Homepage News Archive

Get ready for a resurrection of the Superfund tax

The Superfund is on its way back.
Originally enacted in 1980 as the Hazardous Waste Contamination Act, the Superfund was an excise tax assessed against the chemical, oil and gas industries, according to John Beaty, general manager over excise tax at Avalara. “It hit anyone who used items from a certain list of chemicals that could potentially lead to contaminated sites,” he said.
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Photo credit: Accounting Today

Backyard Talk

Public Hearings: Is Anyone Listening?

“A public hearing is an official event on a public issue where the public speaks and the officials don’t listen.”
Activists spends endless hours sitting and testifying in public hearings. Local leaders often have endless patience despite the fact that hearings are generally convened in inconvenient places, at inconvenient times and with the room set up to intimidate. Public hearings chew up a huge amount of time and burn out leaders. They alienate members who have such a lousy time that they never come to another group activity. And often, they have no effect on public policy.
When asked why they go to hearings in light of such bad experiences, here’s what some local leaders said:
We don’t want to miss anything. There could be useful information, though this is not the only place to get it.
It’s a chance to tell our side. Sure, after the “experts” for the agencies and polluters drone on for hours, knowing the news media will leave after the first hour.
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The typical public hearing is a gross distortion of democracy. Hearing officers are trained to control public hearings. Your opponents will use public hearings to TEST you. Will you sit there and take it? Can they force you to conform to their rules? As the saying goes, “if you take what they give you, you deserve what you get.”
Do you have to go to public hearings? No, you don’t. If a public hearing ignores your needs, you can boycott it. You can hold a protest outside and denounce it. You can send a speaker inside to say you refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy. And you can organize a mass walk-out. You can even organize your own “People’s Hearing,” one you run and that deals with the truth.
If you do attend, insist they take their rules and throw them out the window. Let the people speak first, even if this means crying mothers speak, instead of the “experts” hearing officials prefer. Insist that officials respond, point by point. Use the hearing to present specific, concrete demands and insist on “yes” or “no” answers on the spot.
If they don’t cave in to your demands to do it your way, pull a mass walk-out. When denied the dignity of meaningful participation, the United Farm Workers would signal members to kneel in prayer and sing hymns.
At one public hearing, Concerned Citizens of White Lake (MI) were shocked when hearing officials turned out the lights when it was the citizens’ turn to speak. At the next public hearing, each member brought a lit flashlight.
At another hearing on contaminated water Concerned Residents of Muskegon (MI) showed up with water jugs. Their “testimony” took the form of queuing up at water fountains to fill their jugs from the city water supply they wanted hooked up to their neighborhood.
At a hearing in Maryland, Lois Gibbs, CHEJ’s founding director, stunned local leaders with a small but powerful tactic. As she testified, she saw that the hearing officials weren’t listening. Lois stopped and stood silent at the microphone. After a long pause, the hearing official saw she wasn’t talking. “Er, ah, Ms. Gibbs, are you through?” “No sir, “Lois replied, “I was simply waiting for you to start listening. When you’re ready, I’ll continue.”
We’ve advised groups who’ve been shut-out, silenced or scorned to physically display their response. Accordingly, groups have shown up wearing gags, ear plugs and in a couple of instances, wearing cardboard cut-outs over their ears bearing the label “B-S Protectors.”
The best way to handle the media black-out that results when community testimony is not given until after the media leaves (and after hours of testimony by the “experts”) is by calling the news media and holding a news conference before the hearing starts so they can get both sides of the story.
What you do with public hearings is up to you. If you let the hearing officials control the agenda and flow of the meeting, they’re assured of prime media coverage. All you’re assured of is the that they won’t be listening to what you and your group has to say. It’s up to you.
Excerpted from Public Hearings: It’s a hearing, but is anyone listening? Chapter 30, CHEJ’s Organizing Handbook.

