Cincinnati City Council Passes First Environmental Justice Ordinance
A Long Battle Leads To Success
Cincinnati City Council passed the Environmental Justice Ordinance on June 24th by a vote of 5 to 4. With that vote, Cincinnati became the first City in the Country to pass such an ordinance. Voting to pass the ordinance were Council members David Crowley, Laketa Cole, Roxanne Qualls, Cecil Thomas, and Greg Harris. Community and environmental leaders breathed a sigh of relief. After a four year fight, their efforts had resulted in success.
"It's about time," said Marilyn Evans, Executive Director of Communities United For Action. "Four years is a long enough to get this passed. At least people will have a tool to have a say to try to prevent polluting businesses from locating in our communities."
"We've been working on this issue for a long time," said Linda Briscoe, Vice President of CUFA and a resident of Winton Hills. "We see this as a beginning. We know that we are not done because we still have to make sure the City enforces the law."
The Environmental Justice Ordinance establishes a review process for the expansion or location of businesses that will produce additional pollution, causing an increase in cancer risk. The EJ process requires public notice for residents and businesses within a certain distance of the facility. The process does not apply to existing businesses unless they are creating a new chemical or operation that will affect the cancer risk of the surrounding population.
Success on environmental issues is not new to CUFA. Linda Briscoe first got involved with CUFA and the environment over 20 years ago.
"For me, it started when I realized that we were living in a toxic donut," said Briscoe. "I soon realized after moving to Winton Hills that we residents were surrounded by landfills and chemical companies."
Briscoe joined with other residents to fight against the polluting industries that were affecting the health of residents. After many years of fighting they won a number of major victories including closing the Elda Landfill (operated by Waste Management), and winning an agreement from the City to start a curbside recycling program instead of building a mass burn incinerator.
When Waste Management decided to build a waste transfer station on the site of the Elda Landfill, Briscoe and other CUFA members organized once again. They successfully convinced the Cincinnati Board of Health to turn down the permit to operate the transfer station. Unfortunately each time, the Ohio EPA said that there was not any justification to turn down the permit saying that there was not a law that provided environmental justice, protecting communities already harmed by pollution.
Communities United For Action decided to draft their own environmental justice ordinance and presented their own draft four years ago. Vice Mayor David Crowley brought together different interest groups to write a new version and he led the efforts on City Council to advocate for its passage, helping to move the legislation through several different drafts and amendments. The Health, Environment & Education Committee voted on May 27th to recommend the ordinance to City Council for full passage.
"We have made history in the City," said Roger Davis, President of Communities United For Action. "Who would not want to live in a City that is about protecting the health of its citizens and is Green Conscious? We were strong and serious in this fight, said Davis.
Both Evans and Davis agreed that passage of the EJO is just the beginning and that the fight is not over. "We know that this law is not perfect," said Evans. "We know that it may be challenged in the courts. We also know that we have to make sure the law is enforced. We are ready."