Thursday, March 19, 2009

The GOP Urban Agenda: Dealing With Environmental Issues in the Inner-City by Akindele Akinyemi

I find it strange that most conservatives will not discuss green issues. Many feel that these issues are a hoax (such as global warming). That is not the issue here. When we are viewing green issues from a silver rights perspective through urban conservatism we need to look at this in dollars and cents.

Before we look at the economic benefits of this I want to expose environmental disparities in urban communities.

Environmental pollution hits the urban community harder than other communities. For example:

If you’ve ever driven on I-75 South of Downtown Detroit, it’s hard to miss the smell coming off the landscape of industrial stacks and facilities. Del-Ray residents, located in this highly industrialized area of southwest Detroit, are neighbors with Marathon Oil, Great Lakes Steel, Detroit Edison, wastewater treatment plants, and a dozen other industrial facilities.

A while ago in Mexicantown, the Detroit Public Schools built Beard Elementary School (renamed Roberto Clemente Learning Academy) on top of a site contaminated with PCBs, lead and arsenic. The community was faced with the unfair dichotomy of fighting between children’s education and a safe environment.

On the near east side, the Greendale community continues to bear the burden of exposure from the irresponsibility of Canflow Environmental Services, a company that dumped industrial wastewater in the sewage system, which overflowed in residents’ basements and backyards with sludge, chemicals and human waste.

Further east, Master Metals left a legacy of lead contamination and hazardous waste. Soil samples from lawns and nearby property reveal significantly high levels of lead. Studies show that among infants and young children, lead poisoning has been associated with development and behavioral disorders and juvenile delinquency.

In Hamtramck, possibly one of the most ethnically diverse parts within the city, residents were at one point exposed to the mercury, dioxin and other toxic emissions coming from the Hamtramck Medical Waste Incinerator. Local community members, along with environmental justice groups were so vocal in opposition of the incinerator that the state shut it down. However, the OTHER incinerator still operates near Russell and I-94 near Dequindre Yard in Detroit.

The incineration of sewage sludge has no beneficial effect on persistent toxic substances such as PCBs and mercury. Settling of particles that are contaminated with these chemicals is enhanced by optimal design and management of the treatment facility. However, the presence of these and other toxic contaminants does not allow utilization of the collected sludge as fertilizer which is a disposal method that many communities take advantage of. The method opted for by the two largest sewage treatment plants in the area (Detroit and Wyandotte) is incineration. The collected sludge is burned to form ash and flue gas; the latter contains most of the PCB and mercury which in turn falls out on the watershed and thus is dispersed throughout the area.

There are numerous reports out here that can show how people of color make up the majority of those living in host neighborhoods within 2 miles of the nation's hazardous waste facilities. Racial and ethnic disparities are prevalent throughout the country. Points I would like to bring up.

While socio-economic status plays an important role in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities, race is the leading factor.

Three out of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills in the United States are located in mostly Black or Hispanic (Latino) communities; these landfills account for 40% of the nation’s estimated commercial landfill space.

Cities with large Black populations like St. Louis, Houston, Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Memphis have the largest numbers of uncontrolled toxic waste sites.

About half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in communities with uncontrolled waste sites.

Michigan leads the nation in terms of the disparity between the percentages of people of color living within 2 miles of a hazardous waste facility compared to the percentage of minorities outside that radius — 66 percent versus 19 percent. In other words, more than two-thirds of the people living near these sites are people of color, while fewer than 20 percent of those living outside the 2 mile radii are minorities.

So when President Obama discuss the need for cleaner air and energy conservatives have a problem with that. Why is that? In suburbia, where most conservatives live, are switching over to solar and other forms of alternative energy to CONSERVE money. Yet, discussing environmental issues are looked upon as a liberal issue. Give me a break. We all breathe the same air and somwehat drink the same water so go figure.

Recently, there was a debate regarding location of a second river crossing between Detroit and Windsor. When the group studying the issue initially suggested a bridge could be located in such upscale communities as Grosse Ile and Grosse Pointe, those communities quickly mounted protests and those plans were discarded. Consequently, the focus of a new crossing is the poorer, heavily minority community of southwest Detroit.

How do we tie in discussing environmental issues that are affecting poorer communities in urban America in a GOP Urban Agenda?

First we need to acknowledge that there is a problem. We need to continue tackling the critical questions that appear before us. For instance, why do many "brownfield sites" exist in the Detroit (and other urban areas) where soil and sediment contamination create environmental and human health concerns, and block economic redevelopment?

Due to fear that involvement with these sites may make them liable for cleaning up contamination they did not create, developers are more attracted to developing sites in pristine areas, called "greenfields." The result can be blighted areas rife with abandoned industrial facilities that create safety and health risks for residents, drive up unemployment, and foster a sense of hopelessness. Therefore, urban conservatives must be on top of these issues to pour forth silver rights by transforming brownfield into greenfields by way of investing resources into a particular area (Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Muskegon, Inkster, Ecorse).

Second, going green can also be economically sound for a city that is on life support. Conservatives make fun at green jobs and green technology. Some ask how can windmills support the environment? The answer is competition. Windmills produce electricity. Here is a chance to contribute to the free market by way of producing green jobs through manufacturing. That would force other utilites like DTE Energy or Consumers Energy to drive down the cost of utilities.

There are some reports that estimates green enterprise as a $229 billion market sector. CleanEdge.org reports clean/green technology as the third largest venture capital investment category in 2007.

These investment categories mean new green-collar jobs for American workers at a time when blue-collar jobs are drying up or shipping out: Solar panel manufacturer; green building construction worker; sustainable forestry worker. These are all green jobs.

By their nature, green jobs are also local jobs, meaning that money stays in the community and creates a multiplier effect for the local economy. You can't outsource a green job, and a green job doesn't take a toll on public health.

There is a challenge here, of course: Boom times like the dot-com era didn't do much for communities of color or low-income workers. But green jobs require a specialized skill set, giving workers who have been locked out of the old economy an opportunity to skill up and move to the front of the line for jobs in the new clean and green economy.

Places like Oakland, California are becoming models for a green city. I cannot understand why places like Muskegon Heights, Flint, Sgainaw, Pontiac or even Benton Harbor cannot become green cities (NOT COOL CITIES).

These are areas where we can possibly create the state's first Green Jobs Corps, a training partnership between the community college system and the city to train and employ residents—particularly hard-to-employ groups—in the new green economy.

Another one is to develop Green Enterprise Zones. These are areas where green businesses and green-collar employers are given incentives and benefits to locate and hire. This will be part of a comprehensive Green Economic Development Plan distinguished by eco-industrial parks.

While President Obama has promised $15 billion per year towards green infrastructure projects. While seemingly a large figure, it is a drop in the bucket, that will have little economic impact on the $14 trillion U.S. economy. What is needed is a much larger investment in the green economy, one that will create a new era of high paying middle class jobs, and an investment that strengthens the overall economy by reducing government budget deficits.

That is where urban conservatives can pick up the ball and make a slam dunk on both environmental and green issues. The GOP Urban Agenda should have a line-item with environmental issues. This is something important that should not be ignored. After all what affects us in the inner city will affect us regionally. It's time to move away from the industrial age and move into the information age with green technology.

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