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Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships

Regional Programs: Memphis, Tennessee

Join us for Sierra Club's 12th Annual Grassroots Environmental Conference in Memphis, TN, Saturday, November 9, 2013
This is the only community environmental conference totally focused on providing easy-to-understand information and an opportunity to network with expert speakers and activists. We extend a special invitation to college students, neighborhood watch leaders, community activists, teachers, community groups, church leaders, and even the "person next door."

Conference highlights include speaker Jeananne Gettle, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Director of the Office of Air, Pesticides & Toxics Management, plus our main keynote speaker, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus.   Rev. Yearwood is a nationally recognized leader in issues associated with the environment, social justice, and voting rights.

Please register before the deadline November 5th by emailing Send your name, address, phone number, email address, and organizational affiliation or school if a student. Indicate meat or veggie meal preference. For more info or questions, please call, 901-324-7757. Find out more.

Nuclear Issues in the Memphis Area
STOP Burying So-Called Low-Level Nuclear Waste in Two Local Landfills: There is NO Safe Dose!

Many of us are concerned about our country's focus on the nuclear power industry as an energy alternative. We are concerned about failing efforts to safely dispose of nuclear waste as well as other concerns. Our country and our State of Tennessee must look at the impacts confronting our communities with particular concern for those communities and families that are the most vulnerable. When folks say nuclear power is clean, they obviously have not looked at all the problems and concerns associated with the production of nuclear power plants and weapons. Whether you look at the devastated areas out West where uranium mining occurs, or here in Tennessee where the waste is processed and disposed of in landfills, the topic of "nuclear" is not necessarily good news.
Read more.
Brochure on nuclear issues in area landfills

Click tead more about the Sierra Club's environmental justice program in Memphis, TN.

Sierra Club organizer Rita Harris has been fighting for Environmental Justice in Memphis since the early 1990s. Leading frequent Toxic Tours and working with the community to campaign against major polluters, Rita works alongside residents to protect their land, air, water, and health. An air pollution monitoring program, a mapping project to alert residents to the dangers of a chemical spill, and an ongoing fight against a hazardous waste-burning incinerator all highlight actions by Memphis residents to improve environmental quality and justice for their communities.


April 2010 Blacks Living Green EventBlacks Living Green
The Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program endorses the book Blacks Living Green by author Dr. Sharon T. Freeman of Washington, DC, Here in Memphis the Sierra Club's environmental justice program followed the example set by our leader former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, who wrote the Foreword for a new book by Dr. Sharon T. Freeman of Washington, DC, entitled Blacks Living Green.

"...the stories in this book are important - they embody hope, they embody struggle, and they embody connectedness - as an environmentalist, I'm glad to be in this together. And if we reflect on the stories in this book, we'll probably have a better grasp of the man we just elected to get this country out of the biggest mess in seventy years."
—Blacks Living Green Foreword by Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

This is an excellent book for all of us to read and think about the human resources that we have in our communities; not just in Memphis, but across this country. This book also goes a long way to dispel the myth that African Americans are not interested in environmental or "green" issues. Blacks Living Green highlights individuals all over the country who have chosen environmental careers, lifestyles, or businesses. Ms. Freeman's book encouragingly includes an open letter for membership, and a list of Sierra Club environmental justice program offices and contacts. It must be clearly noted that her book is not about environmental justice, but more about remarkable people doing remarkable things that are not limited by artificial barriers of race, class or culture. The success of our wide array of sustainability and environmental work relies on the dedication and capacity of key leaders in our community. In 2009 and again in 2010 we hosted an event to recognize local African American environmental heroes that we named 'green role models'. Our green role models through their work and activities promote a better quality of life for everyone and encourage environmental sustainability in the Memphis metropolitan area.


Some Memphis Campaign Highlights

  • Regularly providing assistance to a historical African American community with concerns about an industrial megasite encroaching on their quiet rural community in West Tennessee.
  • While serving on the Environmental Protection Agency's School Air Toxics Workgroup and advocating for communities that have high levels of hazardous air pollution, the Memphis EJ Program serves as a watchdog monitoring local pollution sources to our air, water and land. Several schools in Memphis are within close proximity to industrial pollution from West Tennessee's coal-fired power plant, a major oil refinery, and numerous chemical plants.
  • Providing assistance to a couple of communities in rural West Tennessee that are fighting a construction and storm debris landfills, as well as an aluminum dross landfill.
  • Although five chemical plants and a six-lane interstate highway encircle the Douglas community in north Memphis, the EPA does not require any hazardous substance air monitors in the area. The community used a Bucket Brigade sampling initiative to enable them to collect their own air samples to monitor pollution levels and challenge industry to lower their emissions.
  • Several communities throughout Memphis are concerned about trains that weave their way through the city's neighborhoods carrying dangerous substances including radioactive materials. Thus, emergency management is a major environmental justice issue in Memphis.
  • The lack of emergency planning to protect residents in case of an accident at the oil refinery, coal plant, or any of the local chemical plants, alarms most Memphis residents. Our Geographical Information System mapping project has been extremely helpful in demonstrating how dangerously close these industrial facilities are to schools, homes, churches, and parks. Residents have expressed concerns about the severe damage a 'worst-case scenario' could cause for fenceline communities.
  • To increase the capacity of community groups and individuals the Memphis EJ Program hosts annual conferences to promote increased awareness, networking and activism for the average person next door.


About our Memphis Organizer, Rita Harris
Rita Harris has led Memphis-area environmental justice efforts since 1991. She received the Chickasaw Group's first Environmental Justice Award in early 1999 and began her work with the Sierra Club in the fall of 1999. Again, in December of 2007, the Chickasaw Group honored her with their Outstanding Community Advocate Award.

In addition to organizing residents in underserved neighborhoods, Harris designs and coordinates grassroots environmental conferences annually, is frequently asked to speak at events inside and outside the Club, and leads Toxic Tours to educate area groups about environmental justice. These tours point out the injustices experienced by individuals living in the shadow of polluters and highlights community success stories!

Her annual "Terrible Ten" reports highlight area polluters while helping communities understand the health effects of air and water pollution. The Tennessee Alliance for Progress (TAP) honored Harris for her many years of work as a community organizer with an award at their May 2008 TAP Long Haul Awards ceremony. In the spring of 2008, Harris was honored by the Memphis Women's magazine as one of their "Green Women of Shelby County".

Harris served on the Enforcement Subcommittee of the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council from 1996 to 2001, and currently serves as community co-chair of the 2008 Shelby County Sustainable Shelby Initiative's Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

In 2011, Rita Harris won the Sierra Club's Virginia Ferguson Award for her work to diversify the organization.


Contact Us
To learn more about the Memphis Environmental Justice program and get involved, contact us:
Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Program: Memphis, Tennessee
2600 Poplar Avenue, Suite 216
Memphis, TN 38112
Phone: 901-324-7757
Organizer: Rita Harris


Annual Pollution Report for Shelby County
Shelby County's Terrible Ten: the top ten polluting industries in Memphis and Shelby County. Find out how much pollution a resident is exposed to each day and from which sources the pollution comes. (PDF, updated July 2011)


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