The Ohio House Public Utilities Committee approved Senate Bill 33 on Thursday, January 29. The government building was packed with state residents ready to speak in opposition of the bill. SB 33 is aimed at protecting oil and gas production infrastructure, while in turn, making many acts of protest against the industry potentially illegal. After the passing of the bill, residents spoke out in frustration by chanting “This is our house.” The crowds settled after Ohio state troopers arrived on scene; however, it might foreshadow Ohio’s movement towards limiting protesters’ freedom of speech. Read More.
Ohio is home to some of the nation’s most natural lands, with acres of beautiful forests, countless national parks and glistening water systems. It is a well sought after spot for a natural getaway. On the other hand, it is also a well sought after spot for industry that has placed the state as the 5th leading producer of natural gas.
Organizations and activist leaders for years have surrounded Ohio’s natural lands and vulnerable communities pushing back against industrial encroachment and expansion. Among these leaders is longtime Ohio resident, Randy Cunningham. Randy has dedicated his life to environmental activism to fight for and defend the public health rights of his community in Ohio, as well as, a handful of communities in varying locations around the country and even the world.
Cunningham got his start in environmental activism at a young age from a fight to defend his family’s land in Missouri from the expansion of the I-95 interstate. From that battle forward, Randy never looked back and dedicated his life to speaking out against environmental and human rights injustices. He has spent the majority of his life involved in a wide variety of campaigns, including landfill and incinerator use, the ban of plastic bags, and available housing. As a part of his lifelong achievements, Randy points to the publishing of his book, Democratizing Cleveland: The Rise and Fall of Community Organizing in Cleveland, Ohio 1975-1985. The book, released in 2007, is a compilation of nearly 15 years worth of interviews from local activists in Cleveland, Ohio. The motivation behind the book was to highlight the portions of activism that the public doesn’t normally get to see or pay attention to.
“Everyone wants to be on camera and no one wants to give credit to the people doing the groundwork. They are the important people.”
Cunningham explains that his writing is a large part of his activism efforts. “E.P. Thompson (a British historian and writer) once said that you cannot make history and write about it at the same time. Well, I try to do both.”
In between writing and working with numerous organizations, Randy is currently participating in the movement to block Ohio Senate Bill 33, (Modify Criminal and Civil Law for Critical Infrastructure Damage) also known as, the anti-protest bill. The state legislature has introduced the bill as a means to protect “critical infrastructure” and individuals from damage and danger resulting from operational interference. The bill has defined “critical infrastructure” as a facility that is enclosed with a fence or physical barrier and includes petroleum refineries, natural gas processing plants and interstate pipelines. In total, the proposed bill has listed 73 different types of industrial structures as “critical infrastructure.”
Ohio SB 33 is not the first bill in the country to propose anti-protest legislation. In response to the Standing Rock protests that impeded the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, 18 states have to varying degrees introduced or passed a bill limiting the protest of pipeline construction or operation. Among the states that have passed a similar bill are Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee. In addition to Ohio, five other states (Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota and Missouri) have introduced an anti-protest bill and are still awaiting a final decision. States across the country are taking a stance to partner with and protect the development of the oil industry, while in effect, making most acts of protest against the energy industry illegal.
The problem with SB 33 lies in the vagueness of its language that would make a simple act of protest against a pipeline a criminal offense. An individual can be charged with a third-degree felony for protesting or trespassing on any structure outlined in the bill, with fines up to $10,000. Further, organizations that participate in any protest activity could face fines as large as $100,000, or ten times the maximum fine imposed on an individual for a 1st degree misdemeanor ($1,000). The bill in all, protects the oil and gas industry from any interruption that might obstruct production.
Randy, along with many of his other community members have not taken to the introduction of the bill sitting down. In addition to community petitions and hearings, many individuals in opposition to SB 33 have documented their concerns through written testimony. In his testimony, Cunningham questions lawmakers’ intentions in the bill, explaining that most acts of protests within the state are done through nonviolent civil disobedience. Many individuals are trained to ensure that the demonstrations will be done in a structured way without the use of violence or damage to infrastructure. Randy questions why Ohio officials are concerned about such types of protests that peaceful exemplify Americans practicing their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
Further, Randy likens the bill to some of the nation’s most historic transformative moments in which organizers have risen above industry and political control. Similar movements of the sort include the the women’s suffrage movement and the achievement of labor rights. Randy explains that the bill will not quiet those in opposition to the threats the oil and gas industry place on the basic rights to human health.
The bill currently sits in committee on the House side of the Ohio State Legislature where it will then be taken to a vote. The bill passed within the Ohio Senate on May 1, 2019, with a majority vote of 28 to 8. Randy urges organizations and individuals to continue to comment on the bill expressing their concerns of opposition while it sits in committee. If the bill does pass, it will not signal the end of the fight. Community members, along with Randy, are prepared to take their fight to the highest level to combat the bill and its obstruction of basic civil rights.
For more information on SB 33 please contact Teresa Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you live in a state with any type of oil, gas, pipeline, PAY ATTENTION! In fact, if we start seeing bills like the one before the Ohio legislature it doesn’t even have to be an oil/gas producing state. The Ohio bill lists 73 different “Critical Infrastructures”.
Below you will see a letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine from citizens of Ohio asking for him to veto SB 33 if it comes to his desk. The letter will help you understand what is going on in many states.
To Ohio Governor Mike DeWine:
The undersigned environmental justice, racial justice, civil justice, criminal justice, and other civil society groups and individuals urge you to veto Ohio Senate Bill 33 (SB 33). The bill would undermine and silence already marginalized voices. SB 33 is an unnecessary proposal that creates new draconian penalties for conduct already covered by existing criminal statutes and could have dire unintended consequences. SB 33 is part of a national trend of so-called “critical infrastructure” legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that is intended to neutralize citizen activism around oil and gas infrastructures. We urge you to oppose SB 33.
Critical infrastructure bills disproportionately affect some of the most underrepresented communities, criminalizing their right to protest. These bills target many already marginalized voices, in reaction to some of the most high-profile protests in recent history. Communities of color, low-wealth communities and our Native American population are most affected by unchecked environmental pollution; family farms have the most to lose by unfair land-grabs for large infrastructure projects. These communities have a right to peacefully resist environmentally unsafe and unjust policies and unchecked corporate abuse.
SB 33 is purportedly designed to protect critical infrastructure, but the definition of “critical infrastructure” is overly broad and would cover large swaths of the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas, creating the unintended consequence of ensnaring many in Ohio’s already overburdened criminal justice system.
Additionally, the bill does not distinguish between criminal damages of one dollar or a million dollars. At a time when many people, including lawmakers, have recognized the deleterious effects that mass incarceration has had on society and have attempted to rectify laws that have criminalized certain conduct or imposed unreasonable penalties, SB 33 is a giant step backwards. By creating a whole new class of nonviolent offenders who could serve serious prison time, it is antithetical to criminal justice reform.
Environmental advocacy, including civil disobedience, does not threaten physical infrastructure or safety. It threatens profits. Critical infrastructure bills are based on model legislation crafted by corporate interests to establish special protections for some private industries engaged in controversial practices that attract opposition and protest. These bills, including SB 33, are rooted in governments hostile attitudes toward environmental justice advocacy because it threatens the profits of these corporations. Whenever states enact legislation based on these hostile attitudes towards particular political speech, it has a chilling effect that will be felt widely.
We urge you to veto SB 33 if and when it comes across your desk. From a criminal justice reform perspective, this bill is damaging, as it creates new steep penalties for conduct that is already covered under existing criminal law. These new steep penalties and special protections for so-called critical infrastructure are rooted in animus towards anti-pipeline protesters. It is inappropriate for states to seek to legislate in order to penalize individuals for their First Amendment-protected points of view.
by Teresa Mills, CHEJ Organizer at Large/Small Grants Coordinator
As a small child growing up in the hills of Appalachia Ohio, I was not aware that communities sponsored July 4th parades, or fireworks. Our local drive-in theater did shoot off a few fireworks between movies; so my aunt and cousins would all pile into a car and go to the drive in, a major treat for my cousins and myself.
I remember laying on a blanket looking up at the sky in anticipation of what was about to take place. As our childhood excitement grew and grew, our aunt was more than happy that she brought a blanket and that we were out of her car.
As the first firework went off there were screams of joy and excitement followed by the silence of our childish glee. We had become amazed and almost hypnotized by the sights and sounds of what we were told was the day we celebrated our independence. I recall my cousins looking at each other with confused looks and one cousin asking, “What does independence mean?” Our poor aunt tried in vain to teach a bunch of rowdy six and seven-year-old girls what “Independence” meant and why we celebrate the day. I think we listened to her for about thirty seconds before starting to chase each other around the parked cars in the lot.
A few years later I learned what Independence Day was. At least what it was supposed to be. You know there is always a fine line between what we are told and what is reality. Growing up in a political family in Appalachia I was always told not to worry, the politicians would take care of things. Wait, what, you mean my uncle, my brother, and my grandfather would see that everything was ok, REALLY! I knew these people and knew that they didn’t know a whole lot more than I did. I saw politics play out in a small town and felt that this was not what I would call independence. It was more like a dictatorship. “Do as I say, because I said so” was the response to all my questions.
