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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week at the National Environmental Justice
Conference in Washington, D.C., influential people from across the
country learned of the environmental injustices facing the
overwhelmingly minority and impoverished residents of Buffalo’s West
Side community.  The annual conference was held from April 3-5, 2013.

On April 3, 2013, before a group of more than 150 federal agency
officials and environmental justice leaders, Kathleen Mecca delivered
a powerful presentation, titled “The High Cost of Free Trade:
Importing Pollution at the Expense of Buffalo’s Poor.”  The
presentation detailed the injustice facing the poor, minority
residents of Buffalo’s West Side.  Mecca, a West Side community
activist and president of the Niagara Gateway Columbus Park
Association, was overwhelmed by the experience.

“The response was emotional and validating,” Mecca said.  “Some of
those in the audience were brought to tears.  No longer is the West
Side going to have to fight this fight on our own—the whole country is
watching now.”

Mecca was an invited speaker at the conference, and her presentation
on the first day framed the topics discussed in the following two days
of the conference.

Lessie Price, an African-American and the first female elected
at-large in the city council of Aiken, S.C., delivered a presentation
during a panel discussion on April 5, 2013.  Price discussed the role
of elected officials and local leaders in matters of environmental
justice.

To demonstrate to the audience how elected officials and local leaders
can perpetuate injustice, Price used a four-minute news story
originally broadcast on WGRZ-TV the night before (“Investigative Post:
Peace Bridge Traffic Plan Controversy,” April 4, 2013).  Some in the
audience gasped and others chuckled upon hearing the remarks of Sam
Hoyt, Chairman of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority
(PBA), as he attempted to defend the failure of the PBA and New York
State to provide West Side residents a seat at the table before
crafting plans to increase the volume of commercial truck traffic
that, as it exists today, is already causing rampant disease among
residents.  Even more disconcerting was when the audience learned that
the actions of the PBA and New York State fly in the face of Governor
Andrew Cuomo’s campaign promise to, “partner with the environmental
justice community to strengthen environmental protections in low
income and minority communities.”

“Governor Cuomo’s gratuitous hypocrisy is now in the national
spotlight,” Mecca said.  “Everyone heard that message loud and clear.
They also understood that by increasing commercial truck traffic
capacity at the Peace Bridge—whether on the U.S. or Canadian side—more
trucks will be attracted to the bridge and more pollution will poison
our air.  This environmental justice issue has nothing to do with
idling trucks and everything to do with the number of trucks that
cross that bridge.  Faster truck processing means more trucks and more
pollution for the West Side—it’s as simple as that.”

The 2013 National Environmental Justice Conference provided a
much-needed national outlet for the West Side community and has
ushered in a new era in the decades-long fight for environmental
justice for West Side residents.  Just as Tonawanda Coke was brought
to task after the community raised their concerns to national leaders,
the PBA could face a similar fate for facilitating and promoting
commercial truck traffic, leading to unsafe levels of diesel exhaust
that blanket the West Side.

The National Environmental Justice Conference took place April 3-5,
2013 and was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Department of
Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Energy, and a
number of private and non-profit organizations.  Visit thenejc.org and
movetheplaza.com/nejc for a copy of Mecca’s PowerPoint presentation, a
copy of the presentation abstract, and other information.

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