“I want you to envision waking up in the morning and not being able to breathe the air.
What would you do? Who would you blame?”
These are the questions that Green Teen Erica Fernandez asked herself when she found out that a multinational billion-dollar company had proposed to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility off the coast of her community. This facility, proposed by BHP Billiton (the world’s largest mining operation) would pump out a tremendous amount of air pollution that would blow over all of Southern California. The plan also included a 36 inch pipeline that was to be routed through Erica’s community, ripping up viable farm land and destroying homes. Erica worried about the affect this plan would have on her family, the environment, and her future. So she worked with local organizations to educate her community and mobilize protests against the proposal. Here’s how Green Teen Erica Fernandez stood up to a multinational billion-dollar corporation.
JS: Why were you so upset about BHP Billiton’s plan to build an LNG facility near your community?
EF: When I first learned about BHP-Billiton’s proposal, I was very concerned about my dad because he has respiratory problems and I knew this plant was going to add to the air pollution in my community and make it more difficult for people to breathe. Also, I knew that this plant would affect the environment in our area and make it so that the land was unusable even though my parents and many people in my community make a living and survive by working on the land.
My community is mainly Latinos and low-income families who work in agriculture. The pipeline was going to go through the fields and destroy some of the houses. And they weren’t going to do anything about it because they didn’t care if people were out of jobs. So I knew this plant would be bad for my dad’s health, bad for the environment, and bad for the future. If I didn’t protect it no one else would. And if I didn’t protect it there would be nothing left.
JS: How did you go about trying to stop this project?
EF: I started by educating myself because I didn’t want to go door-to-door and talk to people about stuff that I didn’t really understand. So I learned everything that I could and then I just started talking to people about it…in my school and in my community.
We knocked on doors for six whole months before the first community hearing, trying to inform people about what was happening and convince them that they had to speak up. I knew that I needed to get students involved, because we were the ones whose future would really be affected. I was afraid about how the students in my community would react…I didn’t think they would care…but I didn’t have a choice, I needed everyone to get involved.
I organized over 300 students from my high school and those 300 students went around to talk to other people in the community and other students at nearby high schools. We were making presentations at our track meets and our soccer games. We were handing out flyers all over the place.
Our goal was to get 500 people to attend the rally to protest the LNG plant. In the end, we got over 2500 people from all ages and ethnicities to come together and we were all fighting for the same thing. This was such an unexpected victory. It showed everyone that when our community gets united we can be more powerful than a multinational billion-dollar company. It gave everyone hope and we were able to follow through.
The plan was vetoed at the California State Lands Commission Hearing and then again at the California Coastal Commission Hearing. But our fight wasn’t over yet. We went on to petition to the governor and our goal was to make sure the governor voted on our side. So we sent thousands of post cards, wrote letters, and made phone calls. A month later the governor vetoed the project. That was our victory and that was when the community learned that we can make a difference when we work together.
JS: How did it feel after you won?
EF: It’s hard to explain. It opened a lot of doors for me and at the same time it has opened my eyes to the reality of what is happening in the world. I realized that my community could stand up for what we believe in. My goal was just to speak out for the voiceless and those who believe they are not represented.
JS: What was the biggest obstacle you faced?
EF: The biggest obstacle was ignorance in my community because so many people are just not aware of what is going on. It took us a long time to convince people that they needed to speak up and show that they care about the community where they live. A lot of people were concerned about the proposal, but they were afraid. It was very hard to fight against that.
JS: What advice do you have for other teenagers who might want to launch a similar campaign?
EF: My advice would be to speak up because if you don’t speak up, no one is going to hear you.
Erica Fernandez phot courtesy of Erica Fernandez