To my knowledge, no organization in the U.S. has achieved as much using citizen science as the Brawley, California community and environmental justice group Comité Cívico Del Valle.
Comité Cívico, working with a network of academic, governmental, and other partners, has built a community-based air quality monitoring system consisting of 40 monitors spread across the sprawling and dangerously polluted Imperial Valley; the IVAN environmental reporting system, which allows citizens to document and report environmental problems; a task force that follows up on the problems that citizens report, and much more.
The result? Empowered, knowledgeable, and engaged residents who are committed to make their community a better and healthier place, and have the tools to do it.
Last week, Comité Cívico gained a new ally – Leonardo DiCaprio, who announced that his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will donate $100,000 to install and operate 20 new air monitors to monitor deadly chemical-laden particulate matter blowing from the rapidly drying Salton sea – perhaps the biggest environmental health challenge the region faces.
Also last week, perhaps inspired by Comité Cívico’s successes, the California State Legislature passed a bill, AB 617, which authorizes the deployment of community air monitoring systems in polluted communities across the state.
Knowledge is power, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s support will help empower the residents of the Imperial Valley to fight for one of the most fundamental human rights – clean air to breathe.
To learn more about community-based air monitoring, join members of Comite Civico and dozens of other MFN organizations at the FREE 4th International Conference, and check out the references at the end of this post.
How community air monitoring projects provide a data-driven model for the future (Environmental Defense Fund)
In California’s Imperial Valley, Residents Aren’t Waiting for Government to Track Pollution, Yes Magazine
Advancing Environmental Justice: A New State Regulatory Framework to Abate Community-Level Air Pollution Hotspots and Improve Health Outcomes (Goldman School of Public Policy)
CALIFORNIA’S AB 617: A NEW FRONTIER IN AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT…IF FUNDED (Center for Clean Air Policy)
Photo: CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE
Many of the effects of diesel exhaust and other traffic-related air pollution are known and widely accepted – including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and triggering of asthma attacks. In addition, studies have shown that the more air pollution a person is exposed to, the more likely they are to suffer from many other maladies and illnesses, including premature birth, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cognitive decline.
To top it off, a study of 60 million adults release just a couple of weeks ago shows that Particulate matter air pollution kills many elderly people in the U.S., even at levels the EPA considers ‘safe’.
And study after study has shown that the people most often subjected to high levels of air pollution are disproportionally poor and non-white.
Residents of West Oakland, California know all of this from first-hand experience. Residents of this port community, who are predominately black and Latino, are exposed to much more air pollution than richer and whiter residents just a few miles away. West Oakland has 90 times more diesel pollution per square mile on average than the rest of California, resulting in high levels of asthma and other diseases known or suspected to be caused by air pollution.
After fighting for decades to make their communities safer and being ignored all too often by local government, West Oakland residents have made it clear they are not going to take it anymore. In April, Moving Forward Network members West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and Earthjustice teamed up to file a federal civil rights complaint demanding that the Federal government provide them the same levels of protection as people in whiter, richer communities, specifically when making decisions concerning the Port of Oakland the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project.
“Time and time again, both the city and port have dismissed the consistent input and opposition to their actions from directly impacted West Oakland residents, nearly 80 percent of whom are people of color,”
The complaint says the city has engaged in a “pattern of neglect and systemic disregard” for the health and well being of West Oakland residents, which will only get worse as the city redevelops the former Oakland Army base. And, it alleges the port’s continuous expansion of maritime activities has consistently failed to incorporate adequate measures to mitigate the elevated pollution levels. The complaint asked that the two Federal agencies that provide the funds and approvals for port projects put measures in place to protect them.
This week, the agencies sent this letter to the City and Port of Oakland stating that they will investigate the complaint.
For more information, check out the resources below, and stay tuned for more news as it develops.
