Backyard Talk

Poll Results: What do you want to see from the next EPA?

Last week, we asked you on Twitter, Facebook, and through an e-mail to add your voice to an important discussion: what do you want to see from the next EPA administration? The results are in!

  • Focus on environmental justice: 58 votes
  • More direct efforts to make impactful resolutions: 32 votes
  • Responsive leadership: 27 votes
  • Transparent decision making: 26 votes

103 people participated in the survey. As you can see, some people put more than one answer– we should expect a lot from the EPA!
The most popular choice was a focus on environmental justice, with about 40% of the vote. It’s clear that the participants in this poll aren’t happy with the approach the EPA is taking towards environmental justice. The next EPA administration must adopt an mode of operation that protects everyone, especially those who need it most.
We’ve seen environmental injustice exemplified in Flint, where the EPA stayed silent, failing the people there who need clean water. It’s time for a new EPA to speak up. As this infographic from The Nation shows, “environmental racism is nothing new.”
Environmental racism
More direct efforts to make impactful resolutions, responsive leadership, and transparent decision making all came in at about 20%. All of these qualities are the next EPA administrator must have, and that current administrator Gina McCarthy has often failed to exhibit.
With elections looming, it’s time for politicians– and for all of us– to know what we need from the new EPA for it to be effective in protecting our environment and the people in it. Let’s hold our candidates responsible for their power of appointing the new EPA administrator.
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Backyard Talk

Alliances Across the Aisle, A Breath of Fresh Air

We are deep in the middle of an ugly and divisive election season with two presidential candidates regularly described by polls as the most unpopular in decades. This year’s partisan advertisements and speeches are enough to turn off anyone from politics. One could be forgiven for wondering if politicians can actually work together on an urgent issue that demands attention.
That’s why the cooperative tone currently shown by Missouri’s senators and congressional representatives on the outrage of the West Lake Landfill is such a breath of fresh air. The West Lake Landfill, a landfill containing radioactive waste right next to a landfill on fire, is owned by Republic Services and is a Superfund site managed by the EPA. The health and safety concerns of the community have taken a back seat to political self-interest due to agency concerns and Republic’s political influence over elected officials.
But rather than shamefully protect Republic Services or defend the EPA’s baffling inactivity, Missouri’s congressional delegation has taken a strong stance standing up for local Bridgeton community. After the tireless work of Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, two co-founders of the group Just Moms STL, Missouri’s elected officials both hear their concerns and have acted to fix the problem. Nearly one year ago, Senators Blunt and McCaskill and Representatives Clay and Wagner introduced H.R. 4100 to transfer authority over the cleanup from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency trusted by the Bridgeton community because they successfully remediated similar sites in the area. Blunt and McCaskill were able to unanimously pass the bill through the Senate, an action that is practically unheard of in a gridlocked Washington. Clay and Wagner testified at a Superfund hearing one week ago, forcefully denouncing the EPA’s inactivity and giving voice to a Bridgeton community concerned by West Lake’s current impact and its potentially catastrophic effects.
While these actions aren’t enough by themselves, they are without a doubt an achievement for concerned local activists like Chapman and Nickel. The bipartisan action on the landfill absolutely speaks to its pressing nature and proves that focusing on relocation of the families affected is an issue Democrats and Republicans can get behind. In a political era where bipartisan socializing let alone action is rare, the fact that the Missouri delegation is attempting to fix the long overdue problem at West Lake is admirable.
Just Moms STL is planning on fostering this bipartisan spirit by hosting an event in Maryland Heights on August 18th called the “West Lake Candidate Forum” where Democrats and Republicans will personally tell voters their plan to address the West Lake Landfill. We can only hope that more elected officials recognize that the people of Bridgeton need this issue to be immediately addressed and resolved.

Backyard Talk

Lead: Slowly Poisoning Our Country

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Photo: Leaded water in one of the many lead positive Chicago Public School’s bottled from the school’s water fountain.

