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RIP Mr. Mouton, an Environmental Justice Hero

I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Edgar Mouton, Jr., a leader and former president of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).

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Mr. Edgar Mouton. Photo: Jay Burney

Mr. Mouton was an inspiration to me as a fighter for environmental justice.

A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Mr. Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry in his community, which has been spewing poisonous chemicals into the air and water of his community.  Cancer-causing chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride.

Words of an environmental justice hero.

Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent.  He fought for his community for many, many years.  He was outraged by the dioxin and vinyl chloride pollution that was getting into residents’ yards, chickens, homes, and their bodies.  Portions of the community were relocated and demolished due to groundwater contamination from a nearby PVC plant.

He wouldn’t let them get away with this.

In 2000, Mr. Mouton and other leaders from Mossville traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to testify at a US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting.  At that meeting, he said:

“As I grew up in Mossville, I remember when the plants were built as a child. My father helped build a lot of those plants. It is terrible. We had beautiful green woods around us and we did all the fishing that we ever wanted. But they did not care anything about that. And that is the same thing today.

“People are sick and dying in our community because of the high levels of dioxins found in our blood…We have a lot of people sick. There’s a lot of people with some type of illness, lungs, or some with cancer that I know of. There’s a lot of sick people there that thedoctors don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

“They seem continually to stall, for some reason or another. They give us the impression that we do not know what our needs and wants are. They want to run the show; they want to take control.”

At the same time Mossville residents were seeking justice, the polluters themselves were infiltrating and spying on the community.

From Buffalo to Mossville

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Mr. Mouton leading us on a toxic tour. Photo: Jay Burney

I met Mr. Mouton back in 2004 when PVC manufacturer CertainTeed was proposing to build a PVC plant on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo, NY where I lived.  We knew CertainTeed’s primary PVC plant was just outside Mossville, and that’s how I had the pleasure of working with and meeting Mr. Mouton.

I led a delegation of environmental health activists to travel from Buffalo to Mossville, to bear witness to the pollution the PVC plastics industry was leveling on this historic African American community.  Mr. Mouton and other leaders of MEAN welcomed us into their community with open arms, introducing us to families, taking us on toxic tours, holding a joint press conference, and even throwing down with us at a crawfish boil.  You can read about the trip in this newsletter article I wrote back in 2004 (see page 8).

I’ll never forget that trip visiting Mr. Mouton, Mossville and the Lake Charles area.  It stays with me every day.

Broken promises, and the struggle continues.

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mother Jones

I’ve always been inspired by these words of Mother Jones.  And I like to think that Mr. Mouton would agree.  He’d want to see the struggle continue, until justice is served.

Over 12 years since Mr. Mouton spoke out at that meeting in Atlanta, and over 8 years since I traveled to Mossville to go on a toxic tour around CertainTeed and Mossville, CertainTeed is on the minds of Mossville residents once again.

“We’re being hit from the north, south, east, and west. Every time the wind changes, we get a lungful of pollution from some other plant. These chemicals end up in our water, our gardens, our children’s bodies. Each day we hear about someone in our community being diagnosed with cancer or another illness. We’re taking legal action so that we might live to see some improvements for ourselves and our community.” – Mr. Mouton, former President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Over the past decade, MEAN, Earthjustice and other groups have taken EPA to court numerous times, and won! As a result of their work, the EPA  agreed and promised to clamp down on pollution from PVC chemical plants like CertainTeed in Mossville.

Unfortunately, the EPA has now broken their promises to this community, which flies in the face of the EPA’s commitment to environmental justice.  The EPA has set stronger emission standards for PVC plants in other communities, but weaker ones in Mossville, home to more than PVC plants than anywhere else in the country!

That’s why this week, MEAN, Earthjustice, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and other groups are fighting back once again.  They’ve filed a petition and lawsuit demanding EPA reduce toxic pollution from the CertainTeed plant.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation.  EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”- Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson owes this community justice.  She owes it to Mr. Mouton’s family.

RIP Mr. Mouton.  We will miss and never forget you.   The struggle continues.

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Backyard Talk

Reflection on Women's Stories from the MTR and Climate Change Tribunal

Re-post of an article worth reading about the effects of Mountain Top Removal of coal.

