Residents Urged to ‘Check’ Before They Burn

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

During the recent cold spell, it’s likely many Los Angeles County residents cozied up next to their fireplaces to keep warm, unaware that burning wood could is restricted when air pollution levels are higher than usual.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s “Check Your Burn” program hopes to improve air quality during the fall and winter months – when fireplace use is the highest – by encouraging residents to check no-burn alerts before turning on their wood-burning fireplaces, backyard fire pits or wood stoves.

Alerts are issued by SCAQMD for 24-hours in specific areas or the entire South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

(Photo by Fred Zermeno)

(Photo by Fred Zermeno)

While 88 percent of air emissions in the region come from mobile sources, according to SCAQMD, wood burning can emit harmful levels of pollution. The air pollution agency estimates that more than 1 million households in the South Coast Air Basin actively burn wood in their fireplace. The smoke from those fireplaces can emit more than five tons of harmful PM2.5, a fine particle that increases air pollution levels that can cause throat, eye irritation, and aggravate asthma and other respiratory symptoms.

Air pollution experts warn that breathing high levels of fine particulate matter over a long period can lead to serious health problems.

“Residential burning emits pollution at such a low level it can spread at ground level and enter homes, which can be detrimental to those with respiratory illnesses,” said SCAQMD’s Spokesman Tina Cox.

Instead of burning wood, the agency suggest residents turn to candles, electric fireplaces or upgrade to natural gas logs, which are up to 99 percent cleaner and exempt from no-burn alerts. The local, regional air pollution agency also encourages residents to take advantage of its wood stove and fireplace replacement incentive program.

Residents who do not follow restrictions could face fines as high as $500.

“We encourage everyone to do their part to improve our air quality and stay informed of no-burn days,” said SCAQMD’s Executive Officer Wayne Nastri in a statement.

Although wood-burning fireplaces and permanent outdoor wood fire pits are prohibited in new home construction, SCAQMD does not believe restrictions alone will make fireplaces and fire pits a thing of the past.

“We don’t foresee a complete phase out of residential fireplaces but rather continuing to prohibit wood burning when fine particulate pollution levels are high,” said Cox. 

To sign up for no-burn alerts visit their website here.

Líderes Ambientales Son Reconocidos por Agencia de Calidad del Aire

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dos líderes de la justicia ambiental quien han defendido y luchado incansablemente por el aire limpio durante años en una de las regiones más contaminadas del Condado de Los Ángeles fueron reconocidos la semana pasada por el Distrito de Administración de Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur (SCAQMD por sus siglas en inglés).

El cofundador de “East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice”, Angelo Logan, y el Monseñor John Moretta, de la Iglesia de Resurrección, fueron honrados por la agencia estatal durante un almuerzo el 5 de enero en Commerce.

Ambos son miembros del grupo consultivo de justicia ambiental del SCAQMD y son conocidos por su participación en la lucha contra la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide en Vernon que ahora está cerrada. Ellos también han hablado a favor de las comunidades marginadas por años, quienes han sufrido más las consecuencias dañinas a su salud por la contaminación de Exide.

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

Miembros de la comunidad durante una reunión pública discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

“No sólo se preocupan profundamente por sus comunidades, sino que se han comprometido totalmente”, dijo Wayne Nastri, oficial ejecutivo del SCAQMD, durante el almuerzo. “Su liderazgo e inspiración nos hace a todos mejores y nos da algo que imitar”.

Angelo Logan fundó un Movimiento de Justicia Ambiental en el Este

Logan co-fundó East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice en 2001 como respuesta al alarmante número de personas que conoció en la Ciudad de Commerce con asma. Rodeado de ferrocarriles, autopistas y por la industria, Logan – un mecánico en ese entonces – decidió luchar contra los contaminadores de la industria para asegurarse de que él y sus vecinos tuvieran un aire puro.

“Si no nos hubiéramos involucrado, nadie lo habría hecho”, él dijo a EGP. “Lo hicimos por el amor a la comunidad”.

Bajo su liderazgo, East Yard organizó a los residentes y juntos se involucraron en asuntos relacionados directamente con la salud y la calidad de vida.

El director ejecutivo actual de East Yard, Mark López, le dijo a EGP que Logan fue fundamental en la creación de la póliza de zonas verdes de Commerce. La póliza tiene como objetivo el prevenir la exposición tóxica de los residentes con los negocios locales. Al igual, la póliza lucha para revitalizar las oportunidades económicas locales y la infraestructura a lo largo de los bulevares principales.

“Angelo [Logan] ha establecido el tono en la comunidad”, explicó López.

Logan dijo que aceptaba el premio a nombre del movimiento por la justicia ambiental, aprovechando el momento para “anteponer la verdad al poder”.

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Angelo Logan habla acerca de historia de East Yard Comunnities for Environmental Justice durante una Gira de bicicletas.

El mecánico convertido en líder sin fines de lucro alentó a los asistentes a utilizar cualquier poder que tengan a su disponibilidad, ya sea el poder de las personas o el poder político, para mantener la lucha por la justicia ambiental.

También agregó que los cambios que llegarán a Washington DC – refiriéndose al nuevo gobierno de Trump – resultará en una lucha por la justicia ambiental.

“California está al frente de los esfuerzos para la purificación del aire para el resto del país y del mundo … Nos ven como un modelo en medidas que protegen la salud pública”, dijo Logan. “Debemos continuar haciéndonos mutualmente responsables los unos a otros”, dijo, y le pidió al SCAQMD que permanezca atento del Tesoro Refinery en Carson.

“Asegúrense de que no se aprovechen de la comunidad”, advirtió.

Zully Juárez está a cargo del desarrollo y de comunicaciones de East Yard y dijo que Logan siempre ha prestado atención a los impactos locales y ha utilizado su poder para construir su comunidad.

“Él puso las cosas en perspectiva y siempre habla desde el corazón”, dijo a EGP.

