Backyard Talk

America Can’t Afford Another Gorsuch in Government

Anne Gorsuch, the mother of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, was my worst nightmare. In 1982, when I first confronted her about toxic contamination in Times Beach, Missouri, she led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Ronald Reagan.
Anne stepped down a few months later after she refused to hand over documents that would have revealed the EPA’s mishandling of the $1.6 billion Superfund for toxic cleanups. She said she would rather go to jail than release these documents. In doing so, she broke the law, and became the first U.S. agency director in history to be cited for contempt of Congress.
When his mother resigned, Neil was a 15-year-old sophomore and star debater at Washington, D.C.’s elite, Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep.
Neil was upset with his mother, she later wrote, saying, “You should never have resigned. You didn’t do anything wrong. You only did what the President ordered. Why are you quitting? You raised me not to be a quitter. Why are you a quitter?”
As a mother of four children, I know how much my actions influence my children’s behavior, values and principles. I can only wonder what impact Anne Gorsuch’s actions had on her son.
Even at age fifteen, Neil Gorsuch should have understood the difference between right and wrong. Why wasn’t his reaction, “Gee mom, at least the people living around landfills will now receive some attention?”
Or “If the President was making you do wrong, you should have stood your ground, and said no to him, and that you’d go to jail before hurting American families?”
Did Neil truly think his mother was above the law, because her boss told her to do something that was wrong? Or that she was right to withhold the truth from the American people?
A deep understanding of right and wrong is fundamental to ruling on cases in any level of court. Anne Gorsuch’s 22-month tenure at the EPA was one of the most scandalous of the early Reagan administration. She was a firm believer that EPA was too big, too wasteful and too restrictive of business, and cut the agency’s budget by 22 percent. She boasted that she reduced the volume of clean-water regulations from six inches to a half-inch.
I was the leader at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY, where a toxic waste dump leaked 20,000 tons of chemicals into our neighborhood. As a result, 56 percent of our children were born with birth defects. In 1980, all eight hundred families from Love Canal were evacuated, and the federal Superfund program was established to provide funds to clean up other similar hazardous wastes sites. A polluter’s pay provision was the funding mechanism.
At the EPA, Anne Gorsuch supervised her assistant, Rita Lavelle in administration of the Superfund. Lavelle was later indicted on federal perjury charges after an investigation demonstrated she was involved in the misuse of these funds and in irregularities at the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a major hazardous waste site in Riverside, California. Lavelle was later convicted of lying to Congress and served three months in prison.
As EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch tried to ignore some of the worst toxic waste disasters in American history including Woburn, Massachusetts, the site of water contamination that caused a childhood leukemia cluster that became the subject of the book and movie A Civil Action. The Stringfellow Acid Pits were a site created by Gorsuch’s former employer, Aerojet-General Corp., which turned out to be even more toxic than Love Canal. Times Beach was contaminated with dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to man. Fortunately for victims, Congress forced Gorsuch to act.
I can’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of Neil, the young debater, as he observed all of this.
Did he think poisoning innocent people was fine? Did he truly believe that his mother didn’t have a legal and moral obligation to act to protect children, women or men from serious and irreversible harm, disease and death?
Was he comfortable when his mother ordered the evacuation of Times Beach from inside a local school with the media and elected representatives, but not a single impacted family? All of the local residents were locked out of the building because she didn’t want to face them and their tears and to see the effects of the toxic poisons eating way at their skin.
Almost daily at that time, national newspapers carried front-page stories about American families that were sick, terrified, and in need of action to reduce pollution in their communities. How did his mother’s role in these events shape Neil Gorsuch’s values as a young man?
For Neil Gorsuch to condone her behavior, saying she did nothing wrong, reveals a real flaw in his character. Would Justice Gorsuch advocate the same in a Supreme Court decision? If someone orders another person to do harm, will Justice Gorsuch somehow justify it because they were just following orders? Would Justice Gorsuch believe that someone’s loyalty to a President places his or her actions above the law?
I was devastated when I first arrived in Washington, 36 years ago, to work with communities faced with toxic pollution that couldn’t use this new Superfund program. My family and neighborhood’s suffering was the impetus for the program. Superfund had so much potential. I planned on using every piece of the program to assist communities to obtain clean water, air and land. Neil Gorsuch’s mother crippled the program, so much so that it has never fully recovered.
It’s clear to me that most children by 15 years of age know right from wrong. Neil Gorsuch watched as his mother allowed the poisoning of innocent American families, and allowed corporate polluters to escape responsibility. Then he condoned, and justified, her actions.
These are not attitudes that we want, or can accept, in a Supreme Court Justice.


