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SCAQMD Hosts Third Annual Environmental Justice Conference
By By WILLIAM A. BURKE, Ed.D.
Published November 23, 2017

Dr. William Burke seen with his wife, Mrs. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, and friends at the Taste of Soul in the Crenshaw District Photo credit: Jack Chin, South Coast Air Quality Management District

“These people are so engrossed in the struggle for survival that they have nothing left to give. Their mindset is, ‘I’ve got to put food on the table today,’ rather than ‘I’d better protect the environment for my children’s tomorrow.’ It usually takes a personal, immediate and urgent concern, such as a proposed waste incinerator or a family member’s illness or death, to motivate low-income and minority populations to become involved. It’s all very well to embrace saving the rain forests and conserving endangered animal species, but such global initiatives don’t even begin to impact communities inhabited by people of color.”
– Hazel M. Johnson, 1935-2011, Chicago South Side activist known as “mother of environmental justice movement”, From the Chicago Tribune

The South Coast Air Quality Management District hosted the third annual environmental conference, titled “A Conversation on Environmental Justice”, on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Hosted by SCAQMD’s Environmental Justice Community Partnership, the event took place at The Center at Cathedral Plaza from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr. delivered the keynote address.

We want environmental justice community members to learn new methods, gain new tools, and build new partnerships. The fight for clean air is a long battle that will requires perseverance, optimism, and hope.

Southland residents living in close proximity to refineries, rail yards, ports, metal processing facilities, rendering plants, or freeways, are considered part of environmental justice communities because they are disproportionately impacted by air pollution from such facilities.

This conference aimed to strengthen SCAQMD’s relationship with stakeholders in environmental justice communities by encouraging more residents to get involved and to be optimistic about the positive results that their activism can bring to their communities.

The following breakout sessions were planned to provide participants with tools to take back to their communities:

• Clean Air Innovation: Exploring zero- and near-zero emission technologies;

• Cooperative Engagement: How community groups, public agencies, and businesses can work together to champion environmental justice;

• Right on the Money: Techniques for effective grant writing; and

• Air Pollution, EJ and Health.

SCAQMD also provided participants with an overview of how legislation such as the Chemical Safety Act, Clean Air Act, and the Cap and Trade program affected California and discussed how community groups are responding to legislative activities in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

More than ever we need to build alliances between organizations to protect and build upon the progress we have achieved thus far. The sharing of ideas, successes, and challenges will help keep our fight for clean air strong.

Our history of SCAQMD’s EJ program began in 1997. As the newly elected Chairman to SCAQMD, I saw a need for the agency to be more active in communities of color. For far too long our communities were neglected when it came to environmental justice. Yet we were the ones most impacted from air pollution. We started with the Ethnic Advisory group which was later renamed as the Environmental Justice Advisory Group The programs and initiatives we instituted have been continually updated to keep the EJ movement growing. The Environmental Justice Advisory Group (EJAG) is an advisory group to the SCAQMD Governing Board. The mission of EJAG is to advise and assist SCAQMD in protecting and improving public health in SCAQMD’s most impacted communities through the reduction and prevention of air pollution.

To build on the work of the EJAG, I established the Environmental Justice Community Partnership in February 2015. Through this grassroots partnership, SCAQMD will host a series of events with a special EJ focus. These forums, training sessions, and other engaging outreach activities help broaden mutual awareness of EJ topics, and keep SCAQMD connected to the residents whom the agency serves.

We have accomplished a great deal of progress over the past few decades, but we also have an enormous challenge ahead of us if we are to succeed in cleaning up air pollution in environmental justice communities.

The conference was free but registration was required. For more information call (909) 396-3511 or email ejcp@aqmd.gov.

Categories: Crenshaw & Around | Local | News | News (Business) | News (Family) | Safety
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