September 11, 2012

Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Program Makes a Difference in Detroit

By Ryan Stock, Environmental Justice Intern

As a graduate student pursuing a degree in Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan, I grew increasingly enraged by the disproportionate burden of toxic substances that low-income and ethnic/racial minority communities in Detroit must endure. When Sierra Club’s Rhonda Anderson shared her work with downriver communities to my school, I instantly approached her for an internship!

Since May, we’ve:
  • compiled data for each specific community we work in, combining toxic release data from industrial facilities with public health data;
  • pressed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to establish cumulative impact consideration for these communities;
  • drafted a blueprint for clean energy downriver;
  • worked with Blue-Green Alliance to leverage cleaner operations for US Steel and Severstal Steel;
  • begun the process of drafting new Environmental Justice legislation for Michigan;
  • wrote a State of the Environment Report for Detroit that details industry contributions to pollution, climate change, poverty and negative public health outcomes.

The list goes on and on. However, what I am most proud of is working side-by-side with Rhonda. Never in my life have I had a supervisor who respected me as an equal, with such a precise moral compass and clairvoyant vision. Now I’m scared I will never find a job this rewarding!

For more information about the Sierra Club's  Environmental Justice program in Detroit, visit