Skip to main content

In Conversation Everyone has the Right to a Healthy Environment

About the Photo: Pedro Reyes, above, teaches English to farmworkers to help improve protection standards for agricultural workers.

Introduction

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because of dirty air. Hundreds of thousands more seek out care in hospital emergency rooms because of accidental poisonings, asthma attacks, and respiratory disease.

Pollution from a host of sources contaminates waterways and workplaces, threatening our families and communities. For decades, Earthjustice has fought for the right of all to a healthy environment and to hold polluters accountable when they violate that right.

Earthjustice works at the local, regional, and national levels to strengthen protective standards for air and water pollution, reduce the levels of toxic chemicals in the environment, and secure strong worker protections.

Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities Lisa Garcia discusses how Earthjustice is fighting to protect families and communities from issues they confront on a daily basis. The teleconference was moderated by Campaign Manager Kari Birdseye.

Recorded on September 30, 2014.
Above photos by Dave Getzschman for Earthjustice.

Interview Highlights

Kari Birdseye: Hello and welcome to an Earthjustice teleconference. I’m Kari Birdseye, campaign manager for our Healthy Communities work. Today, I’m here with Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities Lisa Garcia. She’s here to talk about how Earthjustice is fighting to protect families and communities from the wide range of pollution issues they confront on a daily basis.

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because of dirty air. Hundreds of thousands more land in hospital emergency rooms because of accidental poisonings, asthma attacks, and respiratory disease. Pollution from a host of sources contaminates waterways and workplaces, threatening our families and communities.

Earthjustice believes that everyone has a right to a healthy environment. For decades, Earthjustice has fought to hold polluters accountable when they violate that right. We work at the local, regional, and national levels to strengthen protective standards for air and water pollution, reduce the levels of toxic chemicals in our environment, and secure strong worker protections.

Lisa Garcia is responsible for our organization’s groundbreaking and high impact litigation related to protecting impacted communities and families from environmental health and pollution hazards. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Lisa served as the Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—a role where she elevated environmental justice issues to the highest levels of the agency.

I’ll begin by talking to Lisa for a little bit, and then we’re going to open it up for your calls. If you have any questions please press 14 on your phone at any time, and we’ll get those questions lined up for Lisa.

On the EPA, Earthjustice and Environmental Justice

Kari: Hello Lisa, thanks for joining us today. As I mentioned earlier, you’ve been with Earthjustice for almost a year now, after working at the EPA. Can you talk broadly about what you were working on at the EPA and why you decided to make the move to Earthjustice?

Lisa Garcia: Hi Kari. Thank you so much, and thank you everyone for joining the teleconference. It’s a real pleasure to be able to speak about Earthjustice and Healthy Communities, which is a passion of mine. I actually started about five months ago, and before that I had the wonderful opportunity and honor to work for the Administrator of the EPA, and I would say, just quickly, my position was a new position. It was Advisor to the Administrator of Environmental Justice and it really spoke to Administrator Jackson’s goal of elevating environmental justice to every aspect of the agency. It was a real pleasure working there with her, and so we focused on two things, and I’ll just shamelessly quote the Administrator—Administrator Jackson said, “Environmental justice is the unfinished business of the EPA.” And to really take the work that the EPA has done, reducing air pollution, reducing water pollution, cleaning up toxic contaminated properties and superfund sites, what had to happen is that the Agency had to move more into low income communities, communities of color, and tribal areas and reservations to ensure that those populations were also benefitting from all of the environmental benefits from the work of the EPA.

And so we focused on two things. One was: what can EPA do in its role in the federal government? And so we focused on ensuring that rules really took into account concerns from low income communities. What can we do on permitting? How to improve the permitting process for something as simple as public engagement and outreach, or translation of a permit or an environmental assessment to help reach communities or groups that have historically not been at the table. How does the EPA ramp up enforcement actions, and also how do we improve the research of cumulative impact? A lot of times you hear certainly one of the problems in environmental justice communities is that it’s not only one facility, it’s ten facilities or twenty facilities that are impacting the health of the community.

