Working for Environmental Justice in Minnesota


By Karen Monahan, Green For All Fellow and Environmental Justice Organizer at Sierra Club

Environmental Justice issues are linked to many other injustices. Polluting industries are more likely to be located in communities of color and low-income communities. Folks who are impacted by these pollution sites often suffer from many illnesses, including asthma. Asthma is the number one reason students miss school. Link that to test scores and drop out rates. Many of these same folks do not have healthcare. Folks still have to eat and have shelter regardless of whether or not they have an education. When one doesn’t have the proper training or education to make a living wage, it leads to low-income jobs (if they are available), social services (which are being cut) or maybe a life of crime, which can lead to incarceration or even death. Environmental Justice is one way to tackle a variety of injustice issues.

For far too long we have been working on tackling pollution plants case-by-case, permit-by-permit. We are working with the Minnesota Pollution Control (MPCA) to try to remedy this problem, by addressing the big picture pollution issues that affect Minneapolis. We are working toward relationship building with the MPCA and the community. We are asking for quarterly meetings with the organization as a way to understand the issues our community faces and find ways to tackle those issues. We are also asking for a real environmental justice policy, where decision-makers have to look at vulnerable communities and the cumulative affects of pollution when making decisions that will impact our health and land. We also want more people of color on decision-making boards. We want folks who live in our communities and understand environmental justice issues to be part of the decision process when it comes to permits for polluting industries.

We’re fighting to protect our neighborhoods from pollution from a garbage incinerator. The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) incinerator is asking for a 20 percent increase in how much garbage can be burned in our communities. We already deal with a heavy burden on our health from pollution. Our children cannot continue to bear the brunt of pollution while others cash in at our expense. We need to invest in more recycling and compost. This is cleaner, safer and would provide more jobs for our community. Garbage incinerators are not clean renewable energy as they claim. We have more choices then burn or landfill, recycle and compost is an option.

This work inspires me because I see the link between so many of the issues our community faces. I also believe it is my calling to do my small part to make the world a better place. I carry the words of Dr. King in my heart as I do this work: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The injustices I am working to eliminate are symptoms of a deeper issue. We need a shift in consciousness to see our deep connection to each other and the earth. When we have that shift we realize it is in our best interest to not hurt another person or the amazing resources our mother earth provides. We live with the illusion of separateness, versus seeing our true connection to everything and everyone.

You can help by joining our effort to create zero waste in our community. Just go to our Facebook page and hit “Like.” On the page, you can get more information about the HERC burner, stay updated on events, and help inform others about the environmental justice issues we face. We can do this—but only if we stand together and show solidarity.

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