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The environmental justice movement is intentional about grounding what we do in a democratic process.

We follow the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing because they bring structure and order to our individual and collective work. And we have a chant that is regularly recited during rallies and other calls to action: "Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."

Our mission at WE ACT for Environmental Justice is to build healthy communities by ensuring that our neighbors in New York City, New York State and around the country have a seat at planning tables when government and industry are making decisions that impact where we live, work and play. Our interests and theirs don't often align, so we press to be heard because we know it’s what democracy looks like.

Recently, the Trump administration took its attack on laws that protect our air, health, land and water to new heights by proposing changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. If adopted, these changes will make NEPA useless and give industry the green light to pollute and bulldoze our neighborhoods with little accountability.

NEPA isn't one of those regulations that we talk about at brunch, but it is the environmental law of all environmental laws. And since its enactment in 1972, NEPA has required federal agencies to consider our interests and include us in the planning for large scale projects or when giving industry permission to set up shop in our neighborhoods.

Want to run oil and gas pipelines through our backyards? NEPA requires fossil fuel companies to slow down and examine the impact on our well-being and quality of life.

Think it’s a good idea to put a plastics plant next to the oil and gas refinery that’s already in proximity to our schools? NEPA mandates industry identify the cumulative impacts, hear our concerns and partner with us to identify win-win alternatives.

There are many dangerous and severe changes to NEPA that are being proposed, but we can sum it up in one sentence: Work is being done on behalf of polluters and climate change deniers to silence us.

The Trump administration and White House Council on Environmental Quality chair, Mary Neumayr, appear to be disinterested in hearing from us, even when it comes to receiving feedback on their efforts to gut NEPA.

First, there were only two public hearings scheduled for citizens to share their concerns. One was in Denver, Colorado, and the second one was in Washington, DC. These cities aren’t accessible to environmental justice advocates and don’t fully represent the areas where legacy environmental harms exist or where people are most at risk for future injustices.

Second, tickets for speaking opportunities at the hearings were sparse and sold out on EventBrite in a matter of minutes. The process of getting a ticket resembled the mad dash associated with scoring seats to Dave Chappelle Live on Broadway last year.

This, peeps, is not what democracy looks like, but we can organize and press for a future that amplifies our voices, environmental degradation and restores our communities to cohesive societies that work for all citizens.

So, here's what democracy looks like: Get familiar with NEPA. Contact your member of Congress and let him or her know you want NEPA strengthened and not destroyed. And submit a comment to the White House Council on Environmental Quality that address the need to protect the voice of communities. We all have until March 10 to do it!


Kerene N. Tayloe, Esq. is the Director of Federal Legislative Affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.