Columnists Opinion

Our communities need environmental justice

When I think of justice, I often look to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A source of great inspiration on my journey as a clergyman and fighter for peace, MLK sought to raise awareness about structural barriers facing poor, urban and primarily black communities.

Through nonviolent protests, marches and boycotts, he challenged racial and social norms in America, igniting a nationwide movement to end injustice.

But there’s an area of social justice that often goes unseen, and it’s a torch I’m carrying forward in King’s honor and his spirit. Environmental justice: equal protection from environmental and health hazards regardless of race, color or income; and equal access to fair enforcement of environmental laws.

Environmental justice seeks not only to end racism in public policy, but also to ensure that these policies support environmental stewardship. As an ordained pastor at Holman United Methodist Church, I have a deep faith in peace, respect and fairness for all of God’s people. I believe it is our duty to stand up to this injustice.

The environmental justice movement focuses on the needs of poor and disadvantaged people who often lack the resources or representation to fight back against sources of pollution in their neighborhoods. After living in the Los Angeles area for more than 30 years, I know there is disproportionate access to adequate air quality in some communities, and most are communities of color.

More than 100,000 residents living near or adjacent to the Inglewood Oil Field are forced to breathe toxins released from oil rig machinery and drink groundwater potentially contaminated by fracking. Those afflicted are primarily low-income communities of color and they suffer disproportionately from a series of serious health problems.

Inglewood’s most vulnerable are in physical danger from the air they breathe as they walk down the streets of their own neighborhoods.

The filthy smog produced by the oil industry triggers asthma attacks and causes wheezing, difficulty breathing, increased headaches and stomach problems. Worst of all, it’s our community’s children who are most susceptible to the dangers of pollution.

Imagine how it builds in their bodies over time. Imagine how helpless they are to fight it.

It is our duty to stand up for people who do not have the ability to stand up for themselves. These young people, and all of God’s children, have a right to clean air, water and soil; and a right to grow and thrive in healthy, nurturing natural environments. We need leaders who will stand up against oil companies and support the development of alternate sources of energy.

I work with communities and local organizations to fight this injustice every day, but it’s not enough. It is our community leaders and local legislators’ responsibility to speak up about the effects of poor air quality, pollutants and other environmental hazards impacting our children.

It is their job to act and implement policies that protect all people. We can’t let oil companies bully us.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke has been reaching out to our community to let us know she is willing to work with, for and beside us on a wide range of issues. We need to let her and other elected leaders like her know how important this is for our community, so that we are working together so ensure we’re breathing cleaner air.

With strong leadership and an active community, we will unite and overcome. 

The Rev. Oliver Buie lives in Inglewood and is an ordained pastor at Holman United Methodist Church.