By State Rep Joe Mullery
Environmental Justice (EJ) is an effort to make the effects of pollution more equitable for all people. On June 29, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Folwell Park center, Dowling and Knox N., the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will present their new draft plan to create environmental justice in Minnesota. North Minneapolis is a prime area of concern. They want input from our community regarding their plan.
You can see the entire plan at pca.state.mn.us/ej. Or call 651-757-2557. If you make suggestions to the MPCA, copy me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many studies prove that low-income and people of color are exposed to higher levels of pollution. For instance, recent U of M research showed that low-income and people of color are exposed to high levels of nitrogen oxide. Another example is the fact that kids of color in inner city Minneapolis miss school because of asthma many times the number of days missed by kids in well-off suburbs.
A major part of the problem results from the fact that they reside closer to industrial areas, heavily traveled roadways, and areas of soil contamination.
Also, low-income and people of color, along with young children and the elderly, are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Part of this is because they lack amenities to offset it, such as air conditioning; part because of exposures in their life; and part because there may be ethnic differences developed over many centuries.
The MPCA wants to reduce pollution and increase livability in impacted communities so as to make the effects of pollution more equitable. To do so, they know they will have to make a greater effort and expand approaches in communities such as North Minneapolis. For EJ areas, the plan will include, among other things: more comprehensive monitoring and risk analysis; more inspections of pollution sources; earlier and more accessible community involvement in the permitting process; and targeting, technical assistance and grants to resolve priority pollution sources.
While I’m disappointed this plan isn’t stronger, I believe it is a huge step forward, and that the present Commissioner is committed to EJ. I’ve been the leader on a statewide overall plan for EJ for over a decade. I got nowhere until a year ago when I had the Commissioner and his staff in my office. For nearly an hour, the staff were giving me reasons why my suggestions couldn’t be done. Suddenly, the Commissioner said “Joe’s right. We have to do a lot better on EJ and establish a statewide plan.”
I had my doubts that they would follow through after facing a decade of total resistance. But I’ve watched for the last year and a half and seen the enormous amount of work on EJ at the agency. I truly believe this Commissioner is committed.
Last year, I introduced a bill for a statewide EJ plan. It was not only stronger, but would prevent a future commissioner from going backwards on EJ. I got the language through the House, but Senate leadership wouldn’t accept it in conference committee. Some businesses, especially mines, opposed it. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get it into law through a future more progressive legislature.
Last summer, an EJ expert from Washington, D.C. was speaking at a meeting at the U of M. A MPCA staffer asked him about the language in my bill. The expert said if Minnesota enacted it we would be the leader in the country.