CLIMATEWIRE | As an intern for Dow Chemical in high school and college, Jalon White-Newsom thought she had found her way in life.

There, the formulas she had learned in class — at the Detroit High School of Magnets, then Northwestern University’s chemical engineering program — no longer seemed like abstractions. They were real life things. So instead of graduating from school, she began her career as a project engineer at US Gypsum Corp., whose Sheetrock products made it the continent’s largest manufacturer of drywall.

“I originally intended to work for USG for 30 years and then retire,” she said. said later The American Chemical Society.

But there was a problem: the legacy of the asbestos production company was catching up. Faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and fired dozens of workers, including White-Newsome.

Now, more than two decades later, White-Newsome is joining the White House as one of the top officials in environmental justice. At a time when environmentalists are losing patience with the Biden administration’s climate and justice efforts, many are hoping that White-Newsome can revive many environmental justice initiatives (GreenwireMay 5).

Those who know her say it’s natural. White-Newsome offers a long autobiography of philanthropic work, government experience, academic research, and advocacy for public policy. She has also left a mark on people impressed by her ability to network and juggle multiple roles.

“She jokes that when she was in high school, she had Franklin Planner,” said Lois Debecker, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s environmental program, where White-Newsome created an innovative grant program aimed at the intersection of water, justice and climate change.

This organizational energy is not a small thing to do in the Environmental Quality Council. White-Newsome’s predecessor, Cecilia Martinez, he said The Washington Post that the constant pace of work on Biden’s environmental justice program has left it “dangerously close to burning.”

In addition to the Kresge Foundation, White-Newsome has worked for the Maryland Department of the Environment (under both administrations), WE ACT for Environmental Justice and Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, a consulting firm she founded.

She also teaches at Catering University and George Washington University, in addition to fellowships with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Leadership Program. She has published several peer-reviewed articles on the uneven impact of climate on public health, with a focus on extreme heat.

But perhaps more groundbreaking for White-Newsome was her time with US Gypsum (now called USG).

“Like [a] an engineer at the plant, I worked shifts from 12 to 14 hours and I thought it was difficult, “White-News told the American Chemical Society, estimating that as the first director of WE ACT’s federal policy, she worked about 80 hours a week.

“It’s a challenge to balance everything with my family life, but I love what I do,” she said, adding that her secret to productivity is working early in the morning and late at night. “Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t let people see you sweating.”

The Environmental Quality Council did not specifically mention White-Newsome’s work for USG in a statement yesterday, appointing it senior director of environmental justice. Nor did she identify her other early jobs: production supervisor of a special chemical facility operated by Farro Corp., and an environmental specialist for a consortium of automakers that collaborate on internal combustion engines.

But in a statement, White-Newsome said her early career showed her the damage companies can do to people.

“I witnessed at the beginning of my personal life and professional career the consequences of valuing people’s profits, which unfortunately led to a legacy of environmental injustice throughout our country,” she said.

“However, we have the opportunity to create a new heritage. It will not be easy, but the critical and urgent work that the Biden-Harris administration has undertaken brings us closer to making environmental justice a reality.

Her early career put her on the road to CEQ and more literally. U.S. Gypsum, which needs more environmental expertise, has helped pay for its enrollment in the master’s program in environmental engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she told ACS. (The company eventually fired her about three years before she graduated, according to her LinkedIn page.)

Eventually, White-Newsome returned to Detroit for work. She began considering public health and environmental justice when she took some time off for maternity leave, she said. She applied to the University of Michigan School of Public Health and received a full scholarship.

CEQ, which acts as a kind of nerve center for government environmental policies, is the perfect place for someone like White-Newsome, said Debecker of the Kresge Foundation.

“In my opinion, this breadth of experience is a huge advantage, because it understands the views of people working in different sectors, as well as recognizes the connections in different disciplines. So I think her work experience and professional training allow her to avoid seeing problems in silos, “she said.

At the same time, Debecker added, she expects contacts with affected communities to remain “an incredibly high priority for Jalonne.”

“She deeply believes in the wisdom of people in communities that experience environmental injustice, and how important it is for their knowledge and desires and decisions to be taken into account,” she said.

Reprinted from E&E news courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meet-the-white-houses-new-director-of-environmental-justice/

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