Rebecca Barnes-Davies, Presbyterian Church Eco Justice

Reflections and words from my trip to Charleston, WV for the Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice

The Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice on May 10, 2012 was a powerful and meaningful event of local women lifting up their voices and engaging in action to protect the health and integrity of their families, their communities, and their land. I was honored and energized to be in this gathering of powerful grassroots advocates who are working hard to take care of the things they love. The speakers and leaders of this event were local residents who shared their personal stories of witnessing to the devastating effects of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) Coal Mining in their homeland of Appalachia. Some of these local women have won prestigious awards, gained national recognition, and/or been interviewed in documentaries for their great efforts. They come from a four state area: TN, WV, VA, and KY.

These women’s lives have been drastically impacted by MTR and I was convicted and inspired by their stories. Hearing their testimonies, I am ever more committed to continue to pray and work for an end to the destructive practice of MTR that is damaging this part of God’s creation. I hope you will join me in these efforts, both from reading these glimpses of local residents’ stories and from knowing our biblical, theological, and denomination mandate to care for God’s creation.

People of faith have every reason to engage this struggle as a core part of their Christian vocation and identity. As Presbyterian Church USA policy from 1990 says, “God’s work in creation is too wonderful, too ancient, too beautiful, too good to be desecrated.” God’s work in the mountains of the southeastern United States is: the work of these powerful women, this vital stand against MTR, and the beauty and health of Appalachian communities.

This gathering last week was one in a series of global tribunals that help to lift up the particular vulnerability of women to, and strength in the face of, climate change. These tribunals have given voice and recognition to women who live all around the world and are fighting for justice in their environment. Reflections from this Appalachian tribunal will go to the “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I will be at the Earth Summit as part of the World Council of Churches delegation, and will be sharing with Presbyterians and others back home my sense of the developments there. This local Women’s Tribunal was a great first step to this important global conference and will influence my participation there.

Nearly twenty women shared their personal stories, testimonies, ideas, and demands related to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. While nothing can replace being in person to hear someone’s story, here are some of the words and stories I took away with me from local residents that I want to share with you. I cannot verify that my hand-written notes captured exact quotations, so although I will represent them (for clarity) in quotation marks, this is my disclaimer that the actual wording may have been slightly different!

“It’s not possible to destroy our mountains without destroying us. It’s not possible to poison our streams without poisoning our children….For all the voices you hear today, remember there are others who have been silenced or intimidated.” From a woman who can remember watching the blasting on the mountains from her bedroom window since she was 5 years old.

A 25 year old woman, who knows that the legacy of environmental degradation in her mountains is to “stunt Applachians’ health before they’re even born,” wants MTR stopped because she desires that it be “safe to birth my future children in my homeland…living where our families have lived for generations.” Knowing that in Appalachia “we need healthy babies for a bigger, brighter future,” she argues that we must undo the “shackles around our good health.”

A nurse takes note of “strange and serious illnesses” in her home territory (after going away for nursing training and then coming back home). She was particularly stunned by an extremely rare illness that took the life of her cousin (an illness with which only 20,000 people have ever been diagnosed) that is now the diagnosis for another person in her community and one more nearby. She says there is not one home located near coal mines that has been untouched by serious illness.

A woman whose 12 year old daughter lost a classmate to cancer—the same daughter having severe sinus troubles because of MTR (including the membrane in her nostrils being cut by the lose rock dust the family had to breathe)—shared her anger that her daughter’s health was being sacrificed to the energy demands of cheap coal in this country. This woman’s family stayed sick the entire time they were blowing up the mountain above their home. To add insult to energy, the reports from the coal company discounted the health disparities in these communities affected by MTR coal mining because the case studies didn’t take into account “consanguinity” (in-breeding)! (If anyone is looking for an example of environmental justice (i.e. environmental racism and classism), here it is! Outrageous!)

Coming from a family that has been in coal mining for generations, one woman shared that in her 20 year saga of trying to protect her land, it has been an ongoing battle that takes a ton of work, and unfortunately “people here are frightened of the industry.” In many families, people worry “they’ll take my pension…burn down my house” and she shrugs as she speaks, knowing their fears are realistic and part of the fabric of this struggle. She has fought long and hard, pushing politicians who often won’t do anything, which she recognizes is because “it is political suicide to try to do anything” against coal in this part of the country. Yet she has hope, even as there’s another round of fighting ahead (the coal company has yet again filed permits for the land near her home, permits that have been denied multiple times). She smiles and says, “Get all these ladies together and do what women do and that’s win the battles!”

