by Karen Monahan, Environmental Justice Organizer
February 11, 2014 is the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations”. Hennepin County’s decision to withdraw their proposal to increase the capacity of the HERC incinerator by 20%, which is equivalent to burning 1,200 tons of trash per day, was confirmed with the County Board vote on this day.
Over 48 percent of the community surrounding the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) are people of color. According to the Energy Justice Network, HERC has the 3rd worst racial discrimination ratio for incinerators in the United States. The same zip code the HERC facility is in has some of the highest asthma rates in the state of Minnesota; asthma is the number one reason students miss school. They also have the worst achievement gap and highest unemployment disparity between blacks and whites in the country. How much injustice can one community face? This decision to withdraw the proposal for the expansion is a beacon of hope, a step in the right direction.
The decision was not handed to us; we worked for it. It took organizing and persistence from our community and allies. In 2010 Hennepin county put forward this proposal. There have been folks organizing and educating the community for four years. We were able to bring students, faith based, environmental, neighborhood and social justice groups together to form a coalition to stop the expansion.
We still have more work to do. We would like to see zero waste policies, more composting and recycling implemented. It is time to look at options to phase out garbage burning that pollutes our community. But today, I will celebrate justice.
I am honored to stand on the shoulders of those who proceeded me and I am honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with my community and allies as we celebrate this victory. My hope is that every child, regardless of the color of their skin or their economic situation, will breathe clean air and have access to safe water and land. There is a Native American proverb that hangs in my office that inspires me, and I hope it will inspire you, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”