This semester in ENVS 295, we have been studying environmental engagement. As a class, we have been learning about engagement through partnering with different organizations in the Portland area. Through these partnerships, we hope to create lasting relationships with these organizations and the ENVS department. This semester our class has taken the first steps in reaching out to our partners, and we are currently working on engagement project proposals. We sadly won’t be able to complete these projects, but we are working on these proposals with the hope that future ENVS 295 classes will be able to finish these projects. As we propose projects, we are identifying what the environmental issue is, who the stakeholders are, and how connection will be made. These three things (the what, the who, and the how) all go into engagement. My group is partnered with the Portland Harbor Community Coalition (partnership record here), and I am looking into the “what” of my group’s project proposal.
In the U.S. there are areas that have been highly contaminated with toxic materials and hazardous waste. In 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) was established to aid in the cleanup of these sites. Under CERCLA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is allowed to designate contaminated areas as superfund sites, clean up these sites, and force responsible parties to aid or pay for the cleanup. Superfund sites are an environmental issue that show how closely intertwined issues of the environment are with racial and economic inequality. People of color and low-income folk are often the most impacted by superfund sites. One study of Florida superfund sites found that, “race and ethnicity are the most salient factors in predicting the location of hazardous waste sites” (Stretesky 12). These connections point to a need for racial, economic, and environmental justice to all be factored into how the EPA cleans up superfund sites.
The EPA designates certain sites on their National Priorities List, and these include areas that are the most contaminated and dangerous for people and the environment (Robbins 1677). One Superfund site that is on the National Priorities List is here in Portland. “The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is one of the ‘mega-sediment sites’ in the United States, comprising about 10 miles of the Lower Willamette River, running through the heart of Portland, Oregon” (Fitzpatrick). The Willamette River has always been a source of livelihood for people living in the Willamette Valley, and with the beginning of colonization in the 1800s the river began to change. “Hundreds of industries developed along the river’s banks, depositing heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals into the water, soil and river sediment for over a century” (PHCC website). By 2000, the EPA designated a portion of the Willamette River as a superfund site. Some cleanup has been done on the site, but there is still a lot of work that needs to take place before these areas of the Willamette River are safe. A lot of people have been negatively affected by the superfund site, and the way to fairly clean up the site, with the involvement of the responsible parties and the people most impacted by the site, is a complicated process.
In 2012 an organization called the Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC) formed to advocate for the people most impacted by the superfund site, including communities of color, low-income, and houseless folk. The PHCC is made up of multiple organizations and groups that share a common mission, awareness of the injustices that these communities face, and a determination that the clean up process of the superfund site occurs in a just way that includes the perspective of the people most impacted. The work that PHCC does involves advocating for their communities while working in conversation with the EPA and the companies that caused the pollution of the superfund site.
Fitzpatrick, Anne G., et al. “The Portland Harbor Superfund Site Sustainability Project: Introduction.” Integrated Environmental Assessment & Management, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 17–21. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/ieam.1997.
Stretesky, Paul, and Michael J. Hogan. “Environmental Justice: An Analysis of Superfund Sites in Florida.” Social Problems, vol. 45, no. 2, 1998, pp. 268–287. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3097247. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.
“Superfund Sites.” Encyclopedia of Environment and Society, edited by Paul Robbins, vol. 4, SAGE Publications, 2007, pp. 1677-1679. Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.library.lcproxy.org/apps/doc/CX2660701050/GVRL?u=lacc_main&sid=GVRL&xid=23b774db. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.