Another woman whose male relations are all in coal mining, and who herself was a stay-at-home mom, shared her story about being “thrust” into this movement by the coal company itself. How could she have a choice when this MTR coal mining “can turn lungs into concrete,” and when constantly “babies are wakened by noise” and when a toddler in his bed was crushed by a boulder falling into his house from the mountaintop above? Sludge gets into the water. She declares, this is “equivalent to a war zone.” She wants her children to know that they have choices. So when her legislator, agreeing with her in principal but nervous to take action says “we have an awful lot of coal” she retorts “we also have a lot of sun and air.” She is clear that “they mine coal where we live, not we live where they mine coal.” Families and communities come first. And, besides, “Nothing else matters if we can’t breathe the air and drink the water.”

Telling a story about an old preacher who laid a dollar over the scripture selection about it being hard for a rich person to get to heaven (and then asking someone who wasn’t seeing the point, “well, can you see it now?!”) another woman focused on following the money in this debate. She has seen the medical expenses in her community, the cost of roads (driven on by too-heavy coal trucks) go into the creeks, the flooding in her community and wants these economic costs to be part of the discussion. When people talk about the economic boon of coal mining, do they consider these things that matter to local residents?

When discussing the effects that MTR coal mining has on the local community, one woman shares that the coal mines “after they ruin your community and quality of life, then they come in and offer money to buy you out.” She has seen 30 communities dry up and disappear in her 44 years of living in the area. She says “you can’t have Mountaintop Removal and communities…it’s one or the other.”

Another woman talks about the chemicals in water, air, and land. One family reportedly has a continuous flame in their well because of the explosive methane that seeped into their water supply from mining. Birds and fish are dying, she explained, and property values plummet because homes are covered in coal dust. Mountain ginseng and mountain flowers are buried. Family cemeteries are sometimes made inaccessible because of coal mining. One cemetery was pushed over by a bulldozer. All of these things break the sense local residents have of belonging to the land.

A woman who started standing up to the coal company in her town started explaining how the fabric of community is torn by the coal company: “fear.” If her truck was in her neighbors’ driveway, her neighbors got in trouble for associating with her. She lost her best friend. She stopped being asked to serve on volunteer organizations because the coal company wouldn’t give donations to any local organizations that activists, like her, were a part of (even if they didn’t have anything to do with the struggle against coal mining). People were afraid and felt controlled, and they got alienated from each other.

The long-time custom of “porch sitting” is another example of how communities are harmed by coal mining, says another woman. You can’t sit on your porch with the huge trucks going by, coal dust spewing, she explained. MTR coal mining also reduces the labor pool, so that creates tension. Drug use has gone up, the more people get depressed and look for outlets to escape.

A “stubborn holler dweller” (as she was called by the EPA) stood up to the coal company in her area and received serious death threats. Encouraged to move to a hotel, she stood her ground. With a 6 ft chain link fence, security cameras, and attack dog, this local woman would “not be put out of my grandfather’s home,” even when people were caught sneaking into her property. It is her home and she has a right to stay there.

“Mom and Dad’s chimney was pulled away from the wall” and they “lost access to water” because of coal mining, another woman said. When her parents lost access, the coal company graciously brought a barrel of water over, pouring bleach in it when it was obviously full of things you could see floating around in it. This woman, not trusting anything, took a sample. Her sample showed the water was not fit to drink. This struggle sometimes is just “too hard… people decide to move.” Her parents stayed, but one huge blast and shaking of the house brought a heart attack to her Dad. A year later, after having been moved away, her Mom died “crying to go back home.” This woman tells us “I feel like an orphan…People have no idea what we go through.”

A local pastor reports that the local river isn’t one where you can put your feet in or catch fish from. “No baptisms in this river,” she says. Meanwhile the receiving chairs on her porch are covered in coal ash. The prayer concern list at church has “so many health problems.” She believes in the statement from Martin Luther King, Jr. that the church should be the headlights, but that in this case, the church is the taillights in standing up for the people in Appalachia against coal mining companies.

At first in denial over the devastation of MTR, having bought land and built a dream house, another local woman was forced to accept it when her well water turned bright orange. She shares resigned disbelief that the burden of proof was on her (and her pocketbook) to prove that it was the coal company’s fault. This was a “huge wake-up call,” she says. She quickly came to realize that many state officials have a kind of culture of “customer relations” with miners that they don’t have with residents. Meanwhile, she found that when she sampled her water, she had to send it 70 miles away (refrigerating it that whole time) because the company’s water tester will “switch your samples for tap water” so again, “the burden of proof is on me.”