And then, just quickly, the other piece of it was working with the Administration as a whole. We pulled together a cabinet meeting for all the agencies to recommit to the environmental justice executive order, and for all agencies to figure out how they can work with low income communities and communities of color to improve the quality of life. So how do you ensure there’s good housing, and good transportation to good jobs, and ensure that there’s a clean environment? And of course with the Department of Commerce and the Department of Defense there’s so many opportunities that communities can take advantage of. That was the role at EPA that I had, and certainly working with everyone else at EPA.

On the Importance of Healthy Communities

Kari: Thank you for that. Now you’re the Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities here at Earthjustice. Why is working for Healthy Communities important to you?

Lisa: I think one of the things that I’ve definitely learned throughout the years is that we need to think about the environment and how it impacts how people live.

We need to think about the environment and how it impacts how people live.

For me, working on Healthy Community issues is really important because we can continue to look at one issue, let’s say water, but really the community doesn’t live in those silos. And so, for me, the concept of Healthy Communities is looking at a community holistically and what are the different pathways to improving quality of life. And certainly at Earthjustice, what are the different legal tools we have, and advocacy tools, and legislative tools to really think about almost all aspects of how a community lives and interacts with the environment so that we can really get to a place where everyone’s benefitting from a clean and healthy, and certainly sustainable and resilient, community.

On Priorities for the Healthy Communities Work

Kari: So what are your priorities for this body of work?

Lisa: There is obviously a lot to do. Unfortunately, we have communities that ,if you do look at it with this lens of “What is a healthy community?”, there’s just so much work to do. But I think for us, one of the things that we’re going to continue to do is to focus our priorities on clean air. I think that there’s been a lot of great work done by Earthjustice and I’m happy to be here to help and to move that forward and ensuring that toxic air pollution rules for oil refineries are stringent and really protect the fenceline communities that live right next to those refineries. I mean when I say “right next to” sometimes there are houses right up against the fenceline. Continuing to do the air work and ensure that EPA and other agencies put out really good, stringent rules, and then also working locally to ensure that permits take those standards and implement them in the way that’s most protective to the communities.

We’re going to continue to work on the clean water priorities that we have: working with the communities in Appalachia and certainly in our watersheds like Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Lake Tahoe, the Everglades, and important work in Florida that Earthjustice has done.

Retired firefighter Tony Stefani is the founder of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation.
Retired firefighter Tony Stefani is the founder of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation. Flame retardants are among more than 80,000 chemicals on the market that have not been adequately tested. They have received scrutiny for their potential health impacts on firefighters, as well as on the general public.
Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

And lastly, it’s been really fun working on our pesticides and toxic chemicals work. It is something that I didn’t necessarily do in my previous work, but really focusing on reforming the broken laws that regulate pesticides, targeting the most dangerous chemicals and harmful substances like flame retardants, toxic pesticides, and aviation fuel that still has lead in it.

It’s just been really fun trying to figure out, not only what Earthjustice is doing and how the benefits go to the community, but also thinking about more of local work, as we move forward on these priorities.

On the Intersection of Clean Air, Clean Water, and Healthy Communities

Kari: I want to remind our callers that we are available to take your questions if you press 14 on your telephone. That’ll put you into the question center and we’ll get your question to Lisa right away.

Lisa, you talk about clean air and clean water, how does this work, really intersect with our Healthy Communities priorities?

Lisa: In my mind, when you write a standard or under the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act, you implement the regulations. If you’re reading it, or you’re putting it into a permit, it’s words. But really, what happens is, once it’s implemented, it actually ensures, hopefully, and this is why it’s good to be at Earthjustice: to help ensure that once the facility is operating, once the discharge is from [power] plants going into water, and once those stacks are up and spewing, hopefully just steam, if it’s clean, into the air.

The impact is real for the people living in and around those facilities. And so even though a permit, when you look at it, is just words on a piece of paper, what Healthy Communities, what the work, means is really how do we ensure that the people around those facilities have a clean environment, and don’t suffer from being overburdened by pollution, or exceedances, or malfunctions, or leaking.

What Healthy Communities means is really how do we ensure that the people around those facilities have a clean environment, and don’t suffer from being overburdened by pollution, or exceedances, or malfunctions, or leaking …

And so what we want to do is that even though we work on the standard, eventually we want to make sure that it plays out in communities because they are actually breathing that air or they are actually relying on the water sources and their kids are playing in the playgrounds next door. Or for farmworkers, they are the people who are spraying these pesticides on the food that we eat, and so it’s important that we have agricultural systems in place that do not harm the farmworker, and also the food that we put on our plates.

