On Tuesday, June 7th, voters in all nine Bay Area counties will have the opportunity to secure funding for wetland restoration for the entire Bay. In addition to the many benefits this measure offers — improved water quality, reductions in trash and toxic pollution, carbon sequestration, protection for vulnerable wildlife and a natural barrier to sea level rise — Measure AA also presents a unique opportunity to advance environmental justice in our region. If passed, Measure AA could fund many proposed projects in low-lying and low-income communities, several of which need immediate help securing their shorelines against climate change and reducing levels of toxic pollutants.
First defined by Robert Bullard, environmental justice (EJ) is “the principle that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations.” But not only is EJ about equal protection, it is also about equal sharing of environmental hazards and burdens. Environmental justice is built on the notion that relegating environmental hazards to specific peoples and neighborhoods is illogical and inequitable, (see: environmental racism). Across the U.S., low income communities (disproportionately communities of color and other minorities) are continuously subjected to more hazards than white communities or other communities of privilege.
Our region is not immune to this problem and environmental injustices and racism persist throughout the Bay Area. In 2007, UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Justice, Tolerance & Community put out a report on EJ issues in the Bay Area. Taking a lesson from Hurricane Katrina, they found that leaving some people and areas under-protected ultimately poses environmental risks and costs for everyone.
Measure AA gives us an opportunity to secure funding for our entire Bay and recognize that pollution in one area of the Bay impacts the entire Bay ecosystem. Instead of avoiding problems and making them worse by trying to shift them onto “other people,” Measure AA will facilitate us acting as one region protecting the Bay together.
Timmy Lu, State Organizing Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, is clear on what this means for the communities whose interests he represents: “Our members, who have been and will be hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change, support Measure AA because we know that the wetlands will protect our neighborhoods from flooding.”
Measure AA is an exciting opportunity to promote environmental justice in the Bay Area by ensuring our whole community is accountable to the Bay’s well-being, and the well-being of all of us who are impacted by it. The waters of the Bay don’t know the difference between county lines. Pollution in one area becomes pollution in another, just as restoration in one area makes the entire Bay healthier. Let’s vote as a region to protect our Bay on June 7th, by voting YES on Measure AA.
For more information on environmental justice and racism see “Principles of Environmental Justice.”