Our 2021 programming theme is The Work Left to Do, and within that theme, we’ll explore a different focus each month. In the first Tea of the month, we will look at a topic from a broader perspective to understand the universal and legal challenges. For the second Tea of the month, we will speak with someone who is doing the work to educate and/or advance change so we can understand the continuing challenges and how we contribute to change in our own communities. For the month of March, our programming focused on environmental justice.
March 11th’s Tea Guests were Sylvia Orduño and Michael Tilchin, Vice Chairs of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and Jan Marie Fritz, Ph.D and Steering Committee member for NEJAC. Established in 1993, NEJAC provides advice and recommendations to the EPA administrator about broad, cross-cutting issues related to environmental justice from all stakeholders involved in the environmental justice dialogue. In addition, NEJAC provides a valuable forum for discussions about integrating environmental justice with other EPA priorities and initiatives.
For nearly 25 years, Sylvia Orduño has been a community organizer with Michigan Welfare Rights Organization —an anti-poverty, civil rights era group that represents and advocates for low-income and poor people. Her work has ranged from DHHS hearings in defense of public assistance recipients to local and statewide policy development and expertise on affordable and accessible water, utilities, and housing issues, to national leadership for legislation to establish water and sanitation rights, and consumer protections. She works with several Michigan and national coalitions to advance the human rights to water and sanitation particularly for vulnerable residents. A year ago Sylvia was appointed by Michigan Governor Whitmer to the state’s first Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Additionally, she was selected last summer to serve on the EPA Great Lakes Advisory Board; and in November, she was honored to be appointed as the new chair of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Michael Tilchin is the vice-chair of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and currently chairs a NEJAC work group preparing an in-depth report on how to make Superfund more responsive and effective in meeting the needs of environmental justice communities. Michael is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and serves on ASCE’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure. Michael was the lead author for the Hazardous Waste Infrastructure section for ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card and is also the lead author on hazardous waste for the upcoming 2021 Infrastructure Report Card.
Michael is active with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and helped found ACEC’s Remediation Work Group (RWG). Michael has a leadership role in the ACEC/RWG’s ongoing efforts to improve cleanup actions under Superfund. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) and was the AWS Board Chair from 2010-2013. AWS works with communities, the private sector, and all levels of government to restore what was among the most polluted urban rivers in the country and is now on a path to becoming fishable and swimmable within several years.
Jan Marie Fritz, Ph.D., C.C.S., a clinical sociologist, is a Professor at the University of Cincinnati, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg and Visiting Professor at Taylor’s University (Malaysia). She also has been a Distinguished Visiting Professor with the Honors College at the University of South Florida, Fulbright Senior Scholar with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Human Rights and International Studies at the Danish Institute of Human Rights and Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She will be a Fulbright – National Science Foundation award recipient in Iceland this next academic year. She has received the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology, Ohio Mediation Association’s Better World Award and Lester Ward Award from the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology, She was a Vice-President of the International Sociological Association (ISA) and is the lead ISA representative to the United Nations. She currently is a member of the ISA Executive Committee, Mayor of Cincinnati’s Gender Equality Task Force and Steering Committee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She has more than 130 publications and two of her books – International Clinical Sociology and Community Intervention – have won international book awards. One of her latest publications is “Environmental Injustice and Incarceration.” She is the editor of Springer’s Clinical Sociology Book Series.
Sylvia, Michael, Jan, and Kristan discussed NEJAC’s focus on communities and how environmental justice is part and parcel of racial, social, and economic justice, their work with indigenous people to improve tribal relationships, and NEJAC’s comprehensive approach to increasing the individual’s voice in environmental justice issues over the last nearly 30 years.
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Below is the recording of this Tea Time program: