Minorities get brunt of pollution, poll shows

The Associated Press
Friday May 25, 2001

LOS ANGELES — About seven of every 10 California voters believe the government allows pollution to disproportionately affect poor people and minorities, according to a poll released Thursday by an environmental group. 

The question was posed two different ways to 800 likely California voters. Seventy percent said agencies are more likely to allow polluting companies in low-income, minority neighborhoods; 64 percent said government officials were more likely to enforce environmental laws in high-income, mostly white neighborhoods. 

Environmental issues are “a new frontier for civil rights struggles,” said Joe Lyou, director of programs for the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, which released the survey. “There’s not a lot of awareness of the concept of environmental justice, but when you describe to them what it means, then they show concern about the issue.” 

Environmental and neighborhood groups are increasingly taking up the issue of pollution in low-income and minority neighborhoods – particularly in light of California’s power crunch. 

Some of the dozens of proposals for new power plants in the state have elicited charges of “environmental racism.” In the predominantly Latino city of South Gate, southeast of Los Angeles, an energy company withdrew its plan to build a power plant after voters rejected it in a nonbinding referendum in March. 

Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said that natural gas plant could have been the cleanest in the country, but “some community members felt the community already was suffering its fair share of air pollution.” 

Wallerstein, whose agency covers the Los Angeles air basin, said the district has stepped up efforts to respond to the “real and significant problem” of low-income neighborhoods with high pollution levels. 

The district is focusing clean-air improvements on disadvantaged areas, and recently approved rules aim to reduce diesel pollution from tractor trailers and other heavy-duty vehicles, which often drive through low-income areas. 

The survey, which covered a wide range of environmental issues, also found Latinos to be more environmentally minded than voters overall. For instance, 87 percent of Latinos and 71 percent of voters overall agreed that the Legislature needs to pass tougher environmental laws. 

The poll, conducted April 25-29, found that 88 percent of voters were at least somewhat concerned about the environment, and just over half were either extremely concerned or very concerned. 

Air pollution and fallout from the state’s power crisis were considered to be the most important problems. About a third of respondents said the government should relax pollution restrictions in light of the need for electricity, but 47 percent said current standards should be maintained even if it increases the possibility of rolling blackouts. 

The poll was conducted by the firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent. 

On the Net: