Second letter to Lisa Jackson, EPA chief: Bring back the hope

by Leon Muhammad

Lisa-Jackson-EPA-director, Second letter to Lisa Jackson, EPA chief: Bring back the hope, Local News & Views Dear Director Lisa P. Jackson:

The Bayview Hunters Point (BVHP) community was hopeful of your appointment almost a year ago by President Barack Obama and felt that finally there was to be deliberate dialogue, transparency, community engagement and participation in formulating solutions for environmental issues.

We believed your promise in your memo, dated April 23, 2009, on “Transparency in EPA’s Operations” that “in all its programs, EPA will provide for the fullest possible public participation in decision making. This requires not only that EPA remain open and accessible to those representing all points of view, but also the EPA offices responsible for decision take affirmative steps to solicit the view of those who will be affected by these decisions. This includes communities of color …”

You also stated in you memo titled “Seven Priorities for EPA’s Future” that you are “developing enhanced strategies for risk reduction in our Superfund program, with stronger partnership with stakeholders affected by our cleanups.”

EPA has remained silent since April 22, 2009, regarding the Hunters Point Shipyard Regional Advisory Board (RAB), when Mr. Michael Montgomery stated that the U.S. Navy should follow the rules according to the RAB handbook to resolve the matters of the RAB. Since the RAB was dissolved, the Navy is permitted to cut corners and the community is excluded from the decision-making table regarding matters of environmental cleanup.

This equates to no community involvement, which is perhaps not what you as EPA director envisioned for Obama’s administration, is it? The U.S. Navy disregarded – and still disregards – EPA’s position when they have been requested by EPA to work with the existing RAB and to resolve communication issues. The U.S. Navy’s apparent answer to the community and EPA is, “Dissolve the RAB.” (See “Letter to Lisa Jackson, EPA chief: Navy was wrong to dissolve RAB” by Leon Muhammad.)

Most of the individuals who commented during the comment period were not in favor of dissolving the RAB on the grounds presented in the public notice presented by the United States Navy. The conclusions and recommendations do not seem to be representative of the comments received.

Work still goes on without community engagement and oversight by those affected by the cleanup. This begs the question: Where is EPA on this matter?

We, as one of the communities with whom you promised to work and engage, feel frustrated. We wonder how are we supposed to establish a working relationship with the U.S. Navy, the Redevelopment Agency and EPA without respect and dialog? We feel that our trust in EPA is broken and ask how are we to move forward without trust?

EPA must address the apparent disregard to Bayview Hunters Point community health, well being, and concerns for children and families.

We wonder how are we supposed to establish a working relationship with the U.S. Navy, the Redevelopment Agency and EPA without respect and dialog?

Is EPA sincerely concerned about the daily exposure to hazardous toxins of residents in Bayview Hunters Point?

In our view, it seems EPA had the authority to step in all along and rectify the situation. EPA did this in El Dorado, Al Viso and now Tempe, Arizona, as stated Oct. 29, 2009, by EPA Director of Air Division in the Pacific Southwest office Deborah Jordan, who said, “Maricopa County’s particulate air pollution is a serious problem.” (See “Tempe developer Lennar pays $182,519 to settle Clean Air Act violations,” EPA press release.)

EPA works closely with local air quality agencies to enforce existing regulations and remind companies such as Lennar Corp. that noncompliance with the law will not be tolerated.

• Lennar received 25 Notices of Violation (NOVs) in that case, which prompted the response stating Lennar’s actions “will not be tolerated.”

• In Bayview Hunters Point, Lennar received over 300 NOVs. What happened to EPA’s threshold of tolerance in BVHP?

• Particulate matter was the issue in the Tempe, Arizona, case, on Oct. 29, 2009, when EPA deemed it necessary to pursue a lawsuit against Lennar.

• BVHP was, and is, suffering daily from not only particulate matter, but also from Superfund containments from the Hunters Point Shipyard (HPS).

