Investments in Our Future: Sen. Carper and Gov. Carney Join Conservation Organizations to Highlight Christina River Project

Wilmington, DE (August 20, 2021) – U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Delaware Governor John Carney joined conservation partners in Wilmington today to celebrate the Christina and Brandywine River restoration and resiliency project funded by the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund. Another important step in the on-going work to improve Wilmington’s riverfront area with clean healthy rivers and attractive places for people and wildlife.    

“I am pleased to be here today with so many good partners to support the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund’s investments in the protection and preservation of this ecological treasure,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Projects like this are critical for our efforts to tackle climate change and help ensure that all Delawareans can enjoy these precious resources for generations to come.” 

For the future of federal infrastructure investments, the U.S. Senate recently approved the bipartisan infrastructure package. The bill includes $26 million of supplemental funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over five years. The funding support on-the-ground restoration projects and new and existing jobs across the 4-state watershed through the DRBRP. Projects will enhance fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality to support wildlife and drinking water for people, enhance water management for flood damage mitigation, and improve recreational opportunities for public access. Amidst the growing threats of sea level rise, a creeping salt line, frequent flooding, habitat loss, and polluted stormwater runoff, this investment is desperately needed.     

Governor Carney at DelNature Site, DuPont Environmental Education Center

“Millions of people in our region depend on the Delaware River Basin for clean drinking water, and the river remains vitally important for outdoor recreation and economic development for communities in Delaware and beyond,” said Governor John Carney. “All Delawareans deserve clean water. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to upgrade our infrastructure to make sure all Delaware families have access to clean drinking water. We will continue to work with local and federal partners and states in our region that rely on the Delaware River Watershed to properly manage this valuable resource.”

“DNREC has been working for years through the Christina-Brandywine River Remediation, Restoration, Resilience project – or CBR4 – toward a time when the Christina River and Brandywine Creek are once again drinkable, swimmable and fishable,” said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “We believe it is an achievable goal and are building on decades of work to create a holistic, inspiring vision and plan to direct remediation, restoration and resilience actions for the next 10 to 20 years.” 

“The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund has been invaluable to Delaware, and the watershed as a whole by investing in projects that improve drinking water quality, provide public access to outdoor recreation, and restore and conserve natural habitats, ” said Jen Adkins, Director of Clean Water Supply at American Rivers and a member of the Christina Conservancy Board of Directors. “To date, the Fund has supported 21 projects benefiting the First State, totaling $4.3 million with natural and economic benefits. We’re excited for our project on the lower Christina and Brandywine Rivers here in Wilmington to be among them.”    

Touring DelNature Site, DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) on the Christina Riverfront

American Rivers collaborated with the Christina Conservancy to receive a Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund award to work closely with DNREC and other local partners on a Christina and Brandywine Rivers Remediation, Restoration and Resilience plan. This plan will create a blueprint with specific restoration projects for completing the transformation of the lower Christina and Brandywine Rivers in Wilmington into healthy river ecosystems. Additional partners on the project include Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Sarver Ecological, BrightFields, Inc, and Anchor QEA, who are providing scientific and technical expertise, as well as the Delaware Nature Society who is working with local groups like the South Wilmington Planning Network and Collaborate Northeast to seek input from local residents.   

“We’re thankful to our Congressional champions, including Senator Tom Carper and thrilled to see that our advocacy for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program continues to translate to on-the-ground dollars for restoration and conservation throughout the Delaware River Basin,” said Sandra Meola, Director, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.  

“The attention and focus on investment in the Delaware River Watershed offer an encouraging outlook for the future of birds and communities in the region. Projects funded through the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, like the Christina River project, are prime examples that increased investment in conservation in the watershed benefits us all and makes us more resilient to the rising tide of climate change,” said Tykee James, Government Affairs Coordinator at the National Audubon Society. “My career in the environmental space jump started through opportunities with local conservation projects in nature and the Environmental Leadership Program that led me to a role as environmental policy advisor to a legislator in Philadelphia. And now at Audubon, I’m working directly with members of Congress and staff to build out the Delaware River Watershed Caucus to find solutions at all levels to protect my hometown watershed.” 

Green jobs and workforce development are a focus of Delaware Nature Society whose Trail Ambassadors offered Senator Carper and Governor Carney a tour of the Boardwalk Marsh. Programs such as the Trail Ambassadors not only connect youth closer to the environment but serve as a steppingstone to the proposed Civilian Climate Corps.  

“President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps will put thousands of young people from all backgrounds to work making our communities more resilient, protecting our clean water, addressing environmental injustices, and restoring wildlife habitat — through essential projects like those supported through the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “A 21st century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps will accomplish these critical conservation goals, while equitably empowering the next generation of conservation leaders to strengthen communities across America by restoring treasured natural resources.”  

Added Joanne McGeoch, Delaware Nature Society Interim Executive Director, “We are grateful to the many partners involved in raising awareness and protection of the Delaware River Watershed.  This vital resource provides clean water for millions of people in the region, supports green jobs and our local economy.  Delaware Nature Society believes that investments in our youth are equally vital to ensuring our future.  To that end, we’ve launched the Trail Ambassador program, engaging local youth from Wilmington in training the next generation of conservation leaders.  Along with our partners at National Wildlife Federation, we support the Biden administration’s proposal for the Civilian Conservation Corps and look forward to working together to ensure that conservation jobs are part of the recovery efforts needed to protect our environment, tackle climate change, and boost our economy.”    

 The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund was launched in 2018 to conserve and restore natural areas, corridors and waterways on public and private lands that support native fish, wildlife and plants, and to contribute to the vitality of the communities in the Delaware River Watershed. The fund is facilitated by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funding is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.     

In total, 90 projects have been funded in the last three years that will improve 6,783 acres of forest habitat, treat polluted runoff using agricultural conservation practices on more than 4,596 acres, restore 141 acres of wetland habitat, and improve 3.5 miles of instream habitat in critical headwaters in the Delaware River Basin. View the full 2020 grant slate online at http://bit.ly/dwcf2020

Delaware Sees Landmark Conservation Funding for Fiscal Year 2022

The momentum of the Clean Water: Delaware’s Clear Choice campaign held strong through the tumultuous months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in June 2021 we celebrated a landmark investment in conservation for Delaware: Over $75 million for State Fiscal Year (FY) 2022! Included under the umbrella of conservation funding are clean water investments, the conservation districts, as well as open space and farmland preservation.  Below we’ll break down the different line items, example projects, as well as recommendations for the future. 

Clean Water Investments 

The most significant investment was $50 million in the Clean Water Trust Fund, an account made specifically for addressing Delaware’s clean water concerns. The Clean Water Trust Fund was created by the Clean Water for DE Act, HB 200, which passed this June with the help of clean water champions Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Townsend. The Clean Water Trust Fund will be managed by a cabinet-level Oversight Committee and administered by the Water Infrastructure Advisory Committee (WIAC). Of the $50 million, $22.5 million will go towards both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. (The remaining $5 million of the Clean Water Trust Fund investment is designated for the Conservation Districts. To learn more about this, see the next section.) 

Projects that can be funded utilizing the state revolving funds include, but are not limited to, municipal wastewater treatment and public sewer projects, watershed restoration, improvements to the public drinking water system, and installation of new drinking water systems. There will be a strategic plan developed for the Clean Water Trust Fund including at least two public input sessions. We hope to maximize participation by the public in order to develop a strategic plan that will best suit the communities in need. 

It was a Campaign priority to ensure that funds were made available in the form of grants, not just low-interest loans, for low income and/or underserved communities. We were glad to see that there is a requirement that 7% of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund be made available via low-interest loans and grants, but we will continue pushing for this percentage to increase and allow for more grants.  

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) also recently announced their Clean Water Initiative for Underserved Communities. You can learn more about this new initiative here. 

Conservation Districts 

Delaware’s Conservation Districts play an important role in developing locally driven solutions to natural resource concerns. They are made up of volunteer cooperators within each district that help develop plans to address soil erosion, sedimentation, flooding, and the management of animal wastes, fertilizers, and agricultural chemicals to protect farmland and water quality.  

The Conservation Districts received $5 million in reauthorization funding, that when combined with the $5 million in the Clean Water Trust Fund Account, creates a grand total of $10 million for Resource, Conservation, & Development. 

Open Space & Farmland Preservation 

Open space and farmland preservation are critical programs for Delaware and are vital in protecting both our state’s unique biodiversity and our thriving agricultural economy. Both programs were fully funded this year at $10 million apiece.  

The Campaign considers both open space and farmland preservation as a win for clean water, but preserving open space has the most obvious benefits for water quality. Investments in preserving our natural open spaces means protecting the soil, wetlands, and forests that can filter out contaminants, reduce the risk of flooding, and recharge underground drinking water supplies.  

Additional Funding and Recommendations for the Future 

Aside from the major investments in conservation listed above, there were additional line items in Delaware’s FY2022 budget that have implications for clean water. Examples include half a million each for the Christina/Brandywine River Remediation Restoration and Resilience Project and the Delaware Bayshore Initiative, as well as investment in Delaware’s shoreline and waterway management. 

Conservation funding remains critical as we move into the future and begin feeling the effects of climate change. Protecting our natural resources and updating our public water systems are important steps to investing in resilience and the Clean Water: Delaware’s Choice Campaign remains committed to advocating for continued state clean water funding.

Intersectionality and the Environment

One of the greatest lessons that you can learn from nature is that everything is more than itself. A tree is not just the tree itself. It is the roots that anchor the soil, house for birds, it bears fruit for us to eat and gives us shade when it’s warm. Nothing in nature exists in isolation and neither do people. We are a collection of the many parts of our identity including our race, income, the language(s) we speak, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, age and so much more–even the neighborhood where we were raised. The key to unlocking this understanding is to understand intersectionality.

Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality takes a deeper look at how the many parts of one’s identity intersect and overlap with each other. It takes into consideration that an individual can be affected differently by situations because of the various burdens placed on certain social groups. Intersectionality is often looked at through the frames of oppression and/or discrimination. One common example is that Black women are both Black and women and thus experience discrimination in different ways than a black man or a white woman because they are subject to both racism and sexism at the same time. Those who are disabled or identify with various other minoritized identities face additional barriers when having to rely on signage to navigate recreational areas. For example, signs that do not include braille or are positioned too high to be legible from a wheelchair could pose issues for disabled individuals, while signs written only in English fail to accommodate those for whom English is not a primary language.

The way people associate with the environment is often a reflection of their intersectional identities. While the environment may appear like an apolitical or neutral space to the dominant culture, to others it may be a source of pollution, inaccessibility, risk, or danger. Understanding intersectionality will help broaden the perspective on how people relate to their environment, as well as help inform strategies to increase access to open space and interest in outdoor education.

When hurricanes make landfall, we often see the same groups struggling the most in the aftermath. Low-income people may have trouble accessing a car or the money to evacuate. Disabled people who might not have had the mobility or social support to safely evacuate or access necessary equipment and resources. Houseless people who might not have access to information about storm shelters and resources or the ability to evacuate often struggle as well. Intersectionality looks at these three identities and highlights that having one or more of these identities means being burdened in different, and possibly more intense, ways.

At its core, environmental justice is about intersectionality and which groups of people are being disproportionately negatively affected by their surroundings due to their identity or experiences. To fix these issues we need to take a deep look at how certain groups are affected based on things like race, gender expression/ identity, disability, income, language barriers, and more.

