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Think Global, Breathe Local: Coal and Ash in Oakland and Puerto Rico

"Soon our eyes were watering, noses and sinuses reacting to air filled with ash … ash that had been poisoning Puerto Rican locals for the past 17 years."

Photo of Puerto Rican flag on blue building, near beige building, under white sky.
Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash.

In early June I published a piece in Truthout about how community organizers in Guayama, Puerto Rico, are demanding the closure of a nearby coal plant after substantial increases in rates of cancer, asthma and other ailments since the plant opened. In the article I describe a disturbing, physically painful visit to see the plant up-close.

But I didn't have to go to Guayama to experience the damage done by fossil-fuel corporations. I didn’t need to cross oceans to witness epic struggles to stop and heal that damage, and foster environmental justice. All this is happening right here in Oakland.

An alliance of local labor and environmental activists have succeeded in stalling plans to open a coal shipping terminal near Chinatown and West Oakland, whose residents would be exposed to coal dust flying off the trains "and into the lungs of those closest to the train tracks."

And this past November, many of us in Oakland wore and distributed masks to try to stay healthy as ash and smoke filled the air from the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County. Bay Area organizers have demanded that PG&E be held accountable for the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. While PG&E recently admitted failing to adequately maintain their equipment, and agreed to pay $1 billion to local governments affected by the wildfires, that's hardly a fraction of the immense damage. Activists continue to organize to demand fuller accountability from PG&E, in addition to pushing for community-controlled, clean and renewable energy.

From Guayama to Oakland, environmental justice is a global issue that we must act on locally to help build a more justice future for all our communities.

—Jack Aponte

Eastlake Neighbor

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