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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental Justice

Air Date: Week of

After a quarter century of protest, environmental justice activists in the San Francisco neighborhood of Bayview Hunter's Point have persuaded PG&E to close an outdated power plant. Tara Siler of KQED reports.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

We begin our program with news that after decades of effort, residents of a poor section of San Francisco are breathing easier after a major utility shut down a polluting power plant right at the edge of their community. Political leaders and environmental activists credit the residents themselves for making it happen. From KQED in San Francisco, Tara Siler reports.


SILER: For 77 years the mostly African American community of Bayview Hunter's Point has lived in the shadow of this natural gas fired plant that helped produce some of the worst air pollution in San Francisco. Now there's only the hum and clanking of old pumps and fans. After a quarter century of protests, lawsuits and countless meetings, PG& E permanently closed the plant.

HARRISON: Actually, I have to be honest with you – I am elated.

SILER: Marie Harrison is a resident of Bayview Hunters Point and a community organizer with Greenaction, a tiny environmental justice group that worked to close the facility. James Bryant, who also worked for the plant’s closure, says the community is ecstatic over the victory.

BRYANT: The folks that live up in Hunter’s view said to me just the other day, 'this is wonderful, to wake up and see the sky, look at the natural colors, and have no particulates coming out of that smokestack.'

SILER: The plant emitted, among other pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, a key contributor to smog. Studies have shown that citizens in these neighborhoods suffer a higher rate of asthma and cancer than other San Francisco residents. Though they can’t be certain of a causal link to the plant, residents have long pointed to this facility as but one example of the environmental degradation of their community. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says the closure is long overdue.

NEWSOM: It’s amazing. You look back at the history of this, it transcends many, many mayors, dozens and dozens of members of boards of supervisors. But the one constant throughout were members of the community who were vigilant the whole time in holding our feet to the fire and holding us accountable to get this done.

SILER: PG&E agreed to close the plant eight years ago, but said it first needed to locate another source of energy. Now a new transmission line provides added power and reliability to the South San Francisco peninsula.

Manuel Pastor is a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who studies the environmental concerns facing poor communities. He says the closure is a significant win for the environmental justice movement.

PASTOR: And the reason for that is there’s been a lot of victories around resisting, say, a new hazardous use coming to a neighborhood, and less of the kinds of victories that result in a major polluter agreeing to shut down in a neighborhood, to begin the process of cleanup. So this is going to be looked at by a lot of people from all over the country.

SILER: PG&E has agreed to remove the facility and decontaminate the surrounding land, but the Bayview Hunter’s Point area will still be home to one third of San Francisco’s hazardous wastes, one federal Superfund site, a sewage treatment plant, and scores of brownfields. For Living on Earth, I'm Tara Siler in San Francisco.



Greenaction For Health and Environmental Justice


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