News | October 17, 2022

Meet Dr. Treva Gear, who’s fighting for environmental justice in small town Georgia

On top of her tireless work as a community organizer, Dr. Treva Gear, who has a doctorate in adult and career education from Valdosta State University is also an Army veteran.

Born and raised in Adel, Dr. Gear has lived in Georgia her entire life and feels a deep connection to the land and, most importantly, the people who will bear the brunt of environmental consequences from two proposed biomass plants in their backyards.

Since June 2020, she has served as the founder and chair of the Concerned Citizens of Cook County.

Read our Q&A interview with Dr. Gear to learn more about her critical work in Adel and the importance of sustaining change across the environmental justice movement.

Dr. Treva Gear stands in a garden bed of lettuce. In a black Concerned Citizens of Cook County t-shirt and loose blue jeans, she smiles while pointing to the lush head of lettuce she's holding.

What’s your favorite part of life in Adel? 

It’s neighborly. Wherever you go, somebody knows somebody connected to you, even if you don’t know that person. It’s a close-knit community with a small-town feel. 

I grew up here and my parents still live in our family home. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends who all still live in Adel.

Harmful facilities are often built near predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, continuing a legacy of environmental injustice. Tell us about the repeated environmental injustices happening near you. 

An up close look at an industrial facility.
Spectrum’s biomass facility will pollute Adel’s air.

We have a legacy of pollution.  

We have a sordid past with the wood industry, and there are still facilities nearby that are not good for the community. Del-Cook Lumber Company was the old lumberyard where electrical poles were made and dipped in arsenic and other toxins that have contaminated our groundwater and soil. To this day, it has never been properly cleaned up and it sits right next to our predominately Black community and closest to the most impoverished part. 

A lot of people along that road and adjacent to that community have gotten cancer. Some have lost their lives to it. 

The Del-Cook lumberyard is abandoned, but the contaminated land is still there — in fact, it’s sitting directly beside the Housing Authority, which has received complaints that the community’s water is not smelling right and is causing problems to their skin. Something’s not right — the water smells foul.

Advanced Cylinder and Tank is another dirty industry that’s still operating today. It’s a propane tank refurbishing business that pollutes our air with a highly volatile chemical called ethyl mercaptan. You can actually detect when there’s been a leak because you’ll smell it throughout the community. Oftentimes, I’ve ridden through town and I can’t let my windows down if I’m in the vicinity of that neighborhood. 

These environmental injustices and more are not hidden. They’re in plain sight.

What draws you to be so engaged on environmental justice issues in your community? 

I’ve always been big on justice. Just like Martin Luther King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Environmental injustice is a knee on our neck and it’s blatant. 

Approximately a dozen people pose for a photo while holding neon protest signs and wearing black t-shirts that say Concerned Citizens of Cook County.
Concerned Citizens of Cook County protest Spectrum’s proposal to build a second biomass facility in their community.

I see the connection between environmental justice and civil rights. I believe in social justice and the importance of doing right by humanity. I was always a champion for the environment but it’s different when it comes to your back door. And through this fight, I’ve been enlightened on many other environmental atrocities. People show up to fight against these industries and nobody’s listening.

This fight can’t be fought alone. I have the help of other warriors within the Concerned Citizens of Cook County.

How does 4C work with one another and within the community? 

We’re building capacity. We have a lot of members who work day jobs and do this in our volunteer time. We truly work from the heart because we see the importance of it. Looking forward, we have to draw more membership in so we can sustain things and so people don’t get too tired.

It’s all about sustaining change. We can not go to sleep on the fight.

Dr. Treva Gear

I’ve been thinking about starting a youth leadership program within 4C because if we don’t empower our youth to fight the same fight, we won’t be able to maintain our results. We have to show them how to fight and let them fight alongside us so that when I can’t fight anymore, I can pass the baton onto them.

What we’ve done is all about sustaining change. Despite how far we’ve come, people are still fighting for civil rights today. We cannot go to sleep on the fight. 

What does 4C want to see happen to plans for Spectrum’s biomass facility? 

In August, we filed a petition with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings to voice our concerns against an air quality permit. The best case scenario is our appeal results in the permit being revoked. Point blank. Period.

A billboard depicting a polluting biomass plant says Protect our children, save our forests, stpo the wood pellet plant.

Spectrum needs to disassemble the plant and look for a truly green industry that doesn’t pollute the air. We want to stop this plant and other industries like it from polluting on our doorstep. When we know better, we should do better.

The audacity of Spectrum to put another plant in our community and exacerbate our health issues and cause more — it should be criminal. This is not the first, but the second, biomass plant proposed in Adel within the span of two years.

On the regulatory end, I hope we can set a precedent on how these industries are dealt with when it comes to EJ communities. I think we’re a model for an EJ community fighting the fight in real time.