INSIDE Chico State
0 May 1, 2003
Volume 33 Number 15
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Environmental Justice Training Initiated

Photo: Kristin Cooper-Carter

Kristin Cooper-Carter

What does exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides do to farm workers and their families? When land is taken out of production, what are the impacts to workers? When contaminated land is used for low-income housing, what happens to the children who live and play there?

These are some of the environmental justice issues raised by Professor Kristin Cooper-Carter, College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology, in her Fundamentals of Environmental Justice training for students, the public, and government officials.

After intensive training, Cooper-Carter has recently become the only trainer in the North State certified by the Environmental Justice Training Collaborative of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Her first workshop was on March 8 at O’Connell Hall, utilizing innovative methodology and materials developed by the EPA. She will conduct several workshops over the next few years to raise basic awareness of environmental justice issues.

One of the key elements of the training, Cooper-Carter said, is to “break down one’s own biases.” She cited the issue of taking land out of agricultural production to make conservation areas for fish or wildlife, which, she said, people would see as a positive step. However, she encourages people to “see the flip side” of such issues, and its potential impact. Her training provides a step-by-step process to identify environmental justice issues and impacts.

The environmental justice movement was born in response to studies that showed that minority and low-income populations bear greater health and environmental risks than the country at large in workplace hazards, industrial pollution, landfills, and traffic emissions.

In 1994, President Clinton issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their missions. The EPA has taken the lead by developing an active environmental justice strategy. California is incorporating the idea, although not yet on a formal basis. Cooper-Carter said that state and federal agencies are including an environmental justice component in Environmental Impact Report (EIR) requirements and that it is already a component of many grant proposal requests.

Cooper-Carter and ECT Dean Ken Derucher hope to integrate environmental justice into the university curriculum, putting CSU, Chico on the cutting edge of that trend, as only a few universities have environmental justice training.
Cooper can see the training fitting into many areas of the curriculum—political science, agriculture, environmental studies, engineering, recreation, sociology.

“This is a practical tool,” said Derucher. “It can help students make decisions in light of how they impact real people. Maybe it will eliminate some of the ethical problems of companies we’ve all read about.”

Cooper-Carter said that we are starting to recognize environmental justice issues, but usually not until a problem comes to light and children become ill or people die. The Federal Environmental Justice Framework seeks to prevent environmental threats before they occur. Issues of land use, urban planning, unemployment, clean air and water, parks, migrant health, transportation, and sanitation services need to be viewed as environmental justice issues.

Cooper-Carter encourages CSU, Chico faculty interested in learning how to incorporate environmental justice into their curriculum to contact her or the Region 9 EPA representative at www.epa.gov/region09.

Francine Gair

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