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Environmental Justice Summit Promotes People’s Power

Photo by Ajamu Dillahunt

Whitaker’s, NC— Around 250 representatives from rural and urban community organizations, academics, and advocacy groups across North Carolina gathered at the 19th annual North Carolina Environmental Justice Summit. Groups from Virginia and South Carolina even came. Representatives also come from Miami, Chicago, and Pennsylvania.

The “EJ Summit” has always had a “people-centered” understanding of Environmental Justice: “it’s about more than the trees and the birds.” This year, under the banner, “Building People’s Power Against State Violence Through the Lens Of Environmental Justice,” groups fighting landfills, hog waste, water contamination and more challenged state and federal agency officials on its lack of commitment, Action, policy or follow-up in cleaning up the conditions that are killing people — especially communities of color.

The EJ Network hosted this expanded and spirited discussion in eastern North Carolina — just a county away from the historic Warren County PCB battles that birthed the EJ Movement in the 1980s: The School-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration are racist policies reinforcing oppression and therefore are Environmental Justice Issues. Power companies that charge outrageous rates to already marginalized and underdeveloped communities to have light and keep warm are Environmental Justice issues.

Photo by Ajamu Dillahunt.

There was a Governmental Listening Panel and Speak out, where community people could ask questions and get answers about policies and regulations and how it impacts their lives. Three representative from the Department of Environmental Quality, the regulatory agency of the state where in attendance. Also on the panel were State Senator Angela Bryant and Rocky Mount City Councilor Ruben Blackwell.

At the Summit, a State Representative told conference participates the importance of the community coming out to hearings and testifying. He said in the case of the North Carolina Nuisance Bill, the community’s testimonies had a huge impact on how legislators voted. The Nuisance bill tried to limit certain monetary damages that neighbors and homeowners near hog and poultry farm operations could collect if a court determined the stench from the animals waste is officially a nuisance.

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