Efforts to Clean Air in I.E.
By Dianne Anderson
On the Westside of San Bernardino where Ericka Flores grew up, there was always a hefty daily dose of pollution, much of it coming from local transportation systems, Omnitrans and BNSF railroad.
It’s also the area where her friends, community activists Jan Misquez, Sally Morana, and Marilyn Alcantar, spent years leading the fight for environmental justice. All three women were the first organizers in the area with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Back then, Jan Misquez frequently talked about how healthy she was until she moved to the Westside. She died in 2009 from fast moving cancer, as did Sally Morana in 2010. And last year, Marilyn Alcantar, who worked at Ramona Alessandro Elementary School for two decades, also passed away from a rare cancer.
Together, they testified about the pollution in legislative hearings in Sacramento, they led up protests, and fought to get leaky LNG Tanks removed from Omnitrans. They addressed the health exposure from the constant roll of diesel trucks from the nearby BNSF railroad.
Over the past few years, there is more attention to warehousing and moving to renewable energy, but her big concern is what it has always been – that transportation makes up the brunt of local and national environmental pollution.
The area’s high hub activity brings more trucks and trains between here and the ports of Long Beach.
Recent bills, such as SB 100 toward 100% renewable energy offers hope. Another solution is money trickling down to low-income communities through AB 523 by Assembly member Eloise Reyes, which requires California to invest and collaborate with impacted communities toward a zero net carbon future.
Through that bill’s EPIC funding, 25% of monies will benefit disadvantaged communities, along with another ten percent directly toward projects to benefit disadvantaged communities. Between now and 2020, the California Energy Commission will push $60 million EPIC allocated dollars to disadvantaged and low-income communities.
Because the Inland Empire is often neglected, CCAEJ also looks to AB 617, passed in 2017, to identify and provide money for mitigation barriers in communities suffering the environmental impact from pollution-generating sources.
“For us, that’s the rail yard, even BNSF. We’re encroached by the major highways, and with the growth of the logistics industry,” Flores said.
The city of San Bernadino, its unincorporated areas, and the Westside are among the poorest communities. Under AB 617, she is encouraged that selected representatives from the community now get to sit at the same table with people from polluting industries, and have a fair shot at presenting solutions.
CCAEJ is now pushing for one affordable, simple vegetative barrier to protect residents from negative impacts that BNSF and other transportation systems are producing. Truck routes are another problem. Truckers are not following restricted truck routes on the main roads, they take shortcuts through neighborhoods.
CCAEJ activists have long testified for statewide and local change. Recently, the California Air Resources Board set its 100 percent zero-emissions mandate, and she counts it as a win for the entire community. All bus fleets must get to zero emissions by 2040.
“We needed it ten years ago, but for communities like San Bernardino and the IE, to know that in 20 years all public transit will be running 100% zero emission fuel is monumental for us,” she said.
Omnitrans removed its massive LNG underground storage unit last year, and pipes that are similar to gas delivery for residential homes were installed. The conversion from LNG to CNG natural gas now fills the buses.
She said more legislation and work is needed, but Reyes’ select committee provides a huge opportunity to hold legislators accountable.
Going forward, Flores will represent CCAEJ in the Committee on Environmental Quality and the Green Economy in the Inland Empire. In 2017, Penny Newman, now retired director and founder of CCAEJ, was one of several community members participating in the 2017 standing committee held by Reyes.
They came together to talk goals for renewable energy, the green economy, and jobs.
“Assemblymember Reyes is a visionary. She’s always on board when it comes to embracing, supporting and validating environmental justice issues,” Flores said.
Earlier this month, scientists released an analysis that Black and Brown people in California are 40% more likely than white people to breathe in dangerous fine particulate matter from vehicles.
The report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that Blacks are 43% more likely, and Latinos are 39% more likely, to breathe in trucks, trains, and buses, resulting in a higher correlation of heart and lung disease, asthma, lung cancer, and death.
“Residents in the communities most affected have known for generations there was a disproportionate amount of air pollution in their neighborhoods,” said David Reichmuth, senior engineer at UCS and author of the new study. “This modeling allows us to quantify the extent of the disparity across the state. California has made enormous strides over the past several decades to reduce overall pollution from vehicles, but this data shows people of color still breathe higher amounts of pollution.”
To view neighborhood pollution levels, see https://oehha.ca.gov/calenviroscreen/