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Congressman Donald McEachin remembered as Virginia's environmental justice 'champion'

'He understood the connection between the health of our communities, the quality of people's lives and the health of our natural resources'
Rep. Donald McEachin passes away at 61
Posted at 3:06 PM, Dec 01, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- Tributes continue to pour in for Virginia Congressman Donald McEachin, who passed away from the secondary effects of colorectal cancer on Monday.

Funeral arrangements for McEachin were announced Wednesday evening. A service in his honor will be held Dec. 7 at St. Paul's Baptist Church in Richmond.

Among the praise shared for the lawmaker who spent decades between the Virginia General Assembly and Congress, was his dedication to the cause of environmental justice.

"In terms of environmental justice, I think he's the foremost champion that Virginia has had. He's led the way and he never slackened in the in that commitment," said Peggy Sanner, Virginia Executive Director with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It's something that is talked about a great deal these days. But, he's the one who made it up, on a political level, part of the ongoing conversation. He understood the connection between the health of our communities, the quality of people's lives, and the health of our natural resources."

Sanner said McEachin's door was always open to them on environmental issues.

"I have particular memories of his commitment even to some of the sort of wonkier aspects of environmental protection. One of those is the combined sewer overflow system in Richmond…It's the system, very old pipes, that we've got in the city of Richmond, that during times of high precipitation some of the old sewage pipes are connected to stormwater drains. What happens is we have a lot of raw sewage that goes into the James River," said Sanner. "He spent a lot of time coming to understand this system, and understanding how it affected the residents of Virginia."

But Sanner said his Environmental Justice for All Act, working its way through Congress, epitomizes his commitment to the issue.

Don McEachin
FILE - U.S. Rep. Don McEachin D-4th. waves during a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. McEachin died Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, after a battle with colorectal cancer, his office said. He was 61. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Amy Wentz, co-founder of Southside ReLeaf, added McEachin understood the topic required a long time to see results and was not as in your face as more immediate issues.

"Environmental work is really preserving life for our children's children and our future…that is so critical -- tackling climate change, making sure that our neighborhoods are walkable and bikeable. Making sure that we have a longevity and that our urban heat island effect is dwindling down with a tree canopy coverage. He understood the impact of those things," said Wentz.

She added McEachin also showed support and helped out her other initiative, the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the industry was hit hard.

"He was the first to convene our owners and just say, 'What can we do to help? Tell us about your struggles, your challenges, and we have help coming and we want to make sure that we're crafting this out so that it really hits you where it needs to hit you," recalled Wentz.

Wentz said that McEachin, who was her representative for as long as she has been able to vote, was always present in the community and it is something that she takes to heart in her work in the community.

"I really hope that Congressman McEachin knew the impact of how he made us feel and, I think, as a community servant and a community leader that is so important," said Wentz. "We felt like he got us. We felt like he was connected to our needs because he asked us, he cared, he engaged with us and that is so important."

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