With news about flint’s water crisis still fresh in our minds, we continue to hear concerns from other communities about their water supplies. Recently, more than 72 Chicago public schools were found to have high levels of lead, well above EPA standards, in their water fountains and/or sinks. Nearly an additional 75 Chicago schools tested positive for lead in the water, but the levels were deemed “safe,” by EPA standard. This means these schools did test positive for lead, but the lead was less than 15 parts per billion, so students were allowed to continue school and be exposed to lead in the water. Out of all 500+ schools only 50 were lead free.
As we know lead has no safe level of exposure for children or adults alike. Lead is dangerous and can be fatal for the human body. Lead poisoning can damage one’s brain and nervous system, leading to issues with body function and control as well as mental illness. Issues with the stomach and the kidneys are common. Lead can also cause high blood pressure. However, little is being done to combat the leaded pipes and the illnesses linked to children who have been repeatedly exposed to leaded water. Several children have explained that they have been drinking from these highly contaminated sources multiple times each day during the school week leaving them especially vulnerable to lead leaching.
Since the Flint water crisis has come to the forefront, communities have started to take notice. With more and more cities doing more routine water testing, it is likely that more townships and school districts will find themselves in the same position wondering what to do to save their water and most importantly protect their children. As parents and educators fight for the health of the students blame alone will not be enough to combat the lead crisis. The EPA is approaching these issues slowly and ineffectively. The response to the communities is unjust and has left the people helpless. Especially parents of children from the 75+ affected Chicago public schools who are forced to continue sending their children to these schools each day where they are constantly exposed.
The EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Committee Working Group has recommended removal of all lead service lines as a public health priority, however this is a monumental project. One that will not be accomplished promptly or with enough time to truly make a difference. There is also the enormous cost burden which these communities cannot afford.  Areas like Chicago and Flint still need help and they need it now. By shining light on all the affected communities across our country we can help grow support and action pushing the government to act fast and change its practices on removing lead from our waterways.
To keep a watchful eye on these topics and their progress head to CHEJ’S Facebook page, website, or to learn more click here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Grassroots Green Hero: Eva Telesco

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Eva M. Telesco of Lancaster Against Pipelines with her husband Jon and son Pike. The group is fundraising for lawsuits they have filed to stop Atlantic Sunrise Project and raising awareness about the project throughout the affected communities.
Eva M. Telesco of Lancaster Against Pipelines with her husband Jon and son Pike. The group is fundraising for lawsuits they have filed to stop Atlantic Sunrise Project and raising awareness about the project throughout the affected communities.

