Talk Show Host, Tavis Smiley interviews Dr. Beverly Wright, Peggy Shepard, and Senator John Kerry about enironmental issues in minority communities

Excerpts taken from the National Public Radio transcript April 22, 2003
In recognition of 33 years of the Earth Day celebration talk show host, Tavis Smiley, calls attention to the things that people do to destroy their environment and discuss solutions to help protect the environment. In Smiley's interview with Senator John Kerry (2004 presidential candidate), Dr. Beverly Wright (director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice), and Peggy Shepard (director, West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc.), he addressed some environmental concerns, particularly in communities of color. Smiley asked Senator Kerry how the United States is doing regarding environmental concerns?  Senator Kerry stated "We've cleaned up some rivers, we've cleaned up air, we've made people aware of things, but the fact is that under the Bush administration, right now, we're going backwards. They went back on their promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and they went backwards on the global warming treaty. "Today I'm going to announce that I will create environmental empowerment zones in this country so that we once and for all really address the incredible problem of minority and poor communities in America becoming the dumping grounds for toxic waste sites, for sludge, and landfills."

Smiley asked Dr. Beverly Wright why was it so important to found the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at a Historically Black College? What does this say about the environmental problems of communities of color that there was a need for an entirely new department to take on challenges affecting non-whites?" Dr. Wright replied "what is says is that the problem is pretty severe, especially in Louisiana. The stretch of the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, also called "Cancer Alley," has 136 petrochemical plants and six refineries, and these facilities are located in close proximity to mostly African-American communities. We asked the question, 'Where are all of the white people, because as you know down south, whites and blacks generally live close to one another, especially in rural areas, and we've found that whites were no where around. So what we've basically seen is that the pattern of discrimination and racism that we know exists in housing and education, also exists when it comes to environmental exposure. People in Louisiana, just like people around this country, indeed around the world where there are people of color, are more exposed to toxic facilities than are whites."

Smiley posed this question to Peggy Shepard, "Why is it that we don't see more faces of color in the leadership of this environmental movement?"  Shepard explains "you have to understand that the mainstream environmental movement was founded back in the 70's primarily to begin a series of legislation and regulation that has resulted in the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and some wonderful environmental protections. But it has been the people of color in the environmental justice movement that has focused on healthy, sustainable communities, which focuses on community-level impacts of the environment, and that's where the mainstream environmental movement has fallen short, however, this is where the environmental justice movement has been very strong in ensuring and working to change policies so that environmental impacts are lessened and so that there is actual decision making being made about our communities by the folks who live there."

Smiley's final question was, "How can communities of color get their environmental concerns addressed?" Dr. Wright responed by saying  "this is a difficult question, however, one of the ways that we can get our questions addressed is by coming together as people of color, organizing, and putting pressure on our legislators to do what we think is necessary to make the change. That has been particularly difficult under the Bush administration, because as you know, most of his policies are counter to what we are working for. We have made some advances, and we realize that these advances have been made by, first of all, educating our communities about the problem, organizing our communities, and then working together as African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders and indigenous people.


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