Using a clause in the state constitution that gives municipalities the right to make local land use decisions, Helen Slottje provided pro-bono legal assistance, helping towns across New York defend themselves from oil and gas companies by passing local bans on fracking.
Much of upstate New York is a rural landscape dotted by small towns, dairy farms, vineyards and bed-and-breakfasts. It is also home to the headwaters of the Finger Lakes that provide drinking water for much of the northeastern region. Read more »
Using a clause in the state constitution that gives municipalities the right to make local land use decisions, Helen Slottje provided pro-bono legal assistance, helping towns across New York defend themselves from oil and gas companies by passing local bans on fracking.
Much of upstate New York is a rural landscape dotted by small towns, dairy farms, vineyards and bed-and-breakfasts. It is also home to the headwaters of the Finger Lakes that provide drinking water for much of the northeastern region.
Directly below the Finger Lakes region lies the Marcellus Shale, the largest known deposit of underground shale gas in the United States. In 2008, New York began an environmental review of fracking—a controversial practice that involves drilling through shale rock using a pressurized mix of water and chemicals to release natural gas. That review is ongoing and thus far has spared the state from the environmental damage wrought in nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Motivation Helen Slottje was working as a commercial attorney at a large Boston law firm when she met her husband David, a colleague at the firm. Slottje left her corporate practice and moved to Ithaca, where David had moved to join a family business. They fell in love with the rustic, small-town charm of the Finger Lakes region and decided to stay for good.
One spring day in 2009, Slottje saw an ad in the local paper announcing a meeting about gas drilling organized by a community group in Tompkins. She remembered seeing gas leases on every single property when she was helping her brother-in-law find a home in Ithaca. Her curiosity piqued, she went to the meeting—and left horrified at the pictures she had seen.
Once pristine landscapes were scarred by construction, drilling equipment and waste pits. Families were left to deal with dirty water and air, suffering health problems as a result. Horror turned to resolve, and Slottje decided to stay in Ithaca to see this fight through.
Impact Slottje’s first project as a volunteer was to build a legal case against a large industrial complex being built by a fracking company at a vacant former military storage facility in the nearby town of Horseheads. While the case ultimately went the industry’s way, Slottje gained insight into the importance of local zoning and land use laws to limit the adverse impacts of one property’s use on others. Further research led Slottje to conclude that in much the same way as local laws determine how much light and noise is permissible from activities in town, individual townships could use zoning laws to outright ban fracking within their borders.
Slottje first discussed this idea with a gas drilling task force in the town of Ulysses and, with her husband David, helped the group develop a local law to ban fracking. When community members learned of the task force’s work, they supported the committee by drafting a petition to ban fracking, and residents interested in signing it began flooding town hall with phone calls. Word spread to neighboring towns, and soon enough, citizens in towns around the state began to develop similar petitions of their own. Over the next several months, Slottje drove hundreds of miles from one town to the next, providing hundreds of hours of pro bono legal help at community meetings.
While most local citizens and town boards embraced this strategy, the gas industry openly ridiculed and threatened Slottje. Pro-industry individuals verbally assaulted her, followed her to her car late at night after community meetings, and attempted to intimidate her.
When Dryden’s town board unanimously passed a law banning fracking in 2011, the gas industry sued the town. The industry lost the battle in trial court, and following an unsuccessful appeal, the case is now before the state’s highest court.
More than 170 towns and cities throughout New York have passed local laws prohibiting fracking based on Slottje’s innovative legal framework. Many more, inspired by successes of small towns winning over powerful corporations, are working on bans—and informing grassroots organizations in states like California, Texas and Colorado where communities are also grappling with ways to regulate fracking.
Learn more about the true dangers of fracking and how you can keep it out of your community.
Make a donation to support Helen's work to help local communities ban fracking.
Submitted by kiwasserman13 on Wed, 2013-03-27 12:34
Chicago’s southwest side was home to two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants—the Fisk and Crawford plants, owned by Midwest Generation. Just a few hundred feet away from the Crawford plant is the vibrant and diverse community of Little Village, a small but densely populated neighborhood of some 100,000 residents, mostly Latino families and children. Read more »
Kimberly Wasserman helped lead local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal power plants—and is now transforming Chicago’s old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.
Chicago’s southwest side was home to two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants—the Fisk and Crawford plants, owned by Midwest Generation. Just a few hundred feet away from the Crawford plant is the vibrant and diverse community of Little Village, a small but densely populated neighborhood of some 100,000 residents, mostly Latino families and children.
Toxic emissions from the smokestacks—unwittingly called “cloud factories” by local kids—would waft over the sky in Little Village, while coal dust from the plants’ stockpile settled onto houses and school grounds. The pollution intensified during the winter and summer, when the plants ramped up operations to fill energy demands—mostly coming from other states.
