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A Breath of Fresh Air After 35 Years

2012 July 19

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By Susana Almanza

Historically, communities of color, Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native-Americans, have been disproportionately affected by industrial pollution. At the same time, our communities have not benefited equitably from these industries. As we look into our own backyard here in East Austin, we see a power plant, fuel storage tank farms, refineries, lumber companies, and high tech industries which emit their pollutants into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth that sustains us.

Susana addressing the Austin City Council

We believe a safe and healthy environment is a fundamental right for all people. That is why we in PODER-Texas worked on land use polices and have been successful in the adoption of a City of Austin Overlay Ordinance to provide public notification and participation of the siting of industries with commercial and industrial zoning in East Austin. Our efforts also led to the relocation of a gas Tank Farm, which had been emitting toxic chemicals in the community for over 35 years that were causing chronic illnesses for neighborhood residents.

From this experience, as well as many others, I have discovered that local, state and federal agencies have the ability to impact environmental justice and that community organizations must work to help government agencies create outcomes that benefit the community. That is the lesson I want to pass on to all people who are working on environmental justice.

Today we are faced with a common issue of survival and a crisis of life for this living planet Mother Earth. Any threat to the environment endangers all of us. As an indigenous person, our traditional culture enables us to view the Earth and her resources as living entities to be honored. I believe we are at a point where we must act to save and restore Mother Earth for all peoples and cultures.

About Susana: Susana is the current director for PODER-Texas. PODER’s mission is redefining environmental issues as social and economic justice issues and collectively setting our own agenda to address these concerns as basic human rights. We seek to empower our communities through education, advocacy and action. Our aim is to increase the participation of communities of color in corporate and government decisions related to toxic pollution, economic development and their impact on our neighborhoods.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Roy Lee permalink
    July 19, 2012

    Wow another great video!!! I’m always amazed that these types of issues are still happening in our country but equally pleased that there are groups that have found ways to address the impacts that have happened in their community. Great job to EPA for providing a forum to share these amazing stories of hope and resilience.

  2. Maria permalink
    July 26, 2012

    What a powerful story of change. We all can use a “Breath of Fresh Air” and I’m glad this community can now have that. I really enjoy your video series keep up the good work.

  3. Carlton Eley permalink
    July 27, 2012

    Susana mentioned the land use planning victories in her video. Thank you for including a link in the blog reference as well. This will be useful for practitioners and students who wish to learn more about the nexus between environmental justice and city planning —
    http://soa.utexas.edu/work/eaejp/history%20of%20east%20austin.htm

  4. Zunilda Rodriguez permalink
    August 4, 2012

    I was very moved and inspired by her community’s story to navigate the often daunting task of reforming how people think of the environmental justice movement as always starting with state regulatory agencies. In fact, it often begins with zoning regulations formed, implemented and regulated by a municipal planning department. This is an important truth to better understanding how other communities can takle similar issues – begin in the municipal planning department – understand what is and is not permitted by zoning, understand the local policies that help shape and form land use policies, and seek to change those which have adverse impacts on a neighborhood. Nothing is more important than protecting our neighborhoods for future generations.

  5. Anthony (Tony) DeLucia permalink
    August 21, 2012

    I was moved by this video and put it in the perspective of now having some “on the ground” (with this urban planning success) experience in Texas to draw upon. The people of Texas are incredible! I have been blessed to ride bikes with y’all, share touching stories of lost loved ones, strategize on approaches to unite health and environmental topics, learn of your leadership in developing clean energy alternatives, etc. For me to share this video with my colleagues at the American Public Health Association was a true privilege and honor.

  6. J. Wesley permalink
    August 30, 2012

    Sometimes we miss the link between zoning and land use practices that may place disproportionate burdens on certain communities. In this short video, Susana shares a personal story that underscores the benefits communities reap when they become informed about land use policies that may place them at environmental risk. She underscores how they can exert political muscle by coalescing around shared environmental concerns to advance healthy and sustainable communities. The message is succinct but powerful. Thanks to Susana and others who remain committed to environmental justice.

  7. J. Wesley permalink
    August 30, 2012

    Sometimes we miss the link between zoning and land use practices that may place disproportionate burdens on certain communities. In this short video, Susana shares a personal story that underscores the benefits communities reap when they become informed about land use policies that may place them at environmental risk. She underscores how they can exert political muscle by coalescing around shared environmental concerns to advance healthy and sustainable communities. The message is succinct but powerful. Thanks to Susana and others who remain committed to environmental justice.
    J. Wesley

  8. Robert Regan permalink
    October 23, 2012

    Great video with a very important message!

    Dr. Regan

  9. Jimmy permalink
    March 8, 2013

    Very powerful video…We all deserve fresh air!

  10. Robert permalink
    March 16, 2013

    Over 20 years without fresh air is just amazing to me – I’m glad this story is being shared.

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