An AmeriCorps Member’s perspective on the EPA Region 9 Environmental Justice “Teach-In”
By Amber Taxiera, Outreach Coordinator for The Sierra Fund
Sandy Karinen, Izzy Martin and Amber Taxiera at the EPA EJ Teach In, March 6, 2014
On March 6th, I had the privilege of attending the Environmental Justice “Teach-In” at the U.S. EPA in San Francisco, along with The Sierra Fund’s CEO, Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin.
Izzy was invited to be one of the twenty four Environmental Justice (EJ) Leaders facilitating small group discussions around three key themes: green zones and sustainable development; EJ and the law; and the roles citizen-driven task forces and tools can play in improving environmental conditions in overburdened communities. The ideas discussed at this event will help to shape U.S. EPA Region 9′s strategic plan for the next two years and I was thrilled to get to be a part of it.
At first, it was a little overwhelming being surrounded by hundreds of the well-connected EJ Leaders and government bureaucrats whom have decades of experience in the environmental arena. Although the EPA expected about 100 participants, 170 showed up! I began wondering where I fit in all of this and which direction my AmeriCorps experience would take me in next.
Then, I picked up one of the reading materials: a summary of all the EJ registrants and their organizations. I read the summary of The Sierra Fund and the work we are doing on legacy mining contamination in the rural Sierra Nevada. Much to my surprise, it went on to describe my exact job description and the projects I’m implementing under my AmeriCorps service plan: “The Sierra Fund is an EPA EJ small grantee, funded to reach out to rural health care providers and community leaders in an effort to prevent and mitigate exposure to legacy mining toxins such as mercury, arsenic, lead and asbestos.”
As Izzy acquainted me with some of the agency and community leaders, she introduced me as The Sierra Fund’s Environmental Justice Organizer, the person implementing our on the ground outreach programs. Realizing I may have been the only person in the room running an outreach program in rural Sierra, prompted me to reflect on the impact of the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership Program and the important function of its members. The day’s experience helped me to recognize that I am serving an integral role in reaching out to rural communities, which are underrepresented, not only in congress, but in research and funding as well.
Amber at the EPA Region 9 Environmental Justice Teach-In, March 6, 2014
Amber Taxiera has served as The Sierra Fund’s Community Outreach Coordinator since April 2013. She serves through the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership (SNAP), a program of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. SNAP places up to thirty-three full time AmeriCorps members at different conservation organizations throughout the Sierra Nevada to assess and restore impaired watershed habitats and increase community stewardship by conducting watershed restoration and ecological monitoring, watershed education, and volunteer recruitment and support.