Leslie Ann Rose

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Interviewee Affiliation

Citizens for a Healthy Bay


Tristin Baxter, Hawe Beshir, and Gracie Allen

Date of Interview


Document Type



This interviewee’s definition of environmental justice follows the classic, anthropocentric parameters of equal access to natural good and services, as well as equal consideration for remediation regardless of race of socioeconomic standing. She stresses the need to bridge language barriers, consider cultural differences among community members, and to communicate technical data in a way that is accessible to all individuals regardless of their educational and professional backgrounds. As an example of the relevance of cultural context, the interviewee describes the tensions that exist between crafting water quality policies and fishing standards, and the need for Native Americans to continue subsistence fishing. Lastly, she discusses the need to establish better networking opportunities for diverse ethnic groups, so that they have a broad information base.


Tristin Baxter/Hawe Beshir/Gracie Allen: What is environmental justice to you?

Leslie Ann Rose: My name is Leslie Ann Rose, I am a senior policy analyst with Citizens for Healthy Bay here in Tacoma. Environmental justice is the fair and equitable treatment of all stakeholders regardless of ethnicity, culture, economics, status in regards to development implementation of identifying environmental problems and developing remedies. It also means that they have equal and meaningful access to the public process that will design the information and that their input will be taken, every bit seriously and be considered equally with all other information.

TB/HB/GA: How does or doesn't environmental justice work in your community?

LR: It’s a challenge because in our community especially, one community as large as Tacoma or pierce county is homogeneous and we have so many diff ethnic communities we have many where English is a second language. We have to work with the individual communities and actually build a contact with them and give them the tools that they need then to work with their community. Rather than have me, a middle aged white woman, go into say the Asian community and say "okay this is how it’s got to be done". You work with cultural perceptions so we are making it work as best as we can and it’s always a learning experience in progress because just like our communities are not homogeneous our communities are not static either. But you know, we're making as many inroads as we can. We’re certainly a lot better about it than we were thirty years ago.

TB/HB/GA: What needs to change?

LR: The first thing that needs to change is how the problem statement is actually published. A very good example of that is in aquatic systems especially where your settlements are contaminated those bio cumulative toxins tend to build up through the food chain and the fish are contaminated and any creature that eats that human, or seal, or orca, or whatever they're actually going to take that body burden of toxins into them as well. An institutional control that is often put into place is to designate certain areas as no fishing areas. EPA has more than once come to the Puget Sound community and asked how can we better get people to cooperate with the no fishing areas, because we don't want people doing that and the problem is not that people are eating contaminated fish. The problem is the fish the people are eating is contaminated and it's flipping that around and understanding that there are ethnic communities that fishing is part of their culture, it’s part of their identity, it’s a social activity, it’s a family bonding activity. And in many, many instances, it’s an economic necessity. You know, I mean, we're always touting; eat more fish, less beef but fish is very expensive. And there is nothing unusual about fishing and eating your catch. So the first thing that has to change is how we phrase those original problem statements as in the people are not eating contaminated fish. The fish are also contaminated. That's the real problem. But we also have to understand that the environmental process and the cleanup process can be a very long term thing. So you have to start looking at things like transportation. You have to have interpreters available. We do need to those people out of the community and we need to be recruiting them and bringing them into the agencies and actually helping their professional development so that they have the technical expertise to be able to take all of the technical jargon here and put it down to an understandable level. We need to work on gaining trust with these communities and people of color because the trust isn't there and many of them come from a place where if you raise your hand and stand up to be counted something bad is going to happen. We also need to change perceptions of the greater community until we meet the needs of the most at-risk populations that we still have a problem. And so until there is a level playing field for everybody we will still have a problem.

TB/HB/GA: What parts of environmental justice are important to you?

LR: Communications, sensitivity to cultural activities, perspectives and their practices. Fostering a sense of trust in the process and in the regulators; being that confident to help people have those tools and the confidence to be able to speak up for themselves and their community and giving them the security that there will not be negative repercussions because they have done so. Constantly being a voice for making sure the problem statement is phrased correctly. Making sure that there is that access to the process is reasonable. Public meetings are normally held after five in the evening as close to the community impacted as possible. But that still normally means people are getting off work, they need to collect their children. They don’t always have cars so they’re traveling by bus. So any time you have one of those, you need to be able to help provide transportation. You’ve got to have childcare on-site. You’ve got to have food because kids are cranky at 5:00. Well, a lot of adults are cranky at 5:00 too. You need to give them, in some cases, a longer window of opportunity to respond. You have to be prepared to go back more than once and that part of it is really important to me because unless you have addressed those kinds of accessibility issues, you’re not going to have people that really can comfortably come forward.