Interview by Erin Allegro
Eva M. Telesco is a volunteer leader of Lancaster Against Pipelines working against Atlantic Sunrise Project, a proposed fracked-gas pipeline that would be double the size of most such pipelines — 42 inches in diameter and 1200 to 1500 PSI — leading to possible environmental disaster.
Telesco shared a few stories about her group’s work on the frontlines and how CHEJ has been of help to them with intern Erin Allegro recently.
Q: When did you first notice that the community was at risk due to the Atlantic Sunrise Project?
A: My husband and I didn’t learn about the Atlantic Sunrise Project until the fall of 2014. Other people in our community had known since that spring how dangerous it could be and how close it would be to our homes.  When we first heard about it we said to each other “Oh, a pipeline? Aren’t they everywhere? Big deal.” Luckily, other people were more aware of the reality and the risks, and LAP was formed early in 2014 when the project was announced and the first scoping meetings happened.
Q:  What did the county do to notify people of the problems with the pipeline that will carry fracking gas through five counties? What solutions or precautions were advised?
A: A lot of this happened before I had been involved, but in the township where I live, residents organized several town meetings. I learned about the pipeline at a community meeting at the fire hall. There were also a few township wide mailers, all funded by private citizens.
Conestoga residents just sent one out to advertise the walk and keep people up to date with the recent route changes and other news. Most of Lancaster Against Pipeline communication has been through the website, as well as Facebook and emails because we don’t have the money to do huge mailings. Our E-newsletter went out to give residents necessary information.
The township didn’t give us any solutions. The supervisors in our towns and all the neighboring towns generally, have been very unsupportive of our side. Even the fire hall meetings and mailings were initiated by private citizens. The township supervisors did not step up at all, and their stance was that they wanted to remain neutral, but in actuality it’s much more like they are siding with industry rather than residents and neighbors.
Q:  What were some events experienced by community members?
A: In the spring of 2015, two of the affected townships [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Martic and Conestoga], tried  to adopt home rule, a form of government that gives townships and individual voters more flexibility and more voice in the governing process, and would have hopefully allowed voters to pass a Rights Based Ordinance against the pipeline. Especially in the township where I live, the vote ended up being close, but we ended up losing in both townships.
That took a lot of time and energy and a lot of community meetings as well as door to door canvassing and working with voters. After this failed we moved to more of a countywide focus.
We started the Protect PA quilt project shortly after. We worked on getting groups and individuals to make quilt squares. We attended local fairs and car shows with a table with information about the pipeline, as well as supplies to make the quilt squares. Now the quilt is so large we have ten five-by-five panels. In March 2016, when we completed our tenth panel and the quilt reached 50 feet, the same distance as the permanent right-of-way for the proposed pipeline, we held a press conference at a local farm that would be bisected by the pipeline. Last summer a lot of our work was based around this quilt project.
This spring, we were able to do outreach with affected landowners; more than 40 landowners in Lancaster County have not signed contracts with Williams, the pipeline company. We visit with information and little messages of encouragement. Last month, we gave out a small plant as a gift and this month we are giving out information about eminent domain and what it will look like for the affected landowners.
We are just trying to support the landowners and help them stand up to the Williams Company. There are some owners that are a part of our group and some who are resisting, but are not actively engaged with us. They want to be more private about it.
Two weeks ago, Conestoga residents organized a walk against the Pipeline.  About 200 people came out to walk approximately 3.1 miles, starting at a landowners farm, continuing down Main Street and ending at the park. We were really excited about the turnout and there was great energy. We brought in some new people and had new volunteers as well as many more people joining! Last week, at the Lancaster FERC meeting we had a huge turnout.  The newspapers estimated about 300 people came out, mostly in opposition to the pipeline. The meeting was very dramatic and contentious with a lot of people speaking out and adding great comments. The meeting ended with our supporters singing the FERC representatives off the stage.
Q: How has this issue affected you or your family specifically?
A: It has really opened my eyes to all kinds of other environmental issues that I was only a little bit aware of but kind of ignoring until it hit so close to home. It has turned our lives upside down; we are involved in some kind of pipeline activity 3-4 nights a week and we are spending probably 10-15 hours a week on pipeline related work. Our four-year-old son is coming to meetings and rallies with us and it’s absolutely crazy trying to balance activism and our normal lives.
Q: What media coverage and help of outside organizations were you able to secure? How has it changed the response?
A: The Sierra Club has been really supportive. They sent a mass email form letter to all regional Sierra Club members; individuals could submit the letter as is, or modify, during the comment period of the DEIS. The local media has been fairly involved with relatively good coverage. In their effort to remain unbiased the media has represented us well, but has also put in even-handed words on behalf of Williams as well.  
We have also worked with many other groups, like the Clean Air Council and the Delaware River keepers. Locally, the Lancaster Conservancy and the Lancaster Farmland Trust have been very supportive.  They made strong statements at the FERC meeting in Lancaster. Our allies have helped us to get good coverage in the media as well.
Q: What do you want other citizens to know as they move forward in their communities with similar issues with their local environment?
A:It’s very hard work, but it’s worth doing. People have to believe that we can stop pipelines! I think the current climate is starting to change.  More folks are against these projects and we just have to keep fighting until leaders and politicians catch up. Anyone that wants to get connected please reach out! We are happy to offer advice, help others and attend events to help in any way we can.
Learn more about grassroots heroes on the front lines who work with CHEJ by staying up to date on our blogs and signing up for our e-mails here. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Brandywine MD Update

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Credit for this photo is attributed to Earthjustice
Credit for this photo is attributed to Earthjustice

This blog post was written by a former fellow, Katie O’Brien
Last year, I wrote a blog about the environmental racism taking place in Brandywine, MD after the state approved not one, but two gas-fired power plants in the small town. The town of Brandywine is 21 square miles and home to over 6,700 people, 72% of whom are African American. There is already one operating power plant in the town, and the construction of the two proposed plants will result in FIVE total fossil-fuel powered plants within 13 miles of Brandywine. The town sits within Prince George’s County, which is already in violation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s national air quality standards for ozone particulate. The company building one of the power plants, Mattawoman, has already stated that the site, combined with existing pollution, will cause “excessive levels of nitrogen oxide, which is linked to heart disease, asthma, and stroke”. The state of Maryland is home to 13 power plants, all of which are located in disproportionately black communities.
The Brandywine community and effected surrounding towns just recently gained some ground in their fight this June (2016) when a Federal investigation was launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate a possible Civil Rights Violation. The complaint was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of community residents, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, and the Brandywine TB Coalition. The power plants have an adverse impact on the majority African American surrounding community. The complaint states that the Maryland Public Service Commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources “failed to assess whether the project would cause disparate impacts or explore alternatives to avoid such impacts”. If the investigation finds that disparate impact is taking place, Maryland agencies can be found in violation of the Civil Rights Act and risk the suspension of millions of dollars in grants to the State. Earthjustice Attorney Neil Gormley, who is leading the case says, “We all know it’s unfair to concentrate industrial pollution sources in particular communities, this decision to launch a federal investigation confirms that it’s also a civil rights issue.” The communities surrounding the proposed power plants have the right to clean air and water, despite what the state thinks.
To learn more visit Earthjustice’s website here or here:
To follow the community’s fight click here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Fracking’s Methane Problem

