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Los Angeles Can’t Afford an Air District That Lets Polluters Poison Black and Brown Communities

Los Angeles Can’t Afford an Air District That Lets Polluters Poison Black and Brown Communities

Our state leadership must ensure that working families in the communities that are most affected by pollution are prioritized over the interests of polluters.

The 60 freeway runs through Jurupa Valley, California, near the offices of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

The 60 freeway runs through Jurupa Valley, California, near the offices of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

Image Courtesy of Anthony Victoria-Midence / CCAEJ

Earthjustice is sharing this blog from our partners at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. We stand in solidarity with their call for state leaders to protect the communities that are most affected by air pollution

The communities that are affected by systemic racism are the same ones that demand environmental justice for their neighborhoods. Black, Brown, and other communities of color are often the most affected when disasters and crises strike. And officials that sit at powerful state and local agencies that regulate basic protections for our communities have the power to either do something about it, or ignore the needs of the most marginalized.  

For those of us that work on environmental justice issues, we are grateful for and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. There is nothing more important right now than collectively pushing for an end to the systemic violence that our society perpetuates against Black bodies. 

The powerful BLM protests we are seeing are sending wake up calls throughout our society, touching on issues beyond just police violence. For example, we are seeing more prominent analysis on the links between racism and environmental degradation. The same systems of inequality that inflict police and carceral violence on Black and poor people parallel the institutions that allow frontline communities to suffer from air pollution and climate impacts, as key leaders of the Black Lives Movement point out.

The 60 freeway runs through Jurupa Valley, California, near the offices of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

The 60 freeway runs through Jurupa Valley, California, near the offices of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Image Courtesy of Anthony Victoria-Midence / CCAEJ

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates another example of how systemic discrimination is made worse in a time of crisis. Studies are confirming that coronavirus patients living in areas of higher pollution are more likely to die after contracting the virus than those living in areas with less pollution. Even before coronavirus, countless Southern California families already struggled to breathe because they lived under the shadow of another subversive killer — smog.

And yet, even as we see rising coronavirus cases hitting people of color the worst, corporate interests that claim to support racial justice, and some of our state leaders, continue to advocate for deregulations to benefit polluters — once again, at the expense of Black and Brown communities.  

Our state leadership, however, has the power to act and ensure that working families in the communities that are most affected by pollution are protected and prioritized over the interests of polluters. One key leader is San Diego’s State Senator Toni Atkins, who, through the power of her office, can make an appointment to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and set the direction of how environmental justice communities are either protected, or endangered. 

Year after year, Black and Brown families from San Diego County to the Inland Empire have been plagued by persistent poor air quality. In inland communities, warehouse development attracts thousands of dirty diesel trucks daily, transporting goods coming from the ports — through our highways, and to deliver them to the rest of the country. 

Heavy trucks account for about a quarter of the emissions that the state’s transportation sector spews. That’s why organizations across local freight communities are urging the AQMD to begin looking at real ways to reduce pollution. We know that the only answer to clean up our air is through the use of zero-emissions technology. To do this, the industry must transition away from fossil fuels, invest in electric infrastructure, and make sure that workers in black and brown communities are taken care of in the transition.

Trucks line up outside the Amazon ONT 2 and 5 facilities in San Bernardino.

Trucks line up outside the Amazon ONT 2 and 5 facilities in San Bernardino.
Image Courtesy of Anthony Victoria-Midence / CCAEJ

Regionally, we already have a unique Electric Vehicle (EV) industry — we just need to support its expansion, to match the need of the moment. The EV industry is becoming a “hometown industry,” which has the potential to generate additional economic benefits across the supply chain. 

This vision for a more sustainable, cleaner future, however, where our entire community benefits — from driver, to resident, to electrical worker — will not materialize as long as AQMD officials keep siding with a fossil fuel industry that cares very little about protecting the public health of marginalized communities. 

Last fall, L.A. County public health officials and community groups urged the AQMD to support the phase out of a deadly chemical — modified hydrofluoric acid or MHF — as soon as possible, because of the serious health and safety hazards it poses for nearby residents and workers. And yet, officials sided with two Southbay petroleum refineries, to continue their use and install ‘improved safety systems’ only on a voluntary basis. 

This is not the first time we have seen AQMD officials prioritize polluters’ interests over those of our communities.

A person throws a baseball in San Bernardino's Nunez Park, across the street from the BNSF Railroad.

A person throws a baseball in San Bernardino’s Nunez Park, across the street from the BNSF Railroad.
Image Courtesy of Anthony Victoria-Midence / CCAEJ

Senator Atkins has the power to appoint an environmental and public health champion. Our economy and the livelihoods of working families across the state depend on the decisions that the AQMD makes. Senator Atkins ought to appoint someone that demonstrates a deep commitment to build a zero-emissions infrastructure, hold polluters accountable, and give frontline communities power and control over the green new economy. 

Discriminatory systems of oppression embedded into the fabric of our society have had a pervasive effect on our communities for generations. We can no longer accept appointees to the AQMD who are dismissive of or unequipped to address the serious health crises and injustices that our communities face.

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