Today, things have only gotten worse. Every time we turn around, some elected suit is taking away yet another one of our civil and human rights. We are seeing fewer and fewer chances to participate in our own government, both federal and state. I think we all remember when the state governments were complaining that the federal government had too much control. Now look at it. Today, it is many of our states, influenced by corporate power/dollars, that have turned around and taken local control away from our cities, towns and villages. Boy now isn’t that the “pot calling the kettle black”!
America! Wake up this 4th of July! Celebrate the day and then on the 5th, do something to help take back control over your own government from corporate America! Don’t allow the same “Do as I say because I said so” to continue. Stand up! Raise your voice! Some say that our voice has been taken away; I believe we gave our voices away by not standing up to those who hold us down.
In Piketon, Ohio, David and Pam Mills who have grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and okra on their property for about 18 years, now say they can’t trust their soil anymore. Why? Because less than a 5-minute walk from their property a short metal fence marking where the Mills property ends, there is a sign that reads, “U.S. PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING,” in big, bold letters with red, white, and blue borders, where the US government is constructing a 100-acre landfill for radioactive waste. Piketon, Ohio is a rural, low income, and largely white county and home to more than 28,000 people across a number of small towns and cities. When you drive through neighborhoods behind Piketon’s main highway, lawn signs covered in red stating “NO RADIOACTIVE WASTE DUMP in Pike County” can be seen everywhere.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) owns the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, and now, the agency is trying to clean it up. When construction is finished, it will be one of the largest nuclear waste dumps east of the Mississippi, and waste could begin entering it as soon as the Fall of 2019.
The clean-up and construction of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant spurred the 2,000 strong Village of Pike community members, to pass a resolution in August 2017 opposing the landfill. The Mills say “It’s gonna contaminate everything,” “It’s just a matter of time.”
However, the problem for Piketon residents, is there is nothing technically illegal about the landfill. The US DOE, though the polluter, is taking the lead on cleaning up the facility, and the Ohio EPA supports its plan. Whether their decision is morally right given local opposition is another matter. But this is what often happens when a corporation or governmental entity needs to dispose of toxic waste: It gets dumped in an overlooked town, like Piketon, Ohio, that doesn’t deserve it.
When contacted by the reporter, the Trump Administration’s US Department of Energy (DOE) wouldn’t comment on why it chose this site despite the nearby streams nor would it say how that impacts environmental risk.
As reported by Yessenia Funes, May 16, 2019
The first human-rights and environmental-justice hearing ever held in Ohio took place in Athens Saturday. The hearing was part of a tribunal process on impacts of fracking as a human-rights issue.
Sixteen presenters from around Ohio testified to a panel of four citizen judges at the First United Methodist Church in Athens, providing more than six hours of testimony.
The event is part of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Fracking, which is gathering testimony from around the world to deliver to the Permanent People’s Tribunal and the United Nations.
The Athens hearing, one of two planned for Ohio, was initiated by the Buckeye Environmental Network , and organized with support from Torch Can Do!, the grassroots group founded by residents living in and near Torch in eastern Athens County, and a grant from the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice. Torch is the site of one of the largest fracking-waste injection facilities in Ohio. Read more.
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][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”]
Alonzo, you’re on the board for CHEJ. How did that happen? What’s your connection to CHEJ?
I’ve been on the board of CHEJ for over 25 years. I met Lois before she formed CHEJ. She’d come [/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”][to East Liverpool] to testify — we were battling this facility here and she came and testified on our behalf and then when she formed CHEJ, I think maybe a year or two later, and I accepted.
What was Lois coming to testify about?
In our community we have the world’s largest hazardous waste facility permitted. We’ve been trying to stop it from day one. She and I knew some of the same people and we invited her here to testify. She came and helped demonstrate.
What hazardous waste facility?
Heritage Thermal Services, formerly known as WTI.
We’ve been fighting this since they started. We took action against permitting them to build. We requested that both the state and federal EPA monitor them, and they’ve had numerous violations cited against them. This facility should have never been built from a legal standpoint, environmental standpoint, or health standpoint.
How did you become active in the organizing community? Why fight against Heritage Thermal Services?
Well, you know originally when this was first proposed I was in favor of it, at that time, keep in mind we didn’t have any organization here. First, they said it was going to be safe, and it was going to attract industry. They were gonna sell cheap steam and electricity. To apply for their permits to build they were required to hold these hearings. We found out by attending these hearings their original statements were false. It was introduced to us as a “Waste to Energy Facility” but we found out it was actually a hazardous waste facility. So we learnt from that. Then we formed Save Our County and that was started to oppose the facility.
