Know and Use the Law

Photo: Oil and gas pipelines run behind Africatown's historic Mobile County Training School.  Photo credit: Karen Savage

The law will be of no value to you if 1) you do not know the law, 2) you are afraid to use the law, 3) you cannot financially afford the law. Historically, laws are created to protect the innocent and the weak or safeguard the greedy.

The National Environmental Justice Policy Act was in part created "to Address Environmental Justice In Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." It was designed to protect those it felt needed assistance in obtaining the quality of life promised to all Americans. However, if you are unaware of the National Environmental Justice Policy Act (NEJPA), you may not know when a business has not adhered to federal guidelines. On the other hand, even if you are aware of the NEJPA but are afraid or cannot afford to use the weapon (law) America has created for you to use in the fight against injustice in this country, then the law is of no value to you.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is designed to "encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment." In the statute, Congress "recognizes that each person should enjoy a healthful environment and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment."

The following goals, set forth in NEPA, make clear that attainment of environmental justice is wholly consistent with the purposes and policies of NEPA.

  • "to assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings." Currently the Africatown community is just that. However, if storage tank farms and more crude oil pipelines are placed in the community it will lose all of its old Southern charm.
  • "to attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences." Currently the entrance to Hogg Bayou through Africatown became accessible after International Paper left the area. However, if a "storage tank city" is allowed to be built in that area the locals' access to Hogg Bayou will be eliminated.
  • "to preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our natural heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choice." Currently Africatown is listed in The National Registry Of Historic Places . If destructive businesses are allowed to move into the neighborhood, it will lose all of its historical flavor.
  • "to achieve a balance between population and resourses use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life's amenities." To infuse more heavy industry into the Africatown community would only pull that balance away from a high standard of living. Can you imagine waking up every morning, walking outdoors and staring at 20-foot tall, 500,000 gallon capacity storage tanks in the face.

If corporate America is allowed to rebuild destructive businesses within the Africatown community limits, those businesses could be in violation of federal policy and something should be done about it. However, if no one questions what they are doing, they will continue to do what they have always done because they feel you must be satisfied, since no one is complaining.

One thing I learned growing up in Africatown is that the bully will continue to pick on you every day until you "MAKE" him stop. Although there are people and agencies set up to enforce the law, the ultimate enforcer is you. It is you who are in the "trench warfare" everyday in a never ending battle to improve the quality of life for all Americans.