Special Guest Blog from Suzie Canales, Citizens For Environmental Justice, GCM Board Member

On Friday March 11th 2011, Dr. Al Armendariz, EPA Regional Administrator for region 6, spoke the words that everyone knows to be true, but no one in authority (that I am aware of) has said publicly, he said that the fence-line communities of Dona Park and Hillcrest are located too close to the refineries.
A common sense statement but oh so hard to come by.

On this day, Dr. Armendariz was visiting Corpus Christi to meet with members of Citizens forEnvironmental Justice (CFEJ). This was his second visit to meet with CFEJ in two years. The meetinglasted over 6 hours. After the meeting Rick Spruill, a reporter from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, metwith Dr. Armendariz and myself for an interview. Rick asked Al if he considered Hillcrest and Dona Parkto be fence-line communities. “Of course,” Al responded. Then Rick asked Al if he thought that these communities were too close to our local heavy industry.
Many things flashed through my mind in those few seconds before he responded.

It was the moment of truth – it had to be.

You see just 3 months before, at the first every White House forum on Environmental Justice, I disrupted the WH meeting early on in the day when I realized the forum was merely a platform to showcase what President Obama says he’s doing for EJ communities and how he’s made EJ a priority.

Unsolicited I went up before a panel meant for Attorney General Eric Holder and declared that theWH and EPA are doing nothing to help the fence-line communities. I said their documents on EJ arebureaucratic words on paper, words that are meaningless to EJ communities who are suffering. I saidthe EPA and the WH say that these communities are overburdened by pollution and health concerns butinstead of doing something real, they study these communities to death.

After the outburst I was escorted out of the auditorium and introduced to Lisa Jackson, who was waitingout in the wing. I in turn told her that she needed to roll up her sleeves and make these fence-linecommunities her priority because they are in imminent danger. I handed Jackson a report I recentlywrote, “Why EPA’s attempt to achieve environmental justice have failed and what they can do about it.”
Like the Lorax, a Dr. Seuss character advocating for what is right, before it’s too late, I’ve been pushingand sometimes shoving EJ issues down the throats of many for over 11 years and so I felt it all camedown to this.

Then Al, Dr. Armendariz, responded by saying, “Yes, they are too close to industry.”
Finally! A simple common sense statement that has been so difficult for people in authority to say.Maybe now, the WH and the EPA will take EJ seriously and with meaningful action.