Sierra Club Centennial Group Environmental Justice Panel Discussion

I thought the panel discussion on Environmental Justice (EJ), organized by the Sierra Club Centennial Group on the Oct 6th, went well.  I had the good fortune of moderating an excellent panel of three women of color, who as it turned out owed their start and grounding in Environmental Justice to their work with Sierra Club. Brionte McCorkel ( ), Dr. Yolanda Whyte ( and Seandra Pope ( contributed to a rich conversation, their understanding of the issues, real life experiences and ability to get to the heart of the matter, made the panel discussion engaging, personal and heartfelt.

The key points that emerged from understanding EJ, and discussing how fossil fuel heavy industries are responding to EJ, what  large Fortune 500 companies are doing about EJ, and the importance of effectively partnering and collaboration with other not for profits to address EJ challenges, were:

According to Dr. Whyte – CDC’s Environmental monitoring studies African Americans and Asian Americans have the highest levels of heavy metals in blood and urine. A study by the Journal of Environmental Health suggest that African American babies have 10 times the normal level of heavy metals like Mercury in the umbilical cord. NAACP’s Coal Blooded report ( suggests that African Americans are more likely to live in close proximity to coal plants.  She also adds that these sobering facts suggest that while we have the strongest protection through presidential executive order 12898 on EJ ( ), that all federal agencies have to comply by identifying and addressing EJ concerns in minority and low income communities, it is usually not enforced.

Examining large companies focus on EJ suggests varying levels of commitment, there are some that are focused on sustainability and CSR and not necessarily EJ/Equity, sustainability in some cases includes community, economic vitality and access to healthy food. Some heavy fossil fuel based companies including Utilities are figuring it out, some prioritize profit over people, and it’s also easier to focus on the economic opportunity like energy efficiency and reduced bills than EJ.  Companies need to change the culture, they need to think about who’s allowed in the room, they can do a better job engaging with the community and hiring community leaders, and bringing them to the decision making table.


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