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.
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.