Backyard Talk

Environmental Justice Concerns for Dominion’s ACP Pipeline

In the wake of the Paris agreements, alternative energy is first on the minds of many environmental activists. As we consider the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment, it’s critical to also recognize the environmental justice implications of our extractive energy industries. Across Virginia, opposition is growing in response to a proposed pipeline project that would carry natural gas across the center of the state. In addition to promoting natural gas drilling, the pipeline project carries a host of environmental and social justice concerns.

Dominion Power, under a subsidiary company,  is planning to construct an interstate pipeline for natural gas, dubbed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline would carry gas from West Virginia  to North Carolina, cutting a line across the middle of Virginia. Currently, the company is surveying land along the proposed route. In late October they submitted route changes to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, addressing concerns that were brought up with respect to the environmental impact statement on the project. Environmental groups, mobilizing together as the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, have opposed the pipeline given its potential to endanger water resources.
In addition to impacts to the natural environment, the pipeline project carries profound environmental justice implications. The project proposal involves placing a natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County near Charlottesville, VA, and community activists have raised concern that this compressor station, in addition to the pipeline itself, will mostly impact elderly African American residents. Friends of Buckingham County, a group opposing the pipeline, has been conducting surveys to better assess the demographics of the affected areas, and determine if historic African American communities in the area will be adversely impacted by the pipeline.

The environmental concerns associated with this pipeline are only a portion of what must be considered in the planning stages of this project. As the company’s survey work moves forward and environmental and EJ groups continue to mobilize against the plant, I will continue to follow this story, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can read about Friends of Buckingham County’s efforts to oppose the pipeline at their website and Facebook page.

Backyard Talk

A Community is Organized, but Where is Superfund

Originally published in Rooflines:
It’s probably the worst Superfund site in the U.S.: a smoldering fire in a mismanaged landfill is less than 1,000 feet away from a radioactive waste dump in Bridgeton, Missouri.
Experts predict that the fire could reach the radioactive waste within months, potentially causing a “Chernobyl–like” event. Children and adults are getting sick and some are dying from exposure to radioactive and other dangerous wastes. A state health authority study found over a 300 percent increase, above what would be expected in the population, of childhood brain and central nervous system cancers.

If an explosion happens, the first response is for people to “shelter in place,” by closing windows in their homes, schools or workplaces. But toxic fumes, and possibly particulate matter, could spread throughout the region and potentially force people into shelters or to evacuate, according to the county’s emergency plan. Those who live in surrounding neighborhoods would be directly affected.
Understandably, local activists are becoming increasingly afraid and angry.
A coalition of St. Louis mothers has been a highly effective, all-volunteer group of local parents fighting for their families health and safety. They’ve mobilized every week with rallies, demonstrations, pickets, online petitions, and fly-ins to Washington, and have received national media attention for their efforts—they were recently featured on the CBS news hour three times in one week. State and national environmental groups like the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) have worked with Just Moms STL, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, and other local players for several years to help boost their organizing efforts.
So where’s Superfund? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been supervising the site for years, but has not yet created a plan of action. Many of the local activists, including Just Moms STL and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) want the Army Corps of Engineers to take over the site and to remove the waste. Both groups want those who live within one mile of the waste to have an immediate option to move as well as a property assurance option for those within five miles of the waste, which the U.S. EPA could do under the auspices of Superfund.
It’s incredible that no action has been taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to secure the site. Missouri’s congressional delegation filed a bipartisan bill in both houses of congress to have the site’s clean-up transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers, who is already cleaning up several nearby sites with Manhattan project radioactive waste. (When you see Senators as ideologically opposed on most issues as Senators Blunt and McCaskill and Representatives Clay and Wagner acting as a well-coordinated team, you know how deadly serious this problem has become). You can help by signing this online petition to get Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri to declare a state of emergency.
It’s clear that EPA must act, and act quickly.  Residents joke that if they had food poisoning, they could get medical assistance and immediate help from the Food and Drug Administration, FDA. But this is no joke, the EPA must be more effective. People’s lives are depending on it.

Backyard Talk

Cookstove Inserts: Mitigating Climate Change, Deforestation, and Respiratory Problems


By: Kaley Beins
As President Obama said in Paris during this past week’s United Nations Climate Summit, “Let’s show businesses and investors that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low carbon future.” Extensive scientific research has demonstrated the serious threat that climate change poses to the environment and humanity.  Now governments are pushing for economic change in order to stimulate the mitigation of climate change.
But what about those without the economic power to influence such large scale decisions?
Almost 40% of the world’s population uses firewood as their primary source of energy for cooking and heating. This use of wood and other biofuels has led to widespread deforestation, especially around low wealth communities. Additionally, the smoke from the combustion of biofuels releases black carbon into the atmosphere, which can settle on glaciers and expedite ice melt. Black carbon has also been linked to respiratory problems. However, a new report from researchers at the University of Iowa found that a cheap metal stove insert can both increase the efficiency of cookstoves and reduce the amount of smoke released when burning wood.
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Figure 1 from the study; demonstrates how to construct the cookstove insert

Although numerous nonprofits have created high efficiency cookstoves (HECs) to mitigate deforestation and climate change, HECs are often expensive or ineffective, and few communities use them. Conversely, the small insert is made of scrap metal, costing less than $1 USD to produce, and does not require significant changes in cooking traditions. Furthermore, the preliminary study shows that the inserts decrease both the amount of fuel needed for each fire and the amount of black carbon produced by the fire; one small cookstove insert simultaneously mitigates deforestation, climate change, and human respiratory problems.
In light of last week’s adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement the timing is perfect for global communities to work to implement practical and feasible ways of mitigating climate change. Luckily innovations like the cookstove insert may also directly improve human health. The world continues to attempt to address the climate crisis and in doing so is beginning to realize the necessity of accounting for the vast range of human experiences. Whether it’s a company investing in renewable energy or a mother of four using a cookstove insert, a range of solutions will allow the world to keep its promise to “acknowledge that climate change is a common concern of humankind” and “accelerate the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Media Releases

