Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

EPA Chief Listens to Area Concerns

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a swing through Southern California on Thursday, with an unusual stop to meet with representatives of environmental justice groups and hear their concerns about the region’s most pressing issues.

The outreach by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson is unusual, said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, which combats pollution in disadvantaged neighborhoods around Los Angeles. About 15 groups met with Jackson at a Wilmington youth center to present their ideas.

“It was a positive meeting in the sense that we haven’t had this happen before. Never with Bush or Clinton,” Gallegos said.

The group also included Penny Newman, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Glen Avon in northwest Riverside County. Newman told Jackson of the need to reduce rail emissions from the movement of goods to the Inland area from ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Her group has sought more pollution-control measures for the BNSF yard in San Bernardino, which a state study found poses the highest cancer risk to nearby residents of all the rail yards in California.

Earlier in the day, Jackson announced $26.5 million in federal stimulus grants for clean-air projects in the South Coast Air Basin, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties. The grants, paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will reduce diesel emissions by replacing and updating engines in school buses, heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, construction vehicles and cargo-handling equipment.

Among the awards is $8.9 million to put smaller, cleaner-burning engines on switching locomotives that move cars around rail yards.

The engines, which cost $1.5 million each, will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by up to 90 percent, said Harold Holmes, manager of engineering evaluation with the California Air Resources Board. Applications for the grants, due from railroads Nov. 2, will be judged on how much money the companies can contribute and the amount of emissions reduced.

Representatives from the environmental justice groups said they were encouraged by Jackson’s reception.

During the meeting, Gallegos pushed for controls on oil companies that are refining dirty and heavier grades of crude, which increases releases of selenium, mercury, toxic sulfur compounds and greenhouse gases, he said. Jackson took notes on the presentations but did not comment, he said.

This was his third meeting with federal officials. Gallegos met with President Barack Obama’s transition team and had a follow-up meeting with leading members of the EPA, Department of the Interior and other departments.

“I am cautiously heartened,” he said. “We want to see some action. A lot of these issues have been brought to her attention. I think now there needs to be some follow-up.”

Diane Takvorian, executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition near San Diego, called Jackson’s efforts “phenomenal.” She pushed Jackson for EPA incentives for local renewable energy plants.

Power from those plants could help provide electricity to ships docked in Los Angeles and Long Beach, she said. In 2014, the ships will be prohibited from idling in port while they load and unload.

Takvorian said she was impressed by the availability of Jackson’s high-level staff before and after the meeting.

“It’s a really positive sign in terms of her attention to environmental justice groups and the issues we’re grappling with,” she said.

Source: The Press-Enterprise ».