Becoming an Environmental Justice Advocate

Back in 1999, I attended a forum called the National Conference for Public Interest Lawyers, which was basically a job fair for new lawyers. I knew I wanted to do environmental work, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that would look like or what was available. As I walked to the different tables, I landed in front of one that had several informational sheets, but one said ‘Environmental Justice.’ What is Environmental Justice? As I read through the sheet it explained that working for environmental justice meant working with and in low income communities and communities of color that were overburdened by environmental pollution. And, that the concentration of facilities and pollution had deleterious health impacts for the people living and working in these communities. That was it. I knew I wanted to work with this group -only one problem: they didn’t have any jobs! I could have moved on, but I knew that no other job would be as rewarding. So, I did the only thing I could, I offered to work as a volunteer.

Working with communities I witnessed the burdens they were living with and met many great hard working citizens who had a passion and love for their home. As a legal advisor I worked together with community groups to advance their visions and address disproportionate impacts. This was very rewarding and it strengthened my commitment and desire to work hand in hand with communities.

In January 2010 the Administrator announced her seven priorities, one being to: Expand the Conversation on Environmentalism and Work for Environmental Justice. Now, in my new position I have the opportunity to continue to work with communities in implementing the Administrator’s priority to ensure all communities are healthy places for people to live, learn, work, and play.

One way we have been working to bring the voices of the communities to the forefront is through our Faces of the Grassroots: Environmental Justice Video Contest. You can share your environmental justice stories by submitting either a 30 or 60 second public service message or a longer 3 to 5 minute informational video that captures your environmental justice story. Our contest closes April 8th. We want you to join the conversation!

For more info, visit

About the author: Lisa Garcia , Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice