MEJ’s Colorado Map makes a splash

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KUNC, a Colorado NPR affiliate, recently highlighted MEJ’s work. Listen to Executive Director Adam Buchholz discuss pollution disparities in Colorado and how cumulative impact mapping can shape environmental justice movements.

“We’re not telling a new story. Advocates have been talking about disparity in exposure to pollution for low-income communities and communities of color for decades. Part of the issue, at least at the state level, is that people haven’t done much about it otherwise our map wouldn’t show the pattern that it does… Our map provides a way to retell those stories in a way that policy-makers might be more willing and able to understand,” said Buchholz.

Listen to the full interview here, beginning at minute 6:30. This story originally aired on KUNC’s Colorado Edition.

Read additional coverage here:

Denver Gazette, “Report: Colorado’s low-income, non-white communities disproportionately exposed to pollution.”

Colorado Politics, “Report: Colorado’s low-income, non-white communities disproportionately exposed to pollution.”

From the Styx, “Mapping for Environmental Justice is here.”

MEJ’s Colorado Map Reveals Pollution Burden on Communities of Color

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Mapping for Environmental Justice recently published its Colorado map. The mapping effort identified several environmental justice hotspots, including North Denver, Pueblo, and Greeley. The hotspots have high levels of pollution burden and are disproportionately communities of color or low-income. 

MEJ’s Colorado map shows that communities of color breathe nearly twice as much diesel pollution and are 1.5 times more likely to live near a Superfund site than white communities. The disparity holds across an array of environmental hazards: from wastewater releases to air toxics, Coloradans of color are consistently exposed to more pollution. 

“These maps show the same injustices I saw my students experiencing every day. Many of them had chronic asthma, and many of them lived in areas where there is a high level of air pollution.” 

– Adam Buchholz, MEJ Executive Director

 Adam Buchholz, MEJ’s executive director,  founded MEJ after seeing the effects of pollution firsthand while working as a teacher in Denver Public Schools. “These maps show the same injustices I saw my students experiencing every day. Many of them had chronic asthma, and many of them lived in areas where there is a high level of air pollution. Our most vulnerable communities are exposed to the worst society has to offer, be it toxic waste dumps, air pollution, traffic, or unhealthy water.” For Buchholz, environmental justice mapping is a starting point to remediate past and prevent future harm to historically burdened communities. “Using maps like this to target clean energy and anti-pollution programs is a first step toward fixing the problem,” he said. 

Read the full press release here.

New at MEJ

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This Fall, Mapping for Environmental Justice is taking on new projects, new people, and new partners. As we expand the scope of our work, we continue to raise awareness and push for policy changes addressing environmental hazards and their disproportionate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color.

As part of this effort, our team welcomes three new research fellows including Margaret McCall (MPP/ERG 2021) to lead MEJ’s data and outreach team, Prakat Khati (MPP 2022) who is responsible for MEJ’s policy research and analysis, and Vanessa Ehrenpreis (MPP 2022), an expert in environmental policy and qualitative analysis.

MEJ is also joined by four UC Berkeley undergraduates as part of the Data Science Discovery Program. Azucena Castro, Grey Xu, Violet Walsh, and Varsha Madapoosi will all be working on new data projects under the supervision of continuing data fellow Zain Khan (MIDS 2021). 

With new staff and a template from our work mapping environmental injustice in Colorado, MEJ is newly expanding its mapping efforts to New Mexico and Virginia. Our first step in doing this is to partner with state-based organizations already fighting for public access to environmental justice data, remediation of past environmental injustices, and protections against future harm.

In Virginia, MEJ is working with the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative (VEJC). Created in 2015, its four founding organizations (The Southeast CARE Coalition, Appalachian Voices, the Federal Policy Office of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and New Virginia Majority) saw the need for statewide coordination to support Virginia organizations addressing environmental justice issues. Since then, VEJC has grown to include 32 Virginia member organizations. Already, VEJC members have helped MEJ find data sources, connect with Virginia-based researchers, and guided our work with their first-hand expertise.

In New Mexico, MEJ is now among the many partner organizations of the Center for Civic Policy (CCP) working to amplify and empower the voices of New Mexicans who experience oppression. CCP is nationally recognized as an innovator in the civic engagement sector, and  works in the areas of voter turnout and grassroots partnership and leadership.

By Violet Walsh and Kimia Pakdaman