Alumna Becomes Delaware's First Environmental Justice Coordinator

February 22, 2023

The Earth and Environmental Sciences grad will work with marginalized communities to address water quality and climate change.

Katera Moore
Katera Moore (Ph.D. ’14, Earth and Environmental Sciences)

This month, the State of Delaware announced the appointment of its first environmental justice coordinator, Katera Moore, a 2014 graduate of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. program at the Graduate Center.

As environmental justice coordinator, the Philadelphia-area native will work closely with vulnerable communities in a state that gave birth to factory poultry farming and DuPont. Moore will work closely with underserved communities, who, she says, are at higher risk from environmental pollution and climate change.

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Moore spoke to the Graduate Center shortly after starting the new position and talked about several areas of the state where underserved communities face serious environmental challenges.

In New Castle County, there's the Route 9 corridor, which is the poster child for environmental justice because that's where the concentration of hazardous land uses are,” she said, referring to local factories and oil refineries that emit air pollutants.   

Further south, some residents don’t have access to potable water or reliable sewage, she said. “We're talking about a lack of infrastructure in some of the unincorporated areas in the southern parts of Delaware that, for the most part, are inhabited by Black people or immigrant populations,” Moore said. “There are some major water quality and sewage issues down there. In the middle part of the state, in Kent County, we have a lot of brownfields. You name it, Delaware has it.”

Climate change is another serious challenge, particularly in a low-lying state with many coastal communities. “Every high tide, the streets are flooded,” in many neighborhoods, Moore said. “Historically, the people that are going to live in these bay communities are lower-income folks.”

Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has programs to assist residents with home weatherization, renewable energy systems, and septic upgrades. “But a lot of people don't know how to access our resources,” Moore said.

I think that it's about really getting to know communities and respecting their perspective because they know best what's happening in their neighborhoods.

“So, part of it is just getting information out, building relationships with people, and showing up,” she said. “The other part of it is scaffolding the public process,” by which people can learn about and comment on permits and regulations. “Sometimes people don't know how to navigate that process. We're trying to simplify access to that.”

The agency also considers the needs of businesses that often want the permitting process to move faster, Moore said. “You have to balance multiple interests,” she said. “Sometimes you do have to take that extra time because you want to get it right and you want to make sure that you're able to protect human health and the environment.”

Moore says she’ll use the skills she learned at the Graduate Center to do all of this work. “My dissertation was exactly about this,” she said. “One of my big conclusions was, we're not going to get to a point of at the time the word was ‘sustainability,’ now everybody is saying ‘resiliency’, we're not going to get to either one of those if we don't have the people who are the most impacted being able to engage in a process.”

Whether making plans for resiliency or evacuations, it’s essential to understand the communities they’re designed for, she said. “I think that it's about really getting to know communities and respecting their perspective because they know best what's happening in their neighborhoods.” This kind of place-based approach is “literally straight from the Graduate Center,” she added.

Moore advised fellow Earth and Environmental Sciences grads to stay open to doing different types of work. “It might not be the job of your dreams, but it's going give you skills,” Moore said, ones that could lead to future opportunities. Ask yourself, she said, “’How can those skills be of service in this field and a springboard for developing additional skills?’”

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