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Communities of Color Must Lead at People’s Climate March

Signs along Drumm Avenue in a residential neighborhood in Wilmington mark Kinder Morgan's petroleum pipelines on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2017. (Photo: Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

On April 29th, thousands will participate in the People’s Climate March--in Washington, D.C. and all over the country--to stand up for our communities and our climate. I’ll be marching with my daughter and mother alongside other families in Wilmington, CA. Why? Because climate change starts in our neighborhoods.

Here in the predominantly low-income Latino community of Wilmington, CA, we have five major oil refineries within a nine-mile radius. We are not alone: across the country, minority and low-income neighborhoods host the lion’s share of polluting facilities, and families like mine are impacted first and worst.

I live just 500 yards from the Tesoro refinery and must keep the doors closed to not breathe in the toxic fumes that are slowly killing us. Every neighbor on my street has a family member who has struggled with or died from cancer. I worry about my mother who has suffered with a chronic cough for years that isn’t getting better, and the many children who attend school within a mile of the refinery. From my window at night, I see the sky lit bright orange from the flares at the refinery.

It will only get worse if we don’t take action now. Tesoro plans to merge their refinery in Wilmington with BP Carson, creating the largest refinery on the West Coast. The $460 million expansion across 950 acres would build 3.4 million barrels of storage tanks, almost doubling capacity. The expanded refinery will process more than 380,000 barrels of high benzene Bakken crude oil per day.

When my daughter asks me why it smells so bad in our neighborhood, I struggle to explain why these oil companies believe our families are worth less than their dirty profits. They can’t continue to tell us that toxic fumes are just an odor. We have the right to speak out against these refineries that are polluting our air and killing our families.

That’s why I’m knocking on my neighbors’ doors to make sure we’re all out marching on April 29th for the People’s Climate March. We deserve to live in communities where we can breathe, and where our children can sleep better at night. We need sustainable solutions that will transform toxic hotspots into healthy environments and thriving economies with clean energy jobs. We must improve air quality and public health by cutting emissions directly at the source to effectively address health impacts, reduce asthma rates and prevent cancer and other illnesses.

Beware of false solutions: In California, our current cap and trade system enables polluters to continue poisoning the air. It’s time for polluters to pay, instead of using carbon offsets to avoid reducing their emissions on site. Our families deserve better.

On April 29th, communities of color are leading the People’s Climate March in sister marches all over the country. I hope more will join as we resist, build, and rise in the face of the threats to our communities.

Magali Sanchez-Hall

Magali Sanchez-Hall is a member of Communities for a Better Environment in California.

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