Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice and Curtis Bay youth activist Destiny Watford talk about the high stakes fight against the country’s largest incinerator under construction in Baltimore
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our coverage of the planned Energy Answers incinerator in Curtis Bay, Maryland. You should really watch the entire first parts of our coverage, but in case you missed it, here’s a little bit of what you missed.
MIKE EWALL, ENERGY JUSTICE NETWORK: Well, this will be the largest incinerator in the country at 4,000 tons per day. It’ll be the first new incinerator built since 1997.
MICHAEL TRUSH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: The main thing you’re concerned about with a lot of this particularly air pollution coming up is the impact of children and asthma.
NOOR: Joining us are two guests. We’re joined by Destiny Watford. She is an 18-year-old Curtis Bay resident and a student leader of the Free Your Voice campaign with United Workers.
We’re also joined by Robert D. Bullard. He’s the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, as Texas Southern University in Houston. He’s often described as the father of environmental justice.
Thank you both for joining us.
DESTINY WATFORD, STUDENT ORGANIZER: Thank you for having me.
ROBERT BULLARD, DEAN AT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS AT TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY: My pleasure.
NOOR: So, Destiny, let’s start with you. You and your group originally came to us with this story. We just checked the emails seven months ago. And it’s taken us seven months–and I got help from a lot of people to look at your concerns, look at your claims that this new incinerator is going to harm the community. And we talked to environmental experts and scientists and doctors all over the country. And everyone that we talked to said this is going to be dangerous to the community. We brought these concerns to state and city officials, and they essentially did not even respond to the evidence I presented them. Talk about your reaction to this story.
WATFORD: Hearing experts validate that there is a problem with the pollution that’s going to be emitted from this incinerator just validates our concerns. And it just reestablishes the problem.
NOOR: You just heard all these experts say that this could seriously endanger your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family.
WATFORD: It’s terrifying. But also I think it’s really important to mention that the community that I’m from, we have a very long history of air pollution. And I’m not saying that–and, obviously, the incinerator would make it worse. And we already suffer from heart disease and respiratory disease. And so many people in the community have, as many of the communities that surround Curtis Bay. And it’s an issue that affects not only Curtis Bay but the City of Baltimore, and even Maryland as a state.
NOOR: So, Dr. Bullard, you had a chance to watch the story as well. And we really kind of focused in on one particular neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, is this type of thing happening just in Baltimore, just in Curtis Bay? Or is there a longer kind of broader context that you can provide us with?
BULLARD: Well, first of all, the pattern and the characteristics that were detailed in the film really typifies what’s happening in communities of color and low-income communities all across this country. The types of facilities that we’re talking about, an incinerator, an industrial facility that does create pollution, and not just from the incinerator but from the trucks are coming in, bringing the trash and garbage, diesel trucks, fumes, etc. And this pattern of dumping on poor people and dumping on people of color and dumping on communities that are already suffering from elevated health disparities, that’s a pattern that I’ve been documenting for the last 30 years. And here we have 2014, and we’re talking about adding an incinerator to a community that is already overburdened. This is madness.
NOOR: And so I also wanted to get your response, because we’ve reached out to state and city officials with the evidence that we had collected, and they basically said, as was detailed in the report, because this particular facility does not violate any air-quality standards by itself, therefore there’s nothing they really have to do or they will do. They’re going to let it go on and be built.
BULLARD: Well, again, this is not a typical response. And right now, having the evidence, having the facts, having the documentation, it’s still not sufficient to dissuade public officials when there is a proposal on the table to build what’s called a locally unwanted land use or a LULU. And in this case we’re talking incinerator. You could have dead bodies dropping in the streets in Baltimore. You could have sick people lined up from block to block. If the permit is being sought to site a facility in that neighborhood, [incompr.] that would not matter. The way that the system is set up, the permitting apparatus right now set up, is you look at one facility at a time. That is insufficient to protect public health and the environment. And so even though you presented overwhelming empirical evidence and experts, it still is not enough, is not sufficient to sway policymakers. We’ve been fighting this battle for the last three decades, and people are saying enough is enough. And, again, you don’t find these facilities randomly distributed. You don’t find them in rich white suburban areas that’s affluent with no facilities other than green fields and green space in parks, etc. They’re located in low-income minority communities and working-class communities, and the problem still continues. And at some point we need to say no.
NOOR: We just passed the 20-year anniversary of Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898, where he outlined that environmental justice is a serious issue and that the EPA needs to address it. But has this really accomplished anything? Has this executive order, now 20 years old, made a difference?
BULLARD: Well, the order has made a difference in highlighting and publicizing the fact that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazard. And because of that, there are health disparities that results from that. The executive order is an order. It’s not a law. And what happens in terms of local land use is oftentimes local officials decide what they want to site in a specific area. The executive order doesn’t deal with that, because land-use planning is local. And I think what has to happen is to view the siting of this facility as basically a form of discrimination and to target the civil rights laws to enforce that. And you have the NAACP, which is based right there in Baltimore. It seems to me that the folks that [incompr.] walk across the street and get some litigation going on in terms of the fact that the people who live in that community’s rights are not being protected, their health is not being protected in the same way as somebody in another suburban Baltimore community. That is an issue of justice, fairness, and it’s an issue of equity.
NOOR: And you’ve studied this for a long time. What has history shown? Can communities like Curtis Bay, can young activists like Destiny, can they fight these industrial polluters, and can they win?
BULLARD: Oh, yes, they can win. And we’ve had a lot of victories along the way in the last 30 years. What oftentimes it will take is it’ll take lawyers, it’ll take scientists, it’ll take an organized community, it will take an effort on the part of church-based groups and young people to rally, to be persistent in saying no. And, again, in some cases it might take lawsuits, and in some cases it might take a decade to fight these kinds of things. Incinerators are not popping up all across the country; there are isolated cases where they’re being sited and, more often than not, they’re cited in people-of-color communities.
NOOR: Okay. Thank you both for joining us.
BULLARD: My pleasure.
WATFORD: Thank you.
NOOR: And make sure you go to TheRealNews.com for all of our coverage on the fight against the Energy Answers incinerator being built in Curtis Bay, Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.