The Environmental Protection Agency was established on Dec. 2, 1970 under Republican President Nixon in the wake of elevated concerns about the environment.

On Oct. 28, 2016, the EPA released their 5-year environmental justice plan covering the years 2016-2020.

What does the plan entail and how will it effect people of color?

There is finally an urban and tribal community plan from the EPA that targets, protects, educates and motivates people of color to get actively involved in environmental issues that have a direct effect on the air that they breathe and the water they drink. This is a big deal for EPA to admit that the agency has been slow in correcting systemic failings in the urban and tribal communities.

Data shows that Blacks and Latino are twice as likely to live near chemical facilities and industrial pollution areas than Whites, according to the Center of Effective Government. The NAACP is becoming increasingly passionate about the environment because environmental violations of civil rights are at play and closely intertwined with health and economic opportunities in the urban community.

For example the Standing Sioux Tribe of North Dakota is currently battling the Obama administration and ‘Big Oil’ to protect their water supply from toxic contamination of a proposed pipeline.  Under the plan the EPA is encouraging environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, to be more diverse in their hiring and volunteer base of minority groups to effectively educate all America on environmental issues.

Historically, the environmental movement has been prominently White and affluent America that does not face the same environmental issues as urban populations.  There are currently national environmental groups that are making inroads in these communities.  For the first time in the history of the EPA and other environmental organizations such as Environmental Defense Fund will provide their literature in Spanish and programs in the Latino community to expand their network.  The Hispanic population is the largest ethnic or minority in our nation, making up 17 percent of the total population at 55 million.

The environmental justice plan, known as EJ 2020, has three priority goals.  Each goal places an emphasis on populations that are low-income and underserviced communities.

The first is to increase environmental enforcement resources in 100 targeted overburdened communities where known environmental violators of pollution are not in compliance of EPA rules.

The second is supporting day-to-day needs through community based work to revitalize communities affected by environmental violators and work with the tribal and indigenous groups to build tribal capacity and promote tribal action on environmental issues.

The third is to identify geographic areas with the greatest lead exposure, reduce sources of lead contamination and take national action to reduce lead in drinking water in under serviced communities.

It’s time for all Americans to get involved in environmental issues, not just to save the environment, but to save ourselves.

Cathy Allen is an award-winning Urban Environmentalist, the co-creator of G.R.A.S.S. (Growing Resources After Sowing Seed) as well as Chair of the “Grow-It Eat It” campaign. G.R.A.S.S. is an environmental entrepreneurial nonprofit program based on the fundamentals of gardening, agriculture and ecology. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, Allen’s campaign has planted over a half-million trees on the lawns of Baltimore City public schools. She can be reached at

Cathy Allen

AFRO Science Writer