Environmental Justice In Cincinnati?
Supporters of Vice Mayor David Crowley's Environmental Justice ordinance spoke for more than an hour Tuesday at his health, education and environment committee, where he introduced the idea and brought it up for discussion. Among the supporters: the local Sierra Club; local and state chapters of the NAACP; Communities United for Action; former mayor Dwight Tillery, now director of the Center for Closing the Health Gap.
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, however, raised "significant concerns" in letters to each council member and asked that they "work to prevent ratification" of the ordinance as currently drafted. The letter came from former city solicitor Rita McNeil, who's now the Chamber's vice president for government affairs. It cites a hindrance of business retention and job attraction as among the ordinance's possible side effects.
The ordinance, which wasn't put for a vote yet, would stop any new commercial business or expansion if an environmental review of the proposed project found that the business could have a significant, cumulative effect on pollution in an area and/or on the health of people living there. The premise is that Cincinnati's lower-income and heavily minority neighborhoods bear more of the brunt of toxins than do other neighborhoods.
The discussion got a little testy between committee member Jeff Berding and lawyer David Altman, who worked with Crowley on the idea almost three years and presented the ordinance to the committee. The ordinance, based on national poverty levels, includes virtually the entire city as a potentially affected "environmental justice community" once the poor neighborhoods are designated and the mile radius around each is drawn. Excepted are parts of College Hill, Mount Washington, Oakley and Hyde Park.
Berding wanted to know if a business that wanted to avoid an EJ review could ask where Cincinnati zoning would allow it to locate. Altman, at one point, suggested maybe Berding should actually read the ordinance. Berding said he had read the ordinance.
Altman also said "certain members" of city council are very aware of areas in the city where kids suffer more from asthma - Cecil Thomas, for example. Berding and Chris Bortz took exception, saying of course all city council members are concerned about kids with asthma. Altman said he never meant to suggest otherwise.
The city administration hasn't yet weighed in, but the ordinance already has five votes in favor.