Maryland Bans Fracking

Senate passes bill with GOP governor’s support, following six years of grassroots resistance across the state of Maryland

With game-changing support from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland state Senate Monday night gave final approval to a bill to forever ban the practice of fracking in Maryland. The move culminates years of protests against gas fracking from landowners, health leaders, and environmentalists in the state. It also sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method.

Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. New York has banned the drilling process via executive order. Vermont has a statutory ban but the state has no frackable gas reserves at present.

The Maryland ban is sending political waves across the East Coast and the nation. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam even as President Donald Trump recklessly works to approve disastrous pipelines like Keystone XL.

“Let the news go forth to Congress and the White House: fracking can never been done safely,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Republican governor closest to DC – Larry Hogan of Maryland – has joined scientists and health leaders in agreeing that fracking must be banned. This is a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”

With Senate passage late Monday night, the Maryland bill will now be sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk in the next few days for signing.

The push to ban fracking in Maryland began six years ago as gas companies swarmed into western Maryland to tap the Marcellus Shale basin. This is the same pool of gas that has been widely fracked in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with negative consequences. But then-Governor Martin O’Malley (D) imposed a temporary moratorium before any drilling occurred. Over the years, the movement for a permanent ban came to include farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others – constituting the largest statewide grassroots movement ever seen in Maryland on an energy issue. Former member of the House of Delegates Heather Mizeur was a leading figure in sparking the statewide ban effort. With time, multiple counties and cities in the state banned fracking locally and public polling consistently showed growing support for a statewide ban. Finally, earlier this month, with overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, even the previously pro-fracking Republican governor saw the wisdom of a ban.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has been honored to play a leading role in this campaign along with our friends in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition, including Food and Water Watch, Citizen Shale, Engage Mountain Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.

Backyard Talk News Archive

Trump’s EPA Cuts: No One Will Protect Us

President Donald Trump’s deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency terrify me. They will gut the agency, removing protections for American families and our children. As I travel from one polluted community to the next, women weep as they hold their children, and explain how chemicals in their air, water or land have made their families sick. Local leaders describe how their city or town won’t help them, because it’s a company town, and no one will hold the polluter responsible. They go on to say their state agency isn’t much better. Their only recourse is the federal EPA.
The EPA was designed to provide a safety net for these communities. But it has been hard enough for EPA to answer demand for their services across the nation, and to stretch their existing budgets. Clearly, Trump’s administration intends to take away this safety net, and a means for checks and balances. I can tell you from first-hand experience that living in a toxic environment, with little hope of getting out, is a family’s worst nightmare. In 1978, I lived with my two small children at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY, where 20,000 tons of toxic chemical wastes were buried.
My daughter had a rare blood disease, and my son suffered from many medical problems including with his liver, asthma and epilepsy. Our house was worthless, and our American dream taken away through no fault of our own. Fifty-six percent of our neighborhood children were born with birth defects.
Niagara Falls was a city with 47 different chemical facilities. The city didn’t want to upset the industry, nor did the county. Moreover, the state was concerned about setting a precedent, estimating there were thousands of similar sites in the region just like Love Canal. The federal EPA came in to investigate the site, after pleas from the community that the city and state were not acting. Eight hundred families were later relocated, and the Superfund Program was established to address threats to human health by the most dangerous chemical waste sites.
Superfund provides the opportunity for the EPA to come in to a town or city and clean up contamination to protect families from exposure. The program also identifies the corporations that created the site, and holds them responsible for the costs. If there is no responsible corporation, the EPA has the authority and funds to clean up the site.
There is no gentle way to state the obvious. Trump prioritizes corporations over people, children and the planet. These cuts will gut the agency, removing protections for American families. I am old enough to remember the black smoke of the steel mills, the rivers catching fire and sickness and death in communities that surround the factories. The magnitude of the cuts proposed by this administration will take America back decades.
Cuts in the EPA budget mean no one will be watching the polluters. No one will be there to ensure industrial facilities don’t dump wastes into the sewer, air or rivers. No one would hold polluters accountable to pay for cleaning up toxics or for the costs of sick children with asthma, cancer, with birth defects and so much more.
Superfund was designed to provide technical, financial and legal assistance to states and local governments by creating a pool of funds to be used in the most toxic waste sites in the country.
States nominate sites for the Superfund program because they want help; they can’t afford to clean up abandoned sites on their own. As was the case in Niagara Falls, many states and local governments have neither the resources to investigate, nor the backbone to take on corporate polluters. Instead, they look the other way.
Trump’s cuts mean there will be no one to police the environment, and no enforcement. Think about that. What if there were no police in your neighborhood? People would speed down neighborhood streets where children walk to and from school. Someone could just walk into a bank and demand money, or someone could assault you or your loved ones with no fear of consequences.
What polluters take from us is more than any bank robber can ever take, and much more devastating. The air you breathe, the water you drink and land you play on could be toxic poison. Regulations mean little when there are no police, no investigators or consequences for doing harm.
The entire planet is at risk if the Trump Administration cuts the EPA’s budget by 30 percent. Everyone but the very wealthy will suffer the consequences. Families of low income and of color will suffer the most, as they often live closest to industry.
Rather than weakening the EPA and environmental protections, we should work to strengthen rules to protect communities from the impacts of waste dumps, factory farms, fossil fuels, and other pollution sources. We should work to ensure all people have access to clean water, safe food, and a livable climate.
Everyone will be harmed by these cuts, and everyone must speak out. Our very existence, public health and America’s future depend on it, as does our ability to control industrial pollution and hold corporations accountable.  Please sign my petition:  Don’t let Trump’s budget destroy the Superfund Program or the EPA. Reprinted from: People’s Action Progressive Breakfast 3-20-17