What is your organization up to now?
We are currently in the midst of a lawsuit against Heritage Thermal Service regarding their classification as a habitual violator by the U.S. EPA. We’ve been in court [with them] a number of times. We are set to go October 17th in the United States courthouse in Youngstown, Oh regarding our suit. We are going to present to the judge what we’d like to get out of the suit. Fighting Heritage Thermal Services is my organization’s, Save our County, main concern. We have other organizations throughout the country that our fighting their own local battles and we have gone to them and assisted them. We help other organizations in the same way that CHEJ does. We’ve learnt that from being affiliated with CHEJ.
What did you start off doing in activism?
Demonstrations at first. We held demonstrations at the facility. Martin Sheen came once and 33 of us got arrested, including Martin. We had a trial [regarding our arrest] and we won our case! We were charged with trespassing and we went to court we had a trial and we were found innocent. We had peaceful demonstrations here, demonstrations in D.C. and we were arrested there, too.
What effect has Heritage Thermal Facilities had on your community?
Right now, East Liverpool has been designated by the Ohio Department of Health to have a higher cancer rate than the state or national average of health. We were told this was going to happen to us before the Heritage Thermal Services moved in, and time has proven it to be true. Our school age children are breathing this poisonous air which has had an affect on their learning ability and attention span. We have a high rate of children with learning disabilities. This was all predicted. They said it would be a while, ten to fifteen years, and now it’s all come to fruition.
What would you recommend to communities for advice in organizing?
The first thing we tell communities is to organize and try to put people in positions of authority that are on your side, in other words, councilmen or commissioners. You have to make sure these officials understand the negative effects and are on your side, that they understand what’s going on. Ask them questions, do they know about the effects that the facility will have on the environment? These facilities have such a dramatic negative health effect on this community. This is a very important aspect that groups have to address before getting started.
Any words of advice for citizens trying to organize?
Do not be mislead by what these facilities say initially. Try to find out as much as you can about the facility itself, what they are going to do, and try to make sure that they are held accountable for all of their violations. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal. In Ohio, environmental agencies including CHEJ are organizing educational events in order to inspire a change in the fracking industry. These events will be held on the National Day of Action on Tuesday, June 7th.
From a Thursday press release:
Groups Call for a Halt to Toxic Fracking Waste and Man-made Earthquakes in a National Day of Action to be held on Tuesday, June 7, 2016
To read the original article click here.
FrackFree Mahoning Valley schedules April 26 media event
From a Monday press release:
Frackfree Mahoning Valley (FMV) Will Hold A Tuesday, April 26, 2016, 1:15 PM Press Conference in Youngstown’s Mill Creek Park To React to Comments Made By Ohio Department of Natural Resources Officials Regarding Utica Shale Fracking, And To Present Recently Received Troubling Documents Regarding Spills in Mahoning County:
Geology Professor, Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer and Concerned Citizens of Vienna and Mahoning County Will Speak Briefly To Provide Updated Local, Man-made Earthquake And Fracking Waste Injection Well Information, And To Answer Media Questions
All Media Are Invited To Attend
Youngstown, Ohio, April 25, 2016 – Concerned citizens of Frackfree Mahoning Valley (FMV) will hold a press conference in Youngstown, Ohio, on the public sidewalk in front of Mill Creek Park’s “D.D. and Velma Davis Education & Visitor Center” in Fellows Riverside Gardens on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, at 1:15 PM, to give their reaction to statements made by Ohio Department of Natural Resources(ODNR) officials at an event to be held at Mill Creek Park on Tuesday. (The address of Fellows Riverside Gardens is 123 McKinley Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio, 44509.)
At their press conference, FMV will distribute and discuss troubling, newly received Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) well inspection documents. Speakers will provide recent information and concerns about local fracking waste injection wells and the potential for more injection-well related, man-made earthquakes and their risks to public health, safety and well-being.
Teresa Mills of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) recently received the ODNR documents (copies of which will be distributed at the press conference) as part of an Ohio Open Records request.
According to the Vindicator, ODNR Chief Simmers will address “… recent advancements in the regulation and production of the Utica Shale.” (Vindicator, 4/10/16, “ODNR official at event”) http://www.vindy.com/news/2016/apr/10/odnr-official-at-event/
Frackfree Mahoning Valley says ODNR promotes unconventional fracking, a process which results in the constant creation of millions of gallons of toxic fracking waste. There is no good or safe solution to the problem of where all of this waste will go. This enormous waste problem cannot be ignored especially considering our local history of negative impacts that have already occurred in Youngstown and the surrounding area. FMV points out that we are situated in an area of known seismic activity, therefore, injection wells must be stopped.