These women are strong, wise, and courageous. I was honored to be in their presence and hope that you will join me in prayer and action to help them protect their homes. In addition to the strong stance that the Presbyterian Church USA has long taken—that low-income communities not be disproportionately impacted by negative environmental practices—in 2006 the PCUSA General Assembly approved a resolution to abandon the use of mountaintop removal coal mining. We believe that the earth is God’s, and all people and all parts of creation are to be valued, respected, and tended with care. I pray that we will indeed join our hearts, minds, and bodies to this faithful call and work for an end to MTR.

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EPA Caving To The Chemical Industry-Election Year Posturing?

I can’t help but wonder if President Obama is posturing for re-elections trying to appease the all powerful oil, gas and chemical industries. It’s been over two years since the USEPA released their preliminary clean up goals for dioxin. These are clean up goals or levels that can be left in soil, and were based upon scientific studies that looked at non cancer effects. Health effects like birth defects, learning disabilities, miscarriages and more.

After EPA published the clean up goals they went to the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) where they sat for nearly two years. I had the opportunity to meet with OMB staff working on the dioxin goals and walked away angry and frustrated. I rename the agency the Office of Mannequin Bodies because no one would say anything–literally.

Today, EPA announced that they have withdrawn the clean up goals from OMB and will essentially abandoning them. This means that every state will use the scientific report, released in February of non-cancer dioxin effects to set their own guideline. Unbelievable, since today EPA has the scientific report (released in February) to support their proposed clean up goals. What this means is in each state the corporations will come to the table ready to play Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make A Deal!

So states with big corporations ruling the governance will deal a whole lot different than those with stricter regulations and public support. Some sites could be cleaned up to protective levels, and others well . . . who knows.

In the simplest format of Let’s Make A Deal, a trader is given a prize of medium value (such as a television set or in this case a almost good clean up), and the host offers them the opportunity to trade for another prize. But a poorer state with little money and political influence could get “Zonked” an unwanted booby prizes, which could be anything, fake money, fake trips or something outlandish like a fake clean up.

Communities deserve equal protection from dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. We know the chemical industry has invested significant resources lobbying against EPA’s proposed cleanup levels. Is EPA caving into the chemical industry during an election year? What is going on here? All of a sudden EPA has withdrawn them from OMB review, without any public notice or participation.

We call on EPA Administrator Jackson to move swiftly to finalize and release final dioxin cleanup guidelines once and for all, especially now that the non-cancer health assessment is complete. Infants and young children are already being exposed to dioxin levels higher than what EPA considers acceptable.

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Local Group Calls for Shutdown of Old Mission Repository

Kellogg, ID: Lead issues have long plagued entire communities as a result of mining, smelting or other production of lead products. One of the worst locations for lead contamination is in the Coeur d’Alene mining district (CDA), Idaho. The Bunker Hill mine was one of the richest lead producing mines in the US. There are hundreds of mines in Shoshone County, Idaho, most are inactive at this time but several that are still mining; this is one of the richest heavy metal mining areas in the world, and has produced billions in mining production.

Bunker Hill is also a Superfund Site, which is a site where toxic wastes have been dumped and the EPA has designated them to be cleaned up. According to the EPA, the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin contains “significant measurable risks currently exist to humans”. Because of over 100 years of mining impacting the  area, lead contamination in surface water “as much as 90 times exceeds” EPA standards. 300,000 citizens live within a 1,500 square mile area beginning at the Montana border and extending into Washington State, with over 166 miles of CDA River corridor, downstream water bodies, fill areas, adjacent floodplains and tributaries that are contaminated and “the most heavily impacted areas are devoid of aquatic life.”

As a result of the contamination, children in this area have blood lead levels above the national CDC standards.  “One of every four children tested outside the 21 sq. mile “box” is found to have an elevated blood levels and are now lead poisoned. Numerous children in the Bunker Hill site are also still being tested a routine began in about 1974 and are found with elevated lead levels.

EPA planned to address the huge area contaminated with lead by creating a repository. In 2008, the Cataldo Mission, a national historic landmark located in Old Mission State Park became a temporary dumping ground (repository) for tons of lead contaminated soil. The Silver Valley Community Resource Center (SVCRC), a local group, led protests against remediation citing that the repository sits on a flood plain that flood annually, no assurance that regular flooding will not contaminate ground water and wells, and no assurance that toxic run off from the flooding will not reach the N. Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River through seepage or flow continuing to contaminate area.