A pesar de no tener el entrenamiento tradicional do muchos líders del medio ambiente o experiencia en organización comunitaria, López dice que el trabajo entre Logan y los residentes, las agencias estatales y funcionarios públicos ha marcado la diferencia, señalando que quienes trabajan con él saben que él es honesto y compasivo.

“El podría ser considerado como un forastero con credibilidad por algunos”, dijo Juárez, agregando que Logan se ganó el respeto de los que le rodean.

“Sus esfuerzos a lo largo de los años hicieron posible que la comunidad que vivía aquí sea considerada experta y capaces de aportar soluciones a los problemas que nos aquejan”, ella agregó.

Aunque ya no encabeza a East Yard, Logan sigue defendiendo la justicia ambiental. Actualmente, su atención y sus esfuerzos se centran en Long Beach. La tal también es una ciudad con ferrocarriles, autopistas, industria y con un puerto, señala el Dr. Joseph K. Lyou, miembro de la Junta Directiva de AQMD, quien conoció a Logan hace 17 años.

Lyou recordó cómo el cofundador de East Yard le invitó a hacer un recorrido por los ferrocarriles de Commerce, y cómo Logan identificó a una planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo señalando que era dañina hacia la comunidad y necesitaba ser cerrada.

“Esa fue la primera vez que escuche algo referente a Exide”, dijo Lyou.

Rev. Juan Moretta toma el mensaje de la justicia del púlpito a la calle

El Monseñor Moretta ha sido el pastor de la Iglesia de Resurrección en Boyle Heights durante 33 años. Cuando no está en la iglesia, está organizando a los residentes y combatiendo las injusticias en la zona.

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Sus esfuerzos lo han hecho a el Monseñor John Moretta un “líder respetado y admirado en Boyle Heights”. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez.

Juntamente con el grupo Madres del Este de L.A., un grupo activista que él co-fundó, Moretta ha luchado para impedir un plan polémico de construcción de una planta central eléctrica de mega-vatio en Vernon y antes de eso a una prisión en el Este de Los Ángeles. Él también participó en la exitosa campaña que evitó la construcción de un incinerador de residuos peligrosos en Boyle Heights y en la larga lucha contra el cierre de Exide.

Estas acciones convierten a Moretta en el “padre de la justicia ambiental”, dijo Lyou.

Lyou señaló que Moretta ha ayudado a agencias como SCAQMD a escuchar directamente a los residentes, muchas veces recibiendo audiencias públicas en la Iglesia de la Resurrección.

Bajo la dirección de Moretta, la iglesia de Boyle Heights ha sido durante los últimos 19 años el hogar del grupo Resurrection Neighborhood Watch. Al igual que otros grupos de vigilancia de los vecindarios, con miembros unidos para mantener la seguridad de la comunidad deteniendo crímenes violentos y de propiedad. El grupo de Resurrección también protege seriamente a los residentes de la comunidad, en su mayoría latinos, de ser víctimas de injusticias ambientales.

Los residentes y los feligreses que componen el grupo han sido fieles a las audiencias relacionadas con Exide. Ellos han expresado repetidamente sus preocupación por el manejo del sitio tóxico y cualquier asunto que pueda afectar la salud o la seguridad de la comunidad.

Moretta admite que no todas las luchas en las que han participado han resultado victoriosas a su favor. Él señaló que la comunidad perdió la batalla por un proyecto de metro menos intrusivo en el este. A diferencia de Hollywood, la comunidad estaba atascada con un sistema de tren ligero por encima del suelo que dividía a su comunidad, él recordó.

“Todavía hay injusticias hacia los pobres”, dijo Moretta a EGP. “El ‘chico pobre’ no está familiarizado con el sistema que por ende se aprovecha de los desfavorecidos”, él lamentó.

Moretta agradeció a los miembros de la comunidad que han desempeñado un papel importante en llevar la justicia a una comunidad que a menudo es ignorada.

“No estaría aquí sin la gente en esta habitación”, dijo Moretta mientras aceptaba su premio.

Moretta se merece el reconocimiento por su incansable lucha para proteger a la comunidad, dijo Terri Cano, residente de Boyle Heights, quien como Moretta testificó ante los legisladores estatales para condenar el manejo y la aplicación por parte de los reguladores estatales de la contaminación de Exide.

“La mayoría de los sacerdotes trabajan fuera de su iglesia, pero el padre John [Moretta] ha llegado hasta Sacramento en representación de sus feligreses”, señaló con admiración.

Terry Márquez conoce a Moretta desde hace décadas, primeramente siendo parte de las Madres del Este de L.A. Ella dice que él siempre ha sido alguien confiable en la comunidad.

“No lo cuestiono, sé que él realmente se preocupa por esta comunidad”.

Moretta dice que vigilará a Exide, así como a las compañías de metales localizadas en Boyle Heights. En el pasado, estas empresas han sido acusadas de eliminar de manera inapropiada los materiales peligrosos y de contaminar su entorno con polvo metálico.

Para este último esfuerzo, Moretta dice que espera inspirar y reclutar a una nueva generación de activistas y líderes de la comunidad del este.

“La próxima generación tiene que continuar la lucha”, él agregó.

Air Quality Agency Recognizes Environmental Leaders

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Two environmental justice leaders who have for years advocated and fought tirelessly for clean air in one of the most polluted regions in Los Angeles County were recognized last week by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice co-founder Angelo Logan and Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church were honored by the local, regional air pollution agency during a luncheon Jan. 5 in Commerce.

Logan and Moretta are both members of SCAQMD’s environmental justice advisory group and familiar faces in the fight against the now shuttered Exide Battery Recycling plant in Vernon. Both men are long time voices for disenfranchised east and southeast communities that have suffered more than their fair share of the unhealthful consequences from pollution.

