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Final Spotlight: Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance

Coming Clean

Staff: Minnie Boadu-Bennett, Al Huang, Jim Irby, Jennyfer López Aguilar, Deidre Nelms, Maya Nye, Steve Powell, Judy Robinson, Susan Sabella, Hanna Schuler, Steve Taylor

About Coming Clean

Coming Clean is a cutting-edge environmental health and justice collaborative with 20 years of experience bringing diverse groups together around common causes to better protect public health. Members of Coming Clean are organizations and technical experts committed to principled collaboration with one another to advance a nontoxic, sustainable, and just world for all. Together, we're demanding immediate action and systemic changes to ensure the safety of communities, farms, food, consumer goods, facilities, and the chemicals we are exposed to everyday.


Environmental Justice Health Alliance

Staff: Stephanie Herron, Richard Moore, Michele Roberts, Katy Super

About the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) is a national network of grassroots Environmental and Economic Justice organizations and advocates in communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals from legacy contamination, ongoing exposure to polluting facilities and health-harming chemicals in household products. EJHA supports a just transition towards safer chemicals and a pollution-free economy that leaves no community or worker behind. The EJHA network model features leadership of, by, and for Environmental Justice groups with support from additional allied groups and individual experts.

A full list of EJHA affiliates can be found at:



About our strategic partnership

EJHA and Coming Clean work in strategic partnership, closely coordinating priorities and activities. This unique and deep partnership has benefited both EJHA and its affiliates, and Coming Clean and its members, by allowing both networks to retain their independent identities and leadership while achieving more together than they could alone.



"You can’t separate health from environmental justice, because environmental justice is health. And you can’t separate issues of climate change and global warming because environmental justice and economic justice is addressing global warming and climate change. And so those intersections are very crucial."

— Richard Moore





Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your work with Coming Clean and EJHA?

Judy: I'm Judy Robinson, and the role that I play with Coming Clean is Executive Director. I am also the Coordinator of the Funder Engagement Team. And then for the organization, I work on all of the development and support the operations, the programs, and Board of Coming Clean.

I have found that one of the central features that continues to inspire me in my work is the strategic partnership that Coming Clean has with the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. So that has been for me, one of the more strategic, interesting, and fulfilling aspects of the work that I've been doing for these past 20 years.

Richard: My name is Richard Moore, and I'm calling from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I'm the National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, and also a proud board member of Coming Clean. I've been involved now in social justice work, civil rights work, for 54 years.

What does it mean to look back on Coming Clean’s 20th Anniversary but also the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit’s 30th Anniversary?

Richard: I've been involved in community organizing, community activism, both at the city level, within New Mexico, the state, the region, and then international work. So that whole bottom up process that we consistently talk about -- the consistent engagement of grassroots folks, particularly engaging in and making decisions around what the futures of many of our communities would look like -- in order to do that, we needed to go back for a moment in the hundreds of years, not just 30 years or 40 years or 50 years, we needed to go back to hundreds of years and see the kind of environmental racism, economic racism, and environmental genocide that has been taking place in many of our communities.

If we look back within the last 30 years or so, one aspect I think that's important to identify in regards to the First People of Color Leadership Summit was that there were over a thousand participants that participated in Washington, DC during that time.

One of the highlights is people of color coming together as people of color: So we had Asian Pacific Islanders, Native/Indigenous people, Latinos, African-Americans. And based upon that there were other countries that participated in the First People of Color Summit: People were here from Puerto Rico, from Mexico, several other Caribbean countries and South American countries.

One of those pieces was people of color coming together as people of color and leaving several days later, that we needed to come out of that summit with issues and platforms and programs that primarily included all people of color. And so that was very, very, very crucial.

I think the other piece was the redefining of environmentalism and conservation as “where we work, where we live, where we play, where we pray, and where we go to school.” And so that was very crucial.

An additional piece was the establishment of the Principles of Environmental Justice, that took place totally in a very inclusive process, and then was released after the First People of Color Summit.

