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What can green do for South Los Angeles?

Mary Hill-Wagner | 4/20/2011, 5 p.m.

"We want to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty," Van Jones said in his best-selling book "The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems."

"We want to create green pathways out of poverty and into great careers for American children. We want this 'green wave' to lift all boats. This country can save the polar bears and kids too."
Jones could find a great starting place in South Los Angeles, and it may be happening at a local college.

As the nation turns its attention to Earth Day tomorrow, the country is looking to activists like Jones to explain how Blacks and Browns in minority communities can become part of a green revolution that hopes to sustain the environment and create jobs.

This is significant because many Hispanic and African Americans are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and other environmental risks, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies. For example, a 1991 study cited by the EPA found that African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be exposed to ground level ozone and several other air pollutants known to cause cancer, according to a General Accounting Office report on clean air rules.
In 1992, the EPA established an office to address environmental air pollution affecting racial minorities and low-income communities. Efforts to identify and address disproportionately high and adverse impacts on specific populations and communities are commonly referred to under the term "environmental justice."

Justice is a term spoken frequently in the Black and Brown communities.

Environmental justice is something that a new building at Los Angeles Southwest Community College will hopefully address, said Jack E. Daniels III, Ph.D., president of the college.

The 44,142 square-foot facility located along Imperial Highway will house the Environmental Sciences and Technology Department, where students can receive training in alternative energy, including wind, solar and water technologies, as well as explorations in energy conservation and sustainability, according to information cited by the college. About 67 percent of the students at the school are African American and 32 percent are Hispanic, Daniels said.

"Green jobs realistically will take time. In the meantime, we're decreasing our use of energy. It's going to help the environment and the community. We can assist now in sustaining the planet. The whole issue of sustainability has been a focus of the community college district since 2001. In fact, the (Los Angles Community College District) has been a leader in the country in areas of sustainability."

Southwest has evolved since 1967 from a campus of bungalows that served as classrooms to state-of-the-art buildings that are certified by the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), says the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) district. Southwest is one of nine colleges that make up the district. The funds for the new buildings come from the $6 billion district construction program approved by Los Angeles voters.

"We are transforming more than a college campus. We are changing lives and a community," Daniels said. "With the new School of Arts & Humanities and Career & Technical Education facilities coming online in 2012, we hope to inspire creativity and innovation, and expose our students to emerging alternative energy technologies that will be in high demand over the next few years."