Stories of Local Leaders

Mama Bear to Leading Activist: Living Room Leadership with Gillian Graber

By: Simone Lewis, Communications Intern
When Gillian Graber and her husband bought their home in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, she didn’t expect to become a full time activist fighting to keep her neighborhood safe from fracking. She was focused on being a stay-at-home mom, caring for her kids. This vision was quickly disrupted when smoke from their neighbor’s wood stove began permeating Gillian’s home and affecting her children’s health, causing her three and five year-old children to become sick with acute sinusitis. Gillian began to learn more about air pollution and the legal tools she could use to ensure environmental safety for her family. After a year and a half long court battle, the Graber family was assured the right to clean air in their home. The victory was big, but punctuated by bigger news: the same week in late 2014, they received a notice in the mail about two proposed fracking well pads within a half mile from her house. 
“That really got us to realize that our surroundings and things that happen in our environment will impact us negatively health wise and impact our quality of life. I’m a mama bear and I will fight for my kids”
Well pads used for industrial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can contain five to twenty individual drill sites at which millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped at high pressure thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. This process fractures the shale rock formations, releasing fossil fuels as well as radioactive material and chemically contaminated water. 
Gillian was tired from her long court battle, but she got to work researching hydraulic fracturing and found it could expose her community to known carcinogens, heavy metals, and a slew of other toxic chemicals. She knew first-hand the impacts of their surrounding environment on her family’s health and quality of life, and she felt that she had to do something. She made flyers, followed the school bus up the hill to inform other parents, and organized a meeting in her living room. That’s how she started Protect PT, a citizen’s group working to protect the Penn-Trafford area and surrounding communities from the effects of unconventional gas development. With a background in communications and a refusal to give up, Gillian volunteered her time for two years before receiving the grant that allowed her to assume her current role of executive director. 
With the looming well pad proposal, Gillian worked to gather information and supporters. The citizen’s group participated at local hearings to question the gas company and persuade the municipality not to accept the well pads. In 2015 as the proposal was increased from two pads in their township to twelve, Protect PT secured three outright denials from the township – a big win.
The industry was shocked: “They weren’t expecting the resistance. They weren’t expecting us to know what we were doing. They weren’t expecting us to be prepared”
After the local government refused to accept the well pads proposal, the industry turned around and sued the township in federal court for 380 million dollars on the basis of violation of their constitutional rights. Although the municipality would have won such a case in court, the industry was able to pressure the government into approving the proposal without the thorough review it required through the threat of this massive cost. The residents knew that their constitutional rights to clean air and clean water were being violated by the fracking industry every day in Pennsylvania, and this series of events was undoubtedly discouraging and destructive to the community. Gillian, however, did not give up the fight. 
“You can’t bury your head in the sand. It’s not an option if you want to maintain the integrity of your community and you want to maintain your property rights. We all need to understand that we have power too.”
She continued to use her experience and her platform to fight against the oil and gas companies and to help others do the same. Protect PT created a home resource guide on everything from state and local laws to the science of pollution to help people understand what they might be facing and how to fight it. They hold online workshops, consistently produce educational and advocacy materials, and partner with other organizations on action items to stop fracking and protect communities. After six years, Gillian shares, the oil and gas industry is starting to recognize that residents will oppose them and hold them accountable for infringing on their rights. 
Gillian continues to lead her community in the fight to protect their economic, environmental, and legal rights and to advocate for people in extractive areas. Her advice to those getting involved: “Do your research first and listen to the people that have been through it because you can learn from their experiences.”
Learn more about Protect PT and how you can support their mission here
Photo Credit: Connor Mulvaney/PublicSource

Homepage News Archive

Fossil Fuel Racism

Fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas — lie at the heart of the crises we face, including public health, racial injustice, and climate change. This report synthesizes existing research and provides new analysis that finds that the fossil fuel industry contributes to public health harms that kill hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. each year and disproportionately endanger Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. President Joe Biden and the 117th Congress have a historic opportunity to improve public health, tackle the climate crisis, and confront systemic racism at the same time by phasing out fossil fuel production and use.
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Photo Credit: Les Stone/Greenpeace

Homepage News Archive

Op-ed: A push for answers about the environmental causes of child cancer

“Prevention is the cure for child/teen cancer.” This is the welcoming statement on a website called ‘TheReasonsWhy.Us‘, where families affected by childhood cancers can sign up for a landmark new study into the potential environmental causes.
The study is a joint project between Texas Children’s Hospital, part of the world’s largest medical center, and The Oliver Foundation, founded by the parents of a 12-year-old boy who died 36 hours after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, one week after the onset of headaches.
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Homepage News Archive

Hazardous Homes | Thousands of U.S. Public Housing Residents Live in the Country’s Most Polluted Places

IN SOME WAYS, they couldn’t be more different. Gerica Cammack is a Black woman from Alabama; Floyd Kimball is a white man from rural Idaho. Yet they’re facing a similar ordeal. They’re both single parents, forced by difficult circumstances to live in government-subsidized housing surrounded by pollution that is, or could be, poisoning their children. Like tens of thousands of people across the country, they live near, or on, some of the most toxic places in the nation. And the government has failed to protect them.
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Photo credit: Andi Rice for The Intercept