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Environmental Justice conference aims to strengthen relationships in the community
By Darralynn Hutson, contributor
Published December 14, 2017

Council President Herb Wesson gave the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual Environmental Justice Conference: A Conversation on Environmental Justice held Dec 2nd at the Center at Cathedral Plaza in downtown Los Angeles
(Photo by: Darralynn Hutson)

Last week, more than 200 community activists and champions of the Environmental Justice fight gathered together in downtown Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles to hold their annual conference hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Managements District.{SCAQMD} SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, among the smoggiest regions of the U.S. The agency is committed to protecting the health of residents, while remaining sensitive to businesses. SCAQMD’s Environmental Justice program began in 1997 with the Ethnic Advisory group which was later renamed as the Environmental Justice Advisory Group, now headed by South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board Chairman William A. Burke, Ed.D.

“The environmental justice community is a community of caring partners that have joined together to protect and clean our most precious resources,” voiced Chairman Burke. “It is my hope that all of the participants learned new skills and are able to help make our planet a better place to live in.”
Held from 8:30am till 3:30pm, the 3rd annual conference entitled A Conversation on Environmental Justice, focused on strengthen the community of caring partners. The day-long host of events included a short film screening: “SCAQMD and Environmental Justice” followed by breakout sessions, lunch and a keynote address. During the schedule of activities, representatives from transportation, legal services, academia, and utilities highlighted the necessity to create partnerships to draw pathways to clean energy technology and the electrification of transit and heavy-duty trucks to help reduce air pollution impacts facing Environmental Justice communities.

Dr. Clark E. Parker, SCAQMD vice chair, addresses participants gathered at the annual conference held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles in downtown Los Angeles. (Courtesy)

“We need to stop looking at the environmental justice as a separate issue,” voices keynote speaker, Council President Herb Wesson,  “…you can’t separate this issue from the issue of racism, from the issue of immigration. The same people that are fighting for Environment Justice are the same people fighting to support Voter registration reform. Justice in this country is in peril. The issue is always and still remains an issue of justice. In our city of 4M people, more than 20% are under the age of 18. We owe the next generation of Angelenos a planet where they can thrive.”

SCAQMD Governing Board members, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the California Legislature, and representatives from the environmental justice community and academia continued breakout sessions allowing conference participants to keep the conversation going on learning new methods, gaining new tools, and most importantly, building new partnerships. The breakout sessions included were Clean Air Innovation: Exploring zero- and near-zero emission technologies, where panelists, Dr. Jack Brouwer {UC Irvine, Advanced Power and Energy Program, National Fuel Cell Research Center; Rick Cameron, Managing Director of Planning and Environmental Affairs, Port of Long Beach and Bill Van Amburg, Senior VP at CALSTART, highlighted how new advanced clean air technologies are making resounding impacts on improving the air quality.

The Cooperative Engagement: How community groups, public agencies, and businesses can work together to champion environmental justice panel included District 6 Council member Hon. Nury Martinez, Namcy Dinella, Business Development Commercial Solutions Manager for North America, IQAir Fdn., Veronica Eady, California Air Resources Board and Oscar Rodriquez, Oak View ComUNIDAD community organizer championed the discussion of collaborative action between agencies and community.

Dr. William A. Burke, chairman of the SCAQMD, speaks at the 3rd Annual Environmental Justice Conference. (Courtesy Photo)

The Right on the Money: Techniques for effective grant writing; and Air Pollution, Environmental Justice and Health panel included Karla V. Salazar, Sr. Director for nonprofit Sustainability & Arts, California Community Fdn and Brian Sheridan of Coalition for Clean Air who taught participants how to apply for grant funding including techniques and how to research funding opportunities.

The Air Pollution: Environmental Justice and Health session included hard facts one how our health is directly being affected by our environment. Panelists included Sylvia Batencourt from the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Dr. Jo Kay Ghosh,Health Effects officer from SCAQMD, Dr. Jill Johnston from USC Keck School of Medicine and Terry Roberts from the American Lung Association-Inland Empire.

One of the more popular sessions included the Policy and Regulation: Identifying and Closing the Gaps in environmental Legislation including panelists, Congress woman, Nanette Barragan, Senator Connie Leyva, Mustafa Santiago Ali, Sr. VP of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus and Huberto Lugo of the iVAN Air Monitoring Network. “Our lives are at risk, the environment is at risk,” warns Mustafa Santiago Ali. “Over the past 9 months, I’ve visited over 90 cities and asked one question of the community, ‘has the current administration allowed you to improve your health or your income,’ and you’d be surprised of their reactions. We meet people where they are and empower them to make small steps to protect our culture, protect the longevity of our communities. If we don’t move these environmental policies forward we send the message that the low income and the underprivileged don’t matter.”

 

 

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