City of Tacoma
Ryan Zboralski and Aaron Burr
Date of Interview
This interviewee believes inequity should be the primary focus of environmental justice, asserting that underserved communities do not have equal access to ecosystem services, and must also endure more hardship as a consequence of polluted air and water. To illustrate this, she draws upon existing cases in Tacoma where disadvantaged people are exposed to site-specific and non-point pollution more often than their wealthier counterparts. The interviewee describes the importance of Tacoma being on the EPA’s non-attainment list relative to meeting air quality standards, and how this has serious implications for all residents. She also discusses how ethnic groups preferring fish-heavy diets are more susceptible to the health risks associated with bioaccumulated toxins. As a potential solution to environmental injustice, she suggests the creation of a coordinated, comprehensive plan that ties in pertinent stakeholders along all levels of municipal leadership and policymaking. Her approach to the topic of environmental justice is strictly anthropocentric.
Lynett, Kristin, "Kristin Lynett Interview" (2013). Puget Sound Environmental Justice Interviews. 16.
Additional FilesLynett_Transcript.docx (24 kB)
Ryan Zboralski/Aaron Burr: Please state your name and organization affiliation.
Kristin Lynett: I’m Kristin Lynett. I’m the Sustainability manager for the City of Tacoma.
RZ/AB: What is environmental justice?
KL: So Environmental Justice is making sure that we’re protecting all communities from environmental health impacts, especially those communities that tend to be more vulnerable, or underserved, and we’re protecting them from environmental pollution and degradation.
RZ/AB: How does, or doesn’t environmental justice work in your community? What needs to change?
KL: I can think of two environmental justice issues in Tacoma. One is, oftentimes people think of environmental justice as kind of site specific locations, like there’s a factory or some kind of outfall, but the one I’m thinking of is our wood-smoke, our air pollution problems, here in Tacoma and almost all of Pierce County. So it’s all throughout the city, it’s not in one location . . . it’s an environmental justice issue because the people that have the least resources to deal with poor air quality are impacted, and they have less resources to get out of that polluting environment than other people do, and less money to even help fix the problem, which is uncertified wood stoves where they done have resources to upgrade to cleaner-burning devices that can heat their home. So I think that’s one of the environmental justice issues, and I think we are really dealing with it well here in town and in the county in terms of setting up some programs to really help low income families. We realize it’s a problem throughout the city and we’ve set up lots of great incentives that if you don’t have any money, and if you show that you are qualified low income, we can help you get a new cleaner-burning device . . . and we’ve even had programs to help people put new weatherization in their homes as well, so that when they get a new heating device, they are making sure that there home is sealed well, too, so that warm air is staying in. I would say one that’s maybe not working so well, and this is a statewide issue is, and once again it’s necessarily not a site specific issue, but it’s around fish consumption. Right now there are certain populations, most notably Native Americans, and even to a little lesser degree some folks from Asia that tend to eat significantly more local seafood. Partly because it’s cheaper if they catch it themselves, and others it’s just part of their culture. As a state we haven’t set, in decades, any kind of regulations about protecting those people that eat lots of fish from the pollution we allow through our industrial dischargers into the water. So those communities are being impacted more severely because of the amount of fish that they eat and are potentially ingesting more pollution. I don’t think we as a state, or locally, have addressed those discrepancies very well.
RZ/AB: What parts of environmental justice are important you? Why, or why not?
KL: I guess it just feels like we need to be fair, and it’s not fair that some people are impacted more severely than others. Things that they can’t control. I always think about kind of global environmental justice in the decisions that I make, either the things I’m buying or my own actions how they affect people around the world. I think we need to be thinking about that locally too, not only what our actions are doing locally, but what policies or programs we could put in place here in Tacoma to make sure those groups aren’t being impacted more than others.
RZ/AB: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns? Sustainability? Health? Nature?
KL: Well pollution is not good for anybody. It’s not good for humans and other animals, and just the health of our planet, our environment. You know I even look at environmental justice if you want to look at it in terms of access to open space, urban forestry, and trees and . . . that aspect of it. I don’t know how evenly distributed those assets are throughout our community. So in terms of how it fits with others it’s all kind of one in the same. I mean, I think we shouldn’t only think of environmental protection only if it impact humans directly. I think we need to be looking beyond our own immediate benefits of human health, because I think there is long-term human health, too, that we don’t oftentimes consider in terms of cancer rates decade from now versus immediate things you can see in the environment. So I think it all fits together in my mind I think it’s just being fair and if you clean up one aspect you’re going to be helping everybody, and everything.
RZ/AB: In your opinion, how is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community? How might others be able to help?
KL: The EPA has put us in non-attainment for air quality. Which is a really, really significant standing, so were are not meeting the national standards . . . we’ re one of only a few communities in the country to be in that standing. So it’s really important. They base those standards on human health, so it’s really, really important that we improve our air quality and get it back in attainment. It’s really important that we help people help all of us breath better air, and if that finding millions of dollars to help low income residents change out their wood stoves than, we need to do it because it’s going to help all of us. So I think it’s useful that we are looking at things that way and not just setting a law, which we do have, that says by September 2015 you cannot have an uncertified stove anymore, and just calling it good, that was really just not acceptable to our community to kind of say that, and leave so many people hanging with no resources to help get us back in attainment. So it was really important that they realize the social justice aspect of this program was key to insuring we’re all going to be successful in cleanup of the air that everybody breathes. Which is different from the fish consumption, I don’t eat a lot of local fish, so it isn’t impacting me the way it is some other communities, but we are all breathing the same air. One thing I don’t know, I haven’t seen a lot, is environmental justice areas they are kind of in their own realm. So there’s not like an overall environmental justice plan for the city that kind of identifies what other people think and know of environmental justice areas. That may be useful . . . I’m not saying it is definitely something that our city needs, but I think having a more coordinated, comprehensive view of all the environmental justice threats, could be something valuable that our community doesn’t have right now.
RZ/AB: Is there anything else on this topic that you would like to say?
KL: Yeah, I just think equity is really important. People talk about environmental justice, and it’s hard to figure out how to really make that happen . . . it takes extra effort to translate things. I know people that are working full time, working double jobs, don’t have a lot of money . . . they don’t have a lot of time to get educated, and go to city meetings in the daytime, or even at nighttime, or they don’t speak English as a first language . . . there are so many barriers that we put up. Not just of resources and convenience, but it’s not fair that everyone isn’t getting access to all the information to help make their families healthier. So I think it’s important that we all really think about the various programs that we set up, and how we can make sure we are really reaching and benefiting everybody, and not just the few that have the time, education, and access to benefit from them.