Community group alleges civil rights violations by the city and port of Oakland in complaint to Federal government, Earthjustice
When pollution discriminates: Feds to investigate alleged civil rights violations in West Oakland, Mercury News
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that government agencies understand the environmental, health, and other impacts of their actions before they spend our tax dollars, and that the American public be involved and informed. NEPA is designed to ensure that agencies analyze risks and alternatives, and make decisions based on the facts. NEPA studies have improved decision making, prevented many misguided and ill-informed actions, and saved untold numbers of American lives.
Unfortunately, NEPA is under attack by the Trump Administration and the Congress. Donald Trump recently called NEPA studies, “nonsense’, and is proposing to weaken NEPA protections. These two articles provide a good snapshot of the challenges NEPA faces:
Conservatives pitch environmental rollbacks in highway package, E&E News (June 19)
To Speed Up Infrastructure Projects, Trump Revisits Environmental Regs, Governing (March 13)
NEPA is not ‘nonsense’. NEPA studies have led to better government decision-making that has protected our environment, prevented the Federal government from spending money on ill-conceived projects, and improved the health and safety of virtually every American citizen.
While NEPA does not guarantee that agencies make the right choices, NEPA processes give them the information to make better decisions – and sometimes to avoid disaster.
Among the many NEPA success stories are the protection of radioactive wastes at Los Alamos National Laboratory from vulnerability to fire that could have spread radioactivity for hundreds of miles when a recent forest fire overran the lab, and the abandonment of a misguided plan to dredge a pristine lagoon – an action that would have cost over $100 million and damaged the lagoon it was intended to protect.
To learn more about the amazing success of the NEPA process, check out these stories.
NEPA Success Stories, Henry M. Jackson Foundation
As the Moving Forward Network members that do air pollution monitoring know from on-the-ground experience, EPA regulatory air monitors may show an area to have low levels of particulate matter from diesel exhaust and other air pollution when in fact, nearby hot spots can have high and dangerous levls of air pollution.
For example, while the city’s only EPA regulatory monitor showed air was relatively clean, monitoring by the Diesel Health Project around the BNSF Argentine Rail Yard in Kansas City, Kansas revealed dangerous levels of elemental carbon (an indicator of Diesel Exhaust pollution) in nearby resident’s yards, very likely from a nearby locomotive maintenance yard at which as many as 50 locomotives at a time, many running, await load testing.
Currently, measuring air pollution in overburdened neighborhoods at a high enough level of granularity to comprehensively identify hot spots is very difficult and expensive, and beyond the capabilities of most environmental justice and other community organizations.
However, research published this week shows how this can be done – and that the results are of great value. A study carried out by MFN member West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), the Environmental Defense Fund, Aclima, and the University of Texas at Austin using data collected by Google Street View cars produced findings that were concerning and surprising.
Most significantly, the data shows pollution variations within single blocks in Oakland of as high as 5X, and revealed hotspots that were often very persistent and stable.
The wide range of pollution levels and the persistence of hotspots tells us something else – in many cases workers and residents are being exposed to much higher levels of pollution and hence higher health risks than they or anyone else knows. We need to build on this research to develop the capability of community-based groups to conduct this level of monitoring in overburdened neighborhoods throughout the U.S. There are children growing up in these neighborhoods who will sooner or later suffer from underdeveloped lungs, asthma, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. The sooner we identify and clean up these hot spots, the more people we can save from air pollution’s health effects, misery, and in some cases, premature death.
To learn more, view the excellent video with commentary by WOEIP founders Margaret Gordon and Brian Beveridge or read the news articles linked below. For a deeper dive, click the last link to read the entire journal article.
Google shares Street View pollution maps, Left Lane News
Tracking Air Quality Block By Block, California Healthline
High-Resolution Air Pollution Mapping with Google Street View Cars: Exploiting Big Data, (complete study) Environmental Science and Technology
One of the founders of the Moving Forward Network and most accomplished EJ activists in the U.S., Margaret Gordon, is going to speak on Thursday, April 20 in Oakland about the pollution caused by freight transportation in communities of color, and share lessons learned on how to improve community health. Her presentation and talks by three other outstanding speakers makes this a “must-attend” event. Sign up today!
Received by email:
ANNOUNCED! Youth, Public Health, Enviro Justice Speakers @
California Trade Justice Coalition
A Citizens Trade Campaign affiliate
California Trade Justice Coalition
A Citizens Trade Campaign affiliate
More About California Trade Justice News & Alerts
California Trade Justice News is a quarterly publication of the California Trade Justice Coalition (CTJC), a project of Earth Island Institute, and proud affiliate of the Citizens Trade Campaign. The CTJC is a new coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, public health, immigrant rights, human rights, pro-democracy, and socially conscious business leaders — all committed to building a strong California economy that works for all.
PUBLISHER: Aaron Lehmer-Chang, ED
CONTRIBUTORS: Will Wiltschko, Lead Organizer, Jake Soiffer, Social Media & Communications Intern
California Trade Justice Coalition
436 14th Street, Suite 1216
Oakland, CA 94612
Environmental Justice leader Charles Lee was honored by the State of South Carolina House of Representatives on the occasion of his Keynote address at Building the Bridge to Environmental Equity: Lessons from Two Decades of Partnership, sponsored by the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.
The House Resolution honoring Mr. Lee included an excellent summary of his impressive accomplishments:
House Bill 3732
A HOUSE RESOLUTION TO RECOGNIZE AND HONOR CHARLES LEE, THE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AT THE UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA), AND TO WELCOME HIM TO THE PALMETTO STATE AS THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES SEMINAR.
Whereas, the South Carolina House of Representatives is pleased to learn that Charles Lee will be the keynote speaker at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Health Services Seminar on Wednesday, February 15, 2017; and
Whereas, widely recognized as an actual pioneer of environmental justice, he was the principal author of the groundbreaking report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States; and
Whereas, Mr. Lee helped to spearhead the emergence of a national environmental justice movement and federal action that included the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, Executive Order 12898, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice; and
Whereas, in his role as the senior policy advisor for Environmental Justice at the EPA, he leads the development and implementation of the EPA’s agency-wide environmental justice strategic plans; and
Whereas, Mr. Lee served as a charter member of the NEJAC, where he chaired its Waste and Facility Siting committee; served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Environmental Justice and other panels; and led efforts to incorporate environmental justice into EPA’s rulemaking process, develop models for collaborative problem-solving, transform brownfields’ redevelopment into a community revitalization paradigm, advance approaches to address cumulative risks and impacts, and lay a strong science foundation for integrating environmental justice into decision-making; and
Whereas, from the inception of the South Carolina Department of Health and Pollution Control, he has been an avid supporter of its efforts to promote community involvement, environmental justice, and community revitalization, and has also been a keen advocate of the remarkable achievements of the ReGenesis Environmental Justice partnership in Spartanburg; and
Whereas, Mr. Lee’s prolific work over the past three decades, including copious papers, reports, journals, and articles on environmental justice, has earned him many awards, such as the EJ Pioneer Award from the EPA Administrator on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 12898; and
Whereas, the South Carolina House of Representatives appreciates the significant contributions of Charles Lee to environmental justice in the United States and in the Palmetto State, and the members welcome him as he addresses the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Health Services Seminar. Now, therefore,
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives:
That the members of the South Carolina House of Representatives, by this resolution, recognize and honor Charles Lee, the senior policy advisor for Environmental Justice at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and welcome him to the Palmetto State as the keynote speaker at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Health Services Seminar.
Be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution be presented to Charles Lee.
News released yesterday by MFN members Environmental Integrity Project and Clean Air Council
Pollution from Pittsburgh-area Allegheny Ludlum Plant Far Exceeded Clean Air Act Limits, Threatening Public Health
Pittsburgh, Pa. — Four environmental organizations today provided notice that they intend to sue owners of a steel plant in Western Pennsylvania for violating the federal Clean Air Act by releasing far more pollution than a permit for the plant allows.
The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), PennEnvironment, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Clean Air Council are taking action against the Allegheny Ludlum plant in Brackenridge, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
“Allegheny Ludlum has been breaking air pollution laws for 15 years, and we’ve all been breathing their illegal emissions,” said Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of GASP. “Our region is already struggling to attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards, so there should be no tolerance for companies that play loose with the laws and with our health.”
The steel plant has exceeded legal limits from a 2002 permit for nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter (or soot), and carbon monoxide since installing a new pair of electric arc furnaces in 2003 and 2004.
These pollutants worsen ground-level ozone (also known as smog) and increase the risk of heart attacks, lung disease and asthma hospitalizations. Importantly, Allegheny County, where the plant is located, is out of compliance with federal standards for ozone and particulate matter.
But instead of cracking down on the pollution from the plant, the Allegheny County Health Department last year tried to let the owners of the plant off the hook by issuing a new draft permit that would significantly raise the allowable levels of pollution. The plant is owned by Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Ludlum, LLC, ATI Flat Rolled Products Holdings, LLC, and Allegheny Technologies Incorporated.
To stop the dangerous emissions, a coalition of environmental organizations objected to the county’s proposed changes to the permit last fall. And then today, the groups filed a notice of intent to sue Allegheny Ludlum for violating the terms of the 2002 air pollution control permit for the plant.
“This is about protecting the health of everyone who lives downwind from this plant,” said Patton Dycus, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, which represents GASP and PennEnvironment in the legal action. “Illegal air pollution is not something that we should ignore, because it can literally kill–especially the elderly, young and people suffering from lung or heart diseases.”
Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council, said: “Longstanding noncompliance with air emissions limitations is unacceptable as a matter of law and policy. The facility has imposed an unnecessary health burden on a county already suffering from considerable air pollution problems.”
“Clean air is a right, not a privilege,” said PennEnvironment’s Pittsburgh organizer Stephen Riccardi. “We owe it to the children of Pittsburgh, those who suffer from respiratory problems and future generations to do everything in our power to rein in illegal polluters who put them at risk.”
There is no doubt that the plant has been violating the terms of its 2002 air pollution control permit, because both Allegheny Ludlum and county health department officials have recently noted in public records that the plant has not met its permit limits.
Although the 2002 permit required Allegheny Ludlum to test the emissions from its electric arc furnaces in 2016, Allegheny Ludlum failed to do so, which prevented local residents and environmental organizations from obtaining more information about the continuing violations at the plant.
The Clean Air Act allows concerned citizens to sue polluters when government regulators refuse–or do not have the resources–to enforce the law. At least 60 days before such a suit is filed, citizens must provide notice of their intent to sue.
In this case, the environmental groups plan to sue Allegheny Ludlum to require the company to pay penalties and take action to come into compliance with the plant’s permit, either by installing up-to-date equipment or by improving operations to reduce pollution.
The county has yet to issue a type of Clean Air Act permit for the plant, called a “Title V” operating permit, although it was required to do so almost 15 years ago. Those permits are supposed to contain monitoring requirements that allow citizens and regulators to regularly ensure that facilities are meeting their limits. The county’s 2002 permit for the plant’s electric arc furnaces does not include the kind of monitoring requirements that would be mandated by a Title V permit, which would have brought the violations to light much earlier.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.
GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) is a Pittsburgh-based environmental non-profit founded in 1969 and dedicated to improving air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania and surrounding regions.
Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization serving Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Council is dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment. For over 50 years the Council has worked through a broad array of related sustainability and public health initiatives, using public education, community action, government oversight, and enforcement of environmental laws.
PennEnvironment is a citizen-based environmental advocacy group working to promote clean air, clean water and protect our natural heritage. To find out more, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.
Mustafa Ali, leader of Environmental Justice at the U.S. EPA, announced his resignation on Thursday, in the face of Trump administration plans to gut the program.
“How can you have a positive role in communities if you are proposing rolling back regulations and cutting resources? These grants are important to these communities when you talk about rolling it back, it tells me these communities are not a priority and I can not be a part of that,” (Source: CNN)
Ali started with the EPA as an intern, and was one of the founding members of the EPA Environmental Justice program. He worked with over 500 communities during his career, including many Moving Forward Network members, to secure environmental, health and economic justice. A few photos from his work with the Moving Forward Network are below.
Angelo Logan, campaign director of the Moving Forward Network said, “We deeply regret Mustafa Ali’s resignation and the conditions at EPA under Scott Pruitt that caused him to resign. With Ali’s assistance, the Moving Forward Network had moved EPA to agree to develop a working group to look for zero emissions solutions that would reduce the deadly effects of diesel exhaust on the millions of Americans living in neighborhoods near our ports, freight facilities, and truck transportation corridors.”
Ali will remain active in Environmental Justice as senior vice president of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit civil and human rights group that connects the hip hop community to the civic process to build power and create positive change. For more information about Mustafa Ali, the reasons for his resignation, and his new position, see the references below.
EPA environmental justice leader resigns, amid White House plans to dismantle program, Washington Post
Chief Environmental Justice Official at EPA Resigns, With Plea to Pruitt to Protect Vulnerable Communities, Inside Climate News
EPA’s Environmental Justice Head Resigned After 24 Years. He Wants to Explain Why, Mother Earth News
Share Leticia DeCaigny’s conversation with Richard Mabion and support the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign.
Richard Mabion is president of the Kansas City, Kansas branch of the NAACP and a board member of the Kansas Sierra Club. He created Building A Sustainable Earth Community to draw more people of color to the environmental sustainability movement.
Leticia DeCaigny, leader of the Argentine/Turner Good Neighbor Committee and Diesel Health Project community organizer, spoke with Richard Mabion about how he began advocating for his community around environmental issues and his hopes for the future. Here are excerpts from their conversation, which you can hear on StoryCorps.me.
LETICIA DECAIGNY: What in your life experience prepared you to be a changemaker?
RICHARD MABION: You’re getting all my little trade secrets, aren’t you? (Laughs) My mother was the last president for the PTA for the “Negro school system” in the state of Kansas. When they had the Brown vs. Topeka court settlement my mother was president … So when you grow up in that kind of environment, you have an emphasis on education in your face every day, and you have an emphasis for change, and you grow up with one of those “can do” attitudes. And so actually it’s like being a Christian. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. We went to church on Sunday and we were raised to be changemakers.
LD: So how does the pollution in our community impact you and others.
RM: The portion of the population that we represent is the low-income community. And the problem with pollution in the low-income community is lack of education. No one has really taken the time to stop and education the public about what it is that they’re even dealing with. And that’s what makes what you and I do very special. Because … we’re in a position to make sure the everyday person can learn environmental literacy, can learn about pollution. And it doesn’t have to end up like it was in Flint, where the people were totally out of the loop when it came to their own water.
LD: What is your greatest hope for positive change in your lifetime and how can we all be a part of that change?
RM: Harmony. Being able to live as an American public. I think that that’s another thing the environmental movement can produce … That’s what David Korten was talking about with the Great Turning. That if we all start working for the benefit of this planet then we’ll all be working for the benefit for each other. And that’s the ultimate that I’d like to see this planet become.
I don’t know how many more years of life I have. I’d like to think 100. But realistically what I’m doing is to assist and pass some wisdom on to your age group, so that you’ll be able to use it as stepping stones to take us where we need to go as a human race.
PLEASE JOIN Leticia and Richard in the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign to reduce diesel emissions in our communities. Share their conversation using the social media buttons above to show your support for #ZeroEmissionsNow.
LEARN MORE about the work they are doing to improve the quality of life in Kansas City, Kansas by following the Diesel Health Project.
LISTEN to other conversations in our StoryCorps project, with people who are fighting for #ZeroEmissionsNow in their communities across the United States.