It all trickles down into being real world activities that we live with that either the person working at the facility or the farmworker has to deal with on a day-to-day basis, or the community that is living right next door. What we want to do is make sure that everyone’s health is protected, certainly the children.

Earlier today, I heard something about 'bad ozone days,' and the children being called in. They can’t play outside in the playgrounds. This is how it plays out: So you can read an ozone standard on a piece of paper, but for the kids in the playground being told that they have to go indoors, that they can’t play outside, those are real impacts that can lead to asthma, can lead to other respiratory illnesses, can lead to obesity if they’re not outside playing, and we just want to make sure that we’re thinking of all the work that we do and how it plays out in the real world to ensure healthy communities.

Kari: What are some of the areas of this work that you’re most excited about and why?

Lisa: I think I’m excited about all of it because, across the nation, we have people living in coastal areas, and next to rivers, but we also have people living in the mountains or near deserts, and working in different places. For me, it’s all pretty exciting. Working on rural issues like cleaning up waterways from animal farming is really important and exciting to see what we can do to ensure that while we have an economy that relies on, or a food system, that provides meat to the population, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the communities who live next to those farming industries can’t be protected or can’t rely on their well-water or have their air impacted by spraying.

Workers pack strawberries in Salinas, CA.
Workers pack strawberries in Salinas, CA. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the illegal approval of the pesticide methyl iodide. The fumigant, which causes late-term miscarriages and brain damage, is primarily used on strawberries. Less than a year later, in 2012, the maker of that pesticide took it off the market.
Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The farmworkers standards, for me, protecting farmworkers, that’s a real issue. There are still farmworkers that are spraying pesticides and getting ill immediately. They talk about their eyes itching and sneezing and not being able to go to work the next day because they have headaches or even being rushed to the hospital because the exposure was so bad. I mean that’s putting people at risk immediately.

And then also just in urban areas, to think that some communities still live with such burdens and so much pollution and such toxic risk, or exposure, we can do a better job. We have the technology and innovation and we have the wherewithal to figure out how to reduce those burdens and provide better environmental benefits and certainly health outcomes.

We have so much more evidence about the health disparities, and so it’s really the driver behind all of this. We say 'healthy communities,' but we actually have evidence right now that certain communities have serious health risks and that there’s real health disparities between certain communities that are overburdened by pollution. And as a nation, we shouldn’t accept that as being 'okay.' We can do so much better in ensuring that everyone has a healthy place to live, and so, I think the driver for all of the work that we’re doing, and certainly what excites me, is to be able to really improve the health of our communities—and also for our children.

On the Importance of Partnerships

Kari: In all of the work that Earthjustice does, we represent a host of clients and groups, large nonprofits to small community organizations. How important is this partnership building and how does it impact the work that you do?

Lisa: I think it’s usually important. From an environmental justice standpoint, it’s usually important to have everyone at the table. And so when you talk about who you’re representing or your partners, I think any decision is better served and well thought out if you have different people at the table who come from different backgrounds, who have different expertise and who can sit at a table and really think of good solutions. And so in my mind, when we think about representing health groups or labor groups and local environmental groups, but then also big national environmental groups, everyone’s going to bring something to the table that eventually makes our decision making much better, the advocacy for better solutions that much better.

One of the principles of environmental justice is that communities speak for themselves, and to be able to speak for themselves, they need to be at the table.

What we’ve seen, one of the principles of environmental justice is that communities speak for themselves, and to be able to speak for themselves, they need to be at the table. So it’s usually important from a perspective of talking about healthy communities or talking about environmental justice that we adopt this principle that there should be everyone at the table and everyone has the ability to speak and has the input to figure out where to go next. I think the partnerships are extremely important to any successful initiative or campaign we have.

On Investigating the Health Impacts of Pollution

Kari: We’re getting a couple questions now. Sue in Texas has a question for you. She says, “I live in a community that has been heavily polluted since the 1980s by cement kilns and still mills. Does the EPA investigate the number of deaths, cancer rates, and birth defect rates caused by the pollution in these communities such as mine?”

