supporting the push by tribal communities to enforce their treaty rights with the federal government. Learn more and take action here.
At the request of our EJ allies, Clean Water Action helped organize an Environmental Justice caucus in the MI legislature last year, bringing together the first caucus to address the needs of EJ communities. Clean Water has also been a lead partner in Water for All MI, along with EJ leaders from Detroit, working to increase funding for water infrastructure needs in MI in an equitable manner.
Clean Water Action has been supporting the work happening in North Minneapolis to shut down the trash incinerator located right in the middle of a very low income and BIPOC neighborhood. This has been combined with efforts to push the county to adopt a zero waste plan that will actually be implemented, and which centers community needs and environmental stewardship.
We also worked with our partners to introduce multiple bills at the state legislature for full lead service line (LSL) removal in Minnesota, removing lead from schools and daycare facilities and reducing the use of lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. The most significant bill, HF4115 will provide $30M per year for 10 years from the General Fund to cover all the costs of full LSL replacement statewide. It will also prioritize environmental justice and low income communities. Unfortunately, the legislature failed to pass the bill. Learn more about our work here.
Clean Water Action continues to hit milestones on Environmental Justice in the Garden State.
As one of the driving forces behind the state’s historic environmental justice (EJ) cumulative impact law, we expect full adoption of the corresponding regulations by year end 2022.
We are working to pass NJ’s Clean Energy Equity Act, which will use solar power and energy efficiency to reduce energy burdens for low-income households; develop paid solar and clean energy workforce training programs for individuals from overburdened communities; and require that all new construction in low-income and environmental justice communities be solar-ready.
We help lead the Coalition for Healthy Ports, a broad coalition of environmental, labor, faith, community, environmental justice and business organizations that seek to create sustainable ports in New York and New Jersey. On a civil rights front, we have been working closely with others to advance a voter-approved Green Amendment that would ensure clean air, water, and environment as a constitutional right in the Garden State. We are just one co-sponsor short of a majority in both the NJ Assembly and Senate.
Clean Water Action has also expanded our Environmental Justice team led by Black leaders: Kim Gaddy as National Environmental Justice Director, Terrance Bankston as our new Environmental Justice Organizer, and Aubrey Mollinedo as our new Water Justice Coordinator.
In Philadelphia, we helped launch the Resilient Community Stormwater Initiative that is engaging with eight different low-income neighborhoods of color around the creation of green space and green stormwater infrastructure to address flooding and sewage overflow issues. We are playing a key role in connecting technical work with local community partners to give residents a strong role in identifying goals and project needs in the neighborhoods.
Clean Water Action is also working to pass a package of bills to help further bolster efforts to address Environmental Justice issues in Pennsylvania. This legislation will ensure that PA has the tools to fully honor all resident’s constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and ethical values of the environment.
Philadelphia is plagued by lead in house paint, dust, soil, and drinking water plumbing. Much of Philadelphia’s soil is also contaminated by nearly 100 former lead-emitting factories or smelters. We are leading the Lead in Soil: Community Lead Soil Sampling project in Philadelphia where residents can volunteer as a soil sampler to support the mapping of lead soil elevations. Learn more about our work here.
In Rhode Island, Clean Water Action is leading the fight to stop an effort to build a plastics burning facility in South Providence. Our office is located in South Providence, an environmental justice community already overburdened with several polluting industries. We have worked with local environmental justice and neighborhood groups to coordinate opposition to legislation that would pave the way for plastics burning facilities.
Clean Water Action is also supporting legislation that would lead to all lead service lines in the state being replaced over the next 10 years. We are part of the coalition - led by Childhood Lead Action Project - working to address one of the biggest sources of lead contamination in BIPOC communities. The legislation has cleared the Senate, and is awaiting movement in the House.
Clean Water Action has weighed in on several ballot initiatives in the city of Austin in support of BIPOC communities, most recently helping defeat an initiative that would have dramatically increased the size of Austin’s police force. Clean Water has also worked to ensure that the Water Forward policies we advanced reflected the needs of lower income and BIPOC communities, addressing the issue of housing affordability which is becoming a critical problem in the Austin metro area.
Clean Water Action urged the Virginia General Assembly to pass a biennium budget that prioritizes Environmental Justice by extending operation of Virginia’s interagency environmental justice working group to complete an assessment of the resources required of state agencies to develop agency-specific environmental justice policies.
Additional reading and resources