• During the meeting with Lisa Jackson, facilitated by Laura Yoshi, acting regional administrator, who signed onto the lawsuit on Oct. 19, 2009, EPA was extremely engaged in Tempe’ over this matter and yet turned the other way regarding BVHP. While all the time EPA was informed by the BVHP community on Lennar’s neglect of the law.

This appears to us as environmental racism, which has been defined as follows: “Racial discrimination in environmental policy making and the enforcement of regulations and laws; the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic and hazardous waste facilities; the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities; and the history of excluding people of color from the leadership of the environmental movement.” (This is the classic definition by Benjamin Chavis in “The Historical Significance and Challenges of the First National People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit,” in “Proceedings of the First National People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit,” published by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in 1991.)

EPA was extremely engaged in Tempe’, Arizona, over Lennar’s dust violations and yet turned the other way regarding BVHP.

Director Jackson, you vowed to restore trust in the agency and to restore the role of science in EPA decision making. You also stated that “we must take special pains to connect with those who have been historically underrepresented in EPA decision making, including the disenfranchised in our cities and rural areas, communities of color, Native Americans, people disproportionately impacted by pollution, and small businesses, cities and towns working to meet their environmental responsibilities. Like all Americans, they deserve an EPA with an open mind, a big heart and a willingness to listen. EPA must be sensitive to the burdens pollution has placed on vulnerable subpopulations, including children, the elderly, the poor and all others who are at particular risk to threats to health and the environment. We must seek their full partnership in the greater aim of identifying and eliminating the sources of pollution in their neighborhoods, schools and homes.”

It seems that the EPA in Region 9 is losing the trust of the Bayview Hunters Point community.

Have you taken special pains with us who have been historically underrepresented and impacted daily by pollution? Are you seeking our full partnership in the greater aim of identifying and eliminating the source of pollution our neighborhood, schools and homes?

Why is it that BVHP did not receive fairness, equality and justice as did Tempe, El Dorado and Al Viso?

What is EPA committed to do today to correct the wrong and implement environmental justice fairness and equality?

The following is a list of the BVHP community requests:

• A moratorium on all work on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund site.

• Support for technical assistance services for our community.

• The completion of a community impact report identifying past, present and an analysis of potential future effects on BVHP community residents.

• The testing of BVHP community members, including children, the elderly, families and workers, to identify the adverse health effects due to exposure.

• The suing of the developer Lennar Corp. by the EPA, which was done in Tempe, Arizona, for the 300 violations.

• The reinstatement of the RAB with the present members with the requirement that the U.S. Navy follow their handbook in resolving matters between them and the RAB.

Director Jackson, you stated that you are calling for innovation and bold thinking and that you are challenging all of your employees to bring vision and creativity to your programs. The protection of vulnerable subpopulations is a top priority, especially with regard to children.

I speak to you as a parent to a parent, as a father whose children have been directly impacted by toxic exposure from the United States Navy and the work on Parcel A, owned by Lennar. I speak to you as a father who has to care for his son who suffers weekly from nosebleeds, a father who has to comfort his daughter who suffers from rashes on her small innocent body. I speak to you as a parent who watches over his children nightly as they sleep, not knowing their future due to their exposure to Superfund site chemicals.

Director Jackson, what do I tell my family, who looked to this new administration for HOPE? What do I tell my two daughters and two sons of EPA Region 9 and its apparent slowness to render justice?

It is written that when a people which is suffering yearns for a solution, help comes. Help is born from the yearning and suffering of the people. You are seen as that help. We need your help. We need your leadership. We need you to bring back the hope once felt when we were told that a new day is among us.

I leave you with this: I pray that you carry out your mission; I have unlimited confidence in the talent and spirit of your work; and I will look for your energy, ideas and passion in the days ahead. I know you will meet these challenges head on. Make us BELIEVE again.

Yours truly,

Leon Muhammad

Leon Muhammad is the elected community co-chair of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). He also chairs the Education Committee of the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee (PAC) and he is dean of Muhammad University of Islam, which is located immediately adjacent to Parcel A of the Shipyard. He can be reached at