Support environmental justice | Vote NO on prop. 54
by Clifford Rechtschaffen
Sierra Club urges a no vote on Proposition 54, the “Classification by Race,
Ethnicity, Color, or National Origin Initiative.” This initiative, authored by
Ward Connerly, would prevent state and local governments from collecting or maintaining
racial or ethnic data in their operations. Sierra Club California joins the other
major environmental groups in the state in opposing Prop. 54 because it would
undermine our effort to achieve environmental justice in California.
Proposition 54’s ban on information gathering by state agencies would greatly
hamper efforts to identify and document the unequal distribution of environmental
hazards in California. Studies show that numerous environmental harms are disproportionately
located in communities of color, even after controlling for income and other factors.
These hazards include the likelihood of living near abandoned waste dumps that
release toxic chemicals, living in areas that fail Clean Air Act standards, suffering
from childhood lead poisoning or pesticide-related illnesses, and eating contaminated
fish. Some of the most important demographic data on which these studies are based
comes from the California Department of Finance, the Department of Health, and
County Health Departments. If Proposition 54 is enacted, state and county agencies
could be precluded from collecting these data.
Proposition 54 would also jeopardize programs designed to achieve environmental
justice including a new law which requires Cal/EPA to prevent discriminatory siting
and enforcement and to improve research and data collection for its programs,
including their impact on minority populations. Proposition 54 could stop state
and local agencies from identifying higher risks faced by minority populations
who fish for food. Prop. 54 could stop analysis of whether proposed projects would
have disproportionate environmental impacts on communities of color. Prop. 54
could stop targeted outreach to African-American and Latino communities where
rates of childhood lead-based paint poisoning are several times higher than in
white neighborhoods. Prop. 54 could stop research on the causes of high asthma
rates among African Americans.
In short, Proposition 54 provides no concrete benefits and instead will only
make us ignorant about environmental injustices that are prevalent in California
and greatly hinder efforts to remedy these injustices. Please vote NO on Proposition
54. For more information, visit the Coalition for an Informed California, www.informedcalifornia.org.
Clifford Rechtschaffen is a Professor and Director of the Environmental
Law Program at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.