No one is protecting East Phillips from air pollution, notably those who promised to do so

It’s part of a larger pattern of regulatory failures

(Correction: An earlier version misstated the pollution contribution from individual industries to East Phillips’ overall pollution problems. It has been corrected. This post also was updated with information from the MPCA.)

The City of Minneapolis has declared racism a public health emergency, pledging to “allocate funding, staff, and additional resources to actively engage in racial equity in order to name, reverse, and repair the harm done to BIPOC in this City.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has committed to environmental justice, saying it will focus “on developing strategies to reduce pollution and health disparities in communities most at-risk.”

Unfortunately, neither of those promises are protecting the residents of East Phillips, one of Minneapolis’ poorest and most racially diverse neighborhoods, and home to Little Earth, a 212-unit housing development that gives preference to Native American applicants.

The neighborhood has several pollution sources: Smith Foundry, an iron works; Bituminous Roadways, an asphalt plant; the city’s Hiawatha Public Works yard, and Hiawatha Avenue, a major thoroughfare.

City leaders should know that East Phillips is part of the “pubic health emergency.” The city’s 2021 Racial Equity Impact Analysis said residents living in the area “experience much higher levels of cumulative pollution than residents from majority white city neighborhoods … leading to [higher] levels of asthma and hospitalization for children and adults.”

(East Phillips asthma levels were more than double the state average in 2019, MinnPost reported.)

Unless things change soon, East Phillips will soon get even more pollution and related health problems, further exacerbating health disparities.

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East Phillips Urban Farm shows the City of Minneapolis’ disregard for its promises to stop systemic racism

Roof Depot site.

East Phillips community leaders have a dream: To increase the livability of their notoriously polluted neighborhood. And they have a plan:  Renovate the former Roof Depot and Sears warehouse site into a community-owned multi-use resource. It would include an indoor Urban Farm – producing healthy foods in what is now a food desert –  space for small business, jobs training programs, low-income housing, and a large solar array.

Six years ago, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) was negotiating to buy the Roof Depot site, but the city of Minneapolis intervened and bought the property. The city wants the land to consolidate its Water Works Maintenance Facility, currently in Southeast Minneapolis, with Public Works operations already on Hiawatha Avenue next to the Roof Depot site. 

The city is blocking what would be a community asset and replacing it with a project that harms neighborhood livability.

The city is breaking multiple promises its made, and policies its passed, to address the kinds of racial injustice that exist in East Phillips.

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Minneapolis announces Truth and Reconciliation Working Group

At the end of last year, the city of Minneapolis announced a new truth and reconciliation work group made up of City staff, community leaders and experts “to study the meaning of reconciliation and research different models of truth and reconciliation commissions.”

This follows a Minneapolis City Council resolution approved last October establishing a truth and reconciliation process. The goal: Begin implementing specific solutions to specific harms that created and perpetuate racial disparities, with a focus on healing with historically Black American descendants of slavery and American Indian/Indigenous communities.

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