A cement kiln, next to a church playground in Midlothian, TX.
A cement kiln, next to a church playground in Midlothian, TX. Cement kilns are a major source of mercury and other toxic emissions.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Bornhorst

Lisa: Thanks for the question, and I’ll just remind folks I don’t work for the EPA now, but my recollection is that certainly in drafting some of the health standards and regulations, the EPA does definitely look at health data and the data does show exposure or risks to certain pollutants.

In looking at the risks, they try to figure out how many deaths or how many illnesses or what types of illnesses a pollutant or toxin may cause. However, EPA generally, and I’ll just say once again, I’m not EPA so I’m not speaking for EPA, but generally when they propose a new standard or regulation, it’s not based on data from a singular location or place because the rules and regulations that they put out are national.

So I know from environmental justice groups and climate justice groups have been advocating for more specific assessments of local areas, communities that are overburdened by several facilities to be able to look at cumulative impact. I think that’s underway, but not right now. They would not look at the town that you’re in to decide what the regulation or standard should be.

But thanks for your question and I certainly recommend reaching out to some of the EPA folks at Research Triangle Park to maybe get some information if you are interested on the process.

On the Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Workers

Kari: Great, thank you for that, Lisa. I’ll remind our callers, Lisa can take your question if you press 14 on your telephone, and we’ll get that question to Lisa.

Lisa, let’s go back to worker protection standards for agricultural workers. Can you tell us a little bit about your recent trip to Florida and who you met down there and what’s going on?

Lisa: Yes, so I had a great opportunity to go down to Florida and to meet with some of the farmworkers there and some of the advocacy groups who are working really hard for protections of farmworkers and other agricultural workers. We flew into Orlando, and we went to different farms and we met with different farmworkers, some that had retired, some that are still working, and we actually went into some of the settings where they’re working.

It was heartbreaking in some sense, but at the same time it was really inspirational to speak to people who are really hard workers and they’re doing this to ensure that there is food on their plates and that they’re feeding their families. But at the same time, they understand that there’re risks to some of the pesticides that they’re using in the fields and the nurseries and the greenhouses that they're working in.

In Pierson, FL, workers pack greenery, which are exported worldwide for use in floral arrangements and other decorations.
In Pierson, FL, workers pack greenery, which are exported worldwide for use in floral arrangements and other decorations.
Dave Getzschman for Earthjustice

One of the problems that we see is that there’s about 500,000 children that are exposed to pesticides in fields, nurseries, and greenhouses because the standards right now really don’t protect the farmworker when they’re out in the fields or the nurseries. Farmworkers have higher rates of workplace illnesses than any other workers.

While OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, promulgates standards for industrial workers, they do not do it for farmworkers, and so farmworkers is a category that the EPA regulates. Unfortunately, right now, it is a weaker standard. So part of this campaign that we’re working on is to get EPA to issue more protective standards for the workers. But it was just really great to be out in the field, and once again, the essence of not only reading the worker protection standards on paper, but to go out to the fields and meet with the farmworkers who say the protective gear isn’t available, or if it is available, it’s broken, and so they’re still being exposed.

They’re out in the middle of the day in 100 degree weather working really hard to make sure that we get our food and our vegetables and even the nurseries that provide our beautiful flowers. So it brought it home, to be able to speak to them one on one and to be able to hear their stories. It makes it easier for me to come back to Washington, D.C. and work with my great team here and say “we really need to do something about this” and make sure that the protections for farmworkers are more stringent.

On Becoming—And Staying—Active on the Issues

Kari: I know that the official comment period has closed for the Worker Protection Standard, but, we have a question here from Maria in California. She asks, “Are there opportunities beyond donating to Earthjustice to become more active in these issues?” And Lisa, I’m wondering if you can talk about our Take Action page on our website?

Lisa: I’ll ask you to chime in on that one, but definitely, I think that while we appreciate all donations, for each person that chimes in and stands up or writes in, it really helps with the advocacy and showing the Administration that this is an important issue that they should work on.

We have an action alert, and if you go onto our webpage, under Healthy Communities, you will be able to sign up.

We had an electronic postcard that goes in as comments, to the EPA. So even though the comment period on this particular proposed Worker Protection Standard has closed, I know that the Administration is still hearing what people are saying about this and there’s opportunities to meet with the regulators or to call in and to voice your opinion that this is really important and that the Administration needs to take action for the rule to be as strong as possible.

