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Commentary: Should California maps carry the skull and crossbones?

Issue Date: August 15, 2012
By Cynthia Cory
Cynthia Cory

The California Environmental Protection Agency is required by law to conduct its programs, policies and activities in a manner that ensures the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and income levels. The term "environmental justice" was attached to this governing philosophy. There is not much to argue about treating people in a balanced and sensible manner.

Looking back, I remember a shift occurring in 2000 when Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 89, which made a differentiation between the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and incomes by also emphasizing the inclusion of minority populations and low-income populations. SB 89 carried the message that Cal/EPA was not protecting everyone.

Environmental justice advocates became more active in public policy discussions. Cal/EPA began work in 2004 on an EJ Action Plan, a key milestone being the recent release of the "California Communities Environmental Screening Tool." The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment drafted the screening tool; a draft can be found on its website at

I strongly encourage you to look at this proposed screening tool and attend one of the upcoming workshops to discuss it, Aug. 21-Sept. 6 (see schedule). The proposed screening tool contains many different maps of the state that are meant to identify the "cumulative impact" that exists from multiple sources of pollution. Unfortunately, these maps do a great injustice because they equate the existence of a potential pollutant with exposure.

For instance, one of the maps shows all the solid and hazardous waste facilities in the state. Another shows use of pesticides for agricultural production, agricultural export and structural uses. Another series of maps depicts race, poverty, cancer, asthma. There are 19 maps. The EJ community has requested that all the maps be combined so ZIP codes can be used to see what the "potential" cumulative pollution is in an area.

Cal/EPA says this series of maps will serve as a screening tool to help state and local decision makers focus their time, resources and enforcement efforts on the regions that have higher vulnerabilities and pollution burdens, as compared to other areas. The problem is, there are no other areas. These maps insinuate that we all live in a toxic waste dump and there are no environmental protections in place. We might as well put a skull and crossbones across the whole state and call it a day.

Local and state government representatives, the business community—actually, everyone who cares about the economic health of this state—need to pay attention to what Cal/EPA proposes. Approval of these maps by the state for public policy decisions would cause a huge impact for businesses seeking to expand or move to our state. Instead of improving disadvantaged communities, this screening tool will stymie job creation at minimum, more likely preventing any business growth.

Please attend the workshops, listen to the overview, then ask questions and express your concerns. If we do not speak up, Cal/EPA will think this is good idea.

All of us care about public health. But it is simply not true to say that because pollution exists, we are constantly exposed to 100 percent of it and it is the main cause of all health and societal ills. Instead of helping to build healthy communities, this will stop economic growth in the very areas of the state that need it the most.

(Cynthia Cory is director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at

Five workshops have been scheduled to discuss a tool that the California Environmental Protection Agency says will screen the environmental health of California communities:

  • Aug. 21, Los Angeles, Friends of Bannings Landing Center, 100 East Water St., Wilmington, 6 p.m.
  • Aug. 22, San Bernardino, Ruben Campos Community Center, 1717 West Fifth St., 6 p.m.
  • Aug. 23, San Diego, Perkins Elementary School, 1770 Main St., 6 p.m.
  • Sept. 5, Fresno, time and location to be announced.
  • Sept. 6 , Oakland, time and location to be announced.

(CFBF will provide additional information about these hearings after it becomes available.)

The deadline for submitting public comments is Sept. 18.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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