Looking at climate change policies through an intersectional lens, it highlights that low-income communities, amongst other groups, are going to be hit especially hard. Not only because they are more likely to live in low-lying areas most likely to be hit with rising waters but also potentially negatively affected by policies to address climate change itself without considering intersectionality and other principles relating to diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice. The carbon tax has long been viewed to shift the cost of climate change and air pollution onto the consumer to try and make people more aware of their environmental impact. On the surface level, it seems like a great solution, but an intersectional view would tell us that a tax by itself could disproportionately affect low-income people and those who live in areas with inadequate or inaccessible public transportation. There must be some form of community investment to alleviate this disproportionate impact such as tax breaks or transportation subsidies for low-income populations written into the policy. Plus, true intersectionality also involves fixing the source of the inequity, not simply addressing surface issues. Maybe the tax revenue goes to improving public transportation or a program is created to help ease the climate change burden on low-income people. Addressing the root of environmental harm means progress forward for everybody.

In all areas of environmental policies and access, we need creative solutions so we can protect people now, but also replace or repair everything that threatens their wellbeing. This is not easy work, but it is necessary and rewarding. Just like nature, intersectionality shows us that everything is connected. We, as humans never identity as one thing, we are a collection of ideas, morals, experiences, and traits that have been passed down through generations. Who we are is impacted by everything from our race, income, the languages we speak, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, citizenship status, and so much more all at the same time. Intersectionality shows us that, by paying attention to intersecting identities, we can find inclusive and effective solutions that don’t leave the most vulnerable people behind. It forces us to investigate the structures of our society and pinpoint who has been affected and how it happened. Any meaningful work is intersectional by nature and the environment is no exception.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

 

Pride Outside: Making Our Outdoor Spaces More Welcoming & Inclusive

Every June we celebrate Pride Month in the United States to honor the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, which was one of the sparks of an era of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people in this country. Despite the rights that the LGBTQ+ community has fought for and won, there are fundamental needs that have yet to be secured in communities across the country. Now, more than ever, we need to work to make spaces safer for LGBTQ+ people, especially in the outdoors. 

One common concern surrounding LGBTQ+ protection is the right to feel safe from day-to day. According to a study by Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent crime. 2020 saw a devastating rise in murder and hate crimes against Black and Latinx transwomen. This is unacceptable. For our most vulnerable communities, it is essential that we reimagine our spaces to ensure that they are accessible and safe for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people.  It has been shown that LGBTQ+ people showed concern for the environment and sustainability at a 20% higher rate than non- LGBTQ+ people. This highlights, one of many reasons, why we owe it to the community to create safe and inclusive spaces that many LGBTQ+ people are fighting to protect. 

For us to create safe spaces, one of the first things we must understand is that a sense of security is directly connected to one’s past and present experiences. For too many LGBTQ+ people these experiences have resulted in trauma that can make engaging with the outdoors more difficult and painful than others without those negative experiences. Therefore, it is important for us to create spaces with compassion and publicly state our support for LGBTQ+ individuals.  

It is worth noting that just as the environmental justice movement has historically struggled with issues relating to race and class, the Pride movement has as well. Advocacy efforts after the Stonewall Uprising were largely centered around the wellbeing of white, cis-gender individuals.  Gender non-conforming and trans people of color (QTPOC) were often overlooked as they faced higher rates of violence and were disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDs epidemic. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done. Workplace discrimination greatly affects the jobs that LGBTQ+ people can hold, thus limiting the opportunities that are available for them to become and remain financially stable. As a result of this, many LGBTQ+ people also live-in environmental justice communities that are overburdened by environmental stressors and harm. Engaging with nature and the outdoors has many proven benefits related to mental health, physical health, and more. In this way, LGBTQ+ justice is Environmental Justice. 

The Pride that we now celebrate was made possible by the countless activists and allies who fought and organized for the rights that are now afforded to LGBTQ+ people in the United States. We invite you to check out and support the amazing LGBTQ+ environmental organizations listed below. 

  1. Delaware Pride 
  2. OUT for Sustainability 
  3. The Venture Out Project 
  4. The Trevor Project 

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Juneteenth and Environmental Justice

Emancipation Day Celebration Band c. 1900

In one of Frederick Douglass’ most memorable speeches he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” We celebrate Independence Day every July 4th to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a day full of American pride and gives us an opportunity to pay our respects to those who fought for our independence from Britain. The reality that Douglass brought up is that the 4th of July did not hold the same meaning and pride for American slaves because they weren’t free themselves.

Freedom for slaves came in waves. One of the first waves came January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves in southern rebel states. Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day and African-American Freedom Day) marks the day over 2 years later on June 19, 1865 when word of the emancipation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas. Since then, the holiday has spread, from Texas, throughout the United States and serves as a time for African-Americans to come together and celebrate their independence and culture.

Juneteenth is often marked by festivals, parades, community service, cookouts, and many other forms of Black joy. The atmosphere of Juneteenth is amazing to witness and is a constant reminder of how Black people have used joy as a form of resistance even in the shadows of slavery. It marks emancipation and freedom and the beginnings of Reconstruction that helped move the community forward, even in the face of growing Jim Crow laws.

In addition to it being a time of celebration, Juneteenth is a time to reflect on the ways that the effects of slavery have continued since the Emancipation Proclamation and even the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Slavery was abolished without providing protection for the rights of newly freed slaves, meaning states were free to create their own systems to prevent African-Americans and their descendants from becoming truly liberated. Slavery was abolished, but racism led to Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that were aimed at preventing Black people from prospering and gaining equality. These were direct responses to the passages of the Reconstruction amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th) that together abolished slavery, granted citizenship and equal protection to everybody born or naturalized in the United States, and secured the right to vote for Black men. As a result, some of the Black Codes required Black people to get yearly work permits or risk punishments including arrest or forced labor. They also threatened the right to vote through poll taxes, intimidation tactics, and literacy tests that were intentionally made to bar Black men from being able to safely exercise their right to vote. The Codes varied by state and directly challenged the progress that African-Americans had made with home ownership, access to education, and reclaiming their right to pursue the lives that they wanted to live.

Juneteenth marks the shift from fighting for the freedom of slaves to fighting for the liberation of all Black people. The fight for Black liberation, access to a healthy outdoors and environmental justice have always been connected. The placement of hazardous waste sites and pollution in Black neighborhoods is a direct result of structural racism and historical housing discrimination. The same systems that allowed Jim Crow laws in the south also allowed the redlining practices that pushed Black families into industrial, urban centers by denying mortgages in the growing, and predominately white, suburbs. The after effects of these redlining practices can be found at the core of many environmental justice issues relating to access to important resources and proximity to harmful facilities. Liberation for environmental justice communities would mean updated and greener infrastructure to make neighborhoods safer. It would mean investments in schools and community centers to ensure the success of underserved communities. Most importantly, it would mean a more aggressive strategy to address legacy toxins and to provide neighborhoods a say in what industries are located near their homes.

Every year Juneteenth reminds us that there is always work to be done to ensure the liberation of Black folks in the USA. It allows us to celebrate those who have fought for our right to live and experience love and joy and motivates us to continue to demand liberation for the communities still struggling with the legacies of slavery.

Here in Delaware, the holiday has been recognized in several ways throughout the state. Governor Carney has closed state offices and both Delaware State University and University of Delaware have as well. There are also plenty of opportunities to get engaged this weekend! Looking for ways to celebrate in Delaware? Check out these Juneteenth events below and look around your community for more! 

Juneteenth Celebration in the Park – 10:30 a.m. at Christina Park 

Delaware Freedom Ride with Urban Bike Project and Delaware Greenways 

Juneteenth Block Party– 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Walnut Street YMCA 

For more events and information visit https://delawarejuneteenth.org/  

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Clean Water Maps for Delaware Legislative Districts

Over the past few months we have been working on developing a series of maps which illustrate Delawareans’ unique relationship to clean water and clean water infrastructure.

We created these maps in conjunction with Bright Fields Inc. as well as the University of Delaware’s Water Resource Center. The poverty concentrations are based on federal census data. Water and sewer data are from state and county databases. These maps are organized by legislative district, and tell a story about how areas served by sewers and public water systems intersect with poverty concentrations. These maps show that the lack of access to sewer and public water is often correlated to areas with high poverty concentrations in our state.