So I would encourage you to get involved, stay involved. I know that sometimes, especially for people who are working and have maybe sometimes two jobs and they run home to take care of the kids or family members, it’s really hard. But I know also that there are people who do all of that and they still have time to fill out a postcard or to get online and be a great activist in their own ways. So I would encourage everyone to get involved and stay involved and obviously be informed on these important issues.

Kari: If you go to our Earthjustice homepage, there’s a Take Action button, and if you press that button you’ll see all the different actions on many of our different issues, and there’s opportunities to get involved on a host of our priorities here and make your voice heard. And send letters directly to your representatives or the agencies that are making important decisions.

On How Polluting Facilities Can Be Located Close to Homes

Kari: Lisa, another question, and this is from Nancy in Washington State. She asks, “How do houses get so close to the refineries? How did the permitting happen in the first place for refineries to be so close to the fenceline communities?”

Lisa: So I’ll give you an example, of one community in Texas. There’re no zoning regulations, so there was no requirement that there be a buffer zone. I know sometimes in some regulations and certainly some states and cities now have what we call buffer zones to be able to protect either the environment or our rivers, streams, from development, sometimes even just communities, like where people live, to be able to create a buffer zone.

A child plays in a community park that is adjacent to an oil refinery in Manchester neighborhood of Houston, TX. The park serves as the buffer zone between the refinery and residential homes.
A child plays in a community park that is adjacent to an oil refinery in Manchester neighborhood of Houston, TX. The park serves as the buffer zone between the refinery and residential homes.
Eric Kayne for Earthjustice

But this place that I visited in Texas, there were no zoning regulations, and so the houses [were] there and a refinery maybe was down the road but through the years expanded—and so there was no limitation on where the refinery could expand.

I think some of the environmental groups and some of the community members did talk about buyouts, and I know that this is happening in Louisiana and happens in Detroit. The pollution burden is so much that even if you were to mitigate, or to think about and talk about reducing the pollution, that the community would still be harmed, so some people are talking or advancing the concept of facilities buying out communities, figuring out how much it would be to buy out four blocks of an area and then that would help create a buffer zone. I know a lot of times communities are ensuring that even if you buy out the community and buy out the homes, that you ensure that it becomes a true buffer zone and that’s just an area that the facility can expand out to.

So I think that is, when we talk about all these issues, there is a real component of all the work that speaks to the local authorities and the decision-makers. I would say that ensuring that they’re siting or an understanding of where you’re siting certain facilities or how cities and localities are making decisions, is an important piece to this puzzle to ensure that you don’t continue to end up with a used tank or a refinery or facility or even a rail yard butting right up against someone’s home or someone’s backyard. Like I said at the beginning, we can all do a better job in how we’re making decisions and how we’re protecting people and that’s one of those areas.

On Enforcement and Compliance of Official Standards

Kari: I’d like to remind our callers, if you have a question for Lisa press 14 and we’ll get your question in the queue.

This question is from Lucas in Indiana. Lucas says, “It’s wonderful that we are setting standards to help protect the public, but what is it that ensures that polluters are not crossing the lines after the standards are set?”

Lisa: That’s a good question, thank you. There are layers or phases of work, and so it’s hopefully, in working with the agency even before the standard is set, to be able to work with the agencies to ensure that there’s really good enforcement mechanisms, that there’s technology that allows facilities to monitor the pollution and to monitor discharges, and I know that’s in place right now, but certainly technology always improves.

One of the things that came out in the refineries rule is fenceline monitoring so that you have not only the monitoring on a stack, let’s say, but that you also figure out what‘s crossing over from the facilities fenceline into the community. Even though we’re advocating for a more protective refinery standard, it is a step forward in this concept of ensuring that, not only do you have the standard in place, but you have a mechanism to enforce that standard—because that standard is only as good, as you’re suggesting, as good as it can be, if it’s truly complied with. You need to focus on the compliance and enforcement issues.

It is a step forward in this concept of ensuring that, not only do you have the standard in place, but you have a mechanism to enforce that standard—because that standard is only as good as good as it can be, if it’s truly complied with.

