August 19th 2015
University of California, Santa Barbara
Environmental Justice Presentation to Students
On Wednesday, August 19th 2015, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN) organizer Gustavo Aguirre Jr. was invited to share a presentation on Environmental Justice and community organizing in the California’s Central valley. The presentation covered the project Gustavo coordinates; the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) which is the community powered reporting network that runs of the same platform as IVAN (Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods) in other reporting networks across the state. The class Gustavo presented at was Miss. Rios SOC 108st: Ethnographic Methods course, where there students were interested in listening from a community organizer working with Environmental Justice communities.
Gustavo met Sarah Rios in a community meeting in Arvin over the summer; she was doing research in Valley Fever with farm-workers and prison inmates, who are the most exposed to the spore. While doing research, Sarah tapped into environmental justice communities and organizations, in that, she came across KEEN. KEEN is the reporting network where residents could report environmental violations affecting the community and get industries to respect the communities and laws set in place.
In the class room Gustavo presented to the students an introduction of the organization and project which he coordinates in Kern County. In Kern County there are EJ communities that live with big Ag, Big Oil, and toxic dumps right next door, and in some cases, communities live next to all. These are the communities that Gustavo works with and who participate in the reporting network KEEN. Some examples from reports by residents via KEEN were The Arvin pipeline Leak, where 8 families were evacuated for about 9 months due to gas/oil pipeline leak underneath their homes causing them to leave. This was a big report due to the time and efforts spent while covering the leak. This was a great starting point because it covers the inception of a problem in a community and the evolution of the report along the way, even up to the point of working with local officials to possibly passing a bill in state legislation to help prevent accidents like this to occur again.
CCEJN believes in the principles of community scientists and community sampling/monitoring, we work together with communities to monitor through report logging and samples so we can create environmental literacy in communities with the most need. Part of our presentation covered that lack of general information and regulatory literacy these disadvantage communities face and how we believe building a bridge between community and the regulatory world is necessary. As we work with communities across the Valley, we explain to them in detail how regulatory agencies oversee and enforce regulations set forth by the state or federal government.
The vast majority of students were impressed by the volume of violations that occur in communities like Arvin and Lamont in Kern County. The students had great questions that covered and detailed problems that exist in our communities, such as lack of political will and proper enforcement. Some students even were from the Central Valley or had family in the valley and knew of these problems first hand. In conclusion, the students got a good sense of what it is to be a community organizer in an environmental justice community and the efforts we make to better the communities we work in.
August 19th 2015