Descriptions and links to the maps are included below. 

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Sewer Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, forward-slashing on this map shows Sewer Service Areas. Residents of these areas are served by sewage treatment plants. Residents outside of these areas flush their wastes into septic tanks and drain fields that, in Delaware’s sandy soils, can be a major source of groundwater contamination.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Water Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, backslashing on this map shows the extent of Water Service Areas. Residents inside these areas receive their drinking water from regulated wells or surface water systems that are tested routinely and treated to remove EPA-regulated contaminants. Residents outside of these areas receive their drinking water from a single or community wells, many of which may or may not be tested or treated for contaminants.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Impaired Surface Waters and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The red segments on this map show dreams that have poor water quality. Delaware’s list of impaired waters includes 377 bodies of water that suffer from excess nutrients, low-dissolved oxygen, toxins, and/or bacteria that negatively impact human and aquatic life. Approximately 90% of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired. [It is important to note that many Delaware streams have not yet been tested.]

We are happy to answer questions and further discuss the thought process behind these visuals at any time at Emily.Knearl@DelNature.org.

Reflecting on Climate Justice, COVID-19, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As we celebrate their contributions to this country and continue vital conversations about how to address climate change, we must first come to terms with the complex history of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people here in the United States. We are currently experiencing a devastating increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans that have, in part, been fueled by racist rhetoric around the COVID-19 pandemic. This violence is not new and is also an extension of the mistreatment and discrimination that AAPI have suffered since immigrating to America; as well as the racist rhetoric used to blame Asian and Southeast Asian countries for climate change. The only way we will achieve true climate justice is by acknowledging and working through this ugly part of our history.

Climate justice frames climate change not only as an environmental issue but also as a political and ethical one. Political and ethical climate justice conversations must include countries throughout the world and include environmental justice considerations. For this to happen, we must become more comfortable taking responsibility for our environmental shortcomings without immediately focusing on what other countries can do better instead. For example, conversations about waste management systems around the globe often focus on the challenges that Asian and Southeast Asian countries like India and Indonesia face and how they can do better. These conversations fail to mention those same waste management struggles happening here in the United States This is not to say that we should never critique other countries when it comes to environmental issues with global impacts, but too often the blame is placed on Asian countries while the American responsibility is rarely fully addressed.

What are the chances that violence against AAPI and the blame for climate change is related? We certainly know that the sharp increase in violence against the AAPI community is related to COVID but placing unfair blame on non-white communities is not new. There are years of painful history between the United States and Asian and Pacific Island countries that have translated into the feeling that AAPI are a threat to our way of life here in the United States. The term “Yellow Peril” has been around since the 19th century and represents how these feelings have manifested in American culture. Yellow Peril is the fear that Asian people are going to invade the country, take jobs, and threaten our safety and way of life. While the term “Yellow Peril” has not been used in years, the ideas behind it have been used to push anti-Asian rhetoric and to justify, discrimination, imprisonment of entire families during World War II, and the most recent spate of violence. This continues to result in many people holding implicit biases against Asian American and Pacific Islanders that make it easier to blame them for many issues in the world. It has also helped lead to a paralysis in dealing more aggressively with climate change and feeds misinformation campaigns about the pandemic, threatening the very lives of AAPI friends and families in this country.

We need to do better. Large scale problems like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be solved if countries place blame instead of collaborating on a solution. There is room for the nuances of responsibility for climate change, but not if the United States refuses to own our part that we have played in the past and present. True climate and environmental justice addresses the full, not sanitized, histories of countries around the globe, including the United States. It also means that we have a responsibility to address our country’s role in damaging the environment and the structural racism that means communities of color are much more likely to live near heavy pollution. No longer can we play the blame game with our sister countries when there are people and our planet at risk if we want to build a more just and sustainable future. Nor should we let racism go unchallenged among ourserlves, the world, and our fellow Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

For more information about the Stop AAPI hate movement click here.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Meaningful Involvement

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

If I had to pick out one part of environmental justice and other DEIJ issues, it would be the concept of meaningful involvement. Diversity and representation are assets that add value and legitimacy to the ideas and initiatives that they create. The search for meaningful involvement is hard, though, and for good reason. For us to have meaningful involvement and to reach the people who have historically been overlooked, we need to create an environment that is safe for them and an environment where they can bring their authentic and whole selves without fear of rejection.

