With social crises escalating in the US and worldwide, it can be difficult to find news stories to give thanks for or to celebrate. This week, there are a few stories of environmental progress that shine a light in the darkness. These victories on the community, national and international levels prove that positive change, though sometimes slow in coming, is always on the horizon.
1) Community Victory in St. Louis: Just last week, Missouri delegates introduced legislation that would transfer the Bridgeton and West Lake Superfund Sites to the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than the EPA. Community activists are hopeful that this change in authority will yield positive results for the communities near the site. As Lois Gibbs wrote in a statement last week, this move will take advantage of the Corps’ technical expertise, while shifting clean-up responsibility from Republic Services, which has managed the site under the EPA. This is not the end of the road for St. Louis communities who are threatened by a burning landfill creeping slowly towards another site containing radioactive waste. “What really must be moved is not only the jurisdiction of this clean-up, but vulnerable families. This is the first step on a long road to recovery for the families involved and for the natural environment,” said Gibbs.
2) National Decision on Keystone XL: On November 6th, President Obama announced his decision reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, which would have transported crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The potential for spills endangered the crucially important freshwater Oglalla aquifer and threatened communities along the pipeline’s route. Additionally, the pipeline project would have perpetuated injustices against indigenous people in Alberta Canada whose homes have been destroyed by tar sands development, while increasing impacts from oil refineries in the Gulf. Though this is undoubtedly a moment to celebrate, recent NPR coverage makes the point that “thousands of miles of pipelines have been built in the same time that people have debated the 875-mile stretch that would have completed the Keystone XL. And more are being built right now.” Though we are far from transforming the energy economy, the Keystone decision is a symbolic victory and a sign of the power of grassroots organizing.
3) International Community Gearing Up for Climate Negotiations: Even as Paris is reeling from devastating terror attacks last week, the city is still preparing to host the COP21 UN Climate Summit, where over 150 world leaders will gather and attempt to hash out an international response to climate change. The meeting is expected to result in the first climate agreement since the failed Kyoto Protocol. Though rallies and marches associated with the conference have been canceled in the wake of the attacks, thus removing a powerful channel for citizen actions, the talks will proceed, and will hopefully culminate in a powerful act of international solidarity in a city at its most vulnerable moment.
In the midst of international crises, the needle continues to move on critically important environmental justice issues, from community pollution to climate change. It’s the perfect time to give thanks for the community members and advocates who are fighting for change on these and other issues – to express gratitude for grassroots action that continues to guide the way forward to a more just world.
By Stephen Lester. Nearly 10 months ago, a Norfolk Southern train with more than 150 cars, many of which contained toxic chemicals, derailed in East