Jane Fonda pledges to join fight for cleaner air in north Denver, Commerce City

Climate activist and Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda delivered a message Thursday morning to the people who live in north Denver and Commerce City after she received a tour of the 80216 zip code, known as one of the most polluted zip codes in the United States.

“We will fight with you,” she said.

Fonda visited the neighborhood and talked with local activists on behalf of her political action committee, the Jane Fonda Climate PAC, to hear stories about pollution in the neighborhood and to ask how she can help.

Fonda’s PAC focuses on electing state and local leaders who show a strong interest in reversing climate change and ending the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The PAC supported Denver City Council members Shontel Lewis and Sarah Parady, who were elected last year.

Although Fonda said she has visited Denver frequently, she was unaware of Commerce City’s plight until Harmony Cummings, director of The Green House Connection Center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, decided to reach out and invite the longtime activist to visit.

Fonda is appearing Friday at Colorado State University for a public talk with university president Amy Parsons about climate and democracy. So she agreed to make time for Cummings and other environmental activists in the community during her trip to Colorado.

“I never knew about Commerce City and this situation,” she said. “I didn’t realize how dangerously polluted it is and how unresponsive the elected officials have been. This is something I care a lot about.”

Fonda spent about 45 minutes listening to local environmental activists talk about Colorado’s poor air quality and how it makes people sick. They spoke of nosebleeds, headaches and cancer.

She took notes on a legal pad with a pen that had a plastic red flower attached to it. By the time the locals were finished talking, Fonda was wiping tears from the corners of her eyes.

“I’m very moved by your spirit,” she said. “You’re local people fighting, standing up and often winning.”

Lucy Molina, an environmental activist who lives just blocks from Suncor Energy’s Commerce City refinery, was so overjoyed by Fonda’s visit that she cried when the two met. Molina narrated a short bus tour around the neighborhood as she sat next to Fonda.

Actress and activist Jane Fonda tours a neighborhood in Commerce City on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Fonda was in the city to hear community members from the Elyria-Swansea and Commerce City communities regarding pollution from Suncor, Purina and the adjacent stretch of I-70 affecting their health. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

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The bus traveled down Brighton Boulevard to see the Suncor refinery — one of the largest polluters in the state — along with Waste Management’s garbage transfer site and the high-profile red-and-white smoke stack at Xcel Energy’s Cherokee Generating Station, an electricity plant powered by natural gas.

Fonda also got a big whiff of the Nestle Purina pet food factory during her visit as the Green House Connection Center is just across Interstate 70 from the plant.

“You smelled it when you got here,” Molina said. “Don’t say you didn’t. This is what we live with.”

Molina and the activists asked Fonda to continue supporting local political candidates with strong environmental credentials and asked for her to use her fame as an actress to raise national awareness about their community.

“I’m just honored to bring national attention to this environmental racism,” Molina said. “We are a sacrifice zone.”

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