Hispanic Stakeholders Forum In The Heartland
On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order # 12898, specifying “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.”
For the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
More than 10 years after Clinton signed the EJ Executive Order, low‑income neighborhoods and communities of color still bear disproportionate environmental burdens in our society. These communities are more frequently chosen as sites for polluting facilities ‑‑ such as oil refineries, chemical plants, landfills and incinerators ‑‑ over wealthier, predominantly white communities that have more political power and demonstrated organizing abilities. Low income families often can only afford housing in areas where poor air quality, both indoors and out, exacerbates asthma symptoms. Pre-1978 homes may also endanger children by exposing them to lead paint. And, occupations in agricultural and horticultural industries pose risk of exposure to hazardous pesticides and herbicides.
The Board of Directors of the Sierra Club recognizes that to achieve our mission of environmental protection and a sustainable future for the planet, we must attain social justice and human rights at home and around the globe. There is a national EJ Committee and a network of EJ activists nationwide. In recognition of our efforts to address EJ issues, a link to Sierra Club is posted on the EPA Human Resources Hispanic Outreach Strategy web site.
Elaine Giessel, EJ chair for the Kansas Chapter recently attended an Hispanic Stakeholders Forum and Training Session sponsored by the EPA in Kansas City. EPA introduced its National Hispanic Outreach Strategy (NHOS) in 1999, to “strengthen its relationship with Hispanic Americans and better serve the nation’s growing Latino community.” Initially, there were four NHOS strategy elements or “pillars”: Employment and Professional Advancement, Education Pipeline, Economic Opportunities, and Community Partnerships. A fifth component has been added recently to assess results of the program.
While EPA’s NHOS largely concentrates on economic and employment issues in the Hispanic community, there are goals to facilitate access to environmental information and to improve the delivery of programs and services of particular importance to Hispanics.
EPA has done a laudable job developing Spanish language environmental materials and making them available online at a special Spanish “portal.” The range of topics covered is impressive. In addition, the Office of Solid Waste has created several educational packets in Spanish directed at school-aged children. These resource materials should be of great use to Sierra Club activists working in Hispanic communities.
Hispanics are the fasting growing ethnic group in Kansas, but environmental concerns within our Hispanic communities, in both rural and urban areas, are just beginning to be explored. El Centro, a Kansas City area organization that provides social services to Latino immigrants, does not include environmental issues in the programs developed to assist local Hispanics.
There is an urgent need and an opportunity for Sierra Club activists to engage with EPA and other local Hispanic resource centers to raise environmental awareness. It is critical that we use our expertise to assist in identifying issues of concern, and to help communities develop solutions.
If you are interested in working on EJ issues in Kansas, contact Elaine Giessel at email@example.com.
EPA’s Spanish Language Portal http://www.epa.gov/espanol/
EPA’s National Hispanic Outreach Strategy
Executive Order # 12898
To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, and consistent with the principles set forth in the report on the National Performance Review, each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low‑income populations in the United States and its territories and possessions, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands. (Emphasis added)