One of the things that EPA started doing while I was still there under Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles, is start working on 'next generation,' and this really speaks to the compliance issue. What’s the best technology and what is the best pollution control equipment that we can have to protect communities and to protect the health of those communities. So looking at the type of equipment, the type of monitoring, and then the reporting.

Flaring at an oil refinery in a Los Angeles neighborhood.
Flaring at an oil refinery in a Los Angeles neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Jesse Marquez

The other piece to this is, to ensure compliance, and to make sure that there’s good enforcement, is how do you equip the community with the information it needs to be able to either go to the agency or to the facility and say, “Hey, we see that there’s a problem here.” Hopefully it won’t be the huge explosion at the refinery because everyone sees that, but if you’re monitoring it from the beginning, maybe it will avoid that explosion. And those are real impacts, huge and devastating impacts, to a community.

I think the question is very well put, that there’s the role in designing the standard, ensuring that there’s compliance and enforcement mechanisms. And then once it’s in a permit, and once the facility starts operating, how does everyone get the right information and put in the right control technology to make sure that it is complied with.

On Science and Healthy Communities

Kari: Thank you, Lisa. This question is from Janet in California. She asks, “Can you say something about how Earthjustice relies on science in this work? How does science drive Earthjustice’s priorities?"

Lisa: One of the things, and I’ve been here for only a few months, but one of the things that we definitely do, is that we’ll bring in, besides the expertise that we have in-house, other experts to look at air monitoring or modeling, and to help us with assessing what’s in the water and waterways to be able to detect high levels or exceedances of certain pollutants in waters before taking action.

Besides the fact that, for legal reasons and for evidentiary reasons, we need to make sure we have good science behind us, but even before then to make sure that we make a good decision before we act or when we decide to litigate. We make sure that we have all the information that we need to go forward. It could be different types of experts, but certainly toxicologists or air experts and others in the realm of science and engineering. We rely on those pretty heavily.

We also rely on data that’s already out there, so published reports and scientific reports, that can really help the attorneys and the whole campaign team make decisions in either advocating or pressing for changes and certainly in moving forward in legal action.

Kari: Thank you for that Lisa. Regina in West Virginia has this question. “Is Earthjustice doing any work with the Chemical Safety Board?”

Lisa: The Chemical Safety Board, I may get them confused, but we are working with some community groups in West Virginia and Appalachia on the chemical safety issues.

We’re certainly aware of the recent studies that came out that talked about chemical safety and communities living next to chemical plants, and how we ensure that the community is protected and that the first responders know what types of chemicals are on hand. As far as I know, we don’t have any cases or any legal matters on that, but it’s certainly one of the opportunities and one of the things we’ve been talking to some folks about, on how to ensure that communities are protected from the many chemical plants in their neighborhood. And what kind of role we can play in partnering with some of those groups.

On Dumping and Run-off From Agricultural Areas

Kari: Here’s another question for you, Lisa. “I’ve seen the rise of dumping of raw sewage on agricultural lands which is very undesirable for the homes around those areas. Is there anything being done to regulate that?”

An industrial hog facility in North Carolina.
An industrial hog facility in North Carolina. Hog feces and urine are flushed into open, unlined pits and then sprayed onto nearby fields. The practice leads to waste contaminating nearby waters, and drifting as "mist" onto neighboring properties.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF FAMILY FARMERS

Lisa: We have work at Earthjustice under the Healthy Communities portfolio working on the concentrated animal feeding operations, and so part of that is looking at the spray fields and the waste that’s being sprayed across the fields. I am not aware of any regulations, and I think that’s part of the problem, is that each state issues permits differently and sometimes if the farm or the agriculture feeding farm is small enough, there may not even be permits. So it definitely is a problem that we’re aware of and we’re working with certain communities in North Carolina and other states to reduce the impacts from those types of activities. There’re issues with discharges into waters, the spray fields, and the air impacts from that to the neighboring communities.

I think we just filed a civil rights complaint three weeks ago in North Carolina saying that the state violated the Civil Rights Act by not protecting the neighboring communities from those types of activities. We’re aware that it’s a huge problem, and as far as I can tell, there is no regulation, certainly no federal regulation on that type of spraying. Or they call it, re-use. But there is no regulation that we’re aware of. Hopefully with the advocacy and partnering with different communities there will be one. I think that’s the hope.

