As the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the United States Department of Justice, I am pleased to celebrate the immeasurable contributions and achievements of Hispanic Americans and to highlight the work of the Environment Division in contributing to the protection of human health and the environment for the benefit of all Americans.
The theme for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, “Renewing the American Dream,” reminds me of the many roads traveled by generations of Hispanics to achieve equality, opportunity, and freedom. My own humble beginnings are a testament to the American tradition—the hope and opportunity that it accords its people.
I was born in Cartagena, Colombia, and I was six years old and spoke no English when I landed with my family at JFK Airport in New York City. I grew up in Washington Heights, an inner city neighborhood in New York City that lies north of Harlem. My father first worked as a dishwasher and my mother worked in a factory. They continued their education, became United States citizens, and had their own careers in public service in transportation and public health, respectively, for the City of New York. They taught me important values: a robust work ethic, a love of learning, perseverance, faith, integrity, and a deep commitment to public service. We came to America with great hope, and our experience has vastly exceeded any of our expectations. I am grateful for all that I have received, and am proud to serve the American people.
I attended college and law school at New York University. I have been an environmental lawyer for over two decades, working in government service, private practice, and as in-house corporate counsel. I served in the Environment Division for seven years during the Clinton Administration, as Special Assistant, Counsel, and then Principal Counsel. I am honored to have the opportunity to return to lead the Environment Division, which serves as the Nation’s environmental lawyer.
The work of the Environment Division furthers the United States Department of Justice’s strategic goals to promote national security, to prevent crime and enforce federal laws, to defend the interests of the United States, and to ensure the fair administration of justice at the federal, state, local, tribal, and international levels. The Division’s core mission results in significant benefits to the American people, including the Hispanic community.
Each and every day, the Division, in coordination with client agencies, United States Attorneys’ offices and state, local, and tribal governments, enforces federal environmental, natural resources, and wildlife laws. It also defends federal agencies’ actions and rules when they are challenged in the courts, helping to keep the Nation’s air, water, and land free of pollution, promoting military preparedness and national security, and supporting the other important missions of our agency clients. The Division acquires land for purposes ranging from national security to national parks, protects tribal lands, natural resources, and wildlife, and works to fulfill the United States’ obligations to Indian tribes and their members.
A fundamental part of our mission at the Department of Justice is to protect the most vulnerable communities. Too often, the burden of pollution in America has fallen disproportionately on low-income and minority communities, and especially on children living in those communities. In this Administration, the Environment Division is taking concrete steps to address these inequities. In all of the work that we do, we are mindful of the goals of environmental justice to ensure that: (1) all communities enjoy the benefit of a fair and even-handed application of environmental laws; and (2) affected communities have a meaningful opportunity for input in the consideration of appropriate remedies for violations of the law.
I feel privileged to serve under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who understand that in this country, our diversity is our strength. Our leadership is talented, diverse, and strong, and in these ways it reflects the strength of our Nation. For this reason, I also am committed to ensuring that the Environment Division can effectively recruit, hire, and retain a workforce that reflects America.
Now we would like to hear from you! Please send us your suggestions and comments about how we can build healthy and sustainable communities and make environmental justice a reality in your neighborhood. You can find contact information and read more about the Environment Division.
Ignacia S. Moreno is the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.