Judy: Well for me the highlight of Coming Clean is that it's rooted in this grassroots struggle for power, for self-determination. Why that's important to me is that's where I really came into the movement. I started organizing in Western New York, which is an area of legacy pollution. The legacy pollution from the steel industry is profound there. So I was really moved by so many of the stories that I heard of cancer clusters and other disease clusters and birth defects and illness and death that were experienced by people living around both the legacy and the ongoing manufacturing pollution in western New York.

So it was within that context, working for the Citizens Environmental Coalition out of New York, that I was first introduced to Coming Clean. So I was coming to it as a grassroots organizer in that environment, and so I was very drawn to the diversity in the circle of the people who were trying to tackle this massive industry that was problematic, even when it was closed, let alone when it was still open and operating. So I was like, you know this is a very, very big problem with massive consequences. And when I looked around the room at the people who were there, I saw there were worker advocates, and there were Native/Indigenous organizers, and there were pesticide and farm worker organizations, and it felt like what was really happening was that even in Western New York we needed the capitol lobby advocacy groups to support what we were doing, and Coming Clean was setting that table -- understanding that we can't have separate movements, or we won’t win. That's exactly what the industry wants us to do is to divide, and then they just continue to conquer.

It's really, really important to me that Coming Clean continues to be rooted in that grassroots struggle and that leadership, that knowledge from the ground. That's just like personally important to me. And I feel like if I wasn't part of an organization that did really try to live these principles, that I wouldn't get excited like this, that it wouldn't make my blood race, and my pulse soar. I’ve been at this organization for 20 years -- Just as a co-founder, and then I filled jobs that needed to be filled, and I was 30 years old, and coming out of five years or so of grassroots organizing. And I came into this organization where people were like “You want a piece? Lead!” There's no ego; there's too much work to do.

And I feel like that's exactly who we still are, and that there are so many 20 year olds and 30 year olds who can also pick up and lead, and then there's so many mentors like me, or like Richard, who are still deeply involved in wanting to continue to make this arc something that's principled and successful and continues to keep us passionate. Because if there isn't the movement -- if we're not leaving a movement of people who are super motivated and whose pulse races when they talk about their mission -- then we haven’t done our job because they will fight us all the way. Every success there will be more that we have to fight for, and so we have to keep that movement strong. That's what I'm here for and I think that's what Coming Clean continues to do so well, is to center the movement and to reject the separation, to reject the division, and to work hard to get right into the center of the turbulence, because that's where humanity is most threatened, and that's where we need to go in and be active.

It's not always easy, but it's exactly the place that we need to go, and I feel like Coming Clean is right in that center of the storm.

Richard: For many of us that have been involved from a grassroots level on these issues for years upon years upon years, part of that has been opening up, not only the voices of the grassroots but also hearing the voices of rural communities and urban communities. And many times rural communities, whether they're farm worker communities or wherever they may be, are left out of it. If you attend a convening or whatever in the earlier days, I would attend meetings and there might be 20 people there, and I would be the only person of color or in many cases, others would be the only persons of color that would be sitting at that table.

And I think the other significant piece really is that it's legacy. It's really about legacy. And so within that there's legacy chemicals, and then also there’s legacy grassroots organizers and activists, and that the voices of those, in some cases if we're not careful in this country, will be left out -- in some cases intentionally, or maybe in other cases unintentionally.

So when we look at those pieces of legacy, then we come to realize as we have in many of our local communities, that is not just a South Valley Albuquerque issue, or it's not just a community in Kentucky or a community in Alaska or a community in Texas, that coming together and convening really noting the fact that many of our communities have been targeted primarily for anything and everything that in many cases others did not want in their community.