“Not only do they care deeply about their community, but they commit to it,” said SCAQMD Executive Officer Wayne Nastri at the luncheon. “Their leadership and inspiration makes us all better and gives us something to duplicate.”

Angelo Logan Founded an Eastside Environmental Justice Movement

Logan co-founded East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in 2001 in response to the alarming number of people he encountered growing up in the City of Commerce who had asthma. Surrounded by rail yards, freeways and industry, Logan – a mechanic at the time – says knew he had to fight back against industry polluters to ensure he and his neighbors had clean air.

“If we didn’t get involved nobody would,” he told EGP. “We did it for the love of the community.”

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Angelo Logan accepting his award during a luncheon in Commerce, January 5. EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez

Under his leadership, East Yard organized residents to engage in issues that directly affect their health and quality of life.

East Yard’s current executive director, Mark Lopez, told EGP that Logan played a pivotal role in the creation of Commerce’s green zones policy that aims to prevent residents’ toxic exposure from with local businesses. Commerce’s green policy also strives to revitalize local economic opportunities and to revitalize the infrastructure along major boulevards to improve quality of life.

“What Angelo has done is set the tone for the community,” Lopez explained.

Logan said he was accepting the award on behalf of the environmental justice movement, using the moment to “speak truth to power.”

The mechanic turned nonprofit leader encouraged attendees to use any power available to them, whether it is people power or political power to keep up the fight for environmental justice.

He said that changes coming to Washington D.C. – referring to a new Trump administration – will prove to be a fight for environmental justice.

“California is at the forefront of clean air, for the rest of the country and the world … they look to us to advance measures that are going to protect public health,” Logan said. “We must continue to hold each other accountable, ” he said, going on to urge the SCAQMD to be vigilant in overseeing the Tesoro Refinery in Carson.

“Make sure they don’t take advantage of the community,” he warned.

Zully Juarez is in charge of development and communications at East Yard and says Logan has always looked at the impacts locally and used his power to build up his community.

“He put things in perspective and it always comes from a place of heart,” she told EGP.

Despite not having the traditional background of many environmental justice leaders in schooling or community organizing experience, Lopez says Logan’s interactions with residents, state agencies and public officials have made a difference, pointing out that those who work with him know he is honest and compassionate.

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Angelo Logan discussing history of region during East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice’s 2015 LA River Bike Toxic Tour. Photo by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

“He’s what some may call an outsider with insider credibility,” Juarez said, adding he’s earned the respect of those around him.

“His efforts over the years made it possible for the community who live here to be thought of as the experts and the ones [who can] bring solutions to the issues” that plague us, she added.

While no longer at the helm of East Yard, Logan continues to be an advocate for environmental justice. These days his attention and efforts are focused on Long Beach, another city with rail yards, freeways, industry and a port, points out AQMD Governing Board Member Dr. Joseph K. Lyou, who first met Logan about 17 years ago.

Lyou recalled how the East Yard co-founder invited him to take a tour of the Commerce rail yards, and how Logan pointed to a lead battery recycling plant and said it was bad for the community and needed to be shut down.

“That was the first time I heard of Exide,” said Lyou.

­Rev. John Moretta Takes Justice Message From Pulpit to the Street

Monsignor Moretta has been pastor of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights for 33 years. When he’s not at church, he is organizing residents and fighting injustices in the area.

His efforts make him a “respected, admired leader in Boyle Heights and beyond, ” said Lyou about the activist priest.

With the Mothers of East L.A., a group he co-founded, Moretta fought to stop a controversial plan to build a mega-watt power plant in Vernon and before that a prison in East Los Angeles. He was also involved in the successful campaign to keep a hazardous waste incinerator from being built in Boyle Heights, as well as the years-long struggle to shut down Exide.

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Rev. Juan Moretta accepting his award during a luncheon in Commerce, January 5. EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez

These actions make Moretta the “father of environmental justice,” Lyou said.

Lyou pointed out that Moretta has helped agencies like the SCAQMD hear from residents directly, often times hosting public hearings at Resurrection Church.

Under Moretta’s direction, the Boyle Heights church has for the last 19 years been home to the Resurrection Neighborhood Watch group. Like other neighborhood watch groups, the members work together to keep the community safe by stopping violent and property crimes. But the Resurrection group also has another purpose, one they take very seriously: protecting the community’s mostly Latinos residents from being victimized by environmental injustices.

Residents and parishioners that make up the group have been regulars at Exide-related hearings where they have repeatedly voiced their anger and concern over the handling of the toxic site, and any issue that could impact the community’s health or safety.

Exide Vernon_From2006Department of Toxic Substances Control

The now shuttered Exide Battery Recycling plant in Vernon responsible for the contamination of neighboring cities. Photo: EGP Archive

Moretta admits that not all the fights they’ve waged have resulted in a win for the community, noting the community lost the battle for a less intrusive Metro rail project on the eastside. Unlike in Hollywood, the community was stuck with an above ground light rail system that divided their community, he recalled.

“The fact is, there is still injustice for the ‘poor guy,’” Moretta told EGP. “The ‘poor guy’ is not familiar with the system that takes advantage of the disadvantaged,” he lamented.

Moretta credited and thanked local residents for the role they played in bringing justice to an often-ignored community.

“I would not be able to be here without the people in this room,” Moretta said while accepting his award.

Moretta deserves recognition for fighting tirelessly to protect the community, said Boyle Heights resident Terri Cano, who like Moretta had testified before state legislators to condemn the handling and enforcement by state regulators of the Exide contamination debacle.

“Most priests will work out of their church but Father John [Moretta] has gone all the way to Sacramento for his parishioners,” she pointed out in admiration.

Terry Marquez has known Moretta for decades, starting as a member of the Mothers of East L.A. She says he has always been someone the community can trust.

“I don’t question him, I know he genuinely cares about this community.”

