EPA’s “environmental justice” tour comes to California


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Environmental justice, a movement to focus attention on pollution in low-income communities, is a burning cause for Lisa Jackson, the first African American to head the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. Over the last several months, Jackson has toured poor white, black and Latino communities with a message: Eco-issues aren’t just for rich folks.

On Saturday, the EPA chief took a bus tour of low-income neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay area, stopping at a Superfund site where the federal government is coordinating toxic chemical cleanup, and an urban food cooperative.


At a town hall meeting in Oakland, attended by scores of community leaders, elected officials and students, she announced $100,000 in grants for programs to educate low-income communities in Richmond and Oakland about climate change, to restore wildlife habitat in Richmond and to engage Latinos in San Rafael’s Canal district on environmental issues.

“Too often it’s the poor and minority communities who have little voice in environmental decisions, but live in the shadow of the worst pollution,” Jackson said. ‘I’m happy to see so much being done here in California.’

Oakland was the fourth stop in Jackson’s nationwide tour. She has also visited South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi and Georgia. Besides Bay area officials, Jackson was accompanied by representatives from Los Angeles, Compton, Long Beach, and Carson.

The West Oakland Superfund site was a former AMCO chemical distribution facility where the EPA is monitoring the air for toxic pollution. AMCO was added to the Superfund National Priorities list in 2003 after its volatile organic compounds, metals and organochlorine pesticides contaminated the groundwater and soil. EPA is moving forward with site remediation, according to spokeswoman Mary Simms.

The residential neighborhood next to the AMCO site is the target of an EPA investigation that revealed high concentrations of lead in soils. Jackson and other tour members were briefed on lead cleanup efforts at an EPA-hosted community meeting in nearby Prescott Park. The food cooperative where the group stopped is known as Mandela Marketplace, which promotes locally grown food to combat what are known as inner-city ‘food deserts’ -- neighborhoods where fast food predominates and fresh fruit and vegetables are in short supply.

The four grass-roots Bay Area groups awarded $25,000 grants include:

  • The Rose Foundation in West Oakland, whose ‘New Voices Are Rising’ Program is a civic engagement project that works with students from low-income, black and Latino communities in Oakland and Richmond, California.
  • The Watershed Project, a nonprofit organization which has organized the Richmond Greenway Bioswale and Native Plant Garden (Greenway Garden) project to transform a section of abandoned railroad into a recreation area.
  • Urban Habitat, also in Richmond, whose plan is to develop a community Energy and Climate Action Plan that will look at the impact of climate change on the city’s low-income communities.
  • The Viviendo Verde Ya! Project in Marin, which will work with Promotores Verdes (a grassroots organization) to mentor a network of environmental and health volunteers in San Rafael’s Canal district.

-- Margot Roosevelt


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