I stumbled across this concept on either Twitter or Instagram and it pains me that I didn’t catch the source but as I frantically researched keywords with the hopes of running into the original concept I found a quote by Vernā Myers. She said that “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” and the fireworks went off inside my brain because YES! The distinction between diversity and inclusion is important and sort of fuzzy because they are so often grouped together. In order to have meaningful involvement you need diversity, but not as a foundation. First, you need an inclusive environment so that, when you add diversity, you’re not forcing people to enter hostile spaces where they can’t dance their way and comfortably ask dance partners for what they need.

This is an empathetic guide because I think many people ask themselves what they can personally do to create an inclusive environment and I think it’s time we talk about it. It is also called an empathetic guide because, while I am not a DEIJ expert, I have learned how to make people feel involved as a result of being born with what I see as two steps down from the hyperempathy that Lauren Olamina has in Parable of the Sower. I believe that empathy should be the first step we take when engaging with people, especially when we are asking for their help and intellectual labor.

The first step in my Empathetic Guide to Meaningful Involvement is to look outside of yourself and see how others experience the world. Read books from authors who live completely different lives from you. Engage with art from people who create things that challenge your ideas of what art is. Watch movies in different languages than the ones that you speak. Familiarize yourself with how other people interpret their world so that when the time comes, they don’t have to explain every single cultural difference when they enter a space with others. I’m in no way equating research to lived experience but Black girls in college shouldn’t have to explain why we wear bonnets.

The next thing to do is audit your space. Look at both your physical and virtual spaces, would somebody needing accommodations have to ask for them and do the work to create them? If you see this, start working to fix it. Start thinking about your unspoken rules and think about why you didn’t need them spelled out to you. These can be huge barriers to involvement because time spent participating can sometimes be spent trying to find where you fit in the current dynamic when the dynamic should be fluid enough to account for what people need. Audit your space, but more importantly, be willing to change your space to make it more inclusive even if it meets the needs of those currently there, because more will always come.

The last part of this guide is to be patient and compassionate in the moments that make you want to give up and do it yourself. Everybody starts from a different spot and took a different path to get where they are today. Consider that your impatience might be you expecting a system or structure that worked for you, to work for somebody who has different needs from your own. These are the moments when we need compassion and empathy the most. When you see someone struggling, ask how you can help them and truly listen when they tell you. You don’t have to be perfect, but empathy is the first step in bridging the gap between honest imperfection and the growing pains you feel in the beginning of any meaningful journey.

Reflecting On Women Environmentalists

For too long, women were seen as helpless people who always needed a protector. They were seen as fragile and were framed as too emotional or too simple to hold powerful jobs in society. Throughout history, countless women have shown the world how capable and innovative they can be. These women had to fight not only sexism, but also the other intersections of their identities like race, class, and sexuality, just to be awarded the same opportunities that were awarded to men by default. There are countless women who have paved the way for a more equitable society and workplace, and today we are going to highlight the women who have paved the way in the environmental field.

Mollie Beattie

In 1993, Mollie Beattie was appointed Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position and made a tremendous impact despite succumbing to her fight with brain cancer after only 3 years at the job. She is remembered for her integral part in the protection of both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Under her leadership, 15 national wildlife refuges were added, more than 100 habitat conservation plans were signed with private landowners, and the gray wolf was reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains. Beattie made a huge impact on the environment in her time as director and her love for the earth has lived on in those who follow after her.

