January 23, 2014
By Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – The federal government represented by agencies including the Dept. of Homeland Security, Labor Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency will continue Public Listening Sessions in February, according to federal officials.
Attendees will have opportunities to offer input on presidential Executive Order 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” issued last summer. Topics will include improving operational coordination with state, tribal, territorial and local partners; enhanced information collection and sharing; modernizing regulations, guidance, and policies; and identifying best practices in chemical safety and security, federal officials said.
Michele Roberts, community coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Justice and Health Alliance, told The Final Call “the importance of the Listening Sessions is to engage, full public input into the process. From the process, we are hoping strong policy guidance, standard and regulation language will be forthcoming.”
“We are tired of our communities being ‘sacrifice zones’ or ‘kill zones,’ ” Ms. Roberts added.
Ms. Roberts was referring to what the environmental injustice movement refers to as “the disproportionate” pollution burden borne by communities of color and poorer White communities, often located near freeways, power plants, toxic waste sites, oil refineries, rail yards, chemical plants and other major sources of pollution.
However, some believe these communities do not possess the political power to achieve real regulatory legislation because of opposition from the Republican right-wing.
One environmental injustice activist who plans to approach the Listening Sessions carefully is Dr. Henry Clark, PhD., executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition located in Richmond, Calif., home to Chevron refineries with 11 million pounds of toxic explosives and corrosive chemicals.
“Now they want to hear our concerns for the umpteenth time,” Dr. Clark told The Final Call. “We want to see some results.”
Dr. Clark said there is some good language in Executive Order 13650 that speaks to protecting environmental justice in communities. Richmond is located on the San Francisco Bay, one of the poorest communities in the state with 44.2 percent of children under 18 living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Listening sessions were held in Sacramento Jan. 7, in Los Angeles on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10; and government officials head east Jan. 14 to Wash., D.C., and to Houston, Texas Jan. 24.
Dorothy Felix, president of Mossville Environmental Action Now, said people in her Louisiana town want the Listening Sessions to hear demands that residents be moved out of harms’ way. On Dec. 20, a fire occurred in the vinyl chloride manufacturing area at the Axiall compound in nearby Lake Charles, La.
Ms. Felix said Mossville residents were ordered to “stay in place,” but were not informed of what toxins were released into the air. Axiall is an integrated chemicals and products company that manufactures building and home improvement products that contain chemicals such as chlorine, caustic soda, vinyl chloride, polyvinyl chloride, acetone and ethylene dichloride.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been reporting since 1975 on Trends in Environmentally Related Childhood Diseases. Asthma prevalence has doubled, childhood cancers, impaired fertility birth defects, learning disabilities, leukemia, and brain cancer increasing, according to the agency. Environmental health and security activists say these rising trends reflect the need for Listening Sessions to result in policy changes.
Dave Gilmore of Let’s Save Paterson said, “As a resident in the oldest industrial city in America, Paterson, N.J. with all the textile mills and other industrial chemicals being dumped in the Passaic river, now the third most polluted body of water in the nation snaking through our town, we can’t be but attentive to these types of initiatives (listening sessions).”
The end game is results, activists stated clearly: “Listening and doing nothing different, have to wait and see,” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now in Louisiana.