Backyard Talk Media Releases

Steven Cook Will Lead Superfund Task Force


It can be difficult at times to clearly identify the environmental goals and directives of Scott Pruitt’s EPA, but one clear directive of the administration is to advance the Superfund program. At the EPA, Superfund is administered by the Office of Land and Emergency Management. The office also oversees the regulation of hazardous waste, brownfields, and waste management. Clearly, the Office of Land and Emergency Management is of the utmost importance to CHEJ because it administers Superfund, the program which Lois Gibbs helped develop.
The Office of Land and Emergency Management has been led by Albert Kelly until his resignation earlier this month. Kelly resigned amid controversies over his banking past. Kelly was reportedly was banned from banking for life by the FDIC. Given his career history as a banker, many were skeptical of how Kelly would handle the administration of the Superfund program when he was nominated last year. Despite skepticism, Kelly proved to be a competent and considerate administrator.
Kelly worked closely with many within CHEJ’s network to clean up communities. When Kelly announced his resignation, Dawn Chapman, founder of Just Moms STL said, “I’m pretty heartbroken today, I only know what this guy was doing for our community. I saw a man that had real compassion.” Chapman had been working with Kelly to get federal funding to clean up and evacuate the West Lake Landfill. Kelly brought transparency, action, and openness to the Superfund program. During his tenure, Kelly sought to bring action and movement to sites that have been dormant for too long.
Yesterday, it was announced that Steven Cook will replace Kelly as chair of the Superfund task force. Cook like Kelly, lacks experience in the environmental field, but this wasn’t detrimental for Kelly as he quickly learned how to work with communities to enact real change. Before the EPA, Cook served as senior counsel for LyondellBasell, self-described as “one of the largest plastics, chemicals, and refining companies in the world.” Regardless of Cook’s previous work experience, he is now overseeing a program that requires polluters to pay for their damage to harmed communities.
What CHEJ will look for from Cook as he enters his new position as chair of the Superfund task force:

  • Action– We want to see real and meaningful action within the Superfund Program.
  • Openness– Follow in the footsteps of Kelly and gather input from all sides.
  • Listening– Hear from the communities that are being directly affected by the toxins in their backyard.
  • Put people over industry– Human lives are infinitely more valuable than any cooperate dollar. Put the people and their communities before polluting corporations.

CHEJ wishes Steven Cook the best of luck in administering the Superfund program, but we will be watching to see what type of administrator he will be.


EPA’s Superfund site policy could advance gentrification in communities of color

“When it comes to exposure to hazardous waste, Chicago is a tale of two cities divided by color and income.
On the South Side, neighborhoods like Roseland, Englewood, and Riverdale are over 95 percent black. Across the Windy City, fewer than one in five households live below the poverty line, but eight of nine communities on the West Side – many of which contain Superfund sites – exceed that level. The concentration of toxic risk suggests that Chicago continues to fail to live up to a fundamental principle of environmental justice: a person’s race or income level should not increase their likelihood of living near hazardous waste. With more than half of the city’s Superfund sites on the South Side and more than a third on the West Side, maybe this injustice can be best addressed if we call it by its true name: environmental racism.
Disarray within Environmental Protection Agency’s leadership has drawn attention away from the urgent threat facing Chicago neighborhoods. There are 116 hazardous waste areas in Chicago classified as Superfund sites, 100 of which are on the city’s South or West sides. To cite but one example, the H. Kramer & Co. metal smelting facility in Pilsen has emitted airborne lead for decades, much of which settled in backyards and near a public high school.
A recent EPA policy shift favoring private redevelopment (led by former Superfund head Albert Kelly’s Superfund Task Force) may do more harm than good. In January, EPA published an incomplete list of Superfund sites with significant “redevelopment and commercial potential” based on factors like outside interest and land values. The EPA has also indicated a willingness to “work with developers,” perhaps even after sites are cleaned up. This sudden, proactive emphasis on private redevelopment screams gentrification. Whether the EPA can work with outside developers (whose primary interest is profit) while honoring its obligation to prevent community displacement is an open question. No matter the answer, the EPA has wrongly assumed that outside redevelopment is uniformly in the best interest of communities containing these hazardous sites.”
Read More Here

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Pipeline Through VA and NC Stopped Again

“The land is our family tree and it speaks of legacies, heritage, and memories. No one would take that away from us. No pipelines on our valuable historic farms. No intruders on our land.”  Valerie Williams, a member of Concerned Stewards of Halifax County and an African American landowner in Halifax County.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile natural gas pipeline starting at a fracking operation in West Virginia. The pipeline, co-owned by Dominion Power and Duke Energy, runs through Virginia before entering North Carolina in Northampton County. From, there it continues another 160 miles through eight counties in eastern North Carolina, including American Indian and Black communities.
Read more.

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Pritchard Park, WA is just one illustration of efforts across the U.S. to put contaminated sites back to use for communities — as parks, playing fields, workplaces, homes, shopping centers, even renewable energy projects.

When Charles Schmid first moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1970, the Wyckoff Company was still stripping bark from timber and treating the logs with creosote, an oily liquid processed from coal tar. The waterfront factory had used similar wood-preservation methods dating back to the early 1900s, when it began producing materials for some of the world’s largest infrastructure projects, including the Panama Canal, Great Northern Railroad and San Francisco’s wharfs.