On Attacks on the EPA from Congress

Kari: This question comes from Maureen in Michigan. She says, “The EPA seems to be under a constant barrage from Congress, that they’re trying to take the 'teeth' away from the EPA, and are trying to weaken the Clean Air and Water Acts and other laws. What is Earthjustice doing to combat this?”

Lisa: We have a whole team in our Policy & Legislation office that help to ensure that the authority that EPA has remains. We think that EPA is a huge partner in cleaning up our environment and working towards healthy communities, and so I personally agree, since I was at EPA, there are unusually vicious attacks against the EPA.

Earthjustice, with many different organizations and people across the United States, is trying to protect the EPA as an agency and to be able to do the work that it has been doing. I know that sometimes Earthjustice comes out against the EPA on certain regulations or pushes the agency to do more and more, but as a whole, we definitely support the EPA and think that the attacks by Congress on the EPA to do away with the whole agency, are unwarranted. So we definitely work on ensuring that the EPA is not shut down.

On Fracking and Healthy Communities

Kari: Peggy in Tallahassee has this question for you. She says, “Can you discuss Earthjustice’s efforts to fight fracking?” And Lisa, I would just like to hear what you have to say about how that fits into our Healthy Communities work.

Lisa: We have, as part of our oil and gas work, definitely done a lot in ensuring that, in communities that have banned fracking, their right has been protected.

Residents of the town of Dryden , which successfully defended a zoning ordinance banning oil and gas development activities, including fracking, within town limits.
Residents of the town of Dryden , which successfully defended a zoning ordinance banning oil and gas development activities, including fracking, within town limits.
Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Earthjustice was part of a team that won a big case in New York State to ensure that the local community that passed an ordinance to not allow fracking was upheld, and so it went to the highest court in New York and that was a big victory. As far as Healthy Communities, it really speaks to the impacts from fracking are that they’re contaminating the waterways. There are some air impacts from the diesel, from the equipment that is basically fracking, they use diesel fuel. EPA has thought about regulating this, but I think Earthjustice is really trying to ensure that we make sure that communities are protected from the impacts of fracking.

I’m trying to think of an example of a community. In any event, what happens is the companies are using different chemicals and the chemicals are unknown so they’re not public, and Earthjustice has filed many different petitions in saying that confidential business information should not apply when it’s impacting the health of communities and that the public should be aware of the different chemicals being used, not only in fracking, but just the stream of chemicals. And what happens with these, with fracking, no one knows which chemicals are being drilled into the ground and contaminating the waterways and so there’s a real issue with fracking, and I think that Earthjustice is in the lead working with other groups and certainly residents and trying to protect against those impacts.

Kari: Thank you Lisa, and thanks everyone for the great questions today. Thanks for joining us for this teleconference. Thank you, Lisa, for speaking with all of us today about Earthjustice’s efforts at the national, regional, local levels to protect families and communities.

As we discussed, fighting for healthy communities by strengthening standards and protections and holding polluters accountable is a priority for us. If you want any more information on any of these issues, please visit earthjustice.org.

On behalf of Lisa Garcia and all of us here at Earthjustice we appreciate your continued support, thanks again for joining us and have a wonderful day.  

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

Speaker

Lisa Garcia's picture
VP of Litigation for Healthy Communities

Lisa Garcia guides Earthjustice’s work in groundbreaking litigation to protect communities and families from the wide range of pollution issues that confront them on a daily basis.

Spotlight Features

Leveling the Playing Fields for Farmworkers

In a Q&A interview, Legislative Representative Andrea Delgado shares how her early introduction to politics and ease among unfamiliar audiences serve her well in advocating on Capitol Hill for stronger environmental health regulations for all people.

Farmworkers Savor Sweet Taste of Victory

In March of 2012, the maker of methyl iodide took the chemical off the market, less than a year after Earthjustice sued to protect strawberry field workers from the deadly pesticide. This means that those who labor on our behalf can themselves enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of crippling or even fatal results.

"Some communities still live with such pollution and toxic exposure. We can do a better job. We have the technology and innovation—and we have the wherewithal to reduce those burdens."

Lisa Garcia
VP of Litigation for Healthy Communities