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— Four local leaders embroiled in the controversial Peace Bridge saga will deliver a joint presentation at the 2014 National Environmental Justice Conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 11:00 AM. Before an audience of several hundred nationally recognized environmental justice experts and federal agency officials, Buffalo Councilman Joseph Golombek, Jr.; Peace Bridge General Manager Ron Rienas; Columbus Park Neighborhood Association President Kathleen R. Mecca; and Preservation Buffalo Niagara Trustee Terrance A. Robinson will discuss the environmental justice crisis facing residents of Buffalo’s West Side resulting from Peace Bridge truck traffic. During the panel session, titled, “Finding Common Ground: The Power & Value of Capacity Building,” the four presenters will demonstrate how in the last year, key stakeholders in the Peace Bridge debate have chosen to facilitate a dialogue intended to overcome hostility, transcend political obstacles, and devise common objectives that readily target low-hanging fruit. While major disagreements still exist—and will be exposed during the presentation—each panelist will share his or her unique perspective on the past, present, and future of the Peace Bridge and Buffalo’s West Side community.

The panel session will open with presentations from Golombek, Rienas, Mecca, and Robinson, followed by a question and answer period. Each presenter will speak to topics in their area of expertise:

􀀀 Joseph Golombek, Jr.: Councilman Golombek has been a strong champion for the West Side community—an area outside of his legislative district. His presentation will discuss the politics of the Peace Bridge and why so many elected officials publicly acknowledge the West Side health crisis, but then support Peace Bridge infrastructure expansion projects that will only exacerbate that health crisis. He will also address why he has sponsored numerous City Council resolutions to prevent the Peace Bridge from expanding further into the West Side and the political challenges he faces because of his position. In addition, Councilman Golombek will discuss how local, state, and federal political influence has corrupted regulatory processes that are otherwise designed to protect the public, but are instead being used to cover up a health epidemic.

􀀀 Ron Rienas: Mr. Rienas will present on his experience as General Manager of the Peace Bridge, where he has worked since 2003. Mr. Rienas will discuss the challenges that have led to strife between the Peace Bridge and the West Side and a recent stewardship initiative he has undertaken to improve community relations. In addition, Mr. Rienas will shed light on how the policies and practices of both United States and Canadian customs agencies create traffic congestion that negatively impacts West Side residents’ quality of life and share his recommendations for resolving these issues.

􀀀 Kathleen R. Mecca: Ms. Mecca will speak to the health crisis facing West Side residents as a consequence of the toxic diesel exhaust that blankets her community thanks to Peace Bridge truck traffic. She will then discuss her initiative to facilitate a dialogue between key stakeholders in the Peace Bridge debate and how it has helped mend relations and expose the fact that politicians like U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Congressman Brian Higgins consistently abuse their power to manipulate Peace Bridge-related initiatives to the benefit of their political supporters and donors. She will discuss how each time the community exposes wrongdoing on the part of government, these political figures intentionally confuse the issue by releasing false and baseless information, which the media treats as fact. Ms. Mecca will close by conveying that the community’s current objective is to engage national leaders by demonstrating how international border trade will become stronger when the laws of environmental justice are respected, not ignored.

􀀀 Terrance A. Robinson: Mr. Robinson is a widely respected community activist and public official in Buffalo who specializes in civil rights protection, environmental policy compliance, and historic preservation regulations. He will discuss the ongoing environmental justice crisis on Buffalo’s West Side as the consequence of placing profit over people and that state and federal government agencies act at the direction of political leaders to violate historic preservation, environmental, civil rights laws in order to “fast track” projects at the Peace Bridge.

The 2014 National Environmental Justice Conference takes place March 26-28, 2014 at the Metro Center Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, DC. The annual conference provides an interactive forum for the free exchange of ideas and approaches to solving environmental injustices facing the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

Presentation materials and other relevant information will be posted online at MoveThePlaza.com/NEJC beginning at 10:00 AM on Thursday, March 26, 2014.

For more information on the 2014 National Environmental Justice Conference, please visit TheNEJC.org.