Meanwhile, residents were suffering high rates of asthma, bronchitis, and a slew of other respiratory illnesses. In fact, a Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution. Residents would rely on nebulizers and oxygen tanks to help them breathe; parents who worried about asthma attacks would keep children from going outside to play. Thousands stayed home from school or missed work every year because they were sick, resulting in educational and economic losses.
Motivation Among these residents was Kimberly Wasserman, a Chicana born and raised in Little Village who lived in a house not a mile away from the Crawford plant. In 1998, then a single mother, she rushed her 3-month-old baby to the hospital when he started gasping for air. According to the doctors, her son had suffered an asthma attack, which she later found out, had been triggered by environmental pollution.
Fired up from this experience, the community organizer for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) began going to door to door with her baby in tow, talking to families in the neighborhood who were dealing with similar problems. She explained how their health problems were stemming from the coal plants and convinced parents—some of whom were undocumented immigrants afraid to speak up—that they had a right to live and raise their children in a neighborhood free from toxic pollution.
Impact Keeping these local voices front and center, Wasserman worked with other local community-based organizations to form a strategic alliance with faith, health, labor, and environmental groups and reached out to local policymakers. With limited resources, they mounted a formidable campaign that got residents out to picket and attend public hearings, organize “Toxic Tours” of industrial sites and stage a “Coal Olympics” timed around the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
After a long stall in Chicago politics, whose leaders had long supported the coal industry, the communities’ efforts to shut down the plants gained new momentum in 2011 with the creation of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, the election of a new mayor and a new class of aldermen on the City Council.
The coalition pushed efforts to build momentum for the Clean Power Ordinance among local policymakers, and the measure received support from 35 aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade its pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Midwest announced it would shut down the Crawford and Fisk plants.
The coal power plants closed ahead of schedule in the fall of 2012, and LVEJO, in partnership with a community organization in nearby Pilsen, is negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement. The agreement prohibits any fossil fuel industry from operating on the property, and entitles residents to meet the potential new owners, who will be required to present their plans for the site to the community.
Wasserman is also training the next generation of organizers to lead the community in transforming old industrial sites in Little Village into parks and open spaces such as skate parks, soccer fields, and picnic sites where residents can exercise and enjoy the fresh air. Her vision for these spaces is to serve as a community “front porch,” where residents get together to discuss ways to continue improving the neighborhood.
The Arctic waters off Alaska’s north coast boast a wide array of biodiversity including polar bears, whales, fish, and millions of migrating birds. The Inupiat people of this region depend on this Arctic marine life—particularly the bowhead whale—for the survival of their traditional subsistence culture. The 700 Inupiat people of Point Hope, a remote village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle, live sustainably from these marine resources, as their ancestors have done for millennia. Read more »
Caroline Cannon is bringing the voice and perspective of her Inupiat community in Point Hope to the battle to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling, and successfully halted numerous oil and gas leases in the region.
The Arctic waters off Alaska’s north coast boast a wide array of biodiversity including polar bears, whales, fish, and millions of migrating birds. The Inupiat people of this region depend on this Arctic marine life—particularly the bowhead whale—for the survival of their traditional subsistence culture. The 700 Inupiat people of Point Hope, a remote village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle, live sustainably from these marine resources, as their ancestors have done for millennia.
Over the last few years, there has been an enormous push to open up Arctic waters to unprecedented oil and gas development, posing an enormous threat to the region’s biodiversity and the native communities who rely on those resources for their survival. Spill prevention and response capability in this remote corner of the world is virtually unknown. If a spill were to occur in the fall when the seas are freezing over, oil could be left to flow until the following summer when relief wells can be drilled.
Yet numerous leases have been slated for approval in the 2007-2012 federal plan for offshore oil and gas development. Hundreds of scientists have appealed to President Obama to stop drilling in the Arctic until experts can study the proposed oil development’s impacts on the region’s marine ecosystems and native communities.
Born and raised in the harsh Arctic environment in Point Hope, Caroline Cannon grew up in a tight-knit Inupiat community who do everything together to survive and provide for their families. The village elders teach everyone in the community to care for each other and respect the land and sea that feed and clothe them. Nurtured by these values, Cannon has been an active leader in Point Hope for over 30 years, having served as president of the native village and on the board of Maniilaq Association, a health organization whose clinics provide much-needed medical care in the absence of local hospitals.
She is driven by a hope that the next generation of Inupiat people, including her 26 grandchildren, will have the opportunity to carry on the way of life that she and her ancestors have known.
Caroline Cannon has become the strongest and most consistent voice against the rush to drill in the Arctic seas. She has traveled across Alaska and to Washington, D.C. to attend hundreds of industry meetings and federal summits, representing Point Hope’s concerns about what’s at stake and sharing her deep traditional knowledge of the Arctic marine environment, including whale migration patterns, walrus habitat and the dynamics of ice floe movements in the region.
