In December 2016, the Environmental Justice community caught wind of Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to create an Environmental Justice Work Group. With optimism that the Governor was finally responding to the environmental and public health concerns of Michigan’s most vulnerable communities, the EJ community hoped that this action would be a step in the right direction. After all, the creation of an EJ Work Group was a direct recommendation from the Governor’s own Flint Water Advisory Task Force in response to the still-existing Flint Water Crisis. However, it became clear this week that the Governor’s plan to remedy environmental injustice is shaping up to be yet another government sanctioned, private industry-heavy fiasco.
On Wednesday February 15th, Governor Snyder quietly released his list of the Environmental Justice Work Group members on the State’s website. Most glaring about this list is that the Governor did not reserve a single appointment for a resident of an actual EJ community who is directly impacted by environmental injustice. While the Governor states that “ensuring every Michigander has the same protections from environmental and health hazards is of the utmost importance,” the overwhelming majority of his appointments to this EJ Work Group would suggest otherwise. This 19-person Work Group consists primarily of private industry executives and state government agency representatives. This is an unmistaken brush-off and knowing dismissal of the residents and organizations who wrote letters, made phone calls, and sent emails asking the Governor to ensure that EJ communities were represented on the Work Group.
As it stands, the very makeup of the Governor’s Environmental Justice Work Group runs counter to every rule of the widely accepted Principles of Environmental Justice -in particular, the principle that “Environmental Justice demands the right [of impacted communities] to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.” However, the Governor’s transgressions do not have to persist. Standing in solidarity with EJ communities around Michigan, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition is calling on Governor Snyder to not only reconsider his appointments with the Principles of Environmental Justice in mind, but to also make appointments of EJ community members who suffer the impacts of unfair environmental decision-making on a daily basis.
Statement on H.R. 482 & S.B. 103
On January 11th and 12th, Senate Bill S.B. 103 and House Bill H.R. 482 (the “Bills”) were introduced respectively by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. Being mirror images of one another, both Bills are an outright attempt to disempower the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) by rolling back necessary protections of the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) by “nullify[ing] certain regulations and notices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for other purposes.”
Among the numerous detrimental provisions, the Bills call for the defunding of Federal programs that provide access to housing data for States, local governments, and public housing agencies regarding “community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” The specific language is as follows:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”
While the Bills purport “to further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act,” by giving State and local officials more control over housing decisions, this assertion couldn’t be further from the truth. Sen. Lee and Rep. Gosar make walking-contradictions of themselves and an oxymoron of their proposed Bills by implying that the best way to enforce the Fair Housing Act is to actually create financial barriers to accessing data that clearly informs whether housing decisions are in fact “fair.”
States, local governments, and public housing agencies in the U.S. have a long, well documented history of housing discrimination when it comes to racial minorities. This is the very reason why the FHA exists today. Yet, the Bills would strip housing officials of Federal resources and then turn the reigns back over to them –suggesting that they are now better equipped to enforce the FHA. This simply cannot happen.
As fair, affordable housing is an essential component of Environmental Justice, we are calling on our representatives in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to reject the notion that States’ sovereign powers are somehow boosted by defunding Federal housing databases that are meant to protect vulnerable citizens and communities. Reject this notion by voting no when the Bills come up in Committee and making sure that they never reach the chamber floors.
This fall, Our Kitchen Table has had the opportunity to attend and four different Michigan conferences relative to its work.
On September 24, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition sponsored a conference in Detroit. Discussion centered on the Michigan Environmental Justice Plan, developed with input from many of the state’s most prominent activists during the Granholm administration. Pressured to complete the plan before the Snyder administration took power, those involved agreed to accepting a weakened version. Even so, the Snyder administration shelved the plan.
OKT was impressed by the commitment demonstrated by staff members from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) who were present at this conference. This commitment fostered hope that government could come on board as a protector of Michigan’s environment and thus its citizens’ health.
Another government official, Agustin V. Arbulu, director of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, led a session that highlighted how the Flint water crisis transformed environmental justice into a civil rights issue. As such, those impacted by environmental catastrophe may be able to access more governmental power to effect change.
On October 20, OKT traveled to Ann Arbor for the Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (GLC-SOPHE) conference, which hosted public health professionals from across the state. Here, OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King, and communications manager, Stelle Slootmaker, shared “The Many Facets of Food Justice” with the 50 folks who chose to attend the session. The presentation focused on the ten-part food justice series that OKT has developed over the past four years. Lisa brought the session to a rousing conclusion with an emphasis on how food justice is integral to public health.
Grand Rapids’ LINC Empowered Communities conference was next on the agenda. Southeast Area Farmers’ Market vendor, Yvonne Woodard joined Lisa and Stelle to listen to the morning panel featuring Van Jones. After the panel, Lisa and Stelle presented “Growing an Alternative Food System: The OKT Model” at one of the breakout sessions. After defining food justice terminology and intersectional foci, the two shared how the very replicable OKT model is making a difference in Grand Rapids.
On October 28, the OKT contingent drove to East Lansing to for the Michigan Good Food Summit. In the afternoon, Lisa, Yvonne and Stelle repeated their presentation, “Food Justice and How to Grow It” for 90 participants—it was the most popular workshop of the day!
OKT believes that sharing its model will help educate others working in food issues not only on the injustices of the current industrial food system but also on ways to build an alternative that will operate outside the bounds of racism, improve community members’ health and contribute to the earth’s environmental recovery.
You can view the PowerPoint presentations on the Educational Handouts & Recipes page of this website.