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People not Profits: The Fight for Environmental Justice

Taylor Blog

At the beginning of this month, many activists in the greater L.A. region watched in horror as we saw the removal of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Executive Officer, Dr. Barry Wallerstein. You should be horrified too.

AQMD is the regional body tasked with protecting public health by regulating pollution from stationary sources in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside.

What we witnessed was a coup by the new Republican majority board members, backed by fossil fuel industry. That their first order of business was to not only dismiss the agency’s director, but also uphold a vote to support a plan that allows businesses to pollute rather than reduce their toxic emissions is incredibly dangerous. Health shouldn’t be a matter of partisan politics, but unfortunately we’ve come to expect this wherever money is involved.

However, let’s not be fooled; some Democrats on the AQMD Board are pro-polluter too. We don’t have to look too far back to see Councilmember Joe Buscaino rejecting the AQMD staff plan (RECLAIM) to reduce air pollution in favor of a weak plan proposed by oil refineries, power plants, and other industries, allowing them to continue to pollute the air we breathe (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-aqmd-reclaim-20151210-story.html). And if we go back three years ago, we saw Joe Buscaino prematurely supporting the Southern California International Gateway rail yard project (SCIG), which not only threatens the health of the region, but has the largest negative impacts on West Long Beach. Instead of recusing himself for coming out in favor of the project before the environmental and health impacts were known, Buscaino supported the project by voting in favor of it when it went to the Los Angeles City Council. AQMD, along with a slew of other parties, joined us in suing the City of Los Angeles, with Buscaino’s bias being one of the grounds for the lawsuit (the project being the very definition of environmental racism is one of the other grounds for the lawsuit). How can we trust AQMD Board members, Republican or Democrat, who support environmental racism? Will this new Republican majority provide cover for Buscaino to move a pro-polluter agenda while publicly presenting himself otherwise, knowing how the votes will play out? Will AQMD pull out of the SCIG lawsuit, representing another act of war on our health?

With the assassination of Berta Caceres, an indigenous Lenca Honduran woman and activist against environmental injustices against her people, we are sadly reminded that there is a global sickness we must rid ourselves of – putting profits above people. This is a system that murdered Berta in her home for asserting her rights and the rights of her people to live peacefully on their native land; a system that can only thrive on exploitation; a system that is fueled by violence against human bodies.

Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

What else should we expect when we’ve become so accustomed and desensitized to violence? And does the poisoning of our bodies not constitute an act of violence? Much like the travesty of injustice in Flint, Michigan where politicians were complicit in the system that poisoned poor Black people, most of whom were children, our local politicians who sat idly by as Exide Technologies rained invisible bullets of lead into the bodies of thousands of people.

A slow and painful death from cancer is no less violent than the blood drawn from a bullet fired from a gun. Unless we stand up to this violence, our communities will continue to see sick and dying bodies.

We are constantly reminded that many elected officials do not act in the best interest of their constituents – regardless of their party affiliation. From the hateful rhetoric of Trump, to the decisions of the AQMD board, we are witnessing an era where virulent politics are brazenly displayed. We must fight back.

This is your call to action. Join the movement. Start a movement. Build the movement!

Written By: Taylor Thomas