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John Rehberger

The idea of environmental justice communities seems to be a relatively new concept; given how it is defined I believe this will become an increasingly prominent issue amongst environmental regulators. I say this not only because lower-socioeconomic households are more likely to live in more industrial or otherwise possibly toxic areas, but for a few reasons. For one, the income gap in the U.S. continues to grow. The following link depicts the Gini coefficient for the U.S. - 1 being perfect income inequality and 0 being perfect equality.


As you can see this number has been historically trending upward for quite some time, implying a growing disparity in income. Additionally as the U.S. continues to recover from the financial crisis the amount of industrial or other activities that could potentially threaten nearby communities in the U.S. will increase leading to more pollutants in the air, water sources, etc.

Haley Miller

Wow. Matthew Tejada is only 33 and already the Director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the EPA. I am astounded at the experience and success at such a (relatively) young age. The issue of environmental justice is especially important for those who live and work in polluted areas. Tejada makes a great point that environmental justice isn't solely liked to one issue such as air pollution, but is a holistic concept that needs to consider many factors.

I appreciate his diplomatic style in attempting to deal with polluters and let them know the costs of their actions before pressing a lawsuit. John's point (above) is very interesting about the probability of greater communities with high environmental needs as income disparity increases.

Holley Beasley

Something that really popped out at me, especially after having just heard Laura Henson's talk on communication, it how important of a role communication plays in achieving success. Tejada says that environmental justice "is a nexus of so many different issues. There are so many things that impact environmental justice communities, and there are so many factors that have to be understood and accounted for". There needs to be more than just a politician and an environmentalist at the table when talking about environmental justice policies. That conversation needs to include a wide range of people with all different backgrounds and many different specialties, and all those people need to be able to talk and negotiate and come up with a solution that fulfills all of their needs and expectations. He also talks about the importance of establishing relationships when it comes to changing the practices of established industries. It's interesting to me how much a lot of the problem lies in communicating different interests and different goals. I remember Kahn's book saying in the very beginning that in order to determine the socially optimal market price and quantity for a natural resource economists need to understand the environmental aspects of it. But it may also be true that they need to understand the healthcare aspects of it as well, and probably a few other aspects. In order to help Galena Park in Houston, for example, people need to have a sufficient understanding of not just the effects of diesel particulate matter but also of the public healthcare system, the public access to healthy foods, and the transportation system. Policy makers need to know a lot, but we can't expect everyone or even really anyone to know everything, which is why communication is such a huge part of improving our world in the future.

Brett Murray

This was a rather intriguing and encouraging article to see that we are taking steps of encouraging the development and awareness of issues related to environmental justice in the U.S. This is an extremely abstract concept to discuss in any setting (especially a political setting) because many environmental issues cannot be directly attributed to one person or event that is responsible for damages. Instead, environmental justice is typically talked about in scenarios where the responsibility of environmental degradation is distributed amongst such a large number of individuals. Furthermore, it has proven to be extremely difficult under current laws and regulations to develop a strong case that provides indisputable evidence for damages caused from environmental contamination.

As described in comments above, another one of the major issues associated with environmental justice is the fact that most cases of environmental degradation occur in areas with high % of low income families and minority groups. These groups are not formally educated in issues related to environmental health, so many of these people are fully unaware of the harm that is being done to them. In the effort to give you an example, my capstone focuses on developing a new strategy for the Georgia Power Company (an electric utility company). In a recent report, two of the Georgia Power's coal-fired plants (which actually are the two biggest carbon dioxide emitters in the nation) account for 130 and 120 premature deaths annually due to the effects of fine particulate matter alone. The biggest problem with this scenario is that the citizens of Georgia are completely unaware of the harm that their electric utility provider is doing to them, which brings me to my final point. The biggest barrier that is hampering the U.S. from enhancing the degree of environmental justice in our country is lack of awareness and education on environmental science and the issues associated with environmental degradation and contamination.

Matthew Thomas Howell

Before this article, I was not really aware of Environmental Justice or its full scope. It is very encouraging to see that those working in the Environmental Justice field actually go beyond advocating for environmental reforms, but also toward addressing other problems faced by minority and low income neighborhoods. These types of programs really account for the externalities present in the areas and work to inform those living in these areas of the dangers but also to help fix the problems. As Holley mentioned, communication plays a distinct role in environmental justice. Tejada is a first hand example of how face to face communication and diplomatic, cordial relations can accomplish much more than litigation. His success in Houston leads me to believe that he will perform well in this new EPA position. His open communication approach may not always lead to beneficial legislation, but will nonetheless serve to inform and educate lawmakers on the dangers present in these lower income or minority areas.

