Environmental justice tool unveiled

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, Aug. 16, 2012 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) is required by law to conduct its programs, policies and activities in a manner that ensures the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and income levels. The term "Environmental Justice" (EJ) is attached to this governing philosophy.  The problem is how to do this sensibly in a balanced and effective manner.

Cal-EPA began work in 2004 on an EJ Action Plan and on June 30th their Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) released a key element: "California Communities Environmental Screening Tool."  The draft can be found on its website at: www.oehha.ca.gov/ej/pdf/DraftCalEnviroScreen073012.pdf  This screening tool is designed to use existing environmental, health, socioeconomic and demographic factors to calculate a relative impact score by zip code using a mathematical formula.

On August 7th, OEHHA held a public workshop with their Cumulative Impacts and Precautionary Approaches (CIPA) Work Group to discuss the proposed screening tool and to solicit comments.  It was made clear that they are open to changes and other ideas.  There was disagreement among participants at the workshop about which factors should or shouldn’t be incorporated and how the tool should be used.  The more factors that are plugged in, the more important the weighting factors.

Environmentalists pushed for quick implementation; however, business interests cautioned that the Cal-EPA should closely examine why communities are redlined.  While CMTA sees no problem in using such a tool to identify negatively impacted communities, we believe that great care must be taken to assure that the tool honestly comes up with meaningful results.  Impacted communities should be given more attention with funds to correct inequities in environment impacts, but the mere presence of underground storage tanks or the use of pesticides, for example, does not mean that the health of inhabitants are adversely affected.  Furthermore, we believe that this tool should not result in stricter regulatory standards or permits for development in the impacted areas.  Many studies have shown that employment is a much better forecast of the health of the neighborhood than environmental factors.  People with low income and/or without healthcare, for example, are much more negatively impacted and likely to end up in emergency rooms.

OEHHA, on behalf of Cal-EPA, will conduct a series of regional public workshops and an academic workshop to solicit input on its draft cumulative impacts screening tool. Input to be solicited includes indicators used, data source selected, and how results of the screening tool should be used by Cal-EPA and its boards, departments and offices. The information presented at each of the regional workshops will be the same except for the academic workshop, which will present more of the technical aspects of the draft screening tool.

Local and state government representatives, the business community—actually, everyone who cares about the economic health of this state—need to pay attention to what Cal-EPA proposes. Approval of these maps by the state for public policy decisions would have a huge impact on businesses seeking to expand or move to our state. Instead of improving disadvantaged communities, this screening tool will stymie job creation at minimum, more likely preventing any business growth.

The regional workshop schedule is as follows:

    August 21 - Los Angeles Regional Workshop
    The Friends of Bannings Landing Center, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Multipurpose room, 100 East Water Street, Wilmington (Los Angeles), CA, 90744

    August 22 - San Bernardino Regional Workshop
    Ruben Campos Community Center, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Multipurpose room, 1717 West Fifth Street, San Bernardino, CA, 92411

    August 23 - San Diego Regional Workshop
    Perkins Elementary School, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Auditorium, 1770 Main Street, San Diego, CA, 92113

    September 5 - Fresno Regional Workshop
    Cecil C. Hinton Community Center, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Multipurpose room, 2385 South Fairview Avenue, Fresno, CA, 93706

    September 6 - Oakland Regional Workshop
    Ira Jinkins Recreation Center, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, multipurpose room, 9175 Edes Avenue, Oakland, CA, 94603

    September 7 - Seaside Regional Workshop
    Oldemeyer Multi-use Center, 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm, Seaside room, 986 Hilby Ave, Seaside, CA, 93955

    September 7 - Oakland Academic Workshop
    Elihu M. Harris Building, 10 am to 4 pm, Room 1, 1515 Clay Street Oakland, CA, 94612.

After considering all the comments and suggestions received, Cal-EPA and OEHHA will further develop and refine the tool and then work with the CIPA Workgroup and Cal-EPA boards, departments and offices to develop a final report. For any other questions, comments, or concerns regarding these workshops, contact John Faust, at OEHHA (510) 622-3185 or via e-mail at john.faust@oehha.ca.gov.

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