(Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Health Services)

The Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Commission will soon include a board member specifically charged with standing up for communities facing “environmental justice” issues.

On Jan. 21, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to convert one “environmental” board member position to an “environmental justice” one. Supervisors said that such a position is now vacant and seeking applicants. There have been three board seats designated as “environmental,” representing environmental advocacy groups.

Environmental justice, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

In practice, for example, that could include processes used to determine where a polluting factory or a landfill or waste treatment facility could be located, and not favoring one community over another in such decisions.

“The communities that are impacted can speak for themselves,” said Supervisor John Gioia.

The commission’s 13 members and alternates include representatives of industry, labor, civic groups, environmental organizations, environmental engineers, the public and the Contra Costa Mayors Conference. They serve four-year terms.

While a November memo from Michael Kent, the Hazardous Materials Commission’s executive assistant, said the commission’s “environmental” members are expected to have understanding of and sympathy for tenets of environmental justice, last week’s action ensures a board member is specifically dedicated to such topics and issues.

George Smith, chairman of the Hazardous Materials Commission, thanked the supervisors Tuesday for their unanimous vote. “I think the way we’re going here is ideal,” he said.