SVCRC continues to address the failure of the repository and hold EPA accountable for remediation actions. SVCRC wrote a letter to EPA, signed by thousands of citizens, local and national groups opposing the repository and a call to have a permanent clean-up plan. For approximately a year, SVCRC, Sierra Club and Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) have pursued requests from EPA and IDEQ staff to provide the scientific data supporting their allegation, “that the water is cleaner after it goes through the (Mission) repository”. To date the agencies have not been able to provide the data to back up this statement.

Recently it was learned from FOIA materials sent by the Dept. of Transportation that the repository is nestled between the Yellowstone petroleum gas line and a natural gas line that has been in place in the area for the past 50 years. Affected citizens are asking the question as to why the pipelines were never made public at any time while the Mission Repository was proposed and developed. The Yellowstone pipeline and the natural gas lines have been in the Mission Repository for five decades. They are accidents waiting to happen with all the heavy equipment that is in operation at the site throughout the year and all the traffic and population that travels Interstate 90 a stone throw from Exit 39 where the 20 acre repository is located.

“Drop in gas pressure, lack of response by EPA to affected community members, CD’A tribal sacred grounds being desecrated, a major wetland being destroyed, National Historic Preservation laws being broken, millions of tons of pollution continuing to be deposited downstream to the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, this is not emotional attachment to the Old Mission, this is about EPA’s destruction to the environment and human health risks. EPA needs to move to have this repository shut down, immediately”, said Shane Stancik, lifelong Silver Valley resident, lead poisoned child and SVCRC board member.

SVCRC is continuing its grassroots work to shut down the repository and assist EPA in refocusing its cleanup priorities to protect the environment and human health specific to blood lead testing and intervention.

“Furthermore, the use of child blood lead levels used as a remedial action objective cannot capture the broader dimensions of health and well-being that should be taken into account in remediation efforts. To this end, it should be argued that remediation efforts should not only focus on harm reduction but also contribute to efforts to ameliorate environmental and social injustices. Securing a health future for the residents of the contaminated mine sites, such as Kellogg, requires more than just reducing child blood lead levels; it requires attention to the complex set of factors underlying the pattern of systematic disadvantages that compromise the health and well-being of a post-production, mining community”, Ethical Issues in Using Children’s Blood Lead Levels as a Remedial Action Objective, Moodie, Evans, 2011.

For additional information to learn about the issues of the Bunker Hill/CD’A Basin Superfund site and get involved to address problems with the Mission Repository, contact SVCRC at www.silvervalleyaction.com or call 208-784-8891.

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NEJAC Joins Chorus on Chemical Security

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to use EPA’s authority under the “General Duty Clause” of the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) – also known as the Bhopal clause – to require covered chemical facilities to prevent, where feasible, catastrophic chemical releases.

The letter goes on to say that “Implementing the Clean Air Act’s prevention authority will not only eliminate accidental hazards but also will address fatal flaws in the current chemical security law administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Presently, DHS is prohibited from requiring the use of safer chemical processes at facilities. These gaps are particularly threatening to low-income and tribal communities and communities of color because they frequently reside near waste water treatment plants, refineries, and port facilities which are exempted under a 2006 Congressional statute that allows thousands of potentially high-risk facilities such as these from being required to use safer chemicals.”

The NEJAC letter echoes efforts by Greenpeace and a broad coaliton to address chemical security issues at industrial sites across the country. Last June 104 labor, environmental, public health and civil rights groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use the CAA’s general duty clause to prevent chemical disasters.

There are 483 chemical plants in the U.S. that each put 100,000 or more Americans at risk of a Bhopal-like disaster and several thousand other plants that use and store poison gases such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia on their property, As stated in the NEJAC letter, these plants are often located near residential areas in low-income and tribal communities and communities of color. Some communities no longer face these risks because the plants have switched to safer chemical processes. For example, the waste water treatment plant in Washington, DC converted from deadly chlorine gas to harmless liquid bleach 90 days after the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly asked Congress to remove these risks by requiring the use of safer chemical processes where feasible. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have blocked these efforts and there is little hope that legislation will move forward in an election year. Alternatively, President Obama can use the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act to require companies to design and operate their facilities in a way that prevents the catastrophic release of poison gasses. Sign the Greenpeace petition urging President Obama to use his authority to prevent chemical disasters. For more information.

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MI Nuclear Reactor Hurts Everyone

Michigan is pushing – not just supporting – another nuclear reactor, Fermi 3, on the banks of the Great Lakes. And the state and Detroit Edison are picking the pockets of tax payers and utility rate payers to pay for it. This makes no sense, especially if you look at the history and the need for such a reactor. Fermi 1 was shut down because of a partial meltdown; Fermi 2 is operating with serious problems including an accidental turbine missile mechanical explosion that resulted in millions of gallons of radioactive water being discharged into Lake Erie.

