Yesterday marked an historic moment for underserved communities facing environmental and health burdens. For the first time in more than a decade Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, convened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. This important working group was created by a 1994 Executive Order from President Clinton, but sadly was never convened at the Cabinet-level under the previous administration.
I am no stranger to this work. As a member of the California State Legislature I authored the first state level environmental justice law, born out of this Executive Order. I took my commitment to environmental justice with me to the U.S. House of Representatives where I served on the Energy and Commerce Committee and fought to protect funding for environmental justice programs, fought increasing inequities and worked to strengthen laws to improve the health and welfare of low income and minority communities. While a member of Congress I also authored the Green Jobs Act, which provided these same communities with funding for job training.
Now, my colleagues in President Obama’s Administration and I are working hard to achieve environmental justice through good jobs for everyone. Through the Recovery Act, we funded a number of Green Jobs initiatives, including a $150 million investment in Pathways Out of Poverty grants. These unique grants are specifically designed to help disadvantaged populations out of poverty through employment in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.
These programs help tackle issues of environmental justice by focusing on the bright future of green technologies. Grantees, like the East Harlem Employment Services and the National Council of La Raza are using innovative approaches working with foundations, labor unions, educational institutions, and employers—including minority contractors—to provide crucial green jobs training and employment services in communities across the nation.
In addition to helping underserved communities find career paths in the growing green energy economy, my Department has also renewed its commitment to protecting the rights of all workers. In April we launched the “We Can Help” campaign, an effort that connects America’s most vulnerable and low-wage workers with the broad array of services offered by the Department of Labor. I was also especially pleased to host the first ever National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety with a goal of reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities among Latino workers through enhanced information for them on workplace rights and an improved ability to exercise those rights. We also issued regulations that significantly strengthen protections for farm workers. And, that’s just the beginning!
These initiatives are about making a difference in the lives and livelihoods of our underserved communities. Throughout my career in public service I have always been committed to speaking up for the rights of those who need a louder voice. The revived Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is an important way to do just that, and I look forward to the opportunity to advance this work.