She became the face of the Inupiat community in a federal lawsuit challenging the 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas development plan. Her representation of Point Hope as a co-plaintiff in the suit was instrumental in bringing the case to victory when, in 2009, a federal court ruled that the proposed oil and gas leases failed to consider the significant impacts to the region’s marine environment. The court’s decision stopped all but one of the proposed major leases. The only one to move forward, Lease Sale 193, was allowed to do so because the federal government’s actual sale of the lease occurred before the lawsuit began. Cannon and her partners are now challenging that lease in federal court.
Cannon continues to be a force on Capitol Hill, standing up boldly against both industry and government during this election year, amid growing pressure to support domestic energy development and create new jobs. She and her environmental partners are galvanizing public opposition to provisions in the 2012-2017 federal plan that will allow Shell Oil to drill several exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea.
Hilton Kelley is a leading figure in the battle for environmental justice on the Texas Gulf Coast, as he fights for communities living in the shadow of polluting industries.Read more »
Now leading the battle for environmental justice on the Texas Gulf Coast, Hilton Kelley fights for communities living in the shadow of polluting industries.
Port Arthur, Texas Located among eight major petrochemical and hazardous waste facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast, the largely African-American West Side neighborhood of Port Arthur has long suffered as a result of the near constant emissions spewing from smokestacks ringing the community. Port Arthur is noted by the EPA as having some of the highest levels of toxic air releases in the country, and the companies operating the local plants have been cited with hundreds of state air pollution violations.
The West Side’s asthma and cancer rates are among the highest in the state, while the community’s income levels are among the lowest. As industry has grown, local property values have plummeted. Few jobs exist in the plants for West Side residents. At the end of each workday, a stream of cars heads away from Port Arthur’s industrial facilities toward the more affluent towns nearby as the gas flares continue to burn within sight of the West Side’s schools and federal housing projects.
The facilities operating in the area include the Motiva oil refinery, the Valero refinery, the Huntsman Petrochemical plant, the Chevron Phillips plant, the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation’s petroleum facility, the Total Petrochemicals USA facility, Veolia incinerator facility and the BASFFina Petrochemicals plant.
Motivation Hilton Kelley was born and raised on the West Side of Port Arthur and spent many of his early years in the Carver Terrace public housing project on the fence line of the Motiva refinery. Back then, in the late 1970s, the West Side had a lively main street, and though people struggled financially, there was a sense of community pride among the residents. Even then, Kelley remembers the smell of sulfur from the refineries being a near constant presence, but people in the community did not discuss it.
He and his brother were raised by their mother, who made sure her sons worked hard in school and stayed out of trouble. Kelley participated in sports, martial arts, and theater and became an Eagle Scout. He began attending college right out of high school, but when his mother died tragically during his freshman year, his life took a different path.
Kelley decided to get himself to California so he could achieve his dream of becoming a professional actor. A stint in the US Navy brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area, and he settled in Oakland after completing his tour of duty. Through a series of lucky breaks, Kelley began working as a stunt man and actor on several major movies and television shows that were filmed in the Bay Area, including CBS’s Nash Bridges.
During a visit home in 2000, 21years after he left Port Arthur, Kelley saw the community sickened by industrial pollution, plagued with crime, and teetering on the brink of total economic collapse. Kelley realized then that it was his true calling to come back and help rebuild his hometown. With no formal community organizing training, he set out to turn things around.
Impact Kelley recognized early on, thanks to his local mentors, that Port Arthur’s economic and social issues could only be addressed if the environmental problems were tackled first. He learned everything he could about the policies governing industrial pollution and became the leader of the local movement to clean up Port Arthur. He established his own organization, Community In-power and Development Association (CIDA), and began training local residents to monitor air quality.
In 2006, when Motiva announced that it would expand its Port Arthur facility into the largest petrochemical refinery in the country, Kelley got to work on the opposition. As a result of Kelley’s community outreach campaign and advocacy, Motiva installed state-of-the-art equipment to reduce harmful emissions. Kelley negotiated a now-famous “good neighbor” agreement with Motiva that provided health coverage for the residents of the West Side for three years and established a $3.5 million fund to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses in the community. He also led a campaign beginning in 2006 that prevented Veolia Corporation from importing more than 20,000 tons of toxic PCBs from Mexico for incineration at its Port Arthur plant.
Kelley has helped set Port Arthur’s West Side neighborhood on the path to redevelopment. His leadership over ten years has resulted in cooperation between industry and his community, which has led to reduced emissions and better lives for the people living next door to some of the petrochemical facilities that help fuel the rest of the United States.
Kelley continues to advocate for stricter environmental regulations on the Texas Gulf Coast and serves on the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Thanks to his leadership, Port Arthur has recently been selected as an EPA national showcase city, bringing new attention and funding to the community. Last year, Kelley and his wife opened Kelley’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant that employs West Side residents.
“I speak up for the disadvantaged because it is my duty, it is the duty of all