Emily Zankman

I found this post particularly interesting as I just wrote a section on environmental justice in my thesis and used this as an example:

One most notorious example of environmental injustice against African Americans occurred in Texarkana, Texas. Patsy Ruth Oliver, “a former resident of Carver Terrace, a polluted African-American suburb of Texarkana, began to notice dark patches of gunk seeping up through withered lawns, around puddle, and into the cracked centers of streets” (Shrader Frechette 207). Additionally, the area’s inhabitants had a strangely large number of medical problems. One year after the residents of Love Canal, New York, discovered leaking dioxin barrels under their homes, Carver Terrace’s case finally emerged to the public. When the US demanded that large chemical companies identify their hazardous waste sites, the Koppers Company of Pittsburgh identified Carver Terrace as one of their sites. For more than 50 years, Koppers “had used creosote (a known carcinogen) to coat railroad ties” (Shrader-Frechette 207). Then, in 1961, Koppers closed its operation in Carver Terrace, bulldozing over its facilities (and creosote tanks). Afterwards, poor families eagerly bought these cheap plots of land without realizing the dangers it would bring them. When Koppers finally admitted to their unsafe practices, the EPA investigated the area and identified the soil as contaminated. However, they did not interview any of the residents and instead declared that there was “no immediate health risk to citizens” (Shrader-Frechette 207). In response, the area’s inhabitants formed the Carver Terrace Community Action group and found out that the EPA had done two other studies on this area and found high levels of contaminants, but did not inform the residents of the risk (Shrader-Frechette 207).

It is great to see how far the EPA has come since 1961 in regards to environmental justice. Hopefully this ambitious agenda that Tejada outlines will actually be carried out.

Cited: Shrader-Frechette, Kristin. "Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy." Trans. Array Environmental Ethics: What Really Matters, What Really Works. David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2012.

Courtney Ridenhour

This interview underscores the importance of grassroots efforts and talking to voters on a community level. Often the issue both policymakers and voters face is a lack of factual information. The reporter and Tejada mention the failed cap-and-trade bill in 2010, suggesting a lack of support and knowledge from the bottom may have been to blame.

Tejada says a lack of grassroots efforts have “been a major reason why some things haven’t been successful over the last five or ten years, why the environmental community has lost on some really big issues. We didn’t put the time or the resources or the effort into building a true grassroots foundation for our advocacy platform.”

Policy tends to be reactive. We can talk about the normative endlessly – what should be done, when it should be done – but until scientists, activists and politicians start sharing their findings and ideas with the general public, most policies won’t make it beyond the House. Until then, there will be a disconnect.


The issues presented in this Q & A presents what journalist/economist/anthropologist David Brooks calls an "emergent system," or a situation made more intense than the sum of its parts--and therefore more difficult to solve. Environmental justice sounds like an issue that cannot be solved just by fixing the one "lynchpin" issue, but requires addressing air quality, poverty, transportation, healthcare, and all the other issues mentioned. I think that Tejada realizes that the issue is comprehensive and cannot be easily defined or easily fixed. So I would also warn readers to consider the "successes" and remember that solving problems requires more than just defining them.

Julia Murray

Like Courtney, it was refreshing to see Tejada highlight the need for exchange of information on important issues impacting environment justice communities. For any type of policy or action to ameliorate environmental problems, it will be extremely important to keep both policy makers and the public informed of a wide array of information from many different fields. As others have pointed out, it is not just the direct environmental effects that are important, but residual effects on health and quality of life.

It was also great to read about policy plans that are both adaptive and preventative. As we read in some of our earlier articles, both actions that will help us adapt to climate change or any other environmental problem and actions that will help prevent future damage will be necessary to combat the problem.

Shawn Swaney

When I read through this article, I took special notice to the part where they talked about the cap and trade system and how it failed in a community. Especially in an community that is deemed as an "environmental justice community", I would imagine that a cap and trade system (something we've spent a great deal of time talking about in class this term) is incredibly harmful.

Following that, I read a bit of the Skocpol article that they have linked and mentioned. This Harvard article says:

"Innovation-oriented environmentalists are not the only ones who can ask for more funding. In February 2012, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy issued a “Philanthropy at Its Best” report called Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders, taking up the cause of hundreds of social-justice oriented environmental groups, many of them relatively small and locally focused, who also felt slighted by the concentration of 2000s philanthropy on the USCAP effort...The fine print of the report, however, revealed a clear agenda – to designate a fixed share of funding to go to small, social justice-oriented groups, pretty much regardless of their relevance to any realistic policy agenda about climate change or the limitation of dangerous emissions."

