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Clean Water is Environmental Justice

2012 September 27

By Nancy Stoner

Hanging in my office is a list of EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s priorities for the EPA. It is a focused list that identifies seven key areas which form the core of our mission. Working for environmental justice and protecting America’s waterways are both on this list. In the Office of Water, we understand that these two are not separate goals. Environmental justice shapes our priorities, frames our projects, and informs our actions. It embraces the idea that every community, regardless of its size and economic standing, deserves access to safe water.

Nancy on a tour of green infrastructure to reduce polluted stormwater in urban Baltimore.

At the EPA, we have universal standards for water quality, but many cities and towns in our nation are still grappling with reaching these standards.  Our environmental justice efforts acknowledge that people who lack resources must often use whatever water is nearest and available to them.  Through a variety of partnership programs, we work with these communities to implement projects that invigorate their economies, restore their waterways, and  help them provide clean water to their citizens.

Cities are an extremely important aspect of environmental justice as 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Through the EPA-led Urban Waters Federal Partnership, we are providing grants to improve water quality and reconnect urban citizens with their local waterways. Recent Urban Waters projects vary from citizen-run water monitoring networks to parks built on vacant lots using green infrastructure. With these grants, communities are able to tailor their projects to their needs, revitalizing their community while also securing cleaner water.

In rural communities, our environmental justice efforts focus on issues specific to each area. For example, we are working with communities in Appalachia to help clean up rivers and streams affected by mountain top mining. These waterbodies are crucial to residents for drinking, fishing, and swimming. We work with locals to minimize consequences to human health, help the local environment, and strengthen their economy.

When it comes to water, it is difficult to think of a single issue that does not tie into environmental justice. By focusing on how water issues affect people in their communities, we can expand the conversation on environmental justice and redefine our actions to ensure that everyone has access to clean and usable water regardless of where they live.

Click here for more information on the Office of Water’s environmental justice efforts.

About the author: Nancy Stoner currently serves in EPA as the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Prior to joining EPA, Nancy was Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Program.  In that capacity she guided projects to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters from contaminated stormwater, sewer overflows, factory farms, and other sources of water pollution, and led NRDC’s efforts to clean up and restore the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Before joining NRDC, Nancy worked as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the US Department of Justice and served as director of the Office of Policy Analysis in the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Master Melvin M. Lusterio permalink
    September 28, 2012

    The Good Force be with you!

    Excellent, Nancy! You did it right! Keep up the good work!

    Live forever and prosper!

  2. Teri permalink
    September 28, 2012

    thank You Nancy and Lisa Jackson. We need all the help we can get in Appalachia our people are dieing.

  3. Karen A. Vilandry permalink
    September 30, 2012

    This makes me laugh. Environmental Justice is NOT the EPA, Region 1`s plans to bury PCB contaminated sediment, 300,000 cy, in New Bedford Harbor. How does that protect our community and the waterway here? The lawsuit that you have filed against AVX needs to cover the costs for complete removal of PCB sediment offsite to a TSCA approved landfill as you have been doing in the upper harbor. These plans violate our human rights, environmental justice to a clean environment with clean air and water. We surely don’t expect that the agency that was put in place to clean up our environment would actually violate its purpose by deliberately burying PCB sediment in a river. Don’t let anyone kid anyone. Nowhere in New England or even the country has the EPA buried PCB sediment in a river. You need to stop this now!

  4. C Socotch permalink
    October 16, 2012


    Perhaps the USEPA should be working with the rural communities to provide safe drinking water to individuals that still rely on wells and springs that was impacted from past (pre-law) mining contaminants and not worry so much about mountain-top mining which has minimal impact to ground water supplies. You would be amazed at the high amount of folks in the Appalchian states that are still on private drinking water systems. Many of those even close to urban areas that could have possibility of tapping into public water systems. They still don’t have clean or safe drinking water due to contaminants from old abandoned underground and surface mines.

  5. Caroline permalink
    October 16, 2012

    This is such a great sounding discusion and one that is commendable: water quality, environmental justice, access to good clean water- but is is all a sham as long as EPA allows municipalities to intentionally poison our water with the hazardous waste dumped into it.

    Hydrofluorosilicic acid has no place in our water supply and EPA knows it. EPA is cognizant of the health effects now known from water fluoridation. EPA knows that NSF has never conducted any longitudinal safety studies and EPA knows that fluoridation is causing real harm in this population from endocrine disruption, brain and fetal effects to the chelation of calcium.

    Are the huge arthritis numbers we are seing just early stages of late stage I and stage II skeletal fluorosis? Very likely. The people are loosing confidence in our government, and EPA needs to take a stand and end the political shenanigans, and end the forced ‘medication’ of the water supply with a hazardous waste.

    Does EPA know how much this country is going to be spending on ailments very likely related to a lifetime of ingested fluoride?

    EPA can end this, EPA should end this, and EPA should act soon. The 2006 Fluoride report was clear enough that you have ample science on your side.

    End the slow poisoning of the population. Really make your words mean something.

  6. Teri permalink
    October 22, 2012

    It is not only the people on private wells, but also the people on municipal water systems. All those valley fills and sediment runoff goes to the creeks that feed our rivers, then we pump the water back to our faucets. Our municipal systems can not deal with such heavy loads of metals. But yea there are still many on wells, one community in Letcher County was told to not have contact with their water by The KY Division of Water.

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