“Just Moms STL” activist group visits state offices, demand action on West Lake

“Just Moms STL” activist group visits state offices, demand action on West Lake
“Be Superhero for Superfund” Local Group will urge Congressional Reps 
Will give cupcakes, toot birthday horns to celebrate 35th anniversary of Superfund on Dec 11th
WHAT: The St. Louis based activist group “Just Moms STL” will give cupcakes Congressman Clay, Congresswoman Wagner, Senator Blunt, and Senator McCaskill wearing birthday hats and tooting birthday horns.  They will also thank the representatives for the work they have done on the West Lake Landfill, including the recent introduction of a bi-partisan bill to move West Lake from EPA to Army Corp of Engineers.  They will urge the reinstatement of the “Polluter Pays” Fee and the passage of the West Lake bill.
WHEN: Wednesday, December 9, 2015, 10 AM – 12 PM
1) 10:00 am Office of Representative Wagner301 Sovereign Court, Suite 201, Ballwin, MO
2) 10:30 am Office of Senator Roy Blunt—7700 Bonhomme, #315 Clayton, MO
3) 11:00 am Office of Senator Claire McCaskill—5850 Delmar Blvd, Ste. A St. Louis, MO
4) 11:45 am Office of Congressman William “Lacy” Clay— 6830 Gravois St. Louis, MO
Details:  The theme of the action is Superheroes with the tagline “Make Superfund Super Again!” The action will celebrate the 35th birthday of the Superfund Law on Friday Dec. 11th.

Media Releases

New Study Shows EPA Mismanaging Toxic Clean-Up

It Also Shows More Sites are ID’d but Funding is Stagnant
Fewer Clean-Ups are Being Started and Each One Takes Longer
Groups say “Polluter Pay” Fee Must be Reinstated & Increased
Love Canal Pioneer Says Some Sites are Still Waiting for Clean-Up More Than 25 Years Later
URL to embargoed study: This page is password protected. The password is: access2015   Study Embargoed Until:  Wed, Dec. 9, 2015 at 12:01am
WHAT:  On a call-in news conference, a veteran activist known as the “Mother of the Superfund” will present a new study documenting failures of the once-highly-touted program and recommending substantial reforms including the re-establishment of “Polluter Pay” fee.
Speakers on the call include: Leading the call is Lois Gibbs, the pioneer who won the historic clean-up of Love Canal and founded the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Also involved are Stephen Lester of CHEJ and Dawn Chapman of Just Moms STL (and the leader of the pending campaign to block an underground fire near a toxic waste dump in Missouri).
Gibbs will also discuss nation-wide Superfund action/protests in 29 cities planned for Wed 12/9.
ALSO TODAY:  7:00 Tuesday 12/8 U.N. Style Human rights tribunal with 5 jurists, including Lois Gibbs and public testimony from 35 participants including Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Just Moms STL and MO Jobs with Justice on health, economic, environmental effects of West Lake Landfill,  Graphic Arts Banquet Hall, 105 Progress Parkway 63043.
WHEN:            Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm (EST), 12:00 pm (CST)
To Call In:       641-715-3580  808-997
DETAILS:      The 35th anniversary of Superfund is Friday, Dec. 11th
CHEJ says that EPA head Gina McCarthy is slowing down sorely-needed clean-ups and has gutted any citizen appeals.
CHEJ mentors the movement to build healthier communities by empowering people to prevent harm in as many ways, and for as many people, as possible. We believe this can happen when people and groups have the power to play an integral role in promoting human health and environmental integrity. Visit our website:

Backyard Talk

COP21 Holds Potential for World Leaders to Address Climate Change

Last November, MET Office released news that the global surface temperature finally reached 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial global average temperature, marking the halfway point to the 2 degree Celsius threshold that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed is the average global temperature where the effects of climate change would be detrimental. With the average global temperature increasing at an alarming rate, the need action on climate change has become a pressing issue for world leaders, where a major ongoing conference on climate change has been deemed by some as the last opportunity to derail humanity from reaching the 2 degree Celsius global temperature average point.
On November 30th, over 140 leaders worldwide congregated in Le Bourget, France for The United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference and the 21st session of the Conference of Parties, otherwise simply known as COP21. World leaders will be discussing the impacts of climate change as well as legal actions their countries will enforce to reduce greenhouse emissions and to prevent average global temperatures from climbing any higher. The United States comes second in being the largest contributor of greenhouse emissions worldwide. President Obama openly acknowledged the fact during the first session: “I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.” However, as the Conference just began in November 30th and set to conclude December 11th, it will be some time before any landmark agreement is achieved by either Obama or participating world leaders.
President Obama had also stated that this is the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, a remark brought on after his visit in Alaska where he observed the sea is already ‘swallowing villages’. Other parts of the United States are struggling with severe droughts, land loss due to erosion and rising sea levels, and uncommon extreme weather. While these effects are occurring nationwide, more affluent communities experience climate change differently than communities comprised of minorities or lower socioeconomic status. It has been documented that a disparity exists among people of color or lower socioeconomic status and white, affluent communities, where minorities are hit harder by the effects of climate change, as demonstrated by the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. If COP21 fails to yield any fruitful agreement, more episodes such as Katrina are expected not only in America but worldwide.
President Obama’s major step against climate change is the Clean Power Plan, which created the first ever national emission limit on the electric power sector. As COP21 continues into day four, a hope hinges on world leaders to make an agreement to reduce emissions and for America to rid itself of the title of being the second largest emitter.