Environmental Justice: Inclusive Decision-Making
On the drive from Sacramento to Lamont through the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 99, we passed rows upon rows of produce and concrete jungles amid the visible air pollution haze. Last month I traveled with Team Environmental Justice member Julia Dolloff and Maria Salinas, CalRecycle’s Environmental Justice Manager to Lamont, a community just outside of Bakersfield. We were there to present to community members about CalRecycle’s Environmental Justice Program, SB 1383 regulations and the estimated 50 to 100 new large-scale organic waste facilities that will be built in the state as a result, and how to participate in the formal rulemaking process. Visiting an underrepresented community always accentuates the importance of our work to protect all Californians from environmental harm.
This underlying principle is why the SB 1383 regulations have incorporated community input. For example, the draft regulations allow for the use of community composting operations in jurisdictions to help manage organic waste. In addition, when jurisdictions plan for their organic waste capacity, they must conduct community outreach for new or expanded facilities, seek feedback on benefits and impacts, and consult with community composting operations.
In light of the impact implementing SB 1383 (Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) will have on the state, staff recently created the Environmental Justice Compost Facilities Map, which overlays existing organics recycling facilities with CalEnviroScreen 3.0, a tool that identifies communities disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. Identifying facility locations increases transparency and empowers communities to participate in the decision-making process with full knowledge of facility permits, inspections, and enforcement actions.
Left: CalRecycle staff members, Kern County employees, and Lamont community members met to discuss environmental justice issues. Right: On CalEnviroScreen 3.0, Lamont is in the top third most burdened percentile and surrounded on all sides by the 90th percentile. Three facilities are located in the nearby vicinity.
The Lamont community meeting incorporated environmental justice community engagement best practices by holding the event in their community in the evening after typical work hours and providing interpretation services. Not everyone spoke English but with interpretive services, we were able to discuss their personal experiences with pollution, food waste, and waste collection services. For example, one community member noted that many Lamont residents speak different Spanish dialects, which makes it difficult for residents to understand even Spanish translated materials, but that graphic bin labels can transcend the language barrier.
At the meeting, Gustavo Aguirre talked about his efforts to create a community benefits agreement with the nearby Recology composting facility. The agreement commits Recology to create an odor minimization plan, implement air pollution mitigation measures, and invest yearly in community benefiting projects. At our meeting, multiple people chimed in that this approach was successful for both Recology and their community.
Staff from Kern County’s local enforcement agency and other county government officials also attended the meeting. This allowed for a dialogue between the local officials and community members. One exciting moment was when a Kern County employee talked about the Waste Hunger Not Food pilot project. The pilot project implements the food rescue element of SB 1383 regulations by distributing edible, surplus food from restaurants, schools, and markets.
This community meeting demonstrated the importance of information sharing and solution-building with all involved parties. The conversation was richer because there were representatives from the state, the county, and the community. Getting people historically and systematically disadvantaged in the room and at the table is what environmental justice seeks to accomplish.
---Ciaran Gallagher, CalRecycle Capital Fellow