I think that history is very crucial, and that's why I say hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Over the last couple of days, I've been attending discussions around an issue that took place in 1945. That was the Trinity site and the whole thing that came down in Southern New Mexico. Looking at that, just taking that one example, the US government knew in fact, and history speaks for itself, that those communities that were surrounding White Sands missile range were going to be impacted by cancers, but chose intentionally, not unintentionally, to not inform the people. That struggle is still alive and well from 1945 to where we are today. So that’s why I’m talking about legacy. We can't discuss these issues that we're discussing without talking about the hundreds upon hundreds of years, in many cases, of injustice that communities of color and Native/Indigenous people have been impacted by.

The relationship between Coming Clean and EJHA is crucial to the ongoing development of not only the issues that we're talking about, but at the same time, those relationships -- what we call that strategic partnership, that strategic relationship.

No one at the end of the day has said, whether it be a funder or anyone else, you all need to come together for this, that, or these following reasons. We come together based on principles, whatever those principles may be, and the development of the Louisville Charter from many years ago. The development of the Louisville Charter initially, was held in Kentucky in a grassroots community with an organization that's still with Coming Clean and also still an affiliate of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. That’s very important for us to understand.

If we need to bring together scientists, doctors, advocates and these kinds of things, if we allow a government or a country or whatever it may be to pit us against each other and not understand these very important particular issues that we're talking about, the health, safety and wellbeing of our people. Strategically that relationship between us not only came out of the history of Coming Clean and the fenceline working group, but then taking it from the fenceline working group to where we are today in terms of EJHA.

And I say that because in that process, that was a deliberate, intentional, not by accident piece that took place and we're continuing to build on that as we move forward today.

What is most significant about the moment we’re in right now?

Judy: Just to go back for a second because I think it's important for the opportunity now, is that we absolutely have to learn from our missteps. We absolutely have to grow as a movement for environmental health and justice -- particularly the environmental organizations, the environmental health groups, the white led groups. It's just so critical that we recognize when we haven't done our best work and to not repeat those same missteps, but to do it differently.

I think a really critical moment for Coming Clean was understanding that despite the incredible momentum that the grassroots movement in solidarity with other advocates had created for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal chemicals bill, despite all of that momentum that the grassroots always really has to push forward to get our targets to the negotiating table, it really wasn't enough to control the power dynamic. And so we lost out on the priorities that the grassroots had really used to build all that momentum. And so when we realized that the challenge was actually the power differentials in our own movement -- not external, not the industry or the politicians and what they're facing -- but it was our own internal power dynamics that made it impossible for the strategy that we envisioned, and that was working because of the genius and the unrelenting determination of the grassroots, it wasn't enough. And that same power differential exists because of the legacy of racism, and the people who have all the expertise in the world simply cannot be expected to persevere in those conditions without the system having to change.

And so at that point Coming Clean really shifted, and we really set about using our own privilege and access to the power structure and to philanthropy to build the capacity of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance.

And so we really shifted to support these incredible leaders: Michele Roberts and Richard Moore, the national co-coordinators of EJHA, and then the EJHA affiliates who are incredible leaders themselves. And so that process of just saying we will support you to lead, enabled this direction, this thrust of chemicals into new spaces that were not open for us if we were just going to continue to control the power dynamic.

That has just been incredibly crucial to this moment right now. So this moment is perhaps our greatest opportunity to bring the justice-based principles of the environmental health movement in tandem with the environmental justice movement and to push together behind the leadership of the EJ movement in these new political spaces that we've never had before.

So we need to continue to challenge ourselves to be in that strategic alignment with the environmental justice movement that really honors their direction, that honors their leadership and fills in behind that to support the direction that they're going, which is not leaving any community behind.

Richard: Throughout the last many, many years, we've had at times not only some victories, but we've had in some cases significant victories.

And as organizers sometimes we get so busy that we don't have that moment -- and we don't create the moment because things are moving very fast -- to remind ourselves of what those victories are and to celebrate those victories. Because we're all human beings, and we need to break it down sometimes.