Maryland’s Doing It – Banning Fracking – You Can Too

Victory, almost for Maryland No Fracking
Marylanders should give Mike Tidwell, all members of CCAN and all of the allies from surrounding states a huge round of applause. Although not yet a done deal since the bill to ban fracking still needs one more round of votes, it’s a pretty much over.  This comes on the heels of a protest held earlier this week where 13 activists were arrested on the steps of the State House.
Mike Tidwell said yesterday, “Governor Hogan’s decision to support a permanent fracking ban in Maryland has created a day of historic importance for the entire nation. Hogan has joined a statewide bipartisan effort to prevent this dangerous drilling technology from ever polluting Maryland’s water, air, climate, and childhood health. In short, he has done the right thing. Most importantly, on climate change, Maryland is now poised to keep a dangerous pool of fossil fuels in the ground forever. Scientists say this is what states across America and countries around the world need to do to solve global warming. Instead of fracking, we need more solar energy. Instead of coal, we need wind power. Instead of oil, we need electric cars. Larry Hogan just took a big step for Maryland and the nation in moving us toward that goal.”
Yes, people had to step out of their comfort zone and some chose to be arrested but that’s how change happens. This fight has been going on for years.  Activists didn’t give up because there is just too much at stake. Like Standing Rock leaders kept up the pressure and created opportunities to speak out. For all those who don’t think you can make a difference, think again.

Backyard Talk News Archive

Native Nations Rise March: A Powerful Uprising for Indigenous Rights

Indigenous people from around the world gathered to promote sovereignty, resistance, respect, justice and love at the Native Nations Rise March 10th. I was honored to walk along side of Indigenous women, children and men.  The weather was freezing with rain, sleet and snow. The wind howled as if joining the marches with a powerful message of protecting the earth and halting the harms.
The march began at the United States Army Corps of Engineers building and then moved past the Trump International Hotel. In front of the Trump Hotel a short demonstration was held to let guests and Trump hear the voices of the people. Now completely frozen, I continued to march to the White House.  Throughout the march there was a unified message aimed at President Donald Trump and his administration: Mni Wiconi, “Water is Life!” The chant has become a shorthand for tribes’ struggle to reassert tribal sovereignty and self-determination over their physical and spiritual spheres. The phrase was joined by many other expressions aimed at attracting the attention of the federal government: “We stand with Standing Rock!” – “Keep the oil in the soil, you can’t drink oil!” – “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” – And, “Shame, shame, shame!”
A rally with extraordinary speakers joined at the end of the March at a park, in front of the White House. Powerful words were voiced by Native leaders. It was a march that I will always hold close to my heart. Although I was frozen to the bone – I felt fire in the belly and ready to take on the fight for justice.
Read more here.


March 10th Standing Rock Protest to White House

THIS FRIDAY in WASHINGTON D.C. from 10am-12pm EST as we march to the White House with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous grassroots leaders. #NativeNationsRise will highlight the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment, and future generations.
Check out the facebook event (Native Nations Rise: Rise With Standing Rock) & for more info.