The York River Group of the Sierra Club held a special program on February 20, 2019 at Sandy Bottom Nature Park. Gustavo Angeles, the Environmental Justice Program Coordinator for the VA Chapter of the Sierra Club, led a stimulating and educational group discussion covering the important topic of environmental justice.
Just what is environmental justice? The EPA’s website defines it as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
Although everyone is ultimately hurt by damage done to the environment, it typically most directly impacts the underprivileged in society. This is because it is usually more difficult for the underprivileged to fight back. Putting a pipeline, waste dump, coal ash pond, etc. in the back yards of a poor neighborhood is usually a path of least resistance for corporate polluters.
Mr. Angeles helped the attendees at the meeting recognize the fact that in order to build an effective campaign to fight environmental injustice, it is crucial to include the people who are directly affected by the issue. This can be difficult to do, but it is an important first step. He encouraged the York River Group to begin to think about what cause(s) are most important to us. He wants this to represent the beginning of a long-term effort of the Sierra Club to make a lasting difference in the lives all people – rich and poor – living in this area.