After sixteen months of critical public comment forums throughout the state, the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) Advisory Committee on Environmental Justice voted to adopt their draft “Recommendations to the Interagency Working Group.” In an impassioned September 29-30 public

hearing in Oakland, California, hundreds of community activists, industrialists, and government agencies testified in

support of increased public health guidelines— while industry leaders urged for a relaxation of pollution control measures.

 

Since the beginning of the Cal/EPA environmental justice recommendation process early last year, PSR-LA has been at the forefront of urging Cal/EPA advisory committee members to construct a meaningful environmental justice draft which will result in heightened environmental health protections, especially for communities of color that bare the brunt of California’s environmental injustices.

 

As an alternate on the Cal/EPA Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, PSR-LA’s own Martha Dina

Arguello, Director of Health and Environment Programs, assisted the committee during the draft’s creation.

She advocated for language inclusive of enhanced environmental protections that will shape the statewide debate around environmental health, justice, and the precautionary principle.

 

To further ensure enhanced public health measures were adopted, PSRLA’s Public Health Organizer, Gilbert

Estrada, also attended the hearing. In support of the draft, Mr. Estrada read a PSR-LA letter signed by dozens of

physicians, academics, and public health advocates, many of whom are proud PSR-LA members.

 

“We, the undersigned, are deeply committed to the cause of achieving environmental justice. Today, communities

of color and the poor bear a disproportionate burden from industrial pollution. We believe their health and wellbeing

must be protected,” states PSRLA’s letter of support. By supporting the four main goals set forth by the current Cal/EPA recommendations, PSR-LAmembers made it clear that environmental health and justice are vital goals in

preserving public health.

 

Cal/EPA’s four main goals state:

1. Ensure meaningful public participation and promote community capacity building to allow communities to be

effective participants in the environmental decision making processes.

2. Integrate environmental justice into the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of  environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

3. Improve research and data collection to promote and address environmental justice related to the health and environment of communities of color and low income populations.

4. Ensure effective cross-media coordination and accountability in addressing environmental justice issues.

 

The letter continues by stating, “We await full implementation of these recommendations while acknowledging the

huge gap between principle and policy. Yet if your committee’s recommendations are to ever be more than words,

policies must be coupled with vigorous community oversight and enforcement mechanisms.”

 

The event was extremely well-attended, and drew over 200 environmental justice activists, environmental health

advocates, and business representatives. Amid the most controversial recommendations adopted by the Cal/EPA

Committee was increased “meaningful public participation,” cumulative impact acknowledgements, and an increase in precautionary principle measures..

 

The precautionary principle has been strongly advocated by PSR-LA for years. In January 2002 PSR-LA hosted a wellattended workshop at Occidental College which included distinguished precautionary principle speakers such as Carolyn Raffensperger, Peter Montague, and panelists from Cal/EPA’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Justice. Sometimes dubbed the “duh” principle, the precautionary principle switches the burden of proof to polluters instead ofcommunities. That is, current standards allow industries to pollute communities then require the public to prove that a specific industry is producing public harm.

 

For more information about the Cal/EPAAdvisory Committee on Environmental Justice contact Gilbert Estrada at (213) 386-4901 x109.