Engaging Community to Achieve Environmental Justice

Tom Steel, Maria Salinas, Acting Director Ken DaRosa

 

Government employees know how to address environmental crises; but, unless we live in communities with contaminated drinking water, searing heat waves, and pollution-induced asthma attacks, we can never truly understand the lives shaped by environmental injustice. Lower-income populations experience greater pollution burdens because community members are often not involved in the government approval decision-making process of polluting facilities proposed for their neighborhoods. The reasons include:

  • Historical practices such as redlining mortgage practices that ensured entire neighborhoods only included a specific racial population
  • Lack of political clout or money to afford attorneys to speak up against industrial infrastructure locating near them

Equity versus equality means helping disadvantaged communities with equal access to resources.

“Health equity means that everyone has the opportunities and resources needed for optimal health and well-being,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrerhas commented. Environmental justice begins with having a say about the safety of the place you live.

A sea of complicated questions awaits the community member who tries to address environmental injustice. How will a new or expanded compost facility impact local residents? How can members of the public use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires the disclosure of significant environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project? How can the online screening tool CalEnviroScreen, which identifies communities disproportionately burdened by pollution, help when the decision-making process includes a lack of transparency and inclusion of community members’ voices?

Those with answers about how to address pollution issues can benefit from the perspective of people living in impacted communities. Those who live in these areas can learn about support, tools, and how to make their voices heard to protect their communities. In this nexus lies the potential to interact with communities and achieve environmental justice together.

woman standing in front of truck with clipboard and group raking organic waste in yard.

At CalRecycle’s environmental justice symposium “Planning for Justice,” at 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA on Tuesday, February 11th at 10 AM, speakers will facilitate a discussion about best practices for prioritizing true community engagement for more equitable infrastructure planning. 

We are honored to feature California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, as our introductory speaker. Secretary Blumenfeld oversees six boards, departments, and an office in CalEPA’s efforts to: 

  • Fight climate change
  • Protect air and water quality 
  • Regulate pesticides and toxic substances
  • Achieve the state’s recycling and waste reduction goals
  • Advance environmental justice

The California Environmental Justice Alliance’s Policy and Political Director Katie Valenzuela will explain the relationship between government planning and environmental justice using local examples and identifying opportunities to improve community input related to the planning process. 

Cesar Campos from CalEPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control will conduct a simulation of “real life” infrastructure planning with participants acting as city planners. Participants will understand how to effectively engage in the community development planning process.

The best practices demonstrated in this symposium can prepare communities to increase knowledge, education, and transparency to further empower residents to access and actively participate in government development of community infrastructure. 

When government employees and community members work together, we can create a more inclusive and environmentally equitable California for all. We look forward to seeing you there. 

— Tom Steel
Posted on Feb 6, 2020

Summary: Government employees know how to address environmental crises; but, unless we live in communities with contaminated drinking water, searing heat waves, and pollution-induced asthma attacks, we can never truly understand the lives shaped by environmental injustice. Lower-income populations experience greater pollution burdens because community members are often not involved in the government approval decision-making process of polluting facilities proposed for their neighborhoods.