People and the Planet: Centering Environmental Justice

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Cecilia Calvo, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a state-wide coalition of over 70 environmental and conservation organizations – and other groups that align with MEP’s mission and collaborative approach.

Our Path

In recent years, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), a historically white-led environmental/conservation community, has been on a journey to center environmental justice and equity in our education and advocacy efforts for clean air and water, clean energy and a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.

This journey is reflected in MEP revising its vision statement in 2019 to include putting “people and the planet first to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for all” and its mission “as a coalition that … builds collective power to secure a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.”  These changes demonstrate MEP’s transition from a focus on the environment separate from people to a recognition of the interdependence between people and the planet.

In June 2021, the MEP Board approved an Equity Statement where it articulated that the reference to “Healthy environment” in its mission statement “refers to the underlying importance of human health in environmental work and especially of frontline communities.” In this Equity statement MEP acknowledged “there is a large disparity between MEP’s current work areas and the needs of Minnesota’s Environmental Justice Communities.”  In MEP’s 2022 Collaborative Priorities – Building forward at the scale and pace our communities need: Climate Change • Healthy Ecosystems • Racial Justice –  it articulated a commitment to “ensuring environmental and racial justice is centered in policy solutions.”

Our Values

MEP recognizes the following principles:

  • The people who contribute least to environmental harm, pollution and climate change are suffering the worst consequences.
  • To effectively respond to environmental challenges affecting our cities, state, nation and global community requires a holistic approach that recognizes the interdependence between environmental justice, racial justice and economic justice.
  • A just response to climate change and environmental pollution requires listening to and learning from the communities who directly experience the effects of pollution and climate disruption where they live, work and play. We believe that any real climate and environmental policy solutions must center the voices of environmental justice communities.
  • The environmental community can often talk about environmental problems in a technical and wonky manner. MEP recognizes the importance of rooting environmental concerns in people’s lived reality.
  • We believe we are stronger together, when the environmental community and environmental justice leaders, communities and organizations can advocate together for shared environmental policy concerns.

Our Efforts

As part of this commitment to environmental justice, MEP is working with its membership to highlight the interconnection between environmental degradation, pollution, public health and who is most impacted, as well as prioritizing building partnerships with the environmental justice community and working together to identify common areas of concern. We recognize the knowledge and concerns of environmental justice communities are essential to inform environmental policy work at local, state and federal levels and that together we can jointly advance community concerns.

Wins for Environmental Justice and Public Health

The 2023 Minnesota Legislative Session was the most positive in decades for the environment, climate, and public health. MEP, working with environmental and community partners, advocated for these historic commitments to protect Minnesota’s clean air and water, advance environmental justice and ensure a just transition toward clean energy. 

Among these environmental justice wins are:

  • Through the Frontline Communities Protection Coalition (FCP), we worked with environmental justice champions at the legislature to pass a groundbreaking new Cumulative Impacts Law that requires permit decisions for new or expanded sources of pollution in overburdened communities to consider existing pollution. This is a major step to address the role large facilities play in degrading air quality and health in environmental justice communities – communities that already bear the burden of unwanted concentrated pollution that impacts their health and wellbeing. The cumulative impacts law covers the seven-county metro area, Duluth and Rochester and provides an option for Tribal Nations to include their territory.
  • Enacted PFAS provisions that include bans on several high-risk products, information disclosure for products containing PFAS, a nonessential use ban by 2030, and prohibition of PFAS in firefighting foam. PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” pollute our water and threaten public and environmental health. With the new restrictions, Minnesota – where PFAS chemicals were invented – becomes a leading state in the fight to eliminate these harmful substances from consumer goods.
  • MEP, working with community partners, led efforts to develop and launch the Lead Service Lines Replacement law that allocates $240 million in state funding to identify and replace harmful lead drinking water service lines across the state. This new program kicks off a 10-year effort to replace all of these supply lines to an estimated 100,000 households without cost to the property owners. These funds will leverage available federal funding.
  • Thanks to the broad collaboration between MEP and environmental and community partners, the Legislature passed legislation giving Minnesota voters the chance to once again reauthorize the dedication of some lottery proceeds to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and expand its allocations to benefit low-income and communities of color through a new community grants program. The Trust Fund is a powerful tool for protecting, conserving, and restoring Minnesota’s air, land, and water. The creation of a community grants program will help further environmental justice in Minnesota by supporting community based projects with the priority to respond to environment degradation and​ related health concerns of communities historically overburdened by pollution.

Let’s Continue to Walk Together

Thank you for all you do! Together we made these wins possible for our neighbors, families and loved ones and to protect our common home. We look forward to continuing our work together and building on these accomplishments during the next Legislative Session and beyond. 

Together, we can take ever bigger steps forward to safeguard clean air and water, protect frontline communities who disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution, and secure even more ambitious action to save our climate.

Read MEP’s Commitment to Environmental Justice

Cecilia Calvo is the Director of Advocacy and Inclusion at the Minnesota Environmental Partnership

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