Jorge Roman-Romero

The Project

Through regulatory advocacy, direct representation, and public awareness campaigns, Jorge (he/him/his) will advocate for disadvantaged communities in Wisconsin facing disproportionate exposure to toxic pollutants from contaminated water, particularly PFAS exposure.

The United States has a national drinking water crisis disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color. Across the country, disadvantaged communities are vulnerable to exposure to water contaminated with a group of toxic and persistent synthetic chemicals known as per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that at least two types of PFAS were detected in at least one public water system in 24 states. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of PFAS in sediment and surface water at the EPA-designated Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern, which covers portions of the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Vulnerable communities at risk of suffering severe health repercussions of toxic exposure need a comprehensive advocacy response to defend their right to safe drinking water.

Fellowship Plans

Jorge will employ a multi-pronged strategy to advocate for safe drinking water to mitigate the health risks associated with PFAS exposure. Jorge will amplify the voices of vulnerable communities through Wisconsin’s rulemaking process and develop a strong administrative record to urge for a reasoned regulatory response. He will also monitor and engage with federal regulatory developments that may affect state regulations. Jorge will develop educational materials on the risks of toxic exposure and promote local activism to spur statewide water testing. Finally, he will work with affected individuals to assess whether direct legal action is needed to seek redress.

Media

Defending the Right to Safe Drinking Water in Wisconsin

Environmental justice is ultimately about removing barriers to allow for equal protection under a democratic government and fair competition under a market economy. Through this fellowship, I want to amplify the voices of marginalized communities facing disproportionate legal and economic burdens. I want to foster equal access to the decision-making process allowing for a healthy environment in which people can thrive regardless of socioeconomic status or skin color.

Jorge Roman-Romero /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Robert assisted Tribal nations in Wisconsin to bolster Tribal environmental sovereignty and protect natural resources/relatives, in particular clean water.

Long-running failures by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to properly administer the Clean Water Act have left critical waters insufficiently protected. Public health, cultural practices, and Tribal sovereignty are all impacted by state and federal failures to fully understand and respect Tribal relations to water. This is why Tribes must have a direct hand in environmental decision-making, through setting their own environmental standards and having more equitable involvement in federal and state processes.

Robert was interested in and inspired by Midwest Environmental Advocates’ community-centered approach to environmental lawyering since volunteering with them before he attended law school. Further, he sees sustainable relations to water, air, and land as inextricably linked to proper recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the complicated histories of colonization that continue to reverberate today.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Robert:

  • Engaged Tribal and State officials on various paths to improve consultation based on extensive research of best practices across the U.S.
  • Developed numerous public guides on issues at the intersection of environmental protection and Tribal rights
  • Supported coalitions of Tribal and non-profit staff and local residents concerned about impacts of extractive industries such as metallic mining and oil pipelines
  • Represented non-profits and Tribal nations before multiple administrative agencies and courts

Next Steps

After the fellowship, Robert will join Earthjustice’s Tribal Partnerships Program as a Legal Fellow where they will continue working on issues related to Tribal environmental sovereignty. Earthjustice is a premier national nonprofit environmental law organization.

Media

Supporting Tribal Environmental Sovereignty

The Project

Jacklyn engaged Tribes to hold Wisconsin accountable to Clean Water Act (CWA) by legally and technically assisting a collaboration that assesses and addresses Tribes’ risks from the State’s regulatory failures.

Failures in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (WDNR) administration of the federal CWA were documented in a Petition for Corrective Action filed by Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), and in a report by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau. Deregulation of public health, cultural practices and governmental sovereignty are all compromised by WDNR failure to comply with the CWA. Degradation puts the Tribes at special risk of harm as they depend on intact wild places for their cultural and nutritional well-being.

Fellowship Highlights

Jacklyn researched foundational relationships already established between host site, agencies and various Wisconsin tribes. She established an inter-tribal Advisory Committee that provided tribal issue area guidance and perspective. She traveled around the State to speaking engagements that aimed at educating and rallying tribal allies and advocates to join in understanding the complexity of this work. Finally, Jacklyn’s proudest highlight is leaving a new Class of 2019 Fellow to take over the work she’s leaving behind.

What’s Next

Jacklyn plans to transition back to California where she will continue to contract with Big Pine Paiute Tribe as a Tribal Policy Analyst in the immediate future.

Media

The Roots of Jacklyn Velasquez’s Work on Tribal Rights and Environmental Justice

Earth Day speaker discusses water and Wisconsin tribal communities