In fact, Schmid used to pick up free bark from Wyckoff. “Everything seemed fine,” he recalls. But by the 1980s, he began to learn about contamination at and around the site — pools of creosote, fish with lesions, shellfish too toxic to eat. The emerging news spurred him and other members of this island community, a short ferry ride from Seattle, to push for cleanup.

Read article here.

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Our People Are Being Hurt and We Won’t be Silent Anymore

Michigan Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival To Kick Off Six Weeks of Non-Violent Direct Action Monday in Lansing 
Protests Planned in over 30 State Capitals, Washington, D.C.
Movement Demands Sweeping Overhaul of Nation’s Voting Rights Laws, Policies to Address Poverty, Ecological Devastation, War Economy
LANSING, MI —The Michigan Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will kick off a six-week season of nonviolent direct action Monday in Lansing, demanding a massive overhaul of the nation’s voting rights laws, new programs to lift up the 140 million Americans living in poverty, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.
The rally in Lansing is one of over 30 actions across the country Monday by poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and advocates, who will engage in 40 days of nonviolent direct action and voter mobilization, among other activities, as a movement aimed at transforming the nation’s political, economic and moral structures takes off—building on the work of the original Poor People’s Campaign 50 years ago.
Protests and other activities during this first week will focus on child poverty, women in poverty and people with disabilities. Subsequent weeks will focus on systemic racism, veterans and the war economy, ecological devastation, inequality, and our nation’s distorted moral narrative.
At the conclusion of the 40 days, on June 23, poor people, clergy and advocates from Michigan and coast to coast will join together for a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. They’ll then return to their states to continue building the campaign, which is expected to be a multi-year effort.
WHO: Poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates from Michigan
WHAT: Protest at Michigan statehouse demanding sweeping overhaul of nation’s voting rights laws, policies to address poverty, ecological devastation, war economy
WHERE: 100 N Capitol Ave, Lansing, MI 48933
WHEN:  Monday, May 14 at 2PM
BACKGROUND: The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and hundreds of local and national grassroots groups across the country.
The campaign is building a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings – to unite our country from the bottom up. Coalitions have formed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good.
Over the past two years, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival have carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation, meeting with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas to Marks, Mississippi to South Charleston, West Virginia. Led by the Revs. Barber and Theoharis, the campaign has gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and listened to their demands for a better society.
A Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, announced last month, was drawn from this listening tour, while an audit of America conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, showed that, in many ways, we are worse off than we were in 1968.
The Moral Agenda, which will guide the 40 days of actions, calls for major changes to address systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative, including repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all.
Earlier this year, poor people, clergy and advocates traveled to statehouses all over the country and the U.S. Capitol  to serve notice on lawmakers that their failure to address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality would be met this spring with six weeks of nonviolent moral fusion direct action.
The Campaign draws on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor union and tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values. Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away.

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Citizens Take A Stand — While Governors Turn Their Backs

The governor in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia are whining about how they would stop the Mountain Valley or Atlantic Coast pipelines if they could. . . but they can’t.  Their hands are tied.  It’s a lie and they know it.
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Theresa "Red" Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson
Theresa “Red” Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

Of course, they can stop a pipeline and the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled they can – again.  On April 30, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Constitution Pipeline Co’s bid to challenge New York state’s refusal to issue a needed water permit for their project; a proposed natural gas pipeline running from Pennsylvania to New York.
Partners in the 125-mile Constitution pipeline includes Williams Cos Inc, Duke Energy Corp, WGL Holdings Inc and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
While the Governors whine, the citizens take a stand. Theresa Red Terry and her daughter have been living in a tree platform for four weeks. They have been enduring snowstorms, bitter cold, heavy winds and torrential rains. The land was granted to Theresa’s husbands family by the King of England in Colonial times. (Photo credit
Police are charging the Terrys with trespassing on their own land. Waiting at the base of the trees are police ready to grab them when they come down. Food and water is no longer allowed to be provided to either woman.
A company (EQT) is seeking eminent domain to seize a 125-foot-wide easement from the family. EQT has successfully petitioned for a “right to early entry” for tree felling. The company wants the court to levy stiff fines or get federal marshals to bring them down. The judge has ordered the Terrys to appear in court. She’s not leaving the tree to go to court.
Equally disturbing, EQT will locate the noisy polluting compressor station in Union Hill, VA a historical African American community. A former “Slave Cemetery” is located in the path for destruction.
The Terry family is not alone.  Property rights advocates, environmentalists and faith leaders to name a few are standing with them. But time, food and water are running out.
Virginia’s governor Northam, has the authority to protect clean water and his Department of Environmental Quality can halt pipeline construction if standards have not been met, based on a law he signed this year.
However, his own Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has deferred to the Trump administration’s misuse of a “nationwide” Clean Water Act permit allowing the pipelines to alter more than 1,000 streams and rivers.
The governor could make one phone call to his DEQ director and halt the project. But he has not. Instead the “salt of the earth” American family will go to court and maybe jail for defending their rights to their land, trees and environment. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]