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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

SU hosts nationally renowned champion for environmental justice

African American Studies Spring 2013 Colloquium presents Vernice Miller-Travis

March 15, 2013, by Judy Holmes

Vernice Miller-Travis, advisor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and longtime environmental activist, will present “Environmental Justice and the legacy of Racial Inequality in the 21st Century” at 5 p.m. March 28 in Syracuse University’s Bird Library Graham Scholarly Commons, Room 114. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Miller-Travis’ lecture is part of the 2013 Spring Colloquium series presented by the Department of African American Studies in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. Reduced-rate parking is available in SU’s Booth Garage.

“Air pollution became personal in 1986 when I walked into a room and heard hundreds of stories of asthma and other respiratory problems from Harlem residents who lived near a sewage treatment plant,” Miller-Travis wrote in a 2011 blog post for Earth Justice. “Harlem is the epicenter of the asthma epidemic in the United States. The rates of asthma and asthma mortality are so high that they drive the national averages.”

In collaboration with community activists, Miller-Travis rolled up her sleeves and co-founded West Harlem Environmental Action (known today as We ACT for Environmental Justice), an award-winning, community-based advocacy organization in New York City. She also went to work for the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice as a research assistant to the Special Project on Toxic Injustice and helped write and publish the 1987 landmark report “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States.”

“When I first went to work for UCC, terms such as environmental racism, environmental injustice, and environmental justice were just entering the lexicon,” she wrote in November 2012 in a blog post on “Communities of color, low-income, tribal, and immigrant communities had experienced such phenomena for millennia, but they didn’t have the language to describe these concerns as distinct from the other inequalities they experienced.”

She didn't stop there. Spurred by her early successes, Miller-Travis has spent the last 26 years in a relentless pursuit of environmental justice. She is the principal of the environmental consulting group Miller-Travis and Associates and a senior associate at Skeo Solutions.  The organizations work with communities that have undergone economic disinvestment and environmental degradation to design and implement community revitalization and sustainable redevelopment initiatives and projects. 

Miller-Travis is also vice-chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, where she leads an effort to encourage state and local governments to consider the environmental and public health dimensions of local land-use and zoning decisions.    
Miller-Travis served as a principal co-author of the 2010 report "Now is the Time: Environmental Injustice in the U.S. and Recommendations for Eliminating Disparities" published by the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  She has also consulted with Earth Justice to incorporate environmental justice considerations into EPA Clean Air Act rules. She served as an expert consultant to the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, assisting the agency with the development of a community engagement strategy for the Mercury Air Toxics rule.

In 2003 and 2004, Miller-Travis served on the EPA’s All Appropriate Inquiry Federal Advisory Committee that wrote the statutory language for the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Redevelopment Act.  She also served on the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Work Group on Integrating Environmental Justice into EPA’s permitting, and co-chaired the NEJAC’s Working Group on School Air Toxics Monitoring.

Miller-Travis was a program officer in the Community and Resource Development Unit of the Ford Foundation (2000-2003), and served as director of the Environmental Justice Initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (1993-1999). Miller-Travis serves on the Boards of the Healthy Schools Network and the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project.

A graduate of Columbia University in New York City, Miller-Travis has published numerous articles and book chapters on race and land-use, environmental justice, Brownfields redevelopment and hazardous waste policy, sustainable community development, historic preservation, and neighborhood revitalization.

She is the recipient of the American Public Health Association’s Section on the Environment Damu Smith Health Achievement Award (2009), a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship (1997), and the Charles H. Revson Graduate Fellowship from Columbia University School of Architecture and Urban Planning (1992).d