Mari Copeny

Also known as “Little Miss Flint”, Mari Copeny is known for her a letter she wrote when she was 10 years old that asked President Obama to meet and discuss the Flint water crisis. This meeting resulted in him signing off on $100 million dollars in relief for Flint, Michigan and helped start a nationwide conversation about the importance of youth advocacy and the right to clean water. Now 13 years old, she continues to fight for the right to clean water for Flint and other environmental justice communities. She became a national youth ambassador to the Washington DC Women’s March in 2017 and worked to provide the children and families of Flint with water bottles, holiday presents, school supplies and so much more. She is proof that passion and drive has no age, and that the voices of the younger generation deserve to be hard and taken seriously.

Aurora Castillo

A fourth generation Mexican-American living in East Los Angeles, Aurora Castillo is known as being one of the driving forces behind the creation of The Mothers of East Lo Angeles (MELA). At 70 years old, she advocated against the construction of a new prison in her community that already housed seven at the time. In addition to the successful fight against the proposed prison, MELA advocated for public meetings being held in Spanish to encourage involvement for more community members, fought against a planned toxic waste incinerator, led the fight against plans of a hazardous waste treatment plant to be built near a high school, and advocated for more community in involvement and company accountability in the area. Castillo received the 1995 North American Goldman Environmental Prize and is remembered for being a powerful and impactful environmental justice advocate and leader.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

A Conversation on Clean Water Legislation with House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst

In 2019 and 2020 House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst led the charge to secure clean water funding as the prime sponsor of the Clean Water for Delaware Act (House Bill 200, or HB200). We’re honored to have her support once again as our Clean Water Warriors begin organizing to fight for clean water in the upcoming General Assembly. The Clean Water Campaign recently had a chance to connect with Representative Longhurst to hear her thoughts about clean water – and what we can expect in the coming legislative session.

What inspired you to become a champion on clean water issues?

I’ve always had an interest in the environment and protecting our natural resources, but I really became involved in the clean water effort once it clicked for me just how connected the issue of clean water is to so many other issues across the state.

Whether it’s water and wastewater infrastructure to support smart development in New Castle County, the needs of our agricultural industry downstate, the challenges our coastal communities face with flooding and sea level rise, or the inequities in our underserved communities statewide, so much falls under the banner of clean water in Delaware.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst speaking to Water Warriors at 2019 Clean Water Rally. Photo by Christi Leeson.

When will the Clean Water Legislation (successor to HB200) be introduced?

We’re planning to file the latest version of our legislation this spring.

What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to success?

The biggest challenge is and always has been funding. We need a meaningful sum to jumpstart the plan and a sustainable source of funding for the future.

We also know there are other interest groups out there who don’t necessarily share our vision for clean water in Delaware, and we’re going to keep confronting them on this issue, having those discussions and educating them.

How has the pandemic affected access to clean water/funding opportunities for clean water?

We don’t yet know how great a toll the pandemic has taken on state and local revenues, but that is certainly a big concern. With so many people working from home, I think there’s also an impact on residential water and wastewater infrastructure that we don’t know the full scope of yet.

On the other hand, I think outdoor recreation has become a bigger part of many Delawareans’ lives during the pandemic, and hopefully that has led to a greater awareness and appreciation of our natural landscapes and the need to safeguard them.

What can the Water Warriors do to support the new legislation and funding proposal?

Keep in contact with legislators from both sides of the aisle and make sure they hear you, especially the ones who represent you and your community. Share your personal stories about how water quality impacts your family. Stay engaged, spread the message to as many of your friends and neighbors as you can. You’ve made great strides in bringing the issue of clean water to the forefront — keep up the good work!

Are you ready to join House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the Clean Water Campaign, and our coalition partners? Take action today by clicking here!

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst’s Legislative Service

Valerie J. Longhurst was first elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in November 2004 to represent the 15th District. The district consists of 20,000 people living in Bear, Delaware City and St. Georges. In 2008, she was elected as the House Majority Whip and served for four years. After the 2012 election, her caucus elected her House Majority Leader. Representative Longhurst is currently chair of the House Administration, Ethics and Rules committees. She also serves on the Telecommunications Internet and Technology committee and is the former chair of the Manufactured Housing Committee.