by Becky Smith Gross

At this weekend’s We the People Summit I was fortunate to attend the session titled “Environmental Justice: Crisis in Communities of Color”. Speakers included Sandy Bahr from the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, Sonja Klinsky from the School of Sustainability at ASU, Zulema Rodriguez and Natasha Chavez from Moms Clean Air Force, and Sarra Tekola from Black Lives Matter.

Sandy Bahr noted that the EPA does have an office of environmental justice, but that the most recent head of it resigned. She said that our governmental policies are not addressing environmental justice.

Sonja Klinsky told us about the first protest of environmental justice, in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 – I encourage you to do an internet search to learn more about that situation. In 1994 President Bill Clinton issued an Executive Order to “…to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities” (, but this order is not recognized at the state level. Dr. Klinsky noted that mapping has been done of specific harms and to note vulnerability assessments. People can visit the EPA’s environmental justice tool – – to see how close their address is to toxic waste sites.

Zulema Rodriguez and Natasha Chavez said Moms Clean Air Force is working on tree quarters and addressing food deserts. They also introduced the gathering to CHISPA, an organization actively campaigning for clean buses.

Sarra Tekola, who is involved with Sustainable Changemakers at ASU in addition to Black Lives Matter, introduced the group to a number of local organizations working on environmental issues – reiterating the actions of CHISPA, and including Haul No, which addresses uranium mining and transport in Arizona, as well as Arizona Stands, an indigenous group that works for the protection of sacred sites and indigenous and human/civil rights. A gentleman from Arizona Stands then honored us with a song and prayer.

It was noted that all of the issues the organizations above are addressing do not just impact people of color. I hope you’ll take some time to find out more about all of these organizations who are working on issues similar to AZSA and may provide future partnership opportunities.