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Inaugural Environmental Justice Candidate Forums Begin in Eugene

Beyond Toxics

Ahead of the 2020 election season, activism groups in Eugene have created the city’s first environmental justice and climate emergency candidate forums.

Beyond Toxics, Eugene-Springfield NAACP, and 350 Eugene invited every candidate that was registered by Friday, February 7 in OreStar, to participate in the forums.

The group will hold a total of three candidate forums from February to April: federal and state, City of Eugene and Mayoral, and Lane County.

Each forum will ask candidate questions related to housing, transportation, technology, energy, decarbonization, conservation and land use, and air pollution.

Forum Procedure

Pablo Alvarez is the Environmental Justice Community Organizer for Beyond Toxics and the Eugene-Springfield NAACP. He will be moderating the event.

Alvarez said candidates will have a minute and a half to provide an opening statement. After, the candidate will be allotted six to ten minutes to answer questions from the moderator and the public. Then, a candidate will provide closing remarks before moving on to the next candidate. Candidates will not have the ability to address one another.

Engaging the Audience

The forums will also include the use of an audience response system to integrate the audience’s voice into the event.

“We will be using an audience response system called Participle. And basically through that, they will be able to answer live polling questions that will go up on the screen while candidates are answering the questions as well,” said Alvarez.

The audience will also be able to submit their own questions through the interface.

Alvarez said the forums will discuss topics such as housing and food security because they are interrelate to environmental justice issues.  

Forum Topic: Housing

According to Alvarez, people of color and low-income individuals are often part of “frontline communities” or “impacted communities.” He said this is when certain environmental changes are initially felt by underrepresented community groups due to government policies.

Alvarez referred to the data in the City of Eugene’s proposed climate action plan, and Oregon’s decreasing snowpack’s inability to produce energy in the summers.

“Their own data shows that by 2100, there will be no more snow pack in the Cascade Mountains,” said Alvarez. “The problem with that is that Eugene gets about 80% of its electricity and its drinking water from the McKinsey and the Willamette rivers.”

If there is a potential an energy shortage and if at the same time, “the city is expecting summers to be 10 degrees warmer,” he said communities of color and low income communities will be impacted first.

Alvarez said across the nation, communities of color and low income communities pay more for their electricity bills because poor installation increases their usage. As climate change unfolds, he said more people could be affected by increased electricity rates.

“We know that if there's going to be this energy shortage, one of the ways that they're going to turn to come for the energy shortage—and this happens everywhere—is increased electricity rates,” said Alvarez. “So if people's houses aren't energy efficient, if they don't have the capacity to withstand the increased temperatures, then they're going to be spending more.”

He said this issue also relates to the city’s housing constructions polices, that could “allow developers to build with cheap materials.”

Alvarez said climate change and policy making are all interrelated. He said people are starting to move to Eugene to avoid big biggest effects of climate change, such as extreme wildfire, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

“So what ends up happening is that more people are moving here and the city isn't adapting its housing policies—then the housing shortage [from] people moving here is going to affect low income and communities of color first,” said Alvarez. “It all comes back to—not climate change itself affecting it—but poor policy not being able to [address] the problem of climate change for communities of color first.”

Forum Topic: Food Security 

In terms of environmental justice, food security is a concern because many low income and communities of color do not have access to affordable and culturally appropriate foods.

“There are two grocery stores in all of West Eugene and Bethel are what someone would consider appropriate grocery stores—and those are Albertson’s and WinCo,” said Alvarez. “And only one of them really is affordable and has culturally relevant foods.”

Alvarez said they are trying to bring to light that communities of color and low income communities have a limited amount of choice in their ability to access healthy foods in their neighborhood—specifically in West Eugene.

“If everyone in one area can only go shop at the Albertson's, then instead of shopping for affordable food—since Albertson’s is more expensive than the other grocery stores—then they're going to shop for things that are cheaper and tend to be less nutritious,” said Alvarez. “Also, if there is no transportation or an adequate transportation for people to be able to get to the grocery store, then that’d going to be a problem.”

He said there needs to be more grocery stores that are within walkable distance, bikeable, or in short distances using cars or public transportation.

Forum Participation

Before each forum, people can email questions for candidates to ecj@naacplanecounty.org and info@350eugclimatepac.org or use the hashtag #ECJForum on social media posts.

Alvarez said the results from the audience response system polls will be online after the forums.

Forum Schedule

Federal & State Candidate Forum: February 20 at the First United Methodist Church from 7:00-8:30 pm.

City of Eugene Candidate Forum: March 12 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Lane County Candidate Forum: April 9 Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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