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2021 Michigan Environmental Justice Conference

Tree with Scales
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

2021 Michigan Environmental Justice Conference

The inaugural Michigan Environmental Justice Conference, held virtually in 2021, was been designed to help us move forward in the quest for transformative change, meaningful engagement, and the development of intersectional solutions as we work toward a more just and equitable future. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), EGLE's Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate, the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, and the Michigan Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team invites you to join us through session recordings as we examine ways to rebuild trust, reimagine justice and remove barriers.

Conference Proceedings

Welcome and Day 1 Keynote

Environmental Justice Public Advocate, Regina Strong; EGLE Director, Liesl Clark; and Lt. Governor Gilchrist open the conference followed by the Day 1 Keynote from EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Day 1 Sessions 

Gathering the Pieces: The Jondreau Decision
GLIFWC is pleased to present the third of a series of short videos called “Ogichidaa Storytellers.” The video entitled “Gathering the Pieces” highlights KBIC tribal member Jerry Jondreau as he tells the story of his grandfather William “Boyzie” Jondreau and the struggle for Anishinaabe to retain treaty reserved harvesting rights specifically in the Keweenaw Bay waters of Lake Superior.

48217 Mural | Detroit Performs
A mural created by University of Michigan students in Southwest Detroit depicting the pollution that is strangling the area. Detroit Performs Episode 702/Segment 1

80 - 90 Ft
A Native American fishing couple negotiate the warming waters beneath them.

Environmental Justice, explained

Road to Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice
This U.S. EPA video describes the momentum that led to the establishment of the environmental justice movement and the adoption of Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice.

The State and EJ: Prioritizing Environmental Justice in Michigan
Environmental Justice Public Advocate, Regina Strong, and Environmental Justice and Tribal Liaison, Katie Kruse, will be joined by guest speakers to discuss how the state of Michigan is prioritizing achieving environmental justice.

Integrating EJ at the Highest Levels – The New Federal EJ
Ensuring equitable access and meaningful engagement is a priority at the federal level. Learn more about the ways that the Biden Administration is prioritizing environmental justice. The

New Mi EJ Screen – Why it Matters and Now What?
Environmental justice screening and mapping tools can provide an important look at multiple environmental, public health and socioeconomic factors that communities with environmental justice concerns face. This session will provide a broad overview of how these tools are being used at the federal and state level with a specific look at how Michigan is developing MiEJScreen.

So..What Are You Saying? The Value of Plain Language
In 2020, the Environmental Health Research-to-Action team joined with the Clear Language Lab at Literacy Works and EGLE to launch the Plain Language Project. The project set out to: 1) review documents used during public participation opportunities, and 2) gain feedback from environmental justice leaders, environmental lawyers, and those who do not speak English as their primary language. Our panel of community, agency, and academic experts will share perspectives, examples, and strategies for plain language that can increase transparency, access to technical information, and meaningful engagement towards environmental justice.

Meaningful Engagement in the Air Permit Process
When proposed air permits are put out for the public to comment on, the amount and technical content of the information related to the action can be overwhelming. EGLE values public input and understands the public may have a variety of challenges in participating thoroughly in the process. This session includes a brief look at air permitting and focuses on a discussion between an EGLE Permit Section Manager, a non-profit environmental justice advocate and a resident environmental justice advocate who all have their own way of looking at meaningful engagement. You will hear differing views on the public participation process as well as ways you may find helpful to provide feedback to EGLE on actions open for comment.

Day 3 Sessions

Real Talk – Local Governments and Environmental Justice
How are local governments working to incorporate environmental justice considerations in their communities? This panel discussion will explore what is happening now and what the future holds for collaboration between governments at all levels.

Supplemental Environmental Projects - Investing in and Engaging with Communities
How can and should we invest in communities? Representatives from the EGLE AQD Enforcement Unit and Detroit District Office, EPA Region 5, and Sierra Club’s Detroit Office will share their experiences with Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) in Air Quality enforcement actions in environmental justice communities in Michigan.  The panelists will also describe the origins of SEPs, why SEPs are beneficial, how SEPs are developed, and ways community members can get involved.

Reviving the Land: Reimagining Brownfields in EJ Communities
Revitalizing and redeveloping brownfield properties protects the environment, reuses existing infrastructure, minimizes urban sprawl and creates economic opportunities. This session will provide an overview of both the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfield redevelopment and funding programs, and the role of local government in redeveloping brownfields in their communities. Examples of brownfield redevelopment projects in environmental justice communities will also be discussed.

