CleanAirNow is a community-led climate and environmental justice organization that creates systemic change in existing policies and practices to protect health, and dismantle environmental racism that perpetuates the unequal distribution of environmental hazards in fenceline communities. Based in Kansas City, CleanAirNow is focused on building community power through environmental health education, equitable community-based research projects, and community led solutions in public policy. CleanAirNow’s vision is a zero-emissions future where all people live together in a healthy environment founded on principles of environmental justice.
Environmental Justice Leader Spotlight
Beto Lugo Martinez
Beto is an environmental justice organizer and co-executive director of CleanAirNow. He serves to raise community voices in the fight against environmental racism and to overcome the systemic exclusion of frontline communities from the decision-making process. His lived experience, growing up fenceline to a petrochemical facility continues to drive his work at the intersection of climate, environmental justice, and public health. He is a founding member of the California Environmental Justice Coalition, Co-Founder of La Union Hace La Fuerza, a farmworker justice organization and member of national CJ & EJ networks including the EJ Leadership Forum, Building Equity and Alignment (BEA) and the National Leadership Advisory Board Member of the Moving Forward Network.
Beto’s contributions to the movement include organizing, legislation that prioritizes environmental justice and community-led research amongst many other community-engaged initiatives that directly inform state policy. He has co-authored multiple academic publications on community-based participatory research, air pollution, data accessibility, and community engagement. In August 2021 Beto was invited to serve on the Federal Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, to represent a grassroots frontline perspective. He also serves in advisory board roles of professional associations and academic institutions, such as the American Public Health Association’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Translational Research at USC, Community Engagement Core of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center at USC, Health Effects Institute Environmental Justice Advisory Group and USC MPH Public Health Advisory Board Member for the Trojan Scholars for Advancement in Public Health.
Atenas Mena is the Environmental Health Director and shares a co-leadership role at CleanAirNow. Atenas was born and raised in Kansas City and is a proud first-generation Mexican American. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Avila University in 2014 and went on to receive her master’s in nursing leadership from Missouri Western State University in 2019.
In addition to working as a nurse, Atenas received extensive environmental health training in the field, working with the Children’s Mercy Environmental Health Program team, as both an educator and a team coordinator. She has worked continuously throughout the last few years with CleanAirNow through boots-on-the-ground projects, served on the board of directors, and has recently transitioned into the current leadership role as Environmental Health Director. Atenas centers her work around reducing health inequities, educating communities on environmental health impacts, and empowering community members to have a voice and fight for equity and environmental justice.
Why is CleanAirNow excited for WE ACT’s Justice40rward Community Tour to come to your community?
We will be bringing community members to directly voice their issues to local , state and federal decison makers who intentionally exclude community members . It is an opportunity to connect local officials most important to hear from the community. We do not want this to be a grandstanding event for government officials but an opportunity for community to share their community informed strategies to ensure there are direct benefits that protect frontline community workers.
What are 3 projects you are working on with your community?
In 2020, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, commissioned the development of the first master plan for Armourdale, Kansas, since 1979. One of our primary focuses has been ensuring that the plan centers equity and environmental justice. Community master plans are opportunities to envision changes that would address longstanding issues and bring healthier, safer environments for people and their families to live in. In the environmental justice community of Armourdale, we’ve been working to ensure that the voices of the people who live and work in the community have a say in what that picture looks like, using data and information they have helped collect and that they understand.
This is critical because Kansas City faces cumulative impacts from multiple environmental health and safety threats. Industrial facilities, including scrap metal operations, contaminate the land, water, and air; truck traffic is raising hazardous pollution levels, and increased heat and flooding due to climate change is ever-growing. Latinx and Black residents face the greatest environmental risk in Kansas City. Furthermore, the legacy of discriminatory planning practices such as redlining, zoning, and siting of industry; lack of accessible green spaces; and inequities in health care, among other injustices, is impacting people of color.
What should others know about environmental justice in your community?
That CleanAirNow is the only environmental justice organization in Kansas City. CleanAirNow pushes against the systems of white supremacy, oppression and structural and environmental racism at all levels, academia, government, etc. Other organizations are now claiming to do environmental justice work because of the federal administration putting millions of dollars for environmental justice, however these groups coming out of wood works do not uphold environmental justice and climate justice principles. Many of these groups claiming climate justice, are dependent of fossil fuel funding, utilities and natural gas, who low hanging fruit activities to curb environmental racism is planting trees and recycling. These same groups support false solutions. The unified government city/county in Kansas City Kansas upholds white supremacy!
What is a previous project or program that your organization is proud of achieving for your community?
The United State Postal Services’ announcement of purchasing 9,250 Battery Electric Vehicles in February 2023 is a direct impact of our work in the last few years to pivot the USPS from its previous stance and bring the mail fleet into the 21st century. This first order of vehicles will be produced by Ford in Kansas City, Missouri. Initially, the USPS announced in 2019 that their next generation of delivery vehicles would remain as traditional internal combustion engines, an action which disregarded the scientific data and the heavy health impacts on our communities that this would perpetuate.
CleanAirNow, along with our partner organizations nationally, brought a lawsuit against the USPS, demanding it to conduct a more in-depth environmental review in accordance with NEPA and to stop the decision to maintain the status quo and for the federal government to change its decision and manufacture electric vehicles. In 2022, the USPS announced it would invest $9.6 billion for a full switch to electric vehicles starting in 2023 and purchasing only electric vehicles starting in 2026. We will be meeting with local officials and the USPS to make sure that environmental justice neighborhoods like Armourdale, Argentine, in Kansas City Kansas and Indian Mound east of Troost in Kansas City, Missouri are the first neighborhoods to receive the benefits of this clean fleet.
Why is CleanAirNow excited about the Justice40 Initiative?
We hope that our local cities implement community-led strategies to ensure investments are prioritized in the most overburdened neighborhoods.