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Environmental Justice

by Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor 6/22/07

Many federal and State agencies have directives to take into account "Environmental Justice" (EJ) when making decisions. EJ is supposed to be the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Agencies are directed to avoid, minimize or "mitigate"
(offset): (1) disproportionate health, environmental, social and economic effects on low-income populations; and (2) barriers to participation in the decision-making process and self-determination by low income populations. Too bad these considerations don't appear to apply to Siskiyou County.

According to the new 2007 California County Data Book, Siskiyou County is now dead last in all California Counties in family economic well-being, having the lowest median income at $30,356, compared to $112,155 for San Mateo County and $56,332 for California as a whole. 65% of households with children ages 0-17 are low income, compared with a California average of 43%. The report notes that 27% of Siskiyou County's children live in official poverty, compared to 19% for the state.

Let's see how incomes shake out in various geographic areas. According to a 2005 Affordable Housing Study, the annual household median income in Scott Valley is $33,385 and 41.1% of households earn below $25,000. (Compared with a
1993 county median household income of $24,072.) In Happy Camp, the median is $22,453, with 54.6% below $25,000. Butte Valley is $26,508 and 47.2% below $25,000. Tulelake is $27,331 and 46.9% below $25,000. The Weed area is $28,538 and 45.9% below $25,000. The Mt Shasta/Dunsmuir/McCloud area is $32,537 and 41% below $25,000. In Yreka/Montague/Grenada, 39.7% of the population earned less than $24,550. (Keep in mind that "very low income" is considered by HUD to be below $24,550 and "low income" from $24,551-$39,280.)

It is obvious that all of Siskiyou County would appear to qualify as an economically disadvantaged. One would think that the county would be flooded with offers of state, federal and philanthropic resources to ensure that we had the technical expertise, capacity and financial where-with-all to assist our citizens in benefiting from the economic boon supposedly experienced by the rest of the state and the nation. Of course, this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is often true. More and more is demanded of local government and small business - including those that develop natural resources. Many philanthropic Foundations seem to cut off funding at Sacramento or Redding and peculiarly are disinterested in truly rural areas.

According to Cal. D.O.T. Siskiyou County Economic Forecast, since 1995, Siskiyou County's agriculture industries have experienced substantial job loss at about 586 jobs, declining almost 45%. For instance, since 1996, county vegetable crops have declined in their contribution to the economy from $18. 9 million to $11.8 million - or 38%. These losses have been accompanied by ever increasing Endangered Species Act, water quality and pesticide regulations. Not only have these reduced production, they have shifted the financial burden of physically improving the environment squarely onto the backs of these small family farmers. Unfortunately, it appears that new waves of additional regulation will spring forth in the immediate future.

As a result of the Northwest Forest Plan, the Klamath National Forest annual sale volume fell from a 1990-1994 yearly average of 66 million board feet (mmbf) to five mmbf by 2000. This was accompanied by constrictive state regulation through the Forest Practices Act. As a result, the county has lost more than 80% of our logging jobs since 1989, (from 951 jobs in 1989, to 331 in 1995, to 186 in 2004.) We have seen the closure of several large sawmills mills such as High Ridge and, most recently, the Cal. Cedar Products mill in McCloud, accompanied by a loss of jobs in the mills. Only Roseberg Forest Products and Timber Products remain.

Connect the dots. It is obvious that the people of Siskiyou County have already suffered a disproportionate social and economic impact from environmental regulations and exactions. Most public hearings, meetings and conferences on environmental policies and decisions occur in far off places like Washington D.C., Sacramento, Santa Rosa and Eureka - hundreds of miles away and beyond the reach of the people of Siskiyou County. And when we are able to get a representative appointed to some Board like the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the greens and special interests lobby against them and they are unconfirmed by the legislature.

Considering this overwhelming evidence, I just want to know where's all this promised "justice"?


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