Activist Seeks Environmental Justice for Minorities and Poor

Feb 17, 2014

Kalamazoo protesters calling for clean up of Allied Paper Landfill - file photo
Credit WMUK

The founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice based in New York will speak this week at Western Michigan University. 

Peggy Shepard will speak at 6:00 Thursday night in 2452 Knauss Hall. Her presentation called "Advancing Environmental Health and Justice: A Community Perspective" is part of the "Changing Climates Series" presented by Western's Center for the Humanities. 

Shepard helped start WE ACT in 1988 to help address "environmental justice." She told WMUK's Gordon Evans that the basic idea behind that term is that all communities should be treated fairly and equally when it comes to environmental enforcement. She says poorer areas and communities with large minority populations are more likely to be impacted by pollution. 

Shepard says those communities are less informed about the issues, and have less power and influence. She says money is a key tool for being able to do research. And Shepard says Congress is influenced by people and groups that can make large political contributions. 

In 1994 President Clinton signed an executive order that required federal agencies to focus attention on environmental justice. Shepard says that brought visibility to the issue. But she says plans developed by those agencies have been "inconsequential." President Obama reaffirmed the executive order in 2011. But Shepard says the executive order lacks accountability to bring about any meaningful results.