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Ean Tafoya is the Colorado State Director of GreenLatinos, an organization dedicated to creating an equitable society that eliminates the disproportionate burden communities of color face in terms of pollution and climate change. Prior to working for GreenLatinos, Ean was employed in local government and has received recognition from multiple Denver councils for his environmental work. He is also actively involved in the music scene in Denver.

Follow Ean @believeEan on all platforms.

Getting Started

Ean grew up in Denver, CO. His birthday is Earth Day, so maybe that helps explain why, from the very beginning, he felt connected to environmental issues. Ean’s mother used to bring him to the library and show him pictures of rivers on fire, explaining to him the impacts humans could have on nature. When he was still quite young, his family moved into an industrial area. He could see a smokestack from his window, but the notion of Environmental Justice took a while to really sink in. Ean’s parents had a strong influence on his future. His mother was a social worker and his father was a plumber and landscaper. His father grew up during the chicano movement of the late-60s/early-70s (History), so Ean joked that he was already “radicalized” as a kid. He also has ancestry from two indigenous communities: the Ohkay Owingeh Jicarilla Apache and the Pueblos. “Knowing my identity has felt empowering. It’s helped guide what issues I’ve been interested in, such as water protection.” Ean was amazed when he found out about his Pueblo ancestry from his aunt, since he had been fighting against fracking in Pueblo areas for a long time without realizing his personal connection. When Ean was starting out, he worked many different jobs. He was a museum assistant in a natural history museum, a high school theater teacher for at risk youth, and worked in community recreation centers. When he got a job as a youth educator at a Montessori school, he began to see the opportunity to bring his passion for the environment into his job. He began to incorporate lessons on alternative transportation (ie riding a bike and taking public transportation, as opposed to everyone driving their own car), and other topics such as composting. After a few years of teaching and getting more interested in plants, Ean decided to go back to college to become a horticulture therapist. During his degree, he took a psychology course that required him to attend a public meeting, so he went to a meeting of the Denver Parks Board. He was initially interested because there had not been a park built in his community for 30 – 40 years, but he also realized that no recycling was performed at any parks in the city. He decided to ask them why not, to which the board responded that it simply wasn’t a big issue for them. Unhappy with their answer, Ean returned to campus and began collecting signatures for a petition to add recycling in Denver parks. After several more meetings, he managed to convince the board and got recycling bins installed in 2014 (KDVR). At the age of 27, Ean got appointed to the board, but he rubbed several members the wrong way when he ran for city council and was removed as a result. “Running for Denver City Council was f**king hard,” Ean recalled. He was 28 at the time. “It was before Bernie Sanders announced his first presidential campaign and the whole dialogue around environmentalism had a different energy.” He ran on a platform of environmental justice issues. His community was gentrifying, which was driving up housing costs, but they were also one of the most polluted zip codes (80216) in the country. The incumbent he was running against also had a hardline stance on homelessness and had criminalized it in the district. There was also a plan for a new highway that would cut right through his community, the largest Latino community in the city. It would drive people out of their homes and increase the already substantial amount of pollution in the area. When Ean lost his race in 2016, he was devastated, but “I don’t regret it. That race gave me the skills I needed to get other policies past.” The policies he’s referring to include getting a sales tax past that directly funded mental health treatment and food assistance for children. He helped get a solar panel initiative passed. He also helped elect an environmentally focused chair for the RTD (an elected governing body for the Denver public transit system).

The Work

Ean works as an advocate for communities, fighting against pollution in underrepresented and black/brown communities. He focuses largely on neighborhood organization and advocacy, particularly regarding local planning and zoning policies. One recent initiative he spearheaded was the “Waste No More” ballot initiative. The initiative targeted large scale recycling and composting, requiring restaurants, housing complexes, and businesses to offer these services. It passed with a resounding 70% approval vote on November 8, 2022. Ean also established a foundation in 2020 called Headwater Protectors, which distributes supplies to homeless encampments throughout Denver. They meet every Sunday to pass out water, sanitation and health supplies, collect trash, and offer trainings in harm reduction and the use of NARCAN. Ean believes strongly that everyone deserves basic respect and access to sanitary conditions.

"It’s really easy to get in, go along, and get along. But it’s really hard to find the courage to stand up."

Environmental Justice

“It’s really easy to get in, go along, and get along. But it’s really hard to find the courage to stand up,” Ean said. He mentioned that he was an “insider turned outsider” when he decided to run for city council. “Some of the members of the board felt betrayed, because I was trained by them and was now running against them.” He is also frustrated by the internal divisions within communities that lessen the impact of grants given to non-profit organizations and keep communities from organizing effectively. “Sometimes these grants can make the organization feel more sympathetic towards the government because their money is coming from there. The economics makes them compromise their sense of right and wrong.” Ean also noted that he had to grapple with his own personal sense of self when he was arrested for a climate protest in the Colorado State Capitol in early 2020. A total of 38 people were arrested for disrupting the assembly, with one person shouting “Ban Fracking Now” and another unveiling a large anti-fracking banner (Denver Post). Ean was arrested for less than a minute of singing. He spent a day in jail and was threatened with 2 ½ years behind bars, but luckily the charges were dropped. “Both of my parents had been to jail. It isn’t uncommon in my community. But I had prided myself on never having been to jail before, so it was hard for me to come to terms with it. It’s become easier now that I’ve seen its impact and how it revitalized our community’s efforts to fight for Environmental Justice.” As a result of his actions, Ean was able to testify in front of Congress for the Environmental Justice for All Act in the fall of 2020, and was invited to the Capital to speak on clean water policies.


“It’s not easy in this era when there’s so many people that seem to be against you, but you just have to keep fighting,” Ean said. Even though Ean began his own organization, he thinks that there is a lot of potential for young people to revitalize existing environmental organizations. “A lot of older environmental justice organizations need young people to revitalize them,” Ean says. He mentions that these established organizations already have a structure in place for getting money and making connections, so new members could focus largely on the issues they actually care about, rather than spending most of their time filling out paperwork.

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Sources Cited

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