WASHINGTON (EPA) – Five Cabinet secretaries and senior officials from a wide range of federal agencies and offices participated in the first White House Forum on Environmental Justice today, illustrating the Obama administration’s commitment to ensuring all Americans have strong federal protection from environmental and health hazards.
More than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country attended the day-long event, which featured White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
“Low-income and minority communities often shoulder an unacceptable amount of pollution in this country, diminishing their economic potential and threatening the health of millions of American families,” said Sutley. “The White House Forum underlines the commitment across the administration to integrating environmental justice into the missions of federal agencies, and ensuring this really is a country of equal opportunity for all.”
“This administration has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that environmental protection reaches every community. We want to put an end to the days when public health and economic potential are harmed by disproportionate exposure to pollution,” Jackson said. “Our continued success relies on close collaboration with our federal partners and strong input from the groups and individuals engaged at the community level. This meeting is an important way to advance all of those goals.”
“For decades, our nation’s environmental problems and threats have been heaped disproportionately on America’s most vulnerable communities. This is unacceptable, and it is unconscionable. But through the aggressive enforcement of federal environmental laws in every community, I believe we can and must change the status quo and ensure environmental justice for all Americans,” said Holder.
“The Obama administration is committed to making environmental justice a central part of our everyday decision-making process,” Salazar said. “Today’s forum speaks to our high-level engagement in strengthening communities that are too often left out and left behind.”
“The administration’s focus on environmental justice includes the opening of substantive opportunities to the 21st century green economy for our minority and low-income communities,” said Solis. “Fostering and leveraging the tremendous untapped human resources that exist across the nation is the smart and right thing to do. After all, it is possible to do well while doing good. Together, we can ensure the U.S. economy is both more reflective of our diversity and more robust in the face of global competitiveness.”
“We understand that people’s health is determined not just by what happens in their doctor’s office but also by their environment — where you live, work, go to school, and play, what you eat and drink, the air you breathe, and how you get around. We are committed to collaborating across the government to put the environment at the center of our health agenda,” said Sebelius.
“The Department of Energy is committed to environmental justice and to promoting healthy communities for all Americans,” said Chu. “The Obama administration is investing in clean energy to not only improve the environment, but to strengthen the economy, save families money and create jobs in all communities.”
The forum highlighted initiatives underway across the federal government that affect environmental justice communities. Discussions centered on the Obama administration’s commitment to ensuring that communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low-income and indigenous communities – have the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment. The forum also provided an opportunity for environmental justice and community leaders and officials from state, local and tribal governments to engage in a conversation with administration officials about environmental justice. These leaders offered their vision for healthier and more sustainable communities during panel discussions throughout the day.
Panels focused on:
On Sept. 22, Jackson and Sutley reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice for the first time in more than a decade. At a White House meeting attended by five Cabinet members, the administration recommitted to advancing the mandate of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” which states that each agency, with the law as its guide, should make environmental justice part of its mission.