By RJ Bowman, LABB Environmental Justice Fellow
My fourth week in New Orleans has brought about many surprises. To start the week off, I had the opportunity to sit in on another community’s organizational meeting in Alsen, LA. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together the community and inform them of an investigation from the DEQ about contamination that has been getting into their community for decades. But the real surprise was the realization that other communities have the same issues and struggles as mine back home. Sitting in the meeting felt like reliving meetings in my community. There are many strong similarities between my organization and the one in Alsen. The first thing I noticed was how organized the group is. That is a major accomplished for a community group to be well organized. The second thing is how well informed and knowledgeable the members are in the organization. The next thing that I thought about was a way to bring all these different communities together in the fight for environmental justice. If that happens then there is no limit to the amount of power and influence each community will have on their side.
On Tuesday, June 19, I got to accompany Anna on a trip to Baton Rouge to talk to Wes McQuiddy, Chief of the Emergency Readiness Section of EPA about a large-scale spill of naptha from ExxonMobil. To my surprise McQuiddy was furious that EPA would cover up the amount of the initial release and report it to EPA. It seemed like a blatant slap in the face to EPA coming from DEQ. As we talked, I mentioned to him that as a community member I have witnessed this time and time before. He was very interested in fixing the breakdown of communication and trust in the system. We gave him ideas on how to be able to gather their own data instead of relying on the dishonest refineries and a state agency that has no purpose. He received them very well. It did not come as a surprise to me that DEQ would cover up for a refinery, but my surprise is that they would cover for them when they could possibly face criminal charges at the risk of workers and the community.