imagesIt doesn’t take too long to scroll through the CHEJ blog roll to find multiple examples of the negative health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. But, even if fracking could be done in a manner that did not pollute and negatively impact the lives of some of America’s most vulnerable citizens, there is another very important reason why fracking may not be the energy solution that many of our leaders believe it is.
First, let’s take a step back and quickly discuss a major reason why fracking has been a focal point in our energy strategy over the last decade, climate change. Because hydraulic fracturing allows energy producers to access natural gas sources, mostly made up of methane, natural gas has the capacity to mitigate climate change. This is due to the fact that, when burned as a fuel, natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal. This has led many, including Obama, to adopt the strategy of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to replace the most carbon-intense sources, such as coal, while renewable technology, such as wind and solar become cheap enough to use on a grand scale.
Even if we ignore the poor record of pollution and injustice associated with fracking, there is another huge hurdle in this “bridge fuel” plan. There is a significant portion of fracked natural gas that is not being burned as fuel and is being released directly into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane is often leaked into the atmosphere during the extraction process. Even with a minimal leakage rate, there is the potential that methane emissions are offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas and using the fuel could actually be worse for the climate than coal. This is particularly troubling, as it would mean a total failure of America’s climate change mitigation strategy over the last eight years.
Currently, the EPA reports very small leakage rates that are based on industry data. With this data, fracking might still pass this very important test. The only problem is that multiple studies have been produced just in the last five years that report much higher leakage rates and spell disaster for our climate as a result. A recent study by Harvard researchers reports leakage rates much higher than EPA numbers, and a 30 percent increase in methane emissions from 2002-2014.
Considering this troubling data about methane emission, not to mention the public health impacts of fracking, maybe it is time to give up this bridge fuel plan and start utilizing renewables on a grand scale now. At the very least, let’s stop using the argument that fracking is good for climate change and have a more honest dialogue about our energy future.
Find out more about fracking’s methane problem.

Homepage News Archive

Funds, cleanups fewer

By Brendan Lyons of the Times Union. The usefulness of the EPA in cleaning up Superfund sites, a creation which often gets credited to Lois Gibbs and is a label for toxic waste removal as a government and corporate responsibility, is severely unfunded. Here’s a look at some of those repercussions. 
The 2002 chemical release would haunt the tiny village near Rochester for years. The accidental discharge at the Diaz Chemical plant showered contaminants on the residential neighborhood surrounding the facility, blanketing homes and playgrounds with potentially toxic substances.
A few months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would declare the plant a federal Superfund site, took over responsibility for relocating the occupants of eight homes who fled and refused to return to their residences. It took another nine years for the EPA to settle on a plan to fully clean up the site. Two weeks ago, workers finally began relocating a public water line that runs through the abandoned factory site in Orleans County.
“Anytime you have a time lag like we experienced, it’s always frustrating,” said John W. Kenney Jr., who was mayor of the village of Holley for 10 years beginning in 2006, and a village trustee for three years before that.
A 75-year-old who has lived in the village for more than 50 years, Kenney said it was frustrating that it took so long for the EPA to mobilize its cleanup plan and arrange for the eventual sale of the abandoned residences, which the EPA last week said is “being worked on in preparation to have the eight homes placed back on the real estate market.”
For the embattled EPA, the arguably slow response times to many environmental disasters — some of which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up — may be tied to dwindling funding rather than a lack of urgency.

A trust fund that was set up when President Jimmy Carter signed the 1980 law establishing the federal Superfund program began to run short of cash in the 1990s. The decline came after Congress — and also President George W. Bush during his two terms — repeatedly declined to support renewing a federal tax previously imposed on petroleum and chemical companies, which are often blamed for the nation’s worst environmental disasters.
The “polluter pays” tax, as it’s sometimes called, expired in 1995 and was never restored despite urgings to Congress from every U.S. president since Carter — except the most recent Bush.
Without the money, many Democratic lawmakers say the EPA has been hobbled and fallen behind in its mission to clean up the nation’s most severely polluted sites. In a report to Congress last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that in 2013 roughly 39 million people — 13 percent of the U.S. population — lived within three miles of a federal Superfund site. The report said more than a third of those living near the sites were either under the age of 18 or were 65 years or older. The EPA’s Region 2, which includes New York, had the largest number of people — 10 million, or about one-third of the region’s population — living within a three-mile radius of a federal Superfund site.
Thanks to Brendan Lyons and the Times Union for sharing this story with us. 
If you’d like to read the original article, click here.
Backyard Talk


