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October 01, 2003

Collaborative Models to Achieve Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities

by Charles Lee

The vision of environmental justice is the development of a holistic, community-based, participatory, and integrative model for achieving just, healthy, and sustainable communities-urban, rural, and tribal. During the past several years, the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed this vision into an emerging reality. To do so required the coordinated efforts of all federal agencies because environmental justice issues are implicated in environment, health, housing, education, transportation, and other departments.

The federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, chaired by the OEJ, responded by sponsoring a series of fifteen environmental justice demonstration projects starting in May 2000 and a second round of fifteen starting in March 2003. Following are short summaries of successful collaborations:

  • The ReGenesis Revitalization Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has leveraged some $3.7 million in federal resources and transformed the political atmosphere in the Arkwright/Forest Park neighborhoods from environmental insults to a broad vision for community revitalization.
  • Bethel New Life, Inc., a faith-based community development corporation, is spearheading, in partnership with Argonne National Laboratories and other entities, a transit-oriented, green commercial and residential development in the formerly blighted West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. It is "turning environmental liabilities into community assets and opportunities."
  • The Environmental Health Coalition and a partnership of government, community, and business groups have worked with San Diego's Barrio Logan community and won commitments to address long-standing land use issues. In 2003 the Barrio Logan community celebrated the closure of Master Plating, a metal plating shop with more than 150 violations of environmental and health regulations, located mere feet from neighborhood homes.
  • On May 1, 2003, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy dedicated a 750-kw wind energy turbine on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, beginning an ambitious plan to tap the vast wind energy resources of the Northern Great Plains. The program is intended to be a vehicle for creating tribal-operated and -located sustainable economies. In this way, tribes can be restored as full partners in determining their destinies.
  • Anniston, Alabama, a city historically plagued by industrial contamination and military waste, is now home to the Anniston Vision 2020 Project, a children's health education, monitoring, prevention, and intervention project. In 2020 the project's first participants are expected to enter college.

As a result, the EPA's OEJ has initiated a grant program based upon a collaborative model, the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Grants. The program will make a total of $1.5 million available to fifteen community-based organizations to help achieve tangible working relationships and solutions to environmental justice problems. For more information, see

As published in Human Rights, Fall 2003, Vol. 30, No. 4, p.14.

Charles Lee

Charles Lee is associate director for policy and interagency liaison for the EPA. Office of Environmental Justice. He chairs the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. No official support or endorsement by the Environmental Protection Agency or any other agency of the federal government is intended or should be inferred.