LaKeshia Robertson, a Lead Life Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, visited Pensacola along with Richard D. Gragg III, a Florida A & M University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at the university’s School of the Environment. They met with local residents involved in environmental justice (EJ) advocacy in Northwest Florida. The meeting was held on Friday April 10th at the Wedgewood Marie Young Community Center with representatives from the Wedgewood Community, the Tan Yard/South Pensacola area, and other environmental justice advocates from around Escambia County. Robertson is based out of the Gulf of Mexico Program Office at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and has been traveling throughout the Gulf Coast gathering input from local residents on the issues that they feel are paramount to their local environmental challenges. The information gathered will be utilized to craft EJ State Conferences later during 2015 with a planned Southeastern United States Regional EJ Conference in 2016.
Robertson’s assignment is guided by EPA’s “Plan EJ 2014” and is a road- map that will help EPA to consolidate environmental justice initiatives into their programs, policies, and activities. EPA website info states: “Plan EJ 2014 is named in recognition of the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s issuance of Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (PDF).” EPA is moving to strategically involve itself with EJ communities’ and stakeholders. EPA emphasizes that the plan “is not a rule or regulation.” The agency describes the plan as “a strategy to help integrate environmental justice into EPA’s day to day activities.” The goals of the plan are to: Protect health in com- munities over-burdened by pollution Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities. Judy Cook, Laffanette Soles-Woods, Willie Lawrence, and Larry Williams represented the Wedge- wood Community’s concerns; Jewel Canada-Wynn, Pensacola City Council- woman, represented the Tan Yard/South Pensacola area; Dr. Calvin Avant represented Escambia County’s involvement in an environmental jobs training consortium with Dillard University located in New Orleans, and Mary Gutierrez, Executive Director of Earth Ethics, a local non-profit environmental and social advocacy group. The meeting participants shared some of their EJ nightmare scenarios such as the battle to shut down the landfills in Wedge- wood to a contaminated site in the Tan Yard area. Additionally, there were resources offered to pro- vide some relief to ongoing EJ challenges such as legal assistance from a private non-profit group affiliated with Professor Gragg from Florida A&M, and region-wide coalition building to strengthen the voices of northwest Florida EJ advocacy. There will be additional meetings of local and regional EJ activists to obtain further input on the Florida EJ Conference agenda.