no incineratorJUST SAY NO!
Susquehanna County citizens are in the fight for their lives.  They just recently learned that a new hazardous waste incinerator may be built in their community.
Hundreds of citizens are turning out for community meetings to discuss a hazardous waste incinerator that is being proposed in New Milford.  Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania is a county known for its grassroots citizens fighting polluting industry and for protecting their community.
Citizens have learned that the newly formed Tyler Corners Group, (an investment group) plans to build a hazardous waste incinerator.  Will this be a front group where the owner/s will hide their questionable dealings behind a smoke screen?  Or, will this group be up front and transparent with the community?  So far there is no proof that they will be upfront and transparent about on anything to do with the incinerator.
Just as expect, citizens are being told this will be in an industrial park and that it will be a boost to the area economy.  They are also being told there will be no emissions from the burner.  Well great, another magic burner!  And this burner will be state of the art, that means the last technology didn’t work.  One would have to wonder what other types of industry would want to be in the same park where there is a hazardous waste incinerator.
Citizens are attending township and county meetings, they have petitions being passed around getting signatures in opposition to the incinerator, they are asking local elected officials to develop and pass air ordinance’s that would protect the health of the community.  While the incinerator industry may have thought that they could ride into town and bring their hazardous waste with them and it would be business as usual, they did not think they would run into the opposition they are facing from the local citizens.   The POWER IS IN THE PEOPLE!
This facility is what  would be called a LULU (Locally Undesirable Land Use) facility.  This is described in greater detail in CHEJ’s “How to Deal With a Proposed Facility”.  You can get this publication on the CHEJ webpage at   Click on the tab “Take Action”, then click on organizing and leadership.  The publication will be the first on the list.
Please go to the groups Facebook page for more information.

Backyard Talk

Our White House Call In: An Empowering Success

I don’t know if you noticed, but over the past week and a half, we at CHEJ have been repeatedly asking you, and by extension, your friends, your family, your colleagues, and everyone else you know to call in to the White House and ask for the EPA to ‘Get Out of The Way!’ I’m sure if you’ve called, whether it was once, or every day like myself, you discovered that it was the easiest and most polite call exchange with a government agency that you’ve ever had in your entire life. From my perspective at least, the phone call went something like this:
“Hi, this is the White House Comment Line. All our lines are busy right now, but if you’d like to stay on the line, someone will accept your call and record a quick comment….”
…Music plays while I’m put on hold for less than ten seconds…
Which is kind of boring and bureaucratic-sounding, right? Until a sweet old lady answers your call and sincerely listens to whatever it is you’re trying to say!

“Hi! My name is Zoe Hall and I am a citizen of St. Louis calling on behalf of the citizens of Bridgeton, Missouri. I think the EPA needs to get out of the way and push for the FUSRAP to pass so the Army Corps of Engineers can clean up the West Lake Landfill. I would also like the president to see what he can do about relocation for the citizens within a mile of the landfill. This is a really pressing issue and I hope you see to it the president finds out how concerned I am.”
Eventually, by the last Tuesday of our push for calls, the conversation ended like this:
“Sure sweetie, are you referring to HR-4100?”  
Which is the House of Representatives bill 4100 pushing for FURSAP. The instant recognition of the exact issue we are pushing for indicates that the White House Comment Line has gotten such an influx of calls concerning West Lake that they have to have a code for it to easily identify and tally up all of our voices united in our outrage. This is a huge deal –– this list of codes and top concerns of the nation gets forwarded to the White House Staff in order to keep our president updated on the issues we as his constituents are focused on. That means our president has in his possession a lengthy list of people’s names and outcries for change. What he does next is out of our hands, but at least, now aware of our concern, he is accountable for whatever that may be! In itself, I consider this a victory.
Whether or not you participated in the call in, everyone can learn from the power this provided to the citizens at West Lake and anyone who wants to organize a simple, empowering action that is not only easy to do (it takes five minutes!) but is also one that gets results. Remain persistent and focused, keep your goals clear, and use the power given to we the people to raise your voice as loud as possible, so that one of the most powerful people in the world might hear.