That's something that we've been highlighting. I've been working with port communities here in Texas and working with the Impact Project out at LA-Long Beach.
We have been talking to the administrator and her office for the past year about the long-term implication of the growth in ports and goods movement, and what that means not just for those [coastal] environmental justice communities…but how it's likely to impact other [inland] communities that could become environmental justice communities.
[In June] I went up to the EPA along with a couple of colleagues from California and New Jersey. We sat in a room with agency representatives from over a dozen federal agencies to discuss the implications of goods movement and port expansion. They set up an official working group to continue to look at that issue. So that's definitely going to be something that needs to be a priority starting now and moving forward for the foreseeable future.
The Houston area rivals the Los Angeles region for the nation's worst ozone, a key component of smog. You helped launch a website for residents to track smog in their communities in real-time. Do you have plans to bring similar digital tools to the EPA?
Absolutely. That's something that I actually just had a meeting this morning with developers about. Those sorts of digital tools that are database driven, you can integrate all sorts of air quality information. Whether it's monitor reported or citizen reported, you can take that and integrate those visualizations with epidemiological information and socioeconomic information. So for the first time, you can really start to get the tangible representation of the enormity and the complexity of the challenges facing environmental justice communities.
In an article in the Houston Chronicle announcing your appointment, Juan Parras, an activist who lives near Houston's refineries and chemical plants, said you will need "the guts and fortitude to challenge those who need to be challenged." Do you have the guts?
Not only do I feel like I have the guts to speak truth, as many environmental justice leaders demand, but I feel like I can do it in a way where people will listen. And people will get that I'm not just being the squeaky wheel. If we acknowledge problems frankly we can find ways to deal with them in a much more direct manner…Hopefully we can find ways to alleviate the negative aspects of these environmental justice communities. Hopefully we can start knocking these communities off the list.
Follow staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.