Those of you who did not make it to New York on Jan. 29-30 for the 20th anniversary celebration of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a national conference on Advancing Climate Justice: Transforming the Economy, Public Health and Our Environment, missed an inspirational high. You also missed a political milestone.

The event marked the first public speech by new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who laid out the nation’s new environmental-justice and climate-change priorities. President Obama echoed Jackson’s sentiments and made a statement to the Muslim world by giving his first TV interview to Al Arabiya television.

Civilized, reasoned discussion and debate on environmental health and inequality, on the complexities of climate change economics, on cap-and-trade, cap-and-dividend, carbon charges, and on greening the economy as we invest in new infrastructure framed the formal content. But those substantive sessions were just the subtext.

The real text was the energy, the drive, the initiative, and the breadth of coalitions and commitment evidenced throughout the two day event, with participants from across the nation, sponsorship and involvement from mainline environmental organizations, multiple federal agencies, and an array of foundations. The Live blog from the event gives a hint of the dynamics, the dynamism, and the hope generated.

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Energized? Pumped up? We could have run the lights in the conference venue off the energy in those breakout and plenary sessions … while we still don’t have the renewable energy power storage systems we might want for the future, those of us who had the privilege of attending now have the energy stored up in our hearts and minds for the coming struggles.

Whether it’s some variant of a cap-and-trade system, which the administration seems to favor, as do members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, or a carbon charge, as advocated by the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative, federal action is coming. The need for grassroots activism to pressure every single member of Congress to resist the special interest lobbies that will weaken the controls and incentives as they pursue their narrow, short-term economic interests is acute.

The conference helped launch what will need to be a massive national effort. Let’s go!

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