On Tuesday, FMV will call for ODNR to deny an injection permit for a recently drilled Vienna injection well near a family home and the Youngstown-Warren Regional airport. The group says two Weathersfield/Niles injection wells already linked to earthquakes must remain shut down.
Frackfree Mahoning Valley says that they do not have confidence in ODNR fracking or injection well regulations, especially in light of local and national spills, man-made earthquakes, and air, water, and soil pollution. They do not trust so-called “advancements” in regulations to protect public health, safety, and well-being, since, even though there were allegedly “strict” regulations already in place, they failed to prevent the 2015 Vienna injection well fiasco where extensive water contamination still occurred despite rules and regulations.
Furthermore, local fracking and injection well – related earthquakes still occurred with regulations already in place. Regulations failed to prevent man-made earthquakes in Weathersfield/Niles, Youngstown, and Poland Township. FMV wonders whether the injection wells in North Lima, also too near homes, will be the next to trigger earthquakes. Obviously, earthquakes cannot be regulated. It is wrong for regulators to pretend that they can control earthquakes. Injection must stop.
FMV says the unprecedented increase in induced seismicity in Oklahoma could be a preview of what might happen locally if Ohio regulators stay on their current path, i.e., permitting more and more injection wells, which is making Ohio essentially a toxic fracking waste dump and risking more water contamination and earthquakes. This is unacceptable.
Geologist Ray Beiersdorfer, Ph.D., Professor of Geology at Youngstown State University, will give a brief statement at the press conference and address any media questions. Concerned citizens of Mahoning County and Vienna, Ohio, will give brief presentations and be available for any media questions afterward.
Copies of documents will be provided for media.
All media are invited to attend.
For more information, please see:
Frackfree Mahoning Valley: http://frackfreemahoning.blogspot.com/
For media inquiries or more information, please contact Frackfree Mahoning Valley at:
234-201-0402 or e-mail: email@example.com
Read the release on Ohio.com.
In July of 2013, an explosion occurred at the WTI/Heritage Thermal Services (HTS) hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, OH. Incinerator ash that had built up on the inside of the incinerator stack suddenly fell off causing a huge cloud of dust contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic substances to be released from the stack. An estimated 800 to 900 pounds of ash were released into the surrounding community. The plant manager advised residents to wash fruits and vegetables from their gardens and to replace food and water for pets and farm animals. Save Our County, a local group that has been fighting to shut down the incinerator for more than 20 years and other local residents were quite alarmed by what happened and asked whether this latest accident further put their health at risk.
The state regulating agency’s response was to invite the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to evaluate what risks the residents might have suffered. More than a year later, ATSDR released its report which concluded that the “trace amount of toxic metals in the surface and subsurface soils of the residential area west of the HTS facility affected by the July 2013 ash release are not expected to harm people’s health. The reason for this is that the concentration of these metals found in the soils are below levels of health concern.”
It’s not clear how ATSDR came to this conclusion when some of the data included in the report clearly show contaminant levels that exceeded levels of health concern. Two (of 13) soil samples, one on-site and one off-site, both downwind, had the highest levels of contaminants of concern (though they never disclosed what these levels were). The arsenic levels found in the surface soil of the surrounding community generally exceeded public health levels of concern, ranging from 14 to 57 parts per million (ppm), averaging 20 ppm. The public health level of concern is 15 ppm.
There is also data on two wipe samples (of 8) collected by HTS immediately after the accident that were found to contain 3,600 ppm arsenic; 13,000 ppm lead and 8,000 ppm nickel. These samples were collected from areas on-site where trucks at the facility were staged. These are all extraordinarily high and well above public health levels of concern.
Similarly, two wipe samples collected from the community had arsenic levels at 277 ppm and lead at 819 ppm, both levels well in excess of levels of public health concern. The report refers to a third sample collected from the surface of a black S10 pick-up truck with arsenic at 296 ppm and lead at 1,046 ppm also well above public health levels of concern.
Despite all of these results that exceeded public health levels of concern, ATSDR concluded that there is no cause for alarm and that the toxic metals released into the community “is not expected” to harm people’s health. It’s like someone at ATSDR wrote the conclusion without ever reading the report or looking at the data.
The ATSDR report simply ignores the data that exceeds public health levels of concern and draws its conclusions as though these high levels did not exist. How can anyone trust a government agency that operates this way?
This is what communities across the country have grown to expect from ATSDR – conclusions that are unresponsive to community concerns about potential health risks but protective of industrial pollution. Some things never change.