By Kael Anderson, SWNA

Last fall Georgetown University’s Community Justice Project and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center launched an environmental justice project in Southwest. But with the end of the academic year, the founding students—Lauren Dollar, Kevin Larivee, Andrew Park, and Rohini Singh — are moving on. What happens next is up to the community.

Background

Georgetown’s Community Justice Project is a clinic designed in part to train students lawyering skills and how to affect change within the legal system. Students use multiple tactics to achieve client objectives, including advocacy, public relations, the use of media, lobbying, legislative and policy drafting, and community organizing.

Through town hall meetings and other dialogues, the students and Southwest community members identified a number of serious environmental health concerns in our community. These concerns included poor indoor air quality due to the presence of toxins and inadequate ventilation at D.C Housing Authority properties, and outdoor air pollution from industrial facilities like the D.C. Rock Plant and the DMV Inspection Station.

To determine the extent of air pollution, the Lombardi Center spearheaded soil testing inside and outside of housing properties.  Meanwhile, the students researched applicable laws and policies, met with stakeholders and government officials, and developed a set of recommendations.

The resulting report, “Promoting Environmental Health in SW DC: Recommendations for Change,” recommends a path for continuing the campaign against idling buses and offers ideas for addressing the other environmental concerns named by the community. This comprehensive document is temporarily posted at: http://swdc.org/about_swna/mission_reports.htm

Tour bus idling campaign

Project leaders decided to focus their greatest efforts on a tour bus idling campaign. This was partly a function of the multi-faced and diffuse geographic impact of tour buses. Near Southwest and Southeast communities are victim to walls of buses, increasing the risk of traffic collisions, taking up scarce parking and marring our aesthetic environment. Some buses have been redirected from popular congregating areas like Maine Avenue to East Potomac Park. While this moves the problem further from residential area, it nonetheless pollutes the largest and most popular recreational destination in our community.

As reported in a petition developed by the students, “diesel exhaust causes increased rates of cancer, and exacerbates asthma, especially in children.” Although by law buses may not idle more than three minutes, that law is often violated. Several D.C. agencies have the authority to enforce the law, “but no agency has taken responsibility to ensure the law is enforced,” the students concluded.

Accordingly, the petition recommends:

Enforcement: Monitor buses and cite violations

  • The D.C. government must enforce the anti-idling law.
  • Responsible agencies must establish a clear delegation of responsibility for enforcement, a strategy to address idling complaints, and a detailed plan to monitor buses and cite violations of the law.

Reporting program: Engage the community

  • DDOE should work with Southwest community members to establish a reporting program through which community members can report idling buses.
  • DDOE must record all reports and enforce the anti-idling law.

Seek long-term solutions

  • D.C. government must develop sustainable, long-term solutions, which might include: a location where bus drivers may park and access temperature-controlled facilities with restrooms, refreshments and power outlets, or a requirement that all tour buses in D.C be electric, hybrid or equipped with automatic idling limiters.

The student’s report details the efforts on this campaign, including a meeting with DDOE convened by ANC Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton. At the meeting, DDOE empathized with the idling concerns and indicated they’d support a community advocacy campaign directed at bus companies.

Among the easiest ways for Southwesters to get involved is to hand out letters reminding drivers about the impact of idling.

In an effort to kick-start the campaign, ANC 6D and the Assembly are working on a joint resolution to requesting that government officials and agencies properly address the problem.

Moving forward

The Georgetown University law students have put the community in an excellent position.  Moreover, the recently-announced relocation of the Lombardi Center from upper Northwest D.C to our Navy Yard community provides a convenient platform reach resolution on long-standing environmental justice issues.

At its May board meeting, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly expressed a willingness to spearhead future environmental justice efforts, particularly the bus idling campaign. But success will require more dedication and the involvement of the whole community. If you have interest in getting involved, contact myself or your ANC representative.

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