So one, I think initially this country has been founded on the premises of systemic racism. We know that. We're very, very clear about that. In many cases on the cases of slavery and all that real, incredible history of violence against African-Americans, of violence against Latinos, of violence against Asian/Pacific Islanders, and then to add insult to injury, all the injustices that have taken place throughout this history with Native/Indigenous people: The violation of treaties, the slaughtering, the relocations, just on and on and on with those issues.

The other piece of that: We need to, as we always say here, before we look at the outhouse, we need to look at the in-house. So much of what we're talking about with green groups for example, many of the issues that we're talking about in the relationships that we've built with labor unions and workers in many places that are working in unorganized or non-unionized shops -- Those relationships if we go back a little bit, and we look at in-house and then we continue to assess that… And my mom always said at the end of the day, son it took over 500 years to get us to where we are, and it's going to take us some time to be able to dismantle much of what we're talking about now.

For us as people of color, at the end of the day, all of these many, many years that we're talking about with these issues...We come out of the Nixon era, the Reagan era, and many of us and many of our people go way back before that. So part of the reason why I'm saying that is because we need to, as I say, we need to look in-house. That don't necessarily mean to me...I have never been about beating up white people. I'm going to be real honest about that. I've never been about trying to make white people feel guilty, because in many of the things that we're talking about, some of the people we're talking about weren't even born during the time that many of these hundreds of years that we're talking about. But we need that moment, and I think that piece is kind of connected to that strategic relationship, that strategic partnership, because at the end of the day, we can either try to do it with each other, or we can try to do it without each other. But I think we've come to the conclusion that the best direction to take is to do it together.

My last point on that is, one of the other things, and I made the comment earlier, is that we consistently (hearing less now, but still) hear, “Here come those troublemakers, protesting, demonstrating, occupying offices...” on and on. So based upon that, if somebody just listens clear enough, sometimes -- and that's why that listening piece is crucial...we've got to become better listeners because many of those solutions, even some of them based on previous history, many of those solutions are grounded in the comments and that history and those pieces that are connected to what we're saying. And then there’s other things…

So, if we're going to complain (I'll just call it that for the moment), then we have a responsibility not to support false solutions, but we have a responsibility to offer solutions to the issues and the complaints that we've been making. And that’s very, very, very crucial in terms of where I come from and I think where we come from.


"We need to continue to challenge ourselves to be in that strategic alignment with the environmental justice movement that really honors their direction, that honors their leadership and fills in behind them to support the direction that they’re going, which is not leaving any community behind."

— Judy Robinson

What are some moments in this strategic partnership you’d like to shout out as a victory or example of what is possible?

Richard: One of those pieces to me is, as I stated, the principles of Environmental Justice. That's very, very crucial. And us together understanding and looking at those principles of environmental justice.

I think the other one in the development of our movement and our history is the Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing.

I think another one really is the principles of working together, which came out of the Second People of Color Summit.

Another piece from an EJHA perspective and I would think also from a Coming Clean perspective, is 1) when the letters were sent to the Group of 10. The reason it was called the Group of 10 is because those 10 national environmental groups referred to themselves as the Group of 10. And so the letter that was sent to them saying, “Hey, sisters and brothers, with all respect, have you been using us for photo ops and inviting us to meetings in Washington and we testify, but at the end of the day, have we been involved in the discussions or the decisions that were made before we got to Washington?”

Now on a positive note, then we said, okay, here's where this piece is. Now can we talk about what we can do together? And so out of that came the Equitable and Just National Climate platform. And so that climate platform is grounded on the Jemez Principles, and is grounded on the Principles of Environmental Justice. I believe in that process that that was a new moment at that moment in history. We've been working on that for over three years now, and we've had incredible success in that.

My last comment: For us, everything we need to ground in our history and our culture. And that's why I said what I said first. In the world that we come from everything that’s white is positive -- and that's what our children have been taught in school -- and then anything nonwhite, it's not positive and primarily negative. So what do I mean? Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Ok so now what about Zapata in Mexico? Didn’t Zapata and those they referred to as bandits, weren’t they retaking some land and resources that belonged to the people? But it's those negative pieces that we're talking about.

