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Environmental Justice Advisory Council

The Environmental Justice Advisory Council provides independent advice and recommendations to State agencies and the General Assembly on matters relating to environmental justice, including the integration of environmental justice principles into State programs, policies, regulations, legislation, and activities. The Environmental Justice Advisory Council was created by the Vermont Environmental Justice Law (Act 154 of 2022). 

Public Meetings of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council

Please visit the Vermont Environmental Justice Law calendar to learn more about past and future public meetings of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council. 

Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members

Municipal Government Representative 

Zoraya Hightower (she/her),

Zoraya has worked on environmental and social justice issues for over ten years - from renewable energy finance in Kosovo and fishery sustainability in the Philippines to removing no-cause evictions in Vermont. Zoraya also works part-time as a Director for Nature For Justice, as an equity consultant with The Creative Discourse Group, and serves on the Burlington Vermont City Council after winning a seat as the first woman of color in 2020.  She is trained and experienced in economics, environmental management, project management, participatory facilitation, co-creation, and strategy development.

Social Justice Organization Representative

Britaney Watson (she/her)

Britaney Watson of North Springfield. Britaney currently serves as the Environmental Justice Chairperson for the Rutland NAACP branch, serves on the Renews BIPOC Council, the BIPOC Advisory Council for Let’s Grow Kids and as member of Releaf. Britaney has spent the last year as an Environmental Justice Community Engagement and Network Coordinator for the Center for Whole Communities and Rights and Democracy where she engaged communities across Vermont and lead the establishment of the first Vermont State Environmental Justice Network.  

Mobile Home Community Representative

Gayle Pezzo (she/her),

Gayle Pezzo of Colchester. Gayle is a current board member and president of her resident owned mobile home park community of about 600 residents. Before moving to Vermont in 2016, much of Gayle’s work was in Long Island, NY as a clinical director in an intensive care outpatient substance abuse treatment facility.   

Environmental Justice Focus Population Representative

Reverend Canon Walter B.A. Brownridge (he/him/they),

Walter B.A. Brownridge is an Episcopal (Anglican) Priest. He currently serving as Canon to the Ordinary (Chief of Staff) & Canon for Cultural Transformation. A Canon serves on the staff in the office of a Bishop, or the staff of a Cathedral. A Canon to the Ordinary often serves Chief of Staff for the Bishop.  This work involves the areas of racial reconciliation, creation (environmental) care and stewardship.  Walter served the Episcopal Church and broader Anglican Communion in a variety of ministry settings, from Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Hawai’i, and South Africa. Walter is also a lawyer who has worked in all three branches of government, and at the local, state, and federal level. He has extensive experience in leadership and participation in faith-based community organizing.

Food Security Organization Representative

Mariana Lamaison Sears (she/her),

Mariana lives in Essex Junctions and works at Hunger Free Vermont as an Outreach Manager. Her job is in collaboration with statewide partners to connect Vermonters with food resources. She has been involved in grassroots projects focused on sustainability, local food systems, and Fair Trade both in the US and Argentina, her home country. Previously, she was a staff reporter for The Burlington Free Press, and a freelance journalist in English and Spanish for publications in Vermont and Texas. She received her B.A in Communications from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a degree in Tourism Guidance from Universidad de Morón in Buenos Aires. She is also a Yoga Instructor certification and loves to read, hiking, and spend time with friends and family. Mariana advocates for food security because she believes that everyone deserves to be well fed and feel the joy and connections that food brings. She trusts the power of Vermont's sustainable food systems to nourish and grow communities of healthy, thriving and peaceful beings!

Immigrant Community Representative

Maryam Shabbir Abbasi (she/her),

Maryam Shabbir Abbasi is an independent environmental expert. She is researcher in the field of climate change and environment. Her area of work include climate justice, air pollution, plastic pollution, water governance, climate induced migration among others. She tweets at @S_Maryam8. 

Statewide Environmental Organization Representative

Kiah Morris (she/her),

Originally from Chicago, Kiah Morris lives in Vermont, where she served in the general assembly as a State Representative from 2014-2016 and 2016-2018. She is the first African-American and person of color elected from Bennington County and the second African-American woman to be elected to the legislature in Vermont history. She is an award-winning, in-demand trainer, speaker, and presenter. She provides consultative services, workshops, and presentations on diversity, equity, and leadership for organizations worldwide. Kiah is a Commissioner for the Vermont Commission on Women, and a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador with Oxfam America. Kiah also holds an accomplished artistic career as an actress on stage, film, television, spoken word performance, singer, dancer, and arts manager. She is also the author of a recently published book of poetry, Life Lessons and Lyrical Translations of My Soul, and currently directing and producing a docuseries on race in Vermont titled Colorlines in the Green Mountains with Long Shot Productions.

Vermont Native American Tribe Representative

Rich Holschuh (he/him),

Rich is a resident of Wantastegok (Brattleboro, VT) and immersed in the stories layered within this landscape. He serves as Chair for the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and is a public liaison and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Elnu Abenaki, members of the contemporary northeastern Native community. Rich is founder and co-director of the Atowi Project. His work draws upon history, linguistics, geography, and culture to share beneficial ways of seeing and being in relationship with place. 

Vermont Housing and Conservation Board Representative

Trey Martin (he/him), 

Trey Martin is an environmental lawyer, currently serving as Director of Conservation and Rural Community Development at the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. Since graduating from Vermont Law School, Trey has worked as an attorney, advocate and leader with a focus on environmental protection, conservation and community development. He has worked in private practice, State government and non-profit advocacy. He has held adjunct teaching positions, and lectures at Vermont Law School, where he helped to found the VLS Entrepreneurship and Legal Laboratory.

Natural Resources Conservation Council Representative

Jennifer Byrne (she/her), 

Jennifer Byrne has been the District Manager of the White River Natural Resources Conservation District since 2019. The Conservation Districts are decentralized, locally-led, democratic bodies serving all residents within a county or watershed, especially farmers and forest stewards. From 2019-2023 Jennifer was an Environmental Masters Fellow in the Environmental Justice Clinic at Vermont Law School, partnering with the REJOICE Project (Rural Environmental Justice Opportunities Informed by Community Expertise). Jennifer holds a Master of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School, a B.S. in Agriculture Science from Oregon State University, and an A.A.S. in Alternative Energy Technology from Lansing Community College in Michigan.

Director of Racial Equity

Xusana Davis,, 802-522-2595 

Xusana Davis [🕪 pronunciation] serves as the State of Vermont’s Executive Director of Racial Equity. She was appointed to the position in June 2019 by Governor Phil Scott. She works with state agencies to identify and address systemic racial disparities, ensure that equity goals and objectives are incorporated throughout the State's operations, and provide strategic and policy guidance on equity issues. Prior to joining the State of Vermont, she served as Director of Health & Housing Strategic Initiatives at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and as the Director of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council. She holds a Juris Doctor with a concentration in International Human Rights Law from New York Law School, where she also directed a civil liberties education program for low-income youth and youth of color. She studied Anthropology and Philosophy at Fordham University, earning the Rev. J. Franklin Ewing, S.J. Award for writing on the relationship between global human rights violations and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. Xusana is first-generation in the U.S., and proud to be a Spanish-fluent Latina who approaches her work from a multicultural perspective.