TB/HB/GA: How does your concern for the environment fit with other environmental concerns? (Sustainability, Health, Nature?)

LR: They’re integrated and personally I don’t believe that you can parse them out. That concern for the environment is not only human health and safety but it’s the safety and health of everything, and the ecological system working together. And so, to break it out as the environment and health and sustainability in nature, I suppose if I had a very, very long time and though about it carefully I could kind of pull them apart but my approach is to just assume right from the start that they are all integrated and we’re going to keep it like that.

TB/HB/GA: How is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community?

LR: Obviously we see it out here in front on our docks and out in the water every day is that there are people that are fishing out there. There are people with traps out in the water and for the most part they are subsistence fishing, okay? They’re not sports fisher people. And so, it’s very important to me what’s in the water out there. Because again, go back to the fact that there is nothing inherently wrong in the activity of fishing and I will not look at the problem that way. One of the big challenges that we are addressing now in Washington State that I am involved in currently is developing guidelines for new water quality and new sediment quality guidelines that will replace the ones that we have now. The reason for that is, those that then translate to the exposure to the fish and shell fish and things that people catch and so there’s been a lot of talk and a lot of work around fish consumption rates. And about 20, 25 years ago the original weight was set when Washington fish and wild life went out to the docks and marinas and talked to the salmon fishermen and coming back asking them, “how much fish do you eat a day”? And they gave them some options and they go, “around six grams of fish a day”, which is a little less than an inch cube and well then when you figure that out over 30 days see, then you can kind of … the problem is middle aged white guys may be so 25 years ago but our Native American communities especially in the Puget Sound and even on the Colombia River, a lot of subsistence fishing and that hasn’t changed in many communities. And for health reasons, there’s greater emphasis in the Native American communities to go back to a diet that was more similar to the one that they had 180 years ago because their bodies have not had a lot of time to sort of change from the foods that they consumed in a subsistence style to all of the shiver and flower and things now and its caused a lot of health problems so it’s actually healthier for them to go back to that and about two years ago Oregon changed it to 175 grams a day which is about the size on the palm of my hand and you know, that’s fairly consistent. Of course there were a lot of industries and a lot of citizen towns who were very concerned because this would of course mean that they would ramp down on water quality and sediment quality rates. And Boeing let a team that went into governor Gregoire’s office and shut the original process down. And one of the rallying cries that they used to do it was that fish consumption rates needed to be set for normal people and I found that offensive because first off, how do you define normal people? And secondly, that means that everybody that’s different than normal you’re just kind of throwing them under the bus. That is going to continue to be a hot issue. Ecology is gearing up to do it once again this year and trying to find a way through they want to come to a consensus and it’s not going to be a consensus issue. Certainly the tribes are all over this and are petitioning EPA to come in and just make a decision that’s just going to be that to keep it out of political hands, stay tuned for that one. Follow ecology’s website, this is going to be a good one.

TB/HB/GA: How can others help?

LR: The fish consumption rate is a great one. The information for all of that is available on ecology’s website including what they’re doing and what the public meetings are and opportunities to come as well as all of the materials for that that have gone forward that is probably one of the most important issues that we’re going to be facing and its going to be a hard one And unless, I call it “we the people”, unless there are a lot of “we the people” who are telling ecology this is important and we need to be at least as protective as Oregon has been that’s the kind of political clout that we need to counter the businesses and industries that are really working to keep us from improving our water quality and our sediment quality conditions.

TB/HB/GA: Do you have anything else to add to the topic?

LR: I think it is so important that people coming into the environmental industry and looking to an environmental consultant or work for an agency, I think that they need to come out with a good foundation knowledge of environmental justice at least as an abstract because until you get to a community you really don’t know what you’re going to get but to have that foundation just to help you do the chemistry, the geography, the ecology because that is probably the most challenging aspect that we have and quite frankly sometimes, they’re almost overlooked. It is really difficult sometimes to dig in to even find out where is the Native American community? Where is the Russian community? Where’s the Asian/Pacific Islander community? Who are their contacts? Those kinds of things. I’ve been with CHB for about 15 years and I know where to look. I also get calls from agency people kind of going, “can you tell me where to look”? Or in one case, “would you go with me to make the introduction to keep that from going out”? I really hope that going forward; we can actively recruit more people of color and from the different ethnic communities to come into this as a career choice.

Additional Files

Rose_Transcript[1].docx (25 kB)