So we need to lift up and pull those pieces together, and that Equitable and Just National Climate Platform is a primary example.

And then my last point, and I said this early too, was really about the development of the Louisville Charter. Where was the Louisville Charter founded at? I’m talking about the founding moment of the development, because the development of the Louisville Charter came from many, many, many communities with many, many, many voices to go along with it, and that meeting happened to take place in Louisville, Kentucky. That’s why it's referred to as the Louisville charter.

So we need to be able to dig deep in where we've been. We need to be able to never forget our past, and then we need to be digging deeper into where we are going to go from here. And in the process of that, if we do those things -- and as our elders reminded me and many of us as young people coming out of that period, 1) never forget where you came from 2) always remember whose shoulders you stand on and 3) always give back to others what's been given to you. And if we do that, I think we can move on at the end of the day, when I'm not here and that younger generation is here -- because it's about building an intergenerational movement, not a separate movement. So based upon that, I think I would feel very positive as I laid and was laid to rest, and felt that I did as much as I could do and we could do together.

Judy: I was thinking of the Louisville Charter as being a real success, and in addition to the charter, being named after the community of Louisville, where the work to ratify the charter happened there and they were obviously a community inundated by industrial chemical plants and pollution so they were perfect for a namesake to ground this policy platform; but also Louisville was the place where the Fenceline Action Work Group started.

So what I think is just such a success from the very beginning is this idea that while environmental justice and grassroots priorities need to be embedded across everything that Coming Clean does, it's also true that because of the “in house” power differential, kind of white supremacist culture that Richard referred to, that kind of internal problems, that it was also really important for them to have a caucus space of their own. It wasn’t enough to just say, “through all the work groups of Coming Clean, we're going to care about justice,” because we know the gorilla that white supremacist culture is. So if you just say that, then all those dynamics will overwhelm what is being created in that space. So having this separate, but connected caucus space for people who are living that exposure scenario for generations and every day, was just a really important thing.

From that sense of knowing the problems and knowing what the solutions are, was one of the earliest successes that we had as a collective, which was standing behind Concerned Citizens of Norco and their push for relocation from the fenceline of Shell Chemical.

But then there's been a lot of things, I mean, we've just been really successful! We were able to push for a ban on bisphenol A in baby bottles and drink cups that kids were using. We were able to push for a ban on phthalates in children's articles. We were able to identify chemical exposure that was happening from natural gas extraction, hydrofracking, and then processing and very rural areas in Wyoming and Arkansas. We were able to quantify the actual chemical exposure and hazard that people in these really remote areas were having from this extraction, which contributed to momentum to oppose fracking and a ban in New York state. Behind the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, we were able to improve safety regulations at 12,500 of the most hazardous facilities.

So in each of these successes that I rattle off in a sentence, whether it's getting rid of flame retardants in mattresses or nap mats or couches or nursing pillows, or increasing protection for agricultural workers, 2 million agricultural workers at 600,000 work sites, a huge volume of work is required for each of those things, and sometimes they take 10 years, 15 years to achieve.

What Richard was talking about in terms of the success of the environmental justice movement and the collaboration through the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform to arrest the Biden administration to the seriousness of the environmental justice crisis, that action has its roots and many decades of work all the way back to that first letter to the Group of 10, and all of the organizing has really been building towards this moment where you do need structures to help you carry it forward.

Coming Clean has been a space for that with EJHA in helping to bring major green groups into alignment with environmental justice leadership to support their priorities and the requirement that they be at those same tables -- every table all along the way.

Richard: We're very clear at this moment that president Biden has made critical not only mentions of the importance of environmental and economic justice, and as we say at the end of the day some of the proof is in the pudding. We got a little bit of that: He speaks about it. He makes comments. The administration does executive orders. We made recommendations around particular people that we would like to see, along with that commitment that's in some of the federal agencies. We were able to get Dr. Cecilia Martinez, for example, at the CEQ as Director of Environmental Justice, but the struggle continues.

And so we've always said at the end of the day, you can’t separate health from environmental justice, because environmental justice is health. And you can’t separate issues of climate change and global warming because environmental justice and economic justice is global warming and climate change. And so those intersections that take place are very crucial.

Even some of the success thus far around the WHEJAC and the WHEJAC recommendations to CEQ and to the Whitehouse, then that's been very important along with the interim guidance around Justice 40. Additionally, an executive order -- a new developed executive order on environmental justice -- we've made recommendations around that (we meaning the WHEJAC), but I believe also that there has been ground up, bottom up processes in terms of what organizations at the grassroots level would like to see in a new executive order.

And as we say in organizing, in our communities if people can’t see it, touch it, smell it, or feel it, then at that particular point, they're not going to be able to see on the ground. What we need right now, we've got a little bit of pudding, and now we need some proof.

If we look back on this moment 30 years from now, what is one legacy that you hope to leave?

Richard: So I would say the one for me is the dismantling of systemic racism. And as I made that comment, that’s very, very crucial. I'm not saying everything's going to turn over the day after tomorrow, but I think we need to make a serious commitment to dismantling systemic racism.

Judy: I would agree that for us to be successful, we have to dismantle systemic racism -- that we can't actually get to our goals without that. The problems are built on the availability and the endurance of and support for systemic racism. That's why it's working -- That's why it's tolerated that there is just this incredible risk we're all under and the climate is in peril and there are body burdens of chemicals in us. That’s why it perpetuates and why we tolerate it because it's just far enough away and happening to different people than those who have seats at most of the tables of power in our society. In 30 years, I would like us to have achieved that.

A hope that I have: I remember at the very beginning of Coming Clean, when we all came together and we identified the petrochemical industry as the sort of nexus of these problems that we were all fighting, whether it was worker safety, or pesticide drift and poisoning, or it was dioxin emissions from incinerators, or if it was water conservation from chemical spills, that the industry we were all fighting was this petrochemical industry, and we really gave the tools and provided the space for the skill sharing for the members of Coming Clean, to look at the life cycle of the industry. So not just the point at which they were focused on the intersection but to actually expand it to see all of our humanity and that we were fighting along the life cycle, to see each other. Not necessarily to shift where we were going to focus, but to put our arms around the other activists: I'm with them; they're with me; we're all here together; these are my people.

Recently in the last number of years we've been identifying the chemical industry's contribution to climate change and the many ways that that manifests in the food and agricultural system, the transportation system, the fossil fuel and the chemical production system. Like we did with the life cycle of chemicals, through providing skill sharing, spaces and data and research and access to people and experts on the ground, we've been able to open up this bigger chemicals, food/ag, climate, health, and justice frame that I really hope in 30 years has driven the chemical industry to adopt the principles of green chemistry. That by driving the awareness of the chemical industry's contribution to legacy pollution, ongoing body burden contamination of humanity with toxic chemicals, and a collapsing industrial agriculture system, and a climate in peril; I really hope that we have centered the reformation of the chemical industry in every fight on those fronts: The fight for local and sustainable food, the fight for alternative energy, the fight for safe products and practices, that we've managed to expose how the chemical industry has to change from top to bottom if we are in fact going to reverse systemic racism and we're going to protect future generations from endocrine disruption and disease and premature death, and protect the climate from catastrophe.

So I hope we can do that. I believe we can do that. I'm in for that fight.

Richard: Exactly. And it really is about building power, and we have the possibilities. We've been a part of that process. So I think additionally, just on that side, it's continuing to build the necessary kind of movement that takes us from one step to the next step. And so that's very, very crucial on the movement-building side.

There will not be in many cases a just transition unless labor and community and others are working together to truly make a just transition.

We're going to keep on going not because somebody told us, but because we have decided that that's what we want to do to make this world a better place for us to live, play, pray, go to school and where we learn. So thank you.







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