The history of WE ACT for Justice goes back to 1988. Peggy Shepard was one of three neighborhood activists who recognized that West Harlem was bearing the brunt of toxic pollution.
The Environmental Justice movement was getting off the ground. Awareness was building that low-income communities and people of color were targeted for sitings by polluting industries in disproportionate numbers.
Now, the Trump administration plans to negate gains from the past eight years. Mustafa Ali, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office on Environmental Justice, resigned in March. The stakeholders WE ACT represents are facing greater jeopardy.
I reached out to Shepard, to ask her what she anticipates moving ahead.
What do you expect from Trump and the EPA, and how are you preparing your community to push back?
"I anticipate a rollback of many of the regulations and policies that the Environmental Justice movement has worked on over the last twenty-five years.
We're used to blackouts at the federal level. We lived through Bush and Reagan, and we will overcome this new hardship through commitment, hard work, and keeping our eye on the prize. Environmental Justice folks are used to being under-resourced and ignored. It has not stopped our vision and savvy at finding ways forward.
The new administration has helped motivate the grassroots and when we have regular people fired up and ready to go, good things happen.
We took four buses to the People's Climate March in D.C. last week."
Much of the work WE ACT did to fight air pollution was through the courts. Do you think the judicial branch of government will be successful in protecting any of the in-place legislation?
"Actually, I believe we have gained as much through the regulatory process as the courts.
We got EPA Region 2 to do air monitoring in Harlem. That data was used to promulgate the fine particulate standard.
I am not optimistic about the courts, but we will have to wait and see. Even with a win, government has to enforce and implement. If that does not happen, then the law is ineffectual. We have to monitor the laws we already have, to ensure they are enforced and complied with."
How are you bringing awareness to health in the home, particularly with the one in four asthma rate among children in Harlem?
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