MEJAC Demands Equity and Inclusion in the Municipal Planning Process

MEJAC’s statement excised from the full “No Petrochemical Storage Tanks on Our West Bank, A Compendium of Citizen Concerns“:

Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition
Demands Equity and Inclusion
in the Municipal Planning Process

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across the nation. This will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. In this sense, community leadership must exercise what can be described as “planning justice”.

Despite Mobile, Alabama being an apparent destination for much of the continent’s tar sands oil transport, ensuring environmental justice does not appear to be a priority. Here in our very ecologically diverse Mobile-Tensaw Delta, we are still reeling from the devastation wrought by the BP deep water drilling disaster. Yet in 2012, close on the heels of that unresolved catastrophe, we learned that there were plans to put the local drinking water reservoir in jeopardy by running an oil pipeline through its watershed. That pipeline corporation, Plains Southcap, threatened and coerced Mobile County residents out of their property with zero public participation in that planning process by using highly controversial criteria set by the Army Corp of Engineers allowing them to sidestep the Clean Water Act’s public hearing provisions.

The same Houston-based pipeline corporation was permitted to run another pipeline through the school yard of the Mobile County Training School, the first black public high school in the state of Alabama and the pride and joy of the Africatown community, a historic district of national significance according to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these actions occurred despite vociferous opposition by elected and grassroots community leadership, who were all denied even a token dissenting voice in the decision-making process for which “equal access” is mandated.

The dark side of petrochemical expansion through its extreme extraction, transport, and storage includes nearly weekly reports of accidents, spills, and explosions: from the BP Deepwater Horizon/Macondo disaster; to the 47 fiery deaths suffered in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec; to the lives permanently poisoned in Mayflower, Arkansas; to the Aliceville, Alabama petrochemical train derailment and spill; and all points in between. The petrochemical industry considers these consequences to be “externalities,” and therefore, they are counted as acceptable risks. However, their victims certainly consider them to be travesties of justice.

Along with any potential benefits, we must recognize and factor into our decision-making ALL of the costs to households and small businesses of the petrochemical industry doing its dirty business in our residential neighborhoods, including:

  • the deterioration of human health due to increased air quality contamination through fugitive emissions;
  • the quality of life impacts to aesthetics, recreation, noise, and foul odors;
  • the socio-economic trends of decreasing property values paired with increasing traffic, insurance rates, road maintenance costs, and crime;
  • the catastrophic risks to life itself posed by such developments, not only to our friends and families, but also to our fragile, irreplaceable ecosystem.

Only then can we make decisions that are just for all members of our urban environments, human and non-human alike.

How Africatown’s uniquely rich heritage is threatened by systematic exclusion in these processes has not been respected. Having been founded by the survivors of the Clotilde, the last documented slaveship smuggled into the United States, historical trauma lives on vividly in Africatown today. Descendants of the slave-owning Meaher family continue to claim vast tracts of land in and around the community despite oral and written record of the Meaher family deeding these former plantation lands to the freed Clotilde survivors during Reconstruction. In fact, the Plains’ “Mobile Terminal” tank farm at Magazine Point, from which Plains Southcap’s pipeline system originates, rests on Meaher-descendant-owned land, held as the Chippewa Lakes LLC. Like the other nearby residents, the descendants of the 110 freed Africans, many of whom grew up and still reside in Africatown, certainly have not been invited into the decision-making process with respect to how these heavy industrial facilities surround and blight the community.

Following a series of community meetings in Africatown in 2013, the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) was founded by Africatown residents and their regional allies to defend the neighborhood’s rich heritage and precious lives from industrial incursion. A proposed above ground petrochemical storage tank farm and railroad terminal spurred MEJAC into immediate action in finding just redress to Africatown’s profound grievances after nearly a century of heavy industrial disrespect to the quality of life and well-being of its residents.

To protect Africatown residents from further injustice, MEJAC demands immediate cessation to building above ground petrochemical storage tanks on the west bank of the Mobile River. Furthermore, to protect all of Greater Mobile’s residents from the unacceptable risks associated with living in close proximity to above ground petrochemical storage and transport facilities, MEJAC objects to building any such facilities closer than ½ mile from any home, school or church in areas beyond our west bank.

Paraphrasing from the preamble of the Earth Charter, “The protection of Mobile Bay’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust”. Of equal importance is the fair and just treatment of all citizens, regardless of perceived differences such as income or ethnic background. The people in closest proximity to the proposed petrochemical developments on the Mobile River have spoken with a resounding “NO” to above ground petrochemical storage and transit facilities near their homes and neighborhoods. MEJAC stands with them.

The Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition’s mission is to engage and organize communities in order to defend our inalienable rights to clean air, water, soil, and human rights to health and safety; and to take direct action when government fails to do so, ensuring community self-determination. 

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