PHILADELPHIA — Today the City of Philadelphia launched the City’s first Environmental Justice Advisory Commission (EJAC), a historic step in the City’s commitment to supporting the leadership of frontline communities in addressing environmental harms. Alongside the launch, the City announced the establishment of an Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and a community resilience and environmental justice grant fund to affirm the City’s commitment to pursuing environmental justice for all Philadelphians.
“Philadelphia is committed to ensuring that all residents are equitably protected from environmental harms,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “With the establishment of the Environmental Justice Advisory Commission, the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and a community resilience and environmental justice grant fund, I am proud that our city is taking concrete steps towards addressing the injustices of the past and creating a more resilient future.”
Low-wealth communities and communities of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods experiencing multiple environmental burdens and disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Part of this comes from Philadelphia’s industrial past combined with racially-biased and discriminatory policies and practices such as exclusionary zoning, racial covenants, and redlining. The consequences are that these communities often face unequal health burdens observed through indicators such as rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
In 2019, the City adopted legislation creating an Environmental Justice Commission to provide recommendations to the Mayor, City Council and Office of Sustainability to study, report on and address environmental justice issues in Philadelphia. The launch of the full EJAC comes after three years of dedicated volunteer work with community stakeholders and environmental justice experts through the Office of Sustainability’s Environmental Justice Working Group. Their service made a community-led process to establish the EJAC possible, setting a strong foundation for environmental justice to build upon for years to come. The 17 members selected by the Working Group to serve on the EJAC will work together with support from a new position of Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice within the Office of Sustainability to establish an agenda for the work ahead.
The residents selected to serve on the EJAC are:
- John A. Armstead
- Nahdir Austin
- Radika Bhaskar
- Paul Devine Bottone
- Carlos Claussell
- Mariel Diana Featherstone
- Ebony Griffin
- Terrill Haigler
- Joyce Lee
- Su Ly
- Carolyn Moseley
- Kermit O
- Gabriella Gabriel Paez
- Tyler Ray
- Kinteshia Scott
- Jerome Shabazz
- Syreeta Thomas
To pair with this resident-led commission, the City is launching an Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice to strengthen efforts to address current and historic environmental injustice across the government. This working group will bring together cross-departmental leadership to elevate City practices, programs, and policies in collaboration with the Environmental Justice Advisory Commission to advance equitable outcomes. Together, these two bodies will work to address the burden of environmental harms, past and present, that undermine the well-being of residents across Philadelphia.
“In Philadelphia, your zip code determines your life expectancy, and environmental injustice has often been overlooked as a crucial part of community health and wellbeing,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (at-Large), Chair of City Council’s Committee on the Environment. “With this new Commission and the creation of the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group, we are taking another step closer to creating a whole government approach to addressing environmental injustice, and most importantly, we are centering the voices of community members who have lived experience with its impacts. Thank you to Mayor Kenney for his leadership on this issue, and to every member of the Commission for their service to the City of Philadelphia. I look forward to our continued work together.”
The City also recognizes the need to invest in the grassroot activism that residents living on the frontlines of environmental harm engage in everyday. Thus, the City is establishing a community resilience and environmental justice grant fund dedicated to resourcing frontline communities experiencing environmental injustice to advance their vision of an equitable and resilient future. The grant fund will be steered by the EJAC, and supported by the Office of Sustainability, with the goal of launching later this year.
“Everyday, we witness the resilience of communities against the overlapping inequities that drive the need for a collective focus and aggressive action on the intersection of racial equity, public health, and environmental protection,” said Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Philadelphia Saleem Chapman. “The substantial steps forward taken today recognize the power in this persistence—our success in overcoming the ongoing struggle of environmental injustice hinges on our abilities to tap into this wisdom.”
The City looks forward to collaborating with the Environmental Justice Advisory Commission in the work ahead, and encourages residents to stay involved and up to date with its efforts by subscribing to the mailing list for the latest news and events.