Adrienne Hollis
Former Contributor

This is the second blog in a series on environmental justice milestones

Environmental Justice (EJ) Activism & Actions

June 26 was an extremely significant day for environmental justice. The historic Congressional Environmental Justice Summit was held that day. This convening was the first of its kind and was reminiscent of the days when EJ Conferences, like the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, held here in Washington, DC in October 1991 and described by some as “the most important single event in the EJ Movement’s history,” and also where the Principles of Environmental Justice were adopted.

Three Leaders in the Fight Against Injustice at the Convening.

The convening “provided a venue for community activists and environmental justice practitioners to communicate their needs to members of Congress and their staff, who will commit directly to addressing longstanding inequities in economically oppressed and politically marginalized communities.” In addition, as part of Chairman Raúl Grijalva’s efforts to learn more about how climate change is impacting the American people, he launched an online tool for the public to share climate change stories at

In July, a massive fire broke out at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in Texas. It was the latest in a series of petrochemical industry blazes this year in the Houston area, including one at another facility on the ExxonMobil Baytown complex.

On March 16, there was a fire at a refinery at the complex. The fire was extinguished hours later but continued to release toxic pollutants for eight more days. The county sued ExxonMobil, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Air Act.

Also in March, a fire burned for days at a petrochemical storage facility owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, Texas, causing chemicals to flow into a nearby waterway.

Proximity of the Manchester community in Houston, Texas to petrochemical plants.

In April, one worker died after a tank containing isobutylene caught fire at a plant operated by KMCO LLC in nearby Crosby, injuring at least six people. The fire began in Baytown, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Houston at Exxon Mobil’s Olefins plant, which produces ethylene, a chemical used to make plastic and industrial products.

In June, there was another massive fire, this time in Philadelphia. It occurred at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ refinery in Philadelphia and resulted in several explosions. The fire started in a butane vat at the 335,000 barrel-per-day refinery. A later explosion sent a massive fireball into the sky and engulfed the refinery and the surrounding area in smoke. The refinery is the largest and oldest on the East Coast and there has been a plant on the site since 1870.

Environmental justice community leaders and advocates have long recognized the importance of Community Science (once known as Citizen Science, Community Science recognizes the contributions of all people–not just US Citizens) in addressing environmental challenges.

The historical knowledge and data gathered by communities in order to document adverse health effects from toxic exposures as well as the exposure itself is invaluable and must be recognized as an integral part of any analysis that looks at environmental impacts. That is why this next action is so important.

In March, for the first time EVER, the Citizen Science Association recognized that environmental justice should be an integral part of the conference and invited EJ advocates and activists to host a panel at the conference and join the Association.

Panelists discussed “their community-driven research efforts to understand and address: 1) environmental justice and military waste in Alaska; 2) goods movement, ports, and refineries in Oakland, California and Detroit, Michigan; 3) lack of basic amenities in North Carolina; and 4) environmental justice, hurricanes, and health disparities in the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico.”

They also described the challenges of doing community science, detailed successes, and shared lessons learned, best practices, and issues yet resolved. The inclusion of environmental justice in the Citizen Science Association’s work is important because it helps pave the way for Community Science to be recognized as a valid data source in the Climate Science and Environmental Science world.

Historic Agreements

On June 24th, Labor and Environmental Leaders Released an Historic “Solidarity for Climate Action” Platform Leaders from the BlueGreen Alliance released their platform to create well-paying jobs and fight income inequality by addressing the climate crisis at the headquarters of the United Steelworkers (USW) in Pittsburgh. The historic platform—entitled Solidarity for Climate Action— puts workers at the forefront of the ongoing discussion about how America will tackle climate change. It is the first such comprehensive plan to address climate change put forward by America’s largest unions.

On July 18th, a group of about 75 environmental justice and national environmental groups came together to advance an Equitable and Just National Climate Platform. This Historic Joint Climate Platform highlights priority outcomes for a national climate policy agenda. The platform advances the goals of economic, racial, climate and environmental justice to improve the public health and well-being of all communities while tackling the climate crisis.

Launch video:

Washington Post article on announcement:

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a signatory to both of these important and timely platforms.

The 2019 Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice was held at South Carolina State University in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium. This historic forum, hosted by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and leaders from frontline communities, included only six presidential candidates: Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer, former Representatives John Delaney and Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson. The televised event is available for viewing.

Environmental Justice Leaders and Good Friends at the Congressional Environmental Justice Summit.

November was also the month for the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting, held this year in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to the numerous panels and presentations with an environmental justice focus, it is noteworthy to give a nod to the exciting action by APHA’s Governing Council to adopt 14 new policy statements at its 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo. Those policy statements include an important statement on environmental justice and health equity.

The third and final blog in this series takes a look at 2019 Anniversaries that impacted environmental justice. In addition, we took a look into 2020 for anniversaries we need to be aware of in the upcoming year.