Transition in EJ Communities
As we transition from our industrial past, how can we ensure the communities most impacted by legacy issues are intentionally included in the transition to a healthier, more economically viable and community centered future?  Frontline communities, workers and local businesses all have a stake in how a community can not just survive, but thrive.  This panel will explore who should be at the table and how communities can have a coordinated approach as they plan for a just transition that is born of community needs, workforce opportunities and economic viability and incorporates engagement of government at the local and state levels.  Using the model of River Rouge and the downriver corridor communities, panel members will focus on examples of how to move forward.

The Future of Infrastructure: Above and Below – Transportation, Water and Internet Access
Equity and infrastructure are inexplicably linked. Access to the internet, safe water and transportation are critical, yet equitable access for all has yet to be achieved. How will state and local governments work to ensure that everyone has equitable access to the internet, safe water and public transportation? This panel will explore the steps being taken to move in the right direction and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Moving the Needle Toward Environmental Justice
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory will provide closing comments focused on the intersection of the Biden Administration's focus on environmental justice, her work leading the White House Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and the Interagency Environment Justice Council and the importance of working across government to address environmental injustices.

Day 2 Keynote

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer provides the conference Day 2 Keynote.

Day 2 Sessions

Public Health Equity
State Assistant Administrator Dr. James Bell III will lead a panel discussion with Chief Medical Officer Joneigh Khaldun focused on health equity and environmental justice.

EJ & Race - The Journey Continues
The origins of the environmental justice movement are born of the civil rights movement and the push for racial justice.  Join the ‘father of environmental justice’ Dr. Robert Bullard and veteran environmental justice advocate and U.S. EPA Senior Environmental Justice Advisor Charles Lee as they discuss the origin of the racial disparities and government policies that have affected environmental justice communities.  The session will also explore potential next steps in providing relief and policy actions to address challenges in environmental justice communities.

Back on and at the Table: A Discussion of Climate & Equity
As the state prepares to move forward addressing climate through the MI Healthy Climate Plan, how will equity be addressed?  Incorporation of Climate Justice is being prioritized through the creation of the Climate Justice Brain Trust at the beginning of the Climate Solutions Council process, but how else can the state incorporate equity and justice moving forward?  This panel will dive into how the concepts of addressing climate with an equity lens for several perspectives.

For the Next Seven Generations: Tribal Perspectives on Environmental Justice
Tribes face unique environmental justice issues that are often overlooked in public policy. Tribes have interests in protecting tribal treaty rights, preserving tribal cultural values in the environment, and maintaining traditional land use practices. Industry – and in particular the extractive industry – pose burdens on tribes and tribal people that differ from other environmental justice communities. To meet these challenges state governments, tribal governments, and the private sector must work with indigenous people under principles of free prior and informed consent, integrative decision making, and continuous consultation. In this panel Dr. Kyle Whyte (University of Michigan) and President Whitney Gravelle (Bay Mills Indian Community) will discuss the ways in which governments and businesses succeed and fail to incorporate principles of environmental justice when dealing with tribes. Topics will include a general overview of tribal environmental justice and specific case examples facing Michigan tribes. The panel will be moderated by John Petoskey (Environmental Law and Policy Center).

Water Equity Session
The challenges of affordability and aging infrastructure have put many Michigan communities in situations where these two critical areas can be at odds.  As we emerge from a  pandemic that shed a brighter light on the already prevalent challenges faced by people in communities across the state, it becomes obvious that addressing equity is critical. In the face of these monumental challenges, advocates both inside and outside of government are working to ensure that everyone across the state can safely access Michigan’s most plentiful natural resource – water.  Water is hyper local, whether you get your water from a municipal water supplier or a well. How can we chart an equitable way forward?  This panel of advocates/water experts will explore how we get there.

Community Voices: An EJ Townhall on Rebuilding Trust, Reimagining Justice, and Removing Barriers
This town hall will focus on hearing from community voices regarding how best state government can rebuild trust, reimagine justice and remove barriers in the quest to address environmental injustices and systemic inequities.

Transition in EJ Communities

As we transition from our industrial past, how can we ensure the communities most impacted by legacy issues are intentionally included in the transition to a healthier, more economically viable and community centered future?  This panel explores who should be at the table and how communities can have a coordinated approach as they plan for a just transition that is born of community needs, workforce opportunities and economic viability and incorporates engagement of government at the local and state levels.  Using the model of River Rouge and the downriver corridor communities, panel members focus on examples of how to move forward.