CORPUS CHRISTI — A local environmental activist’s
comments during a forum Wednesday in Washington, D.C., caught the attention of
the nation’s top environmental official.
“I didn’t come up all this way to be talked to,”
Suzie Canales, founding member of local environmental watchdog group Citizens
for Environmental Justice, said to a panel of experts and government officials
hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
She said she told the panel that the government
should stop talking about environmental justice and act.
“I thought they might throw me out,” Canales joked
later about her comments.
Instead, Canales said, she was escorted from the
meeting room in the Eisenhower Executive Building into another room and
introduced to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Canales gave Jackson a copy of her recent report
criticizing the agency’s efforts at achieving environmental justice. She told
Jackson neighborhoods that border refineries and chemical plants are in danger.
“I told Ms. Jackson that we need to find a way to
relocate these people to a place of safety,” Canales said Wednesday. “When that
happens, then we’ll be having environmental justice.”
She said Jackson committed to follow up with her
regarding the report.
The meeting was the first White House Forum on Environmental
Justice and included five cabinet secretaries and other top federal officials.
More than 100 environmental leaders from around the country, including Canales,
Canales has worked on local environmental issues for
more than 10 years. Her most recent dealings with state officials involve
clean-up efforts at the abandoned ASARCO/Encycle plant and soil studies of the
nearby Dona Park neighborhood.
“Suzie is the spokeswoman for Dona,” said Ann Smith,
communications director with the Clean Economy Coalition, a local environmental
advocacy group. “I think what Suzie is saying is what many people believe —
we’re not against the economy, we just want people to be protected.”
Omar Valdez, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
project manager for the Dona Park environmental investigation said he watched a
portion of Wednesdays’ event on the Internet.
“I’m not surprised that Suzie was invited to D.C. as
part of this forum,” he said. “I know that her cause — a clean environment for
all — is irreproachable. In many ways, her interests and the interest of the
TCEQ are the same, we just go about things differently.”
Canales said a group of friends raised the money
needed for her to attend.
“Someone pitched in their frequent flyer miles,
others paid for the hotel, others for food, others for transportation,” she
said. “I don’t think they want their names made public but they are truly
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