History (EJ)

National History

In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 which mandated that each federally funded agency make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States. The Executive Order also mandated that the US EPA develop a strategy for incorporating Environmental Justice into its processes. Some of these processes include extending education to minority and low-income communities to assist in community involvement efforts.

South Carolina’s History with Environmental Justice

Historically, overburdened communities have experienced higher levels of environmental pollution within their community along with other social and economic burdens. As the state’s environmental regulator and a recipient of federal funding, DHEC was also required to ensure that Environmental Justice communities were considered throughout our decision-making processes. As a result, DHEC has been working to support environmental justice and community involvement for many years.

Our vision for South Carolina, is that all South Carolinians, regardless of race, age, culture, income, or geographic location, are protected from environmental and health hazards. We also hope to ensure that all individuals are afforded access to our decision-making processes. Doing so helps us meet our meaningful involvement goal of ensuring that the needs of all communities are represented.


2004: International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Training

DHEC’s senior leadership invited the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2), an industry leader in community engagement, to administer the above-mentioned training. In addition to the IAP2 training, EPA’s Region 4 Office of Environmental Justice was later brought in to educate staff on the prevalence of Environmental Justice issues.

2005: DHEC Creates Internal Public Participation Task Force

DHEC’s Office of Environmental Affairs expanded its commitment to public participation by establishing an internal public participation task force that included members from several environmental bureaus.

2007: Environmental Justice Advisory Committee

The South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 171 to create an S. C. Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (Committee) within SC DHEC. The Committee was formed and tasked with identifying existing practices at state agencies regarding environmental justice issues, assessing how they impact economic development and revitalization projects, and making recommendations.

Link: “South Carolina Environmental Justice Advisory Committee: Final Report”.

2008: Statewide Public Participation Listening Sessions

The leadership within Environmental Affairs conducted a series of world café style listening sessions across the state with the purpose of collecting feedback from the individuals that we serve. In each of the four regional meetings, input was collected from community members and compiled into twelve (12) priority items. Two (2) committees were created to ensure the completion of the twelve deliverables.

2009: DHEC’s Leaders in Environmental Action Pilot (LEAP)

DHEC entered into a cooperative agreement with the EPA to launch the “Leaders in Environmental Action Pilot” (LEAP). The agreement helped to provide grants and technical assistance to an Environmental Justice community in each of the state’s four (4) regions. Each of the selected projects worked to address an issue that was unique to that community.

  • The project selected for the low country region, the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), worked with the City of Charleston and the South Carolina Ports Authority to fund $4.08 million in community, neighborhood and economic development projects.
  • The Community Development & Improvement Corporation (CDIC) represents residents in Graniteville, Warrenville, and Vaucluse SC. CDIC works throughout South Carolina on housing issues, economic development, and growth.
  • A Place for Hope advocates for the Blackmon Road community, an unincorporated area near Rock Hill. The group addresses basic needs of community residents, including access to potable running water and a sanitary sewer system. 
  • The Imani Group is based in Aiken County and has many areas of focus such as environmental justice, criminal justice, grassroots organizing, youth leadership development, and counseling.

2013: DHEC Creates Model Environmental Justice Leadership School

Towards the tail end of the LEAP project, DHEC worked with EPA’s Region 4 Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) to create an EJ Leadership school in 2013. Over the course of the program community members were trained on leadership development principles, organizational sustainability practices, and other skills that assist attendees with sustaining the momentum of current and future projects. The program later acted as a model for EPA Region 4’s OEJ Environmental Justice Academy and Allen University’s Environmental Justice Scholar’s program.

2016: Office of Applied Science and Community Engagement

The leadership within Environmental Affairs created an Office of Applied Science and Community Engagement to act as the Director’s support team for issues and projects occurring within the environmental bureaus. Both the Environmental Justice Coordinator and the Community Engagement Coordinator are housed on that team. During the creation of this office, each of the bureaus received a community engagement liaison to help lead community initiatives for the program areas within their bureau. The Director also hired an Environmental Justice Special advisor to help advise and assist the director on national EJ matters.

2017: Environmental Justice Champions Workgroup

Following the release of EJ 2020, EPA’s action agenda for implementing Environmental Justice activities and practices, the leadership in Environmental Affairs decided to show their commitment towards tackling the four (4) national EJ challenges identified in EPA’s action agenda. In doing so the leadership in Environmental Affairs created an EJ Champions Workgroup to assess the condition of each EJ challenge as it relates to unique needs of South Carolina. The four (4) challenges are as follows: Water, Lead, Air, and Hazardous Waste. Because South Carolina is a coastal state, the agency added Coastal Resiliency as our 5th state challenge area.

2017: South Carolina Energy Plan

The Office of Regulatory Staff - Energy Office (Energy Office) presented the state's final Energy Plan to the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC).  Following the presentation, the PURC unanimously voted for the Energy Office to continue the work laid out in that plan, particularly the eight top tier recommendations. Due to the importance of addressing issues that pertain to environmental equity, economic development, and environmental planning, Environmental Justice was among the top eight recommendations. SC DHEC partnered with the Energy Office to carry out this initiative.

2018: Environmental Affairs Adopts Environmental Justice Guiding Principles

To further support the agency’s mission of improving the quality of life for all South Carolinians, representatives from Environmental Affairs and various community organizations came together in 2018 to identify and shape our Environmental Justice Guiding Principles. View our current Guiding Principles.


Keisha Long
Environmental Justice Coordinator
Office of Environmental Affairs

Karen Sprayberry
Senior EJ Advisor to the Director of Environmental Affairs
Office of Environmental Affairs


Office of Environmental Affairs Statewide