Fermi 3 is a new proposed reactor that Detroit Edison and the state are supporting. At stake, the tax payers and rate payers will pre-pay for the nuclear reactor. That’s right — pre pay for a reactor that is not needed nor is there any guarantee that it will even be built! The median income of households in the city of Detroit is $28,000 and the percentage of people below the poverty level is 26.1%. Unemployment is at 13%.

This is criminal. The city is near bankrupt, the population is barely hanging on, while Detroit Edison is forcing people to pay for the construction of a new nuclear reactor that may never be built to generate energy that is not needed and to place at risk Lake Erie which provides a solid economic base for jobs and businesses in the region.

This past weekend CHEJ facilitated a workshop in Detroit, on media training, framing the group’s messages, speaking to the media and finding other ways to reach the public about their issue. Twenty six community and group leaders, from across the region came together to fight this insane proposal. CHEJ worked with the leaders to help them come up with winning strategies to right the wrong and give the honest hard working citizens back their taxes and funds paid to the utility.

Leaders were very clear that Michigan does not need another nuclear reactor but does need economic opportunities and alternative energy. Recently a solar and wind turbine plants open in Michigan providing long term jobs, economic benefits and safe energy. The leaders strategies included encouraging subsidies be given to the alternative technologies like those that have already begun to build plants in the state and stop supporting dangerous technologies that place people and the environment at risk. Stay tuned as the efforts build.

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Grassroots Environmental Groups Are The 98%

The environmental movement has spent the last five years trying to protect laws and regulation we have and stop the roll back efforts, while also moving new regulations and policies. However, we are failing. For example, millions of dollars were invested in Climate Change legislation and we failed to move any agenda forward. One reason, according to surveys and polling, is that the American people didn’t know what to do to make a difference (beyond changing their light bulbs) or didn’t see how the issues they cared about connected to climate change. A recent report, published by the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy, provides some insights of why the average person might have had problems connecting the dots.

The report says, “The movement hasn’t won any “significant policy changes at the federal level in the United States since the 1980s” because funders have favored top-down elite strategies and have neglected to support a robust grassroots infrastructure. Environmental funders spent a whopping $10 billion between 2000 and 2009 but achieved relatively little because they failed to underwrite grassroots groups that are essential for any large-scale change.” Without resources to hold meeting that bring leaders together at the local level, provide training for media opportunities, learn how to develop a strategic plan or provide resources to join other organizations efforts, local organizations cannot sustain themselves nor move beyond the issue that brought them together.

Interestingly, according to the IRS filings, while less and less money is being provided to grassroots effort, grassroots environmental groups are emerging at more than twice the rate of other non profits sector.

More than half of all environmental grants and donations are given to 2% of all environmental groups all with budgets over $5 million. This 2% of really large groups receives more than 50% of all grants! This leaves 98% of environmental groups with less than half the available funds.

This is a serious problem. In movements throughout history, the core of leadership came from a nucleus of directly impacted or oppressed communities while also engaging a much broader range of justice-seeking supporters. In other words, successful movements for social change — anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, and civil rights — have always been inspired, energized, and led by those most directly affected. Yet these are the very groups within the environmental movement that are starved for funds.

As the highly-successful right wing in the U.S. can tell you, social movements grow large and powerful only when they are served by a deep infrastructure of organizations offering technical assistance and know-how. Local groups need to be able to find each other, share strategies, develop leadership, communicate their message, identify allies, and gain a wide range of skills. Such an infrastructure requires sustained funding and without it no movement can succeed.

Clearly, CHEJ is not a funder but is an essential part of the infrastructure. In the report NCRP strongly supports infrastructure using CHEJ as one example. “CHEJ provides everything from technical assistance on local advocacy campaigns to small capacity building grants. By nurturing emerging groups and providing ongoing feedback and coaching for more seasoned organizations, while convening meetings and alliances for all groups to connect and work together, CHEJ helps till the soil and spread the nutrients in which grassroots organizing and movement building thrive.”

To create real systemic change somehow we need to figure out how to communicate with those distributing funds that there needs to be a balance. Yes the large groups are very important but in they are only as powerful as the base they represent and can advocate at the local level. All politics, all change are local. It’s not an issue of supporting  either the large groups or the grassroots groups. It is critical to support both with balanced or none of us succeed. My question to the network is how do we communicate this message? Ideas anyone?