Coalition for a Safe Environment

16 March 2015

Climate Change Stories

Community & Issue

The Coalition for a Safe Environment (CFASE) was founded and is based in the small community of Wilmington, California. The neighborhood is primarily made up of Latino residents, and is one of the best worst-case scenario examples of environmental racism and environmental injustice in the United States. Positioned in the community are the two largest ports in the U.S., the Alameda train corridor, four major oil refineries, four asphalt refineries, the largest oil field in the Western U.S., numerous land fields, junks yards, container storage yards, and it is surround by three major freeways. These industries and post industries are some of the largest sources of air pollution, which release both criteria and toxic pollutants; many of which are specific identified greenhouse gases.

Prior to the creation of CFASE there was no community leader or organization that was willing to take on some of the largest industries and polluters in the western US. When Jesse N. Marquez, Executive Director of the coalition, first traveled to Sacramento to share the story of how families in Wilmington were facing a tremendous public health crisis and public safety risks the response he received was callous and chilling. Rather than looking out for the common good of the community, California Assemblymembers replied that, “Wilmington was the sacrificial lamb for the economic growth of Los Angeles and Southern California.” Enraged by the comment, Mr. Marquez vowed to those same Assemblymembers that he and his ‘little’ Latino community plan on becoming the Ports and Petroleum industries worst nightmare in Los Angeles.

Community Solution to Climate Change Challenge

The Coalition For A Safe Environment’s slogan is “Protecting Our Environment And Children’s Future.” In establishing CFASE, Mr. Marquez’s dream was to dramatically reduce air pollution, reduce global warming, significantly improve the health of all harbor community residents, engage in master plan land use changes, eliminate public safety risks, and transform the polluting industry world around Wilmington into a cleaner neighbor, or be eliminated. Fourteen years after Mr. Marquez’s visit to Sacramento, CFASE is recognized as Los Angeles’ Ports and Petroleum industries worst nightmare. The coalition has been non-stop in filing environmental lawsuits against polluters, including the governmental regulatory agencies who have failed to protect local communities; as well as in submitting public comments on numerous laws, rules, regulations, public policies, programs and projects.

Recognizing the connection between the environment and people’s health and well-being, CFASE’s work focuses on engaging the Ports and Petroleum industries and the communities who are most impacted by these industries. The Coalition is involved in reducing, eliminating and mitigating air, land, water pollution and global warming impacts caused by international trade marine ports, goods movement transportation corridors, distribution centers, and the petroleum and energy industries. Their goals are to reduce, eliminate and mitigate public exposure to carcinogens, respiratory, reproductive and developmental toxicants and diseases caused by air, land, water pollution and consumer products.

Approach & Partnerships

The Coalition For A Safe Environment is a community based membership organization, where members support the work and advocacy efforts of the Coalition. CFASE understands that people of color, indigenous people, the poor, politically underrepresented, and the economically disadvantaged have been the most negatively and significantly impacted by business industries. Public rights supersede private industries’ profits, and the public has a right to know about all potential hazards and risks associated with ports, goods movement, transportation infrastructure, petroleum and energy industries. Therefore, the Coalition partners with community leaders, families, professional expertise resources, academic professionals, academic scientists, expert witnesses, technology companies, attorneys, elected officials, appointed officials and government agencies; among others, to participate in numerous local, county, regional, state and national networks, collaborations, committees and taskforces. Through Environmental Justice work CFASE is changing the world by reducing climate change impacts, reducing public risk, improving public safety, improving public health, improving public health care, and improving land use policies to support healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities.

Challenges

We are receiving national recognition for our success in negotiating community benefits agreements with new innovative mitigation measures dealing with public policies on air quality, public health care and alternative technology programs at the largest port in the U.S.

Our work gets personal. My life has been threatened numerous times, with attempted murder, attempted bodily injury, personal property destruction and computer virus attacks. Even my family has been threatened.

I have also suffered extreme physical exhaustion, mental stress and financial hardships, and made personal sacrifices. Despite these threats and sacrifices, I would never discourage anyone from exercising their rights, or participating in our Environmental Justice campaigns. And yet, those of us who choose to be outspoken as community leaders take on these personal sacrifices because we understand the importance of our work and the significant future benefits for our families, our neighbors and our community. Now that I am getting older I am faced with having to slow down my pace, take extra precautions, better care for my personal health, and begin training our next generations of leaders.

Next Steps and Community Needs

The Coalition will continue to engage in public participation processes, which include reviewing, critiquing, and drafting recommendations on new laws, rules, regulations, public policies, programs, and projects. Additionally, environmental lawsuits continue to be the most effective ways to achieve significant change. As with many Environmental Justice and social change organizations, CFASE could significantly benefit from financial resources that would allow them to build their organizational capacity for continuing to fight with and on behalf of Wilmington residents.

CFASE also recognizes the need to share what we have learned with other environmental justice communities and has begun creating a series of case studies, fact sheets, an EJ environmental dictionary, expert opinion letters and bibliographies of scientific research on environmental justice, public health, cumulative impact, health impact assessments, ports & goods movement, railroad industry and petroleum industry.

CFASE has also learned that we must involve ourselves in scientific research with university partners so that these studies can focus on the priority issues of our communities, accurately document the causes of negative impacts and recommend appropriate mitigation and public policy changes to reduce and eliminate significant impacts. CFASE is currently involved in a breast cancer research study, recently completed an air quality study and public health survey with UCLA. We recently launched our LACEEN Pilot Project-Los Angeles Environmental Enforcement Network multi-sensor air quality monitoring station and on-line environmental community complaint system.

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