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WE ACT Timeline





  • On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the “Sewage Seven” are arrested on the West Side Highway for holding up rush hour traffic to dramatize their concern that the poor operation of the North River Sewage Treatment Plant was responsible for an increase in incidents of respiratory illnesses being experienced by local residents. 
  • WE ACT is incorporated in New York State as West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. 
  • WE ACT sues the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) over its plans to construct a 6th diesel bus depot in Northern Manhattan.




  • WE ACT convinces Manhattan Borough President David N. Dinkins to hire environmentalist Barry Commoner to research and submit a study of the operation of the North River Sewage Treatment plant. The resulting report arms residents with facts and figures that give credibility to their complaints.


  • WE ACT sends three delegates to the 1st National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. One of WE ACT’s founders serves on the steering committee and assists in drafting the “Principles of Environmental Justice.”


  • WE ACT files a lawsuit in a bid to force the city and state to correct operational flaws at the North River Sewage Treatment Plant.
  • WE ACT and four colleagues start the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA) located out of the WE ACT office.
  • WE ACT hosts the initial meeting of the Northeast Environmental Justice Network (NEJN).
  • Mayor David N. Dinkins pledges $55 million to fix the North River Sewage Treatment Plant.




  • WE ACT, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Hamilton Heights Day Care Center and seven community residents reach a settlement of their lawsuit against the City. The settlement established a $1.1 million fund related to environmental health and quality of life. It also gave WE ACT the leverage to ensure that the city completed its 5-year $55 million fix-up of the plant.




  • WE ACT grows from a volunteer organization with offices in West Harlem and opens its Central Harlem headquarters, hires staff and expands its catchment area to Northern Manhattan.
  • WE ACT establishes the “Earth Crew,” a youth internship project designed to empower community youth with leadership skills and environmental awareness training.




  • WE ACT publishes the premier issue of the Uptown Eye, a 24 page bilingual, bimonthly community-based newspaper.
  • WE ACT convinces the EPA to conduct the first assessment of Northern Manhattan’s air quality. The assessment reveals that harmful particulates are more than 200% higher than the air quality standards for PM 2.5 (the smallest particles in diesel soot).
  • WE ACT helps develop the Minority Environmental Worker Training Program (MEWTP) to provide job training & employment opportunities for young adults.




  • WE ACT conducts its Clean Air/Clean Fuel bus campaign to inform residents about the dangers of diesel fumes and to encourage the MTA and the Governor to use cleaner fuels.
  • WE ACT participates in a pilot study to examine the effect of diesel fumes on the health of 7th graders attending local schools.
  • WE ACT’s Earth Crew produces its own program for public access television. WE ACT debuts its premiere public access television program.




  • WE ACT creates a training manual for its Environmental Health & Justice Leadership Training program and graduates the first 24 community participants.
  • WE ACT sponsors a citywide lead poisoning prevention conference in New York City.
  • WE ACT participates in a press conference with the Governor to announce that the Manhattanville diesel bus depot will be converted to use compressed natural gas.




  • WE ACT’s Executive Director is elected co-chair of the Northeast Environmental Justice Network (NEJN).
  • WE ACT is named the lead community based organization for the Community-University Consortium for Regional Environmental Justice (CUCREJ).
  • WE ACT and Community Board 9 organize Northern Manhattan community residents to develop a vision for the Harlem waterfront.




  • WE ACT serves as the community partner for the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.
  • WE ACT conducts an asthma intervention program in Washington Heights.
  • WE ACT wins the Union Square Award.
  • WE ACT files a Title VI complaint against the MTA.
  • WE ACT’s organizing efforts lead to the New York City Economic Development Corporation developing a master plan for Harlem waterfront based on the community’s vision.




  • WE ACT’s Executive Director is elected chair of EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC).
  • WE ACT hosts Alternative Fuel Vehicles Workshop for Northern Manhattan to encourage truck and bus fleet owners to switch to clean fuels.
  • WE ACT sponsors national conference on genetics research and environmental justice.




  • WE ACT staff participate in at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Durban, South Africa.
  • WE ACT organizes historic conference on Human Genetics, Environment, and Communities of Color: Ethical and Social Implications.
  • WE ACT negotiates with the US EPA Region II to conduct the first assessment of Northern Manhattan’s air quality. Data gathered was used to promulgate the national fine particulate standard for PM2.5, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • WE ACT serves as the first community-based co-editor of a special issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer reviewed scientific journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.




  • WE ACT Executive Director Peggy Shepard wins 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment.
  • WE ACT celebrates 15 years of existence and organizes its first annual fundraising event – “A 15th Anniversary Uprising!”




  • WE ACT purchases a Harlem brownstone slated to become the WE ACT Environmental Justice Center of New York and hires a Harlem-based architect to work on its renovation as a LEED Certified green building.
  • WE ACT conducts an educational campaign around pesticides, targeting the New York City Council and resulting in the proposal of pesticide legislation currently pending approval. WE ACT’s efforts result in staff press conference announcing the passage of New York City’s Local Law 1 of 2004, a lead poisoning prevention bill advocated by WE ACT.
  • WE ACT organizes community residents to oppose the reopening and expansion of the 135th Street Marine Transfer Station. Mayor Bloomberg announces that the station will not be reopened.
  • WE ACT and NRDC jointly file a lawsuit charging the EPA with inadequately protecting children from rat poison exposure.
  • In response to WE ACT’s Title VI complaint of 2001, the Federal Transportation Authority finds that MTA failed to comply with the required federal environmental impact analysis in constructing, rehabilitating and reconstructing of bus depots and other facilities.




  • U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff rules in favor of WE ACT and NRDC, chiding the EPA for failing to adequately protect children from ingesting rat poison.
  • WE ACT celebrates scientists, philanthropists and community activists at and “Earth Day Celebration in Harlem.”
  • WE ACT received Children’s Environmental Health Excellence Award from EPA for our work on the passage of Local Law 1 of 2004.
  • WE ACT launches capital campaign for the building and programming of the WE ACT Environmental Justice Center of New York.
  • WE ACT attends groundbreaking for the West Harlem Waterfront Park.




  • WE ACT co-sponsors 1st City Council Hearing in Northern Manhattan on MTA bus operations.
  • Governor Eliot Spitzer appoints Peggy Shepard to Transition Team on Energy and Environment.
  • Mayor Bloomberg appoints Peggy Shepard to New York City’s Sustainability Advisory Board.




  • WE ACT honors activists, scientists, community leaders and policy makers at an “Earth Day Celebration in Harlem.”
  • Mayor Bloomberg asks WE ACT to work with City agencies and community stakeholders to develop new use for the 135th Street Marine Transfer Station.




  • WE ACT convenes over 400 environmental justice advocates, community leaders and stakeholders from New York City and other parts of the nation around issues of climate change at a groundbreaking 2-day conference – the first of its kind.
  • WE ACT honors activists, scientists, community leaders and policy makers at a "20th Anniversary Benefit."




  • WE ACT wins passage of State legislation banning BPA chemicals in children’s products.
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