Moretta says he will be keeping an eye on Exide as well as the metal-plating companies that call Boyle Heights home. In the past, these companies have been accused of improperly disposing of hazardous materials and contaminating their surroundings with metal dust.

For this latest effort, Moretta says he hopes to inspire and recruit a new generation of activists and leaders from the eastside community.

“The next generation has to continue la lucha,” he said.

Lucha por la Purificación del Aire en California Continúa

August 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Inside Climate News– El sur de California ha tenido una de las peores calidades del aire por años, sin embargo, últimamente ha empezado ha mejorar. El mérito de dicho progreso va a una agencia poderosa en la región, la cual ha impuesto normas federales del medio ambiente durante los pasados 19 años.

La agencia de control de la contaminación del aire, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), la cual controla el Condado de Orange y las partes urbanas de Los Ángeles, Riverside y San Bernardino, ahora se encuentra en el centro de una lucha política.

Una nueva mayoría republicana en el senado ha empezado a retroceder todo el avance que las pólizas distritales han alcanzado en el distrito.

El giro, ha causado preocupación entre los residentes de las áreas desproporcionadamente afectadas por el flujo de aire sucio. La posibilidad de que las pólizas se debiliten también ha inquietado a los activistas en el área, quienes han decidido contraatacar.

Una proyecto de ley, pendiente en ser aprobada por la Asamblea estatal, recibió el apoyo de los defensores del aire puro. La medida fue anteriormente aceptada por el senado y requiere que tres puestos, del concejo del distrito 13, sean otorgados a una “organización sin fines de lucro de buena fe que defienda una disminución de la contaminación ambiental”.

“El sistema está descompuesto y el consejo no refleja el punto de vista de las comunidades que están siendo afectadas”, dijo Lizette Hernández, una organizadora del club ambiental Sierra en el Sur de California.

Shawn Nelson, un miembro republicano del consejo, dijo que la propuesta es una forma de acaparar más poder por los legisladores demócratas.

“Es un esfuerzo conjunto para prolongar la idea de que nuestro consejo está fuera de control y de que no nos importa el medio ambiente, lo cual es ridículo”, dijo Nelson.

El consejo, dirigido por Barry Wallerstein desde 1997, tradicionalmente había operado de forma neutral. Cuando los candidatos republicanos obtuvieron la mayoría en enero, la batalla empezó cuando ocurrió el cambio en dirección respecto a la calidad del aire.

Una reunión a puertas cerradas tomó lugar, en marzo, en la que se decidió permitirles a refinerías de petróleo, plantas eléctricas y otros grandes contaminantes el emitir smog. La reunión también destituyó a Wallerstein de su cargo.

“Ese fue el momento en el que me dí cuenta que la industria del petróleo tiene una gran influencia sobre el consejo”, dijo Adrian Martínez, abogado del grupo ambiental Earth Justice.

“El consejo no estaba protegiendo a la comunidad a quien sirve ni aquellos que han estado sufriendo”, dijo Martínez, “Eso tiene que acabar”, dijo.

Kevin de León, senador del Distrito de Los Ángeles que incluye Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park y el Este de Los Ángeles, propuso la medida para añadir los tres puestos que fue aprobada por el senado estatal en mayo.

La asamblea estatal, actualmente dominada por los demócratas, tomará su decisión respecto a la medida éste mes. El gobernador, Jerry Brown, todavía no ha revelado si la firmará o no.

El distrito también ha propuesto un plan de cumplimiento voluntario el cual pagará a las compañías que participen por sus reducciones en emisiones tóxicas. Los republicanos calculan que esos pagos sumarán un total de $1 billón por año en 2031, si es aprobada.

Nelson defendió el cambio de dirección del consejo ya que dice que las regulaciones pondrán una carga en los negocios que al final acabarán afectándoles a todos.

“Si nuestros esfuerzos en equilibrar los intereses de la gente pobre y el de ayudar a nuestros ciudadanos locales – juntos con nuestros deseos absolutos en continuar limpiando el aire- no fueron perfectos, pues así fueron. Pero no fueron a causa de una falta de amor hacia nuestras comunidades o por la falta de apreciación hacia la gente a quien representamos”, dijo Nelson.

La agencia SCAQMD cubre la mayor parte de la populación del estado, un 40% de los 39 millones de habitantes.

Muchas de las plantas de energía y refinerías de petróleo están localizadas cerca de comunidades con habitantes de bajos recursos y minorías controlados por la agencia.

Por ejemplo, la comunidad de Wilmington en Los Ángeles, localizada a sólo 25 millas de Santa Mónica, tiene 11 refinerías y facilidades de extracción de petróleo y gas. El 90% de los 53,000 residentes de Wilmington son de color y tienen un ingreso medio de $40,000.

A su lado, en Santa Mónica, donde el 78% de los residentes son blancos con un ingreso medio de $73,000 no hay ninguna refinería o facilidad de extracción.

Un estudio nacional conducido en 2014 reveló que en promedio de 38% de la gente de color son expuestas a niveles altos de dióxido de nitrógeno en la contaminación atmosférica más que la gente blanca.

“Hemos notado un patrón consistente en las comunidades de color de la Costa Sur en donde tienden a ser expuestos más a las contaminaciones”, dijo Julian Marshall, un de los investigadores del estudio.

Hernández, la organizadora del Club Sierra, quien vive en el Sur de Los Ángeles rodeada de refinerías, dijo que las comunidades con una mayor necesidad de representación son las que han sido afectadas por décadas por la contaminación del aire y por prejuicios raciales al igual que inigualdad económica. Ella dijo que el poner a representantes de grupos ambientales a cargo traería un mar de cambio.

Carol Hernández, trabajadora social en San Bernardino, dijo que creció en Fontana en los 80’s con una calidad de aire pésima que no parece mejorar. Hernández (no relacionada a Lizette Hernández) dijo que su hija de cinco años sufre a menudo de ataques de asma intensificados por la polución el cual le hace difícil respirar.

“No podemos pasar mucho tiempo jugando afuera porque se le hace difícil respirar,” dijo Hernández.

Aunque la calidad del aire en el Condado de San Bernardino ha mejorado durante la última década, ha sido calificada con un grado F por la Asociación Americana del Pulmón dado a los riesgos de salud causados por el aire contaminado.

“A nadie le importaba lo que estaba sucediendo cuando yo ere pequeña y, al igual, no les sigue importando”, dijo Hernández.

*InsideClimate News es una organización de noticias ganadora de un Premio Pulitzer, sin lucro ni afiliación y dedicada a cubrir los cambios de clima, energía y del medio ambiente. 

In California Clean Air Fight, Environmental Justice Takes a Leading Role

August 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Inside Climate News – Southern California has some of the dirtiest air in the country, but it’s a lot more breathable than it used to be. Much of the credit goes to the powerful regional agency responsible for stricter rules and enforcing federal air quality standards over the last 19 years.

Now that agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, is at the center of a political power struggle. A new Republican majority has worked to roll back the district’s innovative policies that led to cleaner air. That prompted concern among clean-air advocates and the poor and minority communities disproportionately affected by the region’s dirty air that the board would continue to erode pollution controls. So they are fighting back.

They rallied behind a bill that awaits a decision this month by the state Assembly. It was passed by the state Senate and calls for adding three seats to the district’s 13-member board, to be filled by “a bona fide nonprofit environmental justice organization that advocates for clean air and pollution reductions.”

“The system is broken and the board does not reflect the voice of the people who are suffering in their communities,” said Lizette Hernandez, a Southern California organizer for the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.

Board member Shawn Nelson, a Republican, called the bill a power grab by state Democratic lawmakers. It is a “kangaroo effort all to perpetuate this idea that this board is out of control, doesn’t care about clean air, which is completely ridiculous,” he said.

(Photo by N. Nguyenen New America Media )

(Photo by N. Nguyenen New America Media )

The battle began when Republican appointees gained a majority of the district in January. Traditionally, the board has operated in a non-partisan manner. It was led since 1997 by executive director Barry Wallerstein.

But the new Republican majority immediately changed direction. In a closed-door meeting in March, it finalized a controversial rule allowing oil refiners, power plants and other major polluters to release more smog-producing emissions. It also ousted Wallerstein.

“This was an ‘aha’ moment when it became so clear that the oil industry had so much power and influence over this board,” said Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.

“The board wasn’t doing its job to protect the region and the people who were suffering,” he said. “That had to change.”

Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) introduced the bill to expand the board and it passed the Democratic-controlled state Senate in May.

The state Assembly, where Democrats also hold an edge, is expected to consider the measure

this month. Gov. Jerry Brown has not said whether he’d sign it.

The South Coast district is California’s largest air quality agency by population: More than 40 percent of the state’s 39 million people live within its boundaries, which include Orange County and large portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The strategy of Republican board members is to all but eliminate traditional regulatory enforcement. The district has proposed a voluntary compliance plan that would essentially pay companies to reduce emissions, via financial incentives. Republicans say those would reach $1 billion a year by 2031, but the environmental groups are skeptical it would work.

Nelson defended the board’s change in direction, saying regulations put a burden on business that ultimately affects everyone.

“If our effort to help our local citizens and balance the interests of poor people suffering the effects of increased fuel costs and other things—along with our absolute desire to continue to clear the air—if we didn’t get that perfect, then so be it,” Nelson said. “But it wasn’t for lack of love, effort and appreciation for the people we represent.”

Many lower-income and minority communities are located near power plants, refineries, oil and gas fields, and other facilities that pump out volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gases. For instance, the Los Angeles community of Wilmington and the city of Santa Monica are only 25 miles apart. Eleven refineries and oil and gas extraction facilities are located in Wilmington; 90 percent of the 53,000 residents are people of color and the median household income is $40,000.

5-year-old Alani often gasps and wheezes in the grips of asthma attacks, which her mother believes is aggravated by air pollution. (Courtesy of Carol Hernandez)

5-year-old Alani often gasps and wheezes in the grips of asthma attacks, which her mother believes is aggravated by air pollution. (Courtesy of Carol Hernandez)

In Santa Monica, where 78 percent of the 92,000 residents are white, there are no refineries or oil facilities and the median household income is $73,000 a year.’

A 2014 national study of the demographics of air pollution exposures included parts of the South Coast district. Researchers found that there, on average, people of color are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide in outdoor air pollution 38 percent higher than those of white people.

“What we have seen for the South Coast is that disadvantaged communities of color tend to have higher exposures to pollutants,” said Julian Marshall, one of the researchers. “It’s a pretty consistent pattern and trend.”

Hernandez, the Sierra Club organizer who lives in a part of South Los Angeles surrounded by refineries and oil and gas production facilities, said the communities most in need of environmental representation are those that have suffered for decades under the weight of racial bias and economic neglect. Putting environmental justice groups in charge of air quality would be a sea change.

Carol Hernandez, 32, a social worker in San Bernardino County, grew up in Fontana, where nearly 60 percent of the population is Hispanic. When she was a girl in the 1980s, the air was foul, and it’s still foul now, she said. Hernandez (who is not related to Lizette Hernandez) said her 5-year-old daughter, Alani, often gasps and wheezes in the grips of asthma attacks, which she says are aggravated by the air pollution.

“We can’t spend a lot of time outside playing because it gets so bad she can’t breathe,” Hernandez said. The air quality in San Bernardino County has been graded F by the American Lung Association because of the health hazards posed by the bad air, though it has shown improvement in the last decade.

“I don’t think anybody cared what was happening when I was little,” she said, “and they don’t care now.”

A longer version of this story was published Aug. 5 on the Inside Climate News website.

AQMD Fires Executive Officer

March 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A divided South Coast Air Quality Management District Board voted today to fire its long-time executive officer, Barry Wallerstein, over the protests of various environmental groups and local
elected officials.

The board appointed its chief financial officer, Michael O’Kelly, to serve as the interim executive officer.

Wallerstein was AQMD’s executive officer since 1997. He had been with the agency since 1984. The board voted 7-6 to oust him.

Board members reached the decision in a closed session. They did not comment on the move in open session.

Although he received high marks from many local elected officials – mostly Democrats – a new Republican majority on the AQMD board appears intent on moving the agency in a different direction, possibly leaning toward pollution-control policies more friendly to businesses.

Highland Mayor Larry McCallon, a Republican who sits on the board, told the Los Angeles Times the panel has to address the problems businesses face due to often costly pollution regulations.

“I believe that having jobs are just as important for a person’s health, for a family’s health, as having clean air,” McCallon told The Times.

But McCallon downplayed the significance of the board having a Republican majority, noting that a recent vote to reject proposed pollution-control measures crossed party lines.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, called the board’s vote “shameful.”

“Today’s shameful action by SCAQMD is only the latest in a disturbing trend of dirty energy interests dismantling clean air rules that the public overwhelmingly supports,” he said.

“Californians recognize the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels and building a clean energy future, both to prevent climate change and improve local air quality. We need strong
leadership to address some of the worst air quality in the nation, not a rubber stamp committee for the oil industry agenda.”

Environmentalists went on the alert when news of Wallerstein’s possible ouster broke. The Coalition for Clean Air issued a statement saying its leadership is “greatly concerned about the future of air quality in the region and the motives behind such a move.”

Under Wallerstein’s watch, “days exceeding the 2008 federal ozone standard have dropped by one-third,” according to the coalition. “Today, for the first time, new clean air technologies provide us a viable path to meeting air quality standards.”

Los Angeles County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl issued a joint statement Thursday calling for Wallerstein to be retained by the board.

“The agency’s website states that it is ‘committed to protecting the health of residents, while remaining sensitive to businesses,’” they said. “Today, however, it appears that the SCAQMD board may be moving toward compromising that mission, weighing economic concerns more heavily than the agency’s core mission of protecting public health.”

“We strongly believe that the health and safety of every resident of Los Angeles County must continue to be front-and-center of the agency’s efforts. We do not wish to see a rollback of SCAQMD’s safeguards and standards and urge the board to reaffirm its commitment to its core mission.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also threw his support Wallerstein.

“Under Barry and his staff’s impressive leadership, SCAQMD has become a world leader in air quality management, and I will do everything possible to ensure future leadership upholds that reputation and resists rolling back existing regulations that protect the air we breathe,” he said. “We must stay on ambitious path forward that prioritizes the health of our communities, creates green jobs and businesses and advances zero-emission vehicles.”

Wallerstein is the second leader of an environmental protection agency in California to be ousted this year. California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester was fired last month in a move that sparked outrage among environmentalists. Commission members said the termination revolved around leadership – not environmental – issues.

‘710 Freeway Mayors’ Back Change to Cleaner Trucks

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Growing up with asthma and constantly winding up in the hospital is not something Jorge Morales wants for his 11-month-old baby.

As a kid, “I remember the faces of my parents looking at me when I couldn’t breath at 2 or 3 in the morning and running to the hospital,” the now Mayor of South Gate told EGP Tuesday morning.

Air quality is an issue that he considers personal.

“Every second there’s a truck going by,” said the mayor, pointing at the 710 Freeway from a spot at South Gate Park where he and others had gathered to push for a solution to the dirty heavy-duty trucks traveling on the 5 and 710 freeways through their heavily polluted cities.

“All those emissions are coming down in the communities here in the southeast, all the way from Long Beach, from the 60 and 10 freeways and we are all impacted,” he said.

Joining Morales were the mayors of Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Compton, and representatives from the Waste Management Company (WM), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

“We want to encourage owners and operators of those heavy-duty trucks to transfer the trucks over to cleaner energy vehicles,” the Mayor of Maywood Eddie de la Riva told EGP.

He said a study of Los Angeles County revealed that residents of Maywood suffer from some of the highest rates of asthma, cancer and other respiratory diseases.

“It is very important for me because it is something that affects my community and my residents,” he explained.

In 2013, nonprofit East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and their student led group at Bell Gardens High School, Youth in Action, conducted “Truck Thruthing,” a study that looked at truck traffic on the busiest streets in Commerce. The study found that approximately 47,000 diesel trucks travel the 710 Freeway daily, exposing Commerce residents and workers to large amounts of diesel, leading to the same illnesses as in Maywood.

“All the trucks that start at the Long Beach Port end up in Commerce,” Commerce Mayor Lilia Leon told EGP. “We have the two largest railroads and two largest freeways in the nation,” so “it’s very important to have these type of low-emission trucks for the community’s health” she said.

Going green can be an expensive proposition for the owners of heavy-duty trucks, but there are options to help them convert, supporters of the change to cleaner fuels sources said.

One of the options is SoCalGas’ truck loan program, which can help qualified operators of medium- and heavy-duty trucks explore how trucks using compressed natural gas (CNG) works compared to diesel-fueled vehicles in terms of drivability, power and range.

Another option are government incentives, which the mayors said are a practical and affordable way to accelerate the reduction of harmful emissions and improve air quality

According to Rodger Schwecke, SoCalGas vice president of customer solutions, natural gas is one of the most affordable and cleanest burning alternative fuels available today.

Southeast community leaders and representatives from entities advocating for cleaner air gathered on Tuesday to push for a solution so heavy-duty trucks go green. (Southern California Gas Co.)

Southeast community leaders and representatives from entities advocating for cleaner air gathered on Tuesday to push for a solution so heavy-duty trucks go green. (Southern California Gas Co.)

“Heavy-duty natural gas vehicles can reduce smog by about as much as 90 percent. We need to be part of the solution to help clean the air by giving incentives for the transition from polluting heavy-duty trucks to clean alternative fuel vehicles such as near-zero emissions trucks that run on natural gas,” he said.

Janine Hamner, municipal and community relations manager for Waste Management of Southern California, said she’s also pleased to join the movement and talk about the efficiency of the largest fleet—over 45,000—of heavy-duty natural gas trucks in North America.

“Since natural gas-powered collection trucks run cleaner and quieter, we’ve made the commitment to use more in our local operations as we work to keep communities clean in the most sustainable manner possible,” she said.

These trucks have nearly zero particulate emissions, cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 percent and are far quieter than their diesel counterparts.

Morales said it is important to get behind the green movement. “We have all the technology right now, we have natural gas vehicles here and they can make a big difference on the air quality of our communities.”

For more information about this movement, visit CleanerAirAhead.org.

 

DTSC Director Apologizes to Eastside Residents

April 10, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

[Updated: April 16, 12p.m.]

“I’m sorry.” Two words Eastside residents never thought they would hear from the state agency charged with regulating a controversial Vernon-based acid-lead battery recycler found to have repeatedly violated toxic chemical air emissions standards.

For the first time since taking the helm of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Director Barbara Lee personally addressed a public meeting discussing the now-closed Exide Technologies plant. DTSC has been heavily criticized for “failing” to protect the public from arsenic and lead emissions, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological damage.

“I know many feel the department has failed you, I want to start of by saying I’m very sorry,” Lee told hundreds of residents and environmental activists during a meeting April 9 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to discuss Exide’s closure plan.

The tone at last week’s meeting was quieter and less combative then past meetings, but skepticism and mistrust still hung heavy in the air.

“We want to know what happened …we want to know who is responsible,” demanded Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justices.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee apologizes to eastside residents Thursday at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee apologizes to eastside residents Thursday at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Lopez asked Lee if she would consider opening a criminal investigation into DTSC’s handling of the Vernon plant, which it allowed to operate on an interim permit for decades despite being found to have exposed eastside residents to cancer-causing toxins.

Lee did not at first directly respond to the request, instead denying any criminal activity on the part of the department, but Lopez pressed on.

“We want accountability. What happened before was not your fault, but moving forward is all your responsibility,” said Lopez, drawing loud applause from the approximately 200 people at the meeting.

“Would you be willing to let me think about it?” Lee asked.

Dozens of members of the Los Angeles Latino Business Chamber of Commerce attended the Distinguished Speakers Series event April 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Dozens of members of the Los Angeles Latino Business Chamber of Commerce attended the Distinguished Speakers Series event April 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Lopez agreed, explaining he didn’t expect the DTSC director to make a decision right then and there. “I just want to make sure you respond on the record in front of all of us,” he said.

Lee was appointed to head DTSC about four months ago and was not part of the protracted battle to shutter the troubled plant, but said she understands why residents mistrust the agency.

“It’s important we do not let this happen again,” she said, promising to do things differently moving forward.

For more than a decade, area residents complained to DTSC and the South Coast Air Quality Management District about Exide, but it took an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office to permanently close down the facility.

Federal authorities announced last month that they had struck a deal to close the plant in exchange for Exide and its executives avoiding criminal prosecution for their illegal handling of hazardous waste. The deal requires Exide to pay the entire cost to clean its plant and homes in the surrounding community found to have been contaminated. DTSC will oversee the closure and clean up.

“We won folks,” Monsignor John Moretta happily told the crowd.

However, not everyone is as convinced or ready to forgive.

“I don’t want to hear I’m sorry because nobody is more sorry than me,” said a tearful Terry Cano before she shared that her father had died from cancer she believes was caused by Exide’s emissions.

“You’re telling me this is the best you can do,” she said, angry that there will be no criminal prosecutions.

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano shared her concerns with the way DTSC handled the Exide plant in Vernon last week at Resurrection Church. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano shared her concerns with the way DTSC handled the Exide plant in Vernon last week at Resurrection Church. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The meeting drew residents from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Commerce and Huntington Park, the area most heavily impacted by Exide generated pollution. Several people said the deal did not do enough to compensate the people harmed by the Vernon plant.

Teresa Marquez told Lee she believes the director wants to move the agency forward, but questioned whether any DTSC employee had been fired over the agency’s handling of the facility.

Lee said DTSC is being overhauled and new deputy directors have been brought in to replace staff no longer at the agency.

That prompted Lopez to again push for a criminal investigation.

“We want to know where they are now and if they are working for another similar agency making those same [bad] decisions,” he said. There is no victory until a closer look is taken at the systemic problems that allowed a company like Exide to keep polluting the community for so long, without that, real change is not possible, Lopez said.

A Huntington Park resident asked Lee to consider expanding the area being tested for lead and arsenic to include more nearby communities. Currently, testing is focused on East L.A., Boyle Heights and Maywood, which Lee explained was determined by AQMD modeling that identified the areas most likely to be contaminated.

“Predictions also come in the form of weather forecasts and they’re not always right,” the resident responded.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, pictured right, apologizes to eastside residents at Resurrection Church April 9 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, pictured right, apologizes to eastside residents at Resurrection Church April 9 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Moving forward, Exide has to submit a closure/post closure plan to DTSC by May 15. The agency will review the plans for compliance then present the plan to the public for comment sometime in the fall. Removal of the buildings and structures at the site is expected to start in spring 2016 and take 19-24 months to complete.

“For too many years we did not listen well to you,” Lee told the audience, acknowledging that many residents are not yet ready to trust the agencies responsible for regulating Exide.

“I don’t expect by standing here I will change that, I have to earn your trust,” she said. “I can’t promise you I will always get it right, but I will always give it my best. I hope you will be ready to take one step forward with us,” she said.

“It’s refreshing to hear a different tone,” remarked Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña.

But for Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez, the fight is far from over.

