The EPA has a new acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler. Not many of us have met him, and he is not making the headlines like Scott Pruitt had made, but Mr. Pruitt was an Oklahoman and we did think he might in some way make us proud with how he might deal with our Oklahoman issues, including Tar Creek.
Mr. Wheeler comes with a history we may discuss another time but this week he spoke via video to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NJAC) where he vowed to improve communication with vulnerable communities. We might not think of us and here being one of those places, but we are an environmental justice site and EPA will have opportunities to speak to us at the 20th National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek held Sept. 25-26. Perhaps Mr. Wheeler will join them, but for sure Charles Lee will be coming and no one in EPA can speak more clearly than he can on environmental justice.
Charles Lee is credited as the actual pioneer of environmental justice, as he was the principal author of the groundbreaking report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. This document was published in 1987 as the first national report to comprehensively document the presence of hazardous wastes in racial and ethnic communities throughout the US. The report would serve as an instrument for the victims of environmental racism to become aware of the problems but also to able to participate in the formation of viable strategies and solutions.
Mr. Lee is noted to have helped spearhead the emergence of a national environmental justice movement and federal action that included the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, Executive Order 12898, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, the very group the acting administrator spoke with this week and that Mr. Lee had served as a charter member.
For decades he has been the senior policy advisor for Environmental Justice at the EPA, and leads the development and implementation of the EPA’s agency-wide environmental justice strategic plans; and so of course he received the Environmental Justice Pioneer Award on the twentieth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 12898 which was issued by President William J. Clinton in 1994. This focused federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.
Mr. Lee told me that, "No one in the White House can tell the people what their issues are." He has been listening long enough to know, we all know the issues we face, though sometimes we might not know how to spell them or what these wastes might be doing to us or to our children.
We will learn tangible results that have been achieved in minority, low-income, tribal and indigenous communities, many that have required decades of effort, and are a testament to the long-standing commitment, innovation and hard work of the EPA staff who do this work on a day-to-day basis.
We will be provided examples for how we can all work together more effectively to address disproportionate environmental impacts, health disparities, and economic distress in our nation’s most vulnerable communities to make them cleaner, healthier and more prosperous places to live, work, play and learn.
That is exactly why we have asked Charles Lee to come to speak. He has much to say because he has been in the middle of making the EPA protect more of us for decades. He is a serious man with determination that has been serving us from afar. You will get to hear him push us and the agencies represented at our conference who work for us to work with us to make this place better.
When I attended the Intertribal Council Meeting this week to invite all the tribal leaders to LEAD Agency's annual conference and how important it is for the tribal members who are such an integral part of our community to be there and have the opportunity to hear from the agencies who are set to protect us and for all of us to have a chance to challenge and inform them as we can and have been known to do. I blew it and didn't even tell them the Charles Lee was coming.
I had not intended to ask for anything but their presence, but before they adjourned the meeting Chief Glenna Wallace suggested the ITC help fund the conference this year and to my utter surprise it seemed like a unanimous resounding YES! I didn't cry out loud, but it is surprising and gratifying to know our tribal leaders value the work LEAD Agency is doing on environmental justice.
Mark your calendars for this important conference held this year again at NEO in the Student Union Ballroom September 25 and 26. The agenda is packed! The conference is free for Ottawa County residents. Register on-line www.leadagency.org or call 918-540-9399.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim