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Valley Advocates Demand Environmental Justice

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View Sarah Jackson's blog posts
24 March 2011, 3:27 PM
Advocates and Earthjustice want more from EPA Administrator in Central Valley

When Bush II’s Head of EPA came to California’s Central Valley, he tried to hold secret meetings with industry and was met with a protest from clean air advocates angered by EPA’s long history of ignoring the Valley’s severe public health and environmental justice problems in favor of big business interests.

Yesterday, President Obama’s EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, came to the Valley to meet with the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, a coalition of environmental, public health, and environmental justice organizations and community members fighting to improve air quality and social justice in an area dubbed “the Appalachia of the West.”

And even though her visit was a historic step in the fight to elevate the Valley’s dire social and environmental woes to the national stage, Jackson, too, was met with protest.

Because while the EPA Chief, who grew up in New Orleans’s 9th ward, espouses a deep and even personal commitment to environmental justice, her agency’s recent actions have not reflected that commitment in the Valley.

Last month, in a legal maneuver that would have made the Bush administration proud, the EPA decided to grandfather a 600-megawatt fossil fuel power plant that hasn’t even been built yet and exempt it from meeting certain air pollution and greenhouse gas limits.

This plant is proposed next to the tiny Valley community of Kettleman City, a low-income farmworker community plagued by birth defects, miscarriages, and infant deaths, which the community blame on the confluence of terrible air quality, exposure to pesticides and contaminated drinking water, and the presence of a huge toxic waste dump with a history of violating the law.

Not only does California not need another fossil fuel fired power plant, nor the Valley another huge source of air pollution, but certainly Kettleman City does not need yet another toxic neighbor—especially one that can’t meet federal air quality standards and needs a special, backroom carve-out by our self-proclaimed environmental justice champions at the EPA.

Earthjustice will not let this injustice stand. We are prepared to challenge the illegal permit and EPA’s contorted attempt to rewrite the requirements of the Clean Air Act. We are also working with Valley advocates to improve air quality by ensuring real and effective enforcement of federal ozone and fine particulate standards. Recently our office has also filed suit in California to overturn the state's approval of the use of the toxic soil fumigant methyl iodide.

Bush is gone ?

Environmental justice, the concept of protecting humans, no matter what social or financial stratum, from dangerous or deleterious effects of industry and development, is not always sufficiently espoused by some large environmental organizations.

Witness the support of NRDC, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, for California cap-and-trade of carbon emissions - a weak response to the impending catastrophe of global warming which allows some industries to pollute due to having means to secure what are essentially exemptions by buying them (sound like a definition of corruption?), and creating a financial instrument - another in the complex ways to profit from, shall we say, airy products.

Fortunately more local groups that see their constituents made ill, injured, or having mutated offspring, take up where such large compromise organizations leave living things in the lurch.

Environmental justice organizations are branded as "leftist", a word in the US historically connoting socialist or communist. Since most US citizens have a fear response to such words, such words are used as much as possible to obscure scientific findings, facts about dangerous pollutants or other products.

We have recently seen compromise in all areas of environmental protection seemingly suddenly occurring, rather than seeing organizations that take money and loyalty from those concerned with the accelerating extinctions, continuing fragmentation of livable habitat for natural, wild (remember Dave Foreman's point that wilderness means self-willed land?) land and life in all its forms.

I feel it is a grave abdication of responsibility for those purporting to stand for the protection of living things, to compromise in the present era of massive assault on what little braking is applied to this extinction and destruction of habitat, which includes the very air.

We have seen EJ having to withdraw from clients disagreeing through discrepancy of ideals, in the Northern Rockies Gray Wolf controversy.
It so far appears that EJ recognizes its job, and I sincerely hope that it stays on course, not becoming an instrument of the present weak and worrisome trend to allow the industrial extinction of biological life.

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