WomenStrong International Board Member
Community activist, environmental health researcher and advocate, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT)
Peggy Shepard has successfully combined grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy and environmental health research to become one of the most highly respected environmental advocates in the country today. She has been a pioneer for advancing the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities to ensure that the entitlement of clean air, water and soil extends to all people and communities. A leader within New York City and the national Environmental Justice Movement, she is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT), based in West Harlem, which has a 27-year history of affecting environmental and environmental health policy and practice locally and nationally.
A resident of West Harlem, Ms. Shepard has developed a grassroots organization of volunteers from the West Harlem community in 1988 into a professionally- staffed organizing and advocacy non-profit. She received the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment for “her courageous advocacy and determined leadership in combating environmental injustice in urban America.” For “two decades of leadership in environmental justice and urban sustainability,” she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from Smith College at its May 2010 commencement. Her activism to build healthier communities by engaging residents in environmental and land-use decision making earned her the 2008 Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rockefeller Foundation. She has received the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award from the Mailman School of Public Health, and served as chair of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and co-chaired its Research and Science Workgroup. She has been a pioneer in developing community-academic research partnerships to improve children’s environmental health. WE ACT has cooperative partnerships with physicians and scientists at leading medical institutions, law schools, labor unions and diverse environmental, public health and urban constituencies.
Ms. Shepard and WE ACT’s first victory for government accountability was achieved by mobilizing community support to retrofit the North River sewage treatment plant and filing a lawsuit, WE ACT vs. NYC DEP, that resulted in a $55 million odor abatement plan and a $1.1 million environmental benefit fund. WE ACT’s translational research work has contributed to city, state and federal policy and legislation on diesel retrofits, air quality regulations, pesticides, toxins, climate change and environmental justice. At the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, she is a co-investigator of the Columbia Children’s Environmental Health Center for the past 17 years; and serves as co-director of the Community Outreach and Education Core of the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan. At Mount Sinai Medical Center, she is co-chair, CTSA Partnership Board; and chair of the Transdisciplinary Center on Early Environmental Exposures Stakeholder Advisory Board.
A former journalist, she has worked in publishing and as a state housing official. She is a graduate of Howard University, Solebury and Newtown Friends schools. She was elected Democratic Assembly District Leader representing West Harlem in the late 80s and has been a candidate for the New York City Council and State Assembly, garnering the endorsements of The New York Times, NY Daily News, NY Newsday and labor unions.
Ms. Shepard serves on numerous academic and governmental advisory boards and has co-authored research articles in Environmental Health Perspectives and the American Journal of Public Health. She is a frequent keynote and panel speaker, and serves on non-profit boards including the Environmental Defense Fund, Earth Day NY, NY League of Conservation Voters and the Regional Plan Association. She is a member of the NYC Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board and the NYC Waterfront Management Advisory Board.
She has served as a member of the National Children’s Study Advisory Committee to the National Institutes of Health and the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health. Ms. Shepard has served on the Committee on Ethical Issues in Housing-Related Health Hazard Research Involving Children, Youth, and Families, a project of the National Research Council, which published its report in 2006. In addition, she served as a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on America’s Climate Choices, which produced a report to Congress that was published in 2011.