New Kern network allows residents to become ‘environmental police’

Last week, I participated in an environmental justice bus tour intended to introduce the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network to community members and agency officials.

The network is the latest example of residents taking environmental justice into their own hands. (Past examples include the Arvin Bucket Brigade, and community mapping projects.) The program, which is expected to launch next month, is designed to make it easier for residents to report local environmental hazards, and for agencies to identify and investigate these issues.

The program will include a monitoring website, where people can report their concerns. Residents can also call in or text their complaints. A taskforce of community members and agency representatives will then meet and encourage the responsible agencies to investigate the complaints, and enforce existing environmental laws.

For area residents, the network is an opportunity to take an active role in ensuring environmental health laws are enforced. During the kick-off meeting last Wednesday, Valley residents and advocates said they welcome this challenge.

“We are not supposed to leave situations,” said Susana De Anda, as she described how her doctor encouraged her to leave the San Joaquín Valley, since the region’s polluted air causes her to have asthma attacks. “We can’t just leave and pick up – we have to fix the problems where we live.”

“I learned that I had to start educating myself – because otherwise, nothing is going to change,” Teresa De Anda (pictured below) said, after describing how she tried to report an incident of pesticide use on a poor air quality day, but was instead referred from agency to agency, in an instance of bureaucratic hot potato.

The Kern network is based off a similar, successful program in Imperial County, called the Imperial Visions Action Network. Residents there were experiencing their own environmental justice concerns, like agricultural burning, and the network has allowed people to shine a light on the hazards in their communities, said Luís Olmedo, executive director of Comite Cívico del Valle, the Imperial network’s lead organization.

“These communities in the eastern part of the state are not getting enough attention – they are more agricultural communities, more desert communities, and probably less influential communities,” Olmedo said. “Giving them this tool gives them the ability to have greater and better access to government organizations.”

Does this sound like a great tool for your community? Groups throughout the region – including Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties – have expressed interest in establishing their own networks, and it appears the EPA supports the project.

Through the program, residents will become “the community environmental police,” regional EPA administrator Jared Blumenfeld said during the kick-off event. “That is your job – you are the eyes and ears for all of our agencies.” 

“The future face of the environmental justice movement,” he said, “is you getting equity through accountability.”

Read more about the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.


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