The ANA Messenger - Spring Edition
Environmental Justice at HHS
Environmental Justice (EJ) is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Executive Order 12898 requires each federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low‐income populations.” The Executive Order also states that “each federal agency responsibility set forth under this order shall apply equally to Native American programs.”
In response to the Executive Order, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) vision for EJ is: “A nation that equitably promotes healthy community environments and protects the health of all people.” In 2012, HHS developed an EJ strategy, which provides direction for the Department to make achieving EJ a part of its mission by: (1) identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on low‐income populations and Indian Tribes; and (2) encouraging the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of affected parties with the goal of building healthy, resilient communities and reducing disparities in health and well‐being associated with environmental factors.
The 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan (HHS EJ Strategy) provides clear goals, strategies, and actions to address EJ in minority and low-income populations and Indian Tribes. The plan is organized into four interrelated strategic elements: Policy Development and Dissemination; Education and Training; Research and Data Collection, Analysis, and Utilization; and Services.
In May 2013, ANA had the opportunity to present an update to the HHS EJ Leadership Advisory Group on its work under the Services action item of the HHS EJ Strategy, specifically “to expand funding opportunities to underserved communities for economic development and social services.” In 2012, ANA provided funding to support 186 new and continuing projects divided among three main funding program areas: Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS), Native Languages (which includes Esther Martinez Act funding for language immersion), and Environmental Regulatory Enhancement (ERE). ANA’s 2012 grant portfolio included 111 SEDS grants, 63 language grants, and 12 ERE grants.
While the ERE program most directly addresses environmental issues, including EJ, all of ANA’s funding areas help Native communities establish and maintain healthy environments that protect the cultural, economic, and social health of their people. For example, current and past language grantees report that when people learn their Native language, they often experience increased self-esteem and a stronger connection to their culture. For youth especially, this can translate to improved performance in school, more responsible choices and behaviors, and an overall improvement in social indicators. Similarly, SEDS grants encompass a wide variety of projects, from Tribal governance to strengthening families. Increasing Tribal sovereignty through governance projects allows for more meaningful involvement of Tribes and their members in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies, while strong family relationships are vital to the social well-being of Native communities. Similarly, economic health provides a foundation for communities to make environmentally responsible decisions; when a community is facing conditions of poverty or economic disparity, it is often difficult to address the long-term health of the environment and people because short-term needs are not being met.
In 2012, ANA also offered a total of 50 free training courses for more than 200 different Tribes and nonprofits; data shows applicants who participated in the training were more successful in attaining ANA grants. Additionally, ANA’s regional technical assistance centers hosted 34 monthly webinars for 630 participants on a variety of issues identified by Native communities such as financial management, Native asset building, grant writing, and strategic planning. This type of capacity building further supports ANA grantees in protecting the health of their communities and the environment.To further expand social and economic development funding opportunities for Native communities, the ANA Commissioner has proposed a new funding opportunity announcement for 2013 under SEDS that will target 5-year projects seeking to implement economic development strategies that focus on sustainable employment and business opportunities in Native American communities.