I thought it was especially interesting that this report states to allocate a fixed amount of resources, regardless of their relevance to any realistic policy. I would think that determining which actions need to be funded, especially in an environmental justice community, shouldn't be limited to just climate change or emissions. There are a myriad of problems that force these communities to bear negative externalities, not simply just problems that stem from climate change.

In my opinion, in order to be able to have effective work in social justice, we need to consider broadening the terms of what is actually realistic and helpful. From there, we can determine the best ways of helping these communities

Marissa Gubler

Matthew Tejada has a good way of thinking about approaching environmental justice issues. Grassroots efforts and unity are key to communities seeking environmental justice as the more people make an uproar about the toxins that they are being exposed to, the more likely politicians and corporations are to listen. However, while getting environmental justice communities health care and transportation are beneficial, they do not truly take care of the problem, which is the release of toxins. As corporations are unlikely to change there polluting behavior unless they are given an incentive, politicians need to create tax and command and control policies for toxins, especially those that are known to be carcinogenic. Where the grassroot efforts and local people come in is in pressuring the corporations and politicians into changing polluting behavior. While it will probably be difficult to phase out carcinogen discharge overnight, policies could be structured to phase out carcinogens within a couple of years. If the environmental justice problem is similar to Love Canal as the community was built on a toxic waste site, then the government could subsidize families to relocate to safer locations at the expense of the party that was responsible for the irresponsible storage of toxic waste. Of course it might be hard to locate the responsible party, and in that case the subsidies could come out of an emergency fund provided by pollution taxes or pollution permits.

Kate LeMasters

I agree with Holly’s comment that the emphasis on communication between companies, government agencies, and local communities is closely related to Laura Henson’s talk. Laura emphasized the importance of communication between disciplines and we see this recommendation in action here. Additionally, Environmental Justice takes the importance of communication in conjunction with a government program to combine communication with moral suasion and potential economic incentives to have a magnified impact on communities. This holistic approach is a refreshing policy that properly addresses a multifaceted problem.
By having leagues across the country, will better be able to address rural areas, Indian reservations, food deserts, etc. to create localized agendas that are often lacking in policy decisions. For this action to be successful, each location must take into consideration their specific region and its resources at hand.
With the emphasis on low-income and minority communities, Environmental Justice should work with public housing locations and resettlement agencies to ensure that there is community across all sectors. Working with housing operators will build trust and communication and will help these agencies decide where to locate new public housing facilities in relation to highways and factories, when possible.
While these actions are very positive for the US, we must remember that some areas in the US are not environmentally safe, but not due to heavy traffic, subpar construction, and polluting factories. For instance, places on the Mississippi Delta have heavily polluted water and are in very rural locations without access to environmental regulators. While Environmental Justice seeks to ensure greater access to health care, clean water, etc. it cannot only focus on areas with heavy emissions pollution. If it encompasses multiple facets of pollution in the US, it will have a substantive and sustained impact on these areas.

Curtis Jay Correll

It is common to look at environmental issues at a global, national or even state level, but the effect pollution has on individual communities is an important focus that could really bring home these issues to the voting public. Tejada's focus on birth defects and diseases in specific communities and on individuals makes these issues more personal for those who do not specialize in environmental issues. Joseph Stalin once said, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions a statistic." This quote is actually relevant in this situation also. When you think of the victims of environmental change as individuals with families, dreams, hobbies and as mundane people, it seems much worse than when you look at the issue as a whole. In the same way, looking at the effect in one community is more impactful than throwing out statistics about how much of the rainforest is bulldozed annually and similar facts and figures. This needs to become an emotional as well as rational issue for the public to embrace it, and that means it needs to be presented like Tejada presents it- not so scientifically.

Tyler Voorhees

I agree with previous posters that this article echoes many points from Laura Henson’s talk. I believed both she and Matthew Tejada do a very important service in recognizing the importance of communication for between different stakeholders (including the poor), companies and the government. His point about taking a holistic approach to environmental justice also echoes Laura’s interdisciplinary training to get to where she is today.
I am extremely impressed with Matthew’s credentials and commitment to his job though! I also thought this is an interesting issue that we haven’t been able to focus on a lot in class that would be very worth it to talk about it if we had time. Its very clear that there are many social determinants to health, and that if that is the case we have an obligation to provide help in the form of healthcare or to take care of some of the environmental issues. This becomes even more dramatic, but also more controversial, when considering global issues. Should we be in some way held responsible for pollution in China due to factories that meet our demand for cheap manufactured good?
I agree with previous posters that this article echoes many points from Laura Henson’s talk. I believed both she and Matthew Tejada do a very important service in recognizing the importance of communication for between different stakeholders (including the poor), companies and the government. His point about taking a holistic approach to environmental justice also echoes Laura’s interdisciplinary training to get to where she is today.
I am extremely impressed with Matthew’s credentials and commitment to his job though! I also thought this is an interesting issue that we haven’t been able to focus on a lot in class that would be very worth it to talk about it if we had time. Its very clear that there are many social determinants to health, and that if that is the case we have an obligation to provide help in the form of healthcare or to take care of some of the environmental issues. This becomes even more dramatic, but also more controversial, when considering global issues. Should we be in some way held responsible for pollution in China due to factories that meet our demand for cheap manufactured good?

