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Harris County Landfil 1 Sample File photo Communities Meet to Fight Pollution BY CAROL S. STALL One in four Americans lives within two miles of a “Superfund site a polluted area so toxic it has been designated for special clean-up action by the federal government. Unfortunately, many of the communities closest to such industrial waste sitesusually low-income neighborhoods, often populated by minoritiesare the very communities least able to protect themselves. Hoping to address this problem, last month in San Antonio the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory held the first in a series of national workshops designed to empower low-income people and communities of color which have found themselves cornered by toxics. The Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Roundtable Meeting, held October 17-19, brought environmental justice stakeholders together to discuss the role of local communities in the enforcement of environmental laws and standards. Participants included community organizations and individuals affected by pollution, as well as EPA, state agency and industry representativesprimarily from EPA’s Region Six \(Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, The roundtable was co-hosted by the San Antonio local of the Southwest Public Worker’s Union, and it began with a tour of San Antonio area industrial and toxic sites. Conference sessions were designed to inform citizens of their rights when faced with pollution problems, and described methods of influencing the enforcement and compliance process. Community groups also had the opportunity to interact with agency and industry officials, and to make recommendations for further public participation. “This has never happened beforea three-day event with the sole purpose of eliciting community views on how the system should work,” said Deeohn Ferris, Executive Director of the nonprofit Washington Office on Environmental Justice, which helped to organize the project. “Communities of color and low-income groups bear the burden of economic development [including pollution], but not the benefits,” said Ferris \(who also serves on voice in regulation or clean-up of industry. During the course of the roundtable discussions, the Texas Natural criticism, primarily from representatives of Texas communities. Complaints mainly focused on lack of consistent TNRCC oversight of pollution matters, and the apparent broad leeway allowed to industry for environmental infractions. Ferris noted that the TNRCC had helped organize the conference, but some participants questioned the TNRCC’s real interest, since only two agency representatives were in attendance. “Of course TNRCC helped plan “COMMUNITIES OF COLOR AND it,” said Neil Carman of the LOW-INCOME GROUPS BEAR THE Austin Sierra Club. “They BURDEN OF ECONOMIC DEVELOP get $80 million a year from MENT [INCLUDING POLLUTION], the EPA. If the TNRCC is BUT NOT THE BENEFITS.” so concerned about envi ronmental justice problems in Texas communities, why weren’t they out in force?” Carol Marshall, one of the two TNRCC Environmental Equity representatives at the conference, said that since the roundtable was held in Texas, more comments were directed at the home state agency. “But I don’t think TNRCC received any more bashing than another agency would, if it had been held in another state.” Marshall works in the new TNRCC Office of Public Assistance NOVEMBER 22, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7