“We haven’t won,” he said, “we just threw the first punch that will change the momentum.”

 

 

Exide Residential Cleanup Continues

December 11, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

On the quiet block of La Puerta Avenue in Boyle Heights, a small bobcat bulldozer was in high gear last week, removing dirt from homes where high levels of lead were found.

At least one hundred wheelbarrows of tainted soil were removed from two homes on the block early Thursday, part of an ongoing effort to clean up contamination residents and toxic chemical experts say are tied to emissions from Exide Technologies in Vernon.

“How many years have gone by and we didn’t even know the damage [Exide] was doing,” said Jovita Morales, one of the homeowners whose soil was removed.

The South Coast Air Quality Management Department in 2013 found several times that emissions from Exide had higher than safe levels of arsenic and lead, increasing the risk of cancer and neurological deficits to as many 110,00 residents living near the acid-lead battery recycler.

DTSC workers remove contaminated soil from a home in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC workers remove contaminated soil from a home in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

State regulators have ordered Exide to make major changes to pollution control systems at its Vernon plant, and to pay for the clean up contamination at homes like those on La Puerta Avenue.

While not admitting any culpability, Exide agreed to pay for blood lead tests for area residents who are concerned about their exposure. Testing, conducted by the county health department, started in  April. So far, only 450 people have taken advantage of the free blood tests, but none those tested “required medical intervention,” according to the county. The low number of tests has prompted the testing period to be extended for the second time until Jan. 30, according to county health officials.

Earlier this year, state regulators identified 215 homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood as having the highest likelihood of being impacted by Exide emissions. The Dept. of Toxic Chemical Substance Control, DTSC, ordered the company to pay for soil testing and more recently to put $9 million into a fund to be used to clean up all 215 homes.

As of Monday, only 104 of those homes had been tested, according to DTSC. Nineteen of the homes were labeled priority one, the highest priority based on lead levels found and whether there are children or pregnant women living in the home. Priority one homes will cleaned first, according to DTSC, which says it will continue to reach out to property owners to encourage them to get their properties tested.

DTSC Director of Communications Jim Marxen told EGP the state agency wants the process to go as quickly as possible, and has asked Exide to clean up 2.5 homes a week.

“We believe Exide is responsible” for remediating the damage, he said.

Marxen pointed out that [the plant] has been operating since 1920, nearly 100 years.

“For that extended period of time, this [assessment area] is probably the place their emissions ended up,” he said.

[Addendum: It should be pointed out that the Vernon plant itself has existed since 1920, however Exide Technologies has only been operating the plant since 2000.]

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide Continúa LImpieza en Hogares Cercanos

The two residential properties on La Puerta Avenue, which sits near the industrial side of town on the border of East Los Angeles, are the latest homes to be cleaned. Soil was removed from two homes in August; one in Maywood the other also on La Puerta Avenue.

“We are aiming to get at least five homes [clean] before the holidays,” said Marxen. “Our target is to get a least 10 to 12 homes cleaned by the third week of January,” he added.

But getting residents to sign up to get their soil tested has proven difficult, says Marxen.

Though there could be a number of reasons why testing is not complete in the assessment area, many residents may find themselves in the same situation as longtime resident Jose Ornelas, 79, who has rented the La Puerta Avenue house where he lives for 28 years.

“There was some confusion because the letters they sent were addressed to me,” he said in Spanish.

If it had not been for Ornelas contacting the owner, soil on the property would not have been tested last month.

Lucia Flores, 72, said she initially didn’t want to go through the process of having her soil tested because she wasn’t sure what would be expected of her as a homeowner.

“It took me a long time to grow these plants for someone to just come and cut them,” she half-jokingly said.

However, once the soil is tested, the results are analyzed and labeled as priority one, two, three or below threshold, says Marxen. So far all 104 homes tested have been above the allowed threshold, he added. According to DTSC, 19 homes were labeled priority one, 35 priority two and 31 priority three.

DTSC will meet with the residents at least three times to explain the test results and set up a cleaning schedule, which includes soil replacement, dust control measures, air monitoring and yard restoration that includes keeping plants deemed sensitive by the owner.

Residents do not have to be at their home while the weeklong clean up takes place, in fact they can opt to stay elsewhere at Exide’s expense, according to DTSC.

On Monday, Flores said she is waiting for the results of tests conducted back in October.

“I worry about my granddaughter who lives here,” she said in Spanish, as she watered the plants in her yard. “I have heard the [Exide] plant is bad for our health,” she said.

Exide’s Vernon plant has been closed since March as it installs enhanced systems to comply with California’s air quality standards. The company has invested $35 million on environmental, health and safety measures since 2010.

“We recognize the community’s concerns and are confident the Department’s tough new order provides strong regulatory oversight for cleaning the identified residential properties,” said Thomas Strang, Vice President of Environment Health and Safety for Exide.

“Exide is committed to operating a premier recycling facility and working collaboratively with regulators to perform all work necessary to reach his goal,” he said.

Marxen told EGP the agency hopes the visibility of the cleanup will encourage neighbors to get their yards sampled.

Morales saw the clean up taking place back in August and though about contacting DTSC out of concern for her grandchildren, ages nine and four months, who live in the home.

“We just never got around to doing it because we get home from work late,” she said. “A lot of my neighbors may be in denial, but this clean up is good for the residents.”

The cleanup up cost per property will vary according to the amount of soil to be removed and property type.

If there are still funds left in the $9 million community trust fund after the initial group targeted for testing is completed, the remaining money will go towards expanding testing and cleaning beyond the original assessment area, and for testing of commercial properties in areas adjacent to the Vernon plant.

“Wherever we find contamination that we can link to Exide we are going to make them clean it up,” said Marxen.

 

Residents in the two assessment areas can contact DTSC for information about cleanup at (844) 225-3887.  

 

[Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Jim Marxen simply as DTSC Director.]

 

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