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EPA, Congressional Black Caucus Visit Oakland on Joint Environmental Justice Tour

Release Date: 10/16/2010
Contact Information: Mary Simms, (415) 760-5419, simms.mary@epa.gov Ricci Graham, (510) 305-2954 or (202) 215-4573, ricci.graham@mail.house.gov


Bay Area community organizations receive federal funds to address environmental issues in underserved communities

OAKLAND – Today, as part of the joint national environmental justice tour between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Black Caucus, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and members of the CBC traveled to Oakland, Calif., to highlight challenges faced by underserved communities in California.

The tour was designed to raise awareness of local efforts addressing environmental issues that impact underserved communities, and showcased collaborative efforts between EPA, local government agencies, community groups and everyday citizens.

“Too often it's the poor and minority communities who have little voice in environmental decisions, but live in the shadow of the worst pollution,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “These tour stops allow us to see first-hand the many ways the environment affects people's health and the health of their local economies. I'm happy to see so much being done here in California to expand the conversation on environmentalism and give communities here a seat at the table.”

“There is no denying the interconnection between our stewardship of the environment and the state of the economy, public health, and our communities,” said Congresswoman Lee. “As things stand today, our most underserved and vulnerable populations are bearing the greatest brunt of pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change. This tour by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Environmental Protection Agency is the first major step in ensuring that we work in partnership to address the many environmental issues plaguing underserved communities not just here in the 9th Congressional District but throughout the country.”

Today the group hosted an environmental justice Town Hall meeting at the Oakland Federal Building with the participation of hundreds of community leaders, elected officials, students and religious leaders. Earlier in the day, the group participated in a day-long environmental justice bus tour stopping at various Oakland locations.

The tour included a stop in West Oakland at the AMCO Superfund site, a former chemical distribution facility where EPA is monitoring the air for toxic pollution. AMCO was added to the Superfund National Priorities list in 2003 because volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals and organochlorine pesticides contaminate the groundwater and soil. As EPA moves forward with the site remediation, cleanup levels are being set to ensure protection of the surrounding residents.

The residential neighborhood adjacent to the AMCO site is also the target of an EPA investigation that revealed high concentrations of lead in soils. EPA is now engaged in the West Oakland Residential Lead Cleanup that plans an innovative approach to lowering the risk from exposure to lead. The tour members received an update of the lead cleanup efforts at an EPA-hosted community meeting in nearby Prescott Park.

Leaders also visited the Mandela Marketplace, an urban food cooperative fighting to combat inner-city food deserts and rallying to grow and sell local food. Located adjacent to the BART station, the Mandela

Marketplace works directly with community residents, local, state and federal agencies, non-profits, small business owners, and farmers to support strategies to meet food needs, expand economic opportunity and increase self-reliance of low-income and disenfranchised people and minority farmers.

During the Town Hall meeting, Administrator Jackson highlighted four grassroots Bay Area organizations receiving environmental justice grants. The following environmental advocacy groups have each recently been selected to receive $25,000 in federal funding to address community environmental concerns:
    In West Oakland, the Rose Foundation's ‘New Voices Are Rising’ Program is a youth-focused, community-driven environmental justice and civic engagement project that works with students from low-income communities and communities of color in Oakland and Richmond, California.
    In Richmond, The Watershed Project, a non-profit organization with a 13-year history of working in the community will lead the Richmond Greenway Bioswale and Native Plant Garden (Greenway Garden) project, a community based effort to transform a section of abandoned railroad into a transportation, education, and recreation resource for the community.
    Another Richmond recipient, Urban Habitat, will support the Community Climate Action Engagement Project, working to increase the community's ability to engage in the development of an Energy and Climate Action Plan and to engage Richmond's decision makers in addressing the impacts that climate change has on the city's low-income communities and communities of color.
    In Marin, The Viviendo Verde Ya! Project will expand the role of promotores (community health workers) in the city of San Rafael’s Canal district by working with Promotores Verdes (a grassroots organization) to mentor a network of volunteer environmental leaders, advocate for environmental change in the community, and develop a community endorsed and scientifically reviewed toolkit designed to engage the Latino/Indigenous community in environmental change.

Oakland marked the first West Coast stop in the joint nationwide environmental justice tour which has so far visited South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi and Georgia as part of an effort by the Obama Administration to assess environmental issues in underserved communities. The Oakland tour was powered by a zero-emissions hydrogen-cell fuel bus. AC Transit has three zero-emissions hydrogen-cell fuel busses, purchased with the support of $7.4 million in federal funding that Congresswoman Lee worked to secure.

The environmental justice movement was started by individuals, primarily people of color, who sought to address the inequity of environmental protection in their communities. Grounded in the struggles of the 1960s civil rights movement, the environmental justice movement sounded the alarm about the public health dangers for their families and communities. In 1990, the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan coalition of academic, social scientists and political activists met with EPA officials to discuss their findings that environmental risk was higher for minority and low-income populations. In response, the then-EPA Administrator created the Environmental Equity Workgroup in July 1990 to address these issues. EPA’s environmental justice office was later established in 1992.

The principles of environmental justice uphold the idea that all communities – particularly minority and underserved communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the decision-making process and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

Administrator Jackson has made promoting environmental justice and expanding the conversation on environmentalism one of the seven key priorities of her tenure at EPA. Since taking office, she has appointed a senior advisor for environmental justice and a senior counsel for external civil rights in order to focus the agency’s efforts to address the health and environmental burdens faced by communities disproportionately impacted by pollution. At Administrator Jackson’s direction, the agency is focusing attention on incorporating environmental justice into the rulemaking process.

The Congressional Black Caucus, under the auspices of its Energy and Environment Taskforce, is actively engaged on a host of environmental issues including green jobs, climate change, alternative energy options and environmental justice issues. Together with community and business leaders, faith networks and other relevant stakeholders, members of the CBC are continuing to develop a “Green Agenda” that comprehensively builds healthy families and sustainable communities by increasing access to opportunities provided by the federal government.

To view the electronic media kit for this announcement where photos are available for download please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region9/mediacenter/EJtour/index.html

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