Avery Gant

A major point that stuck out to me about the article was the emphasis that Tejada places on a grassroots outreach in his previous advocacy campaigns. A common problem facing global climate change is the disconnect between the scientific and common community about the reality of the problem. Tejada's approach towards advocacy would focus on bridging this gap, and raising the common citizen's awareness of the issue. While Tejada focused on poor neighborhoods in this interview, an extension of these enriching practices would serve to benefit environmental knowledge and understanding of the families in all class types. It is exciting to have a young, energetic face as the head of the Office of Environmental Justice. Tejada can hopefully take this position to new heights and bring Environmental Justice new levels of recognition and creditability.

Hampton Ike

When we discussed several articles prior to the first exam, we spoke of looking into the distribution concerns involving pollution. However, at the time we were discussing distribution on a much larger global scale involving developing vs. developed countries as well as geographical concerns with coastal or island nations. Michael Tejada illuminates the importance of distribution concerns within a single nation, and how America reflects the global norm where the more impoverished and undereducated people/nations receive disproportionately large amounts of the negative impacts of climate change. As for Tejada's role in aiding these communities of environmental justice, I think it is very important and his inter-agency (interdisciplinary) approach is well founded, but it doesn't do much for the country as a whole. This may sound very insensitive as he is obviously improving the lives of many impoverished and suffering communities, but I am simply pointing out that yes his work is beneficial yet not changing the overall path of climate change or the nation's pollution problems. The EPA needs a man like Michael Tejada doing the great work he does, but the national and global climate problem cannot be solved through such rudimentary and small scale governmental actions. Tejada's work can be seen as a platform from which to expand governmental involvement in more broad cases of environmental degradation.

Rachel Samuels

I am always glad to see government agencies working for the good of small communities instead of simply citing them as a statistic. Tejada's work in the field, as he said, certainly seems to be giving him a vantage point that will benefit the effectiveness of the EPA and its resources. Many of the anti-environmentalists I have talked to seem to think that environmentalists prize plants above humankind because they are unable to swing detriments to the environment back around to harming human health, particularly because it is mainly the lower socioeconomic groups that experience the strain. The use of the word justice to describe the problem with uncontrolled negative externalities ties in politics and morals very well to environmental goals.

I can't help but wonder, however, how effective focusing on individual small communities, one at a time, will be. From experience, people who have been in the field and love seeing and meeting the people they are helping, prefer to be on the ground and being active. As Tejada said, there are environmental justice communities all over the United States; that lends itself to a very large number of communities. Tejada will need to focus on sending small teams nationwide to places like Galena Park, or else go to those places to gather data on the major problems involved with environmental injustice and start legislature to try to prevent the major difficulties. Tejada's attitude is very refreshing, however, and I am sure he will be an asset to the EPA.

Account Deleted

I understand arguments that communication of information is essential to successfully advocate for policies. I felt that this interview was pretty short on concrete details of the costs and benefits associated with these programs. I finished the article wanting to have a lot more information.

Perhaps information regarding the environmental quality of these communities is not universally well known. I would be curious to see a hedonic study of residential areas in the Houston area to measure the extent to which local communities had attempted to include environmental externalities in housing prices.

Katja Kleine

I was happy to learn more about the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. I honestly did not know that we had an Office of Environmental Justice and it is reassuring to hear that we do! It sounds like Matthew Tejada will be an excellent fit for this position because of his grassroots experience. I think that grassroots advocacy is something lacking in all areas that effect minority and low income communities. You rarely hear people in those communities advocating for themselves, likely because they need encouragement or reassurance that their voices matter. It sounds like that is what Tejada and the Air Alliance Houston have provided for Galena Park. Like Holly and Kate both mentioned, parts of this article related to Laura Henson’s talk on communication. I think that having somebody in the EPA who has experience integrating into low income minority communities will be extremely valuable. He will know the reservations of people, and know to look at the comprehensive picture (including access to healthcare and transportation). And he also will have the tools to encourage those communities to speak out and stand up for themselves. Additionally, I think that spreading awareness of the differences in pollution distribution in the United States is a tangible way to get people thinking about how energy consumption directly affects others. Sometimes this can be even more powerful than using a global example for the simple reason that people relate more closely to people in the United States.

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