New season of Broken Ground focuses on women fighting for environmental justice

Our podcast conversation series uncovers what drives these leaders to tackle environmental problems

Heather McTeer Toney’s lifelong work for environmental justice includes grassroots organizing with Moms Clean Air Force to challenge federal rollbacks against air pollution protections.

In celebration of Earth Day, SELC launched the latest season of its podcast, Broken Ground, talking with women in the South who are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental justice.

Everyone deserves the basic right to clean air, safe drinking water and to live in an environment free from harmful pollution. Yet far too often, communities of color and people with limited financial means bear the brunt of environmental degradation. Over the course of four episodes, listeners will hear directly from women who have been trailblazing a path to a healthy environment for all.

This season opens with a conversation with Heather McTeer Toney, who works with Moms Clean Air Force and the Environmental Defense Fund. Her work on climate justice began when she was elected as the youngest mayor of her Mississippi town and continued on through her leadership roles with the EPA, where she served as the regional administrator based in Atlanta.

EPA Life

A pregnant Heather McTeer Toney is seated, third from left, at a meeting during her tenure as Regional Administrator for the EPA's Southeast Region, based out of Atlanta. (@via Heated)

Toney believes that Southern Black women have long been environmental activists, in part because so many live in polluted communities and are impacted by toxic chemicals every day. During her episode, she discusses how environmentalists have often left the power of the Black church and other faith communities untapped. To start addressing this, she developed a Bible study with Clean Air Moms called Breath of Life, which has been popular with Christian groups exploring climate justice.

“I can’t disconnect my faith from anything I do and I feel strongly I don’t disconnect my faith from my work…So we sat down and came up with this beautiful bible study that connects faith and breath to the things of scripture that we know. That talks about the care and creation of the earth in a way that I identify with, connecting it with my responsibility to care for the earth.”

Toney’s stories are emblematic of those told on Broken Ground, which centers environmental stories and voices in the South that often don’t get the attention they deserve. The podcast’s previous season explores how Southerners living along the coast are navigating sea level rise and ever-higher tides, providing a powerful look at the ways climate impacts collide with underlying inequities.

Toney is just one of the many voices featured on this season of Broken Ground. The new conversation series will also feature SELC’s own Chandra Taylor, who leads our Environmental Justice Initiative, and Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, known for exposing the widespread lack of basic sanitation in the rural South.

The New York Times recently included Broken Ground in a round-up of the best podcasts for understanding the climate crisis, calling it “an environmental ‘This American Life’ for the South”. We hope you’ll listen and hear what’s happening on the ground across the South today.

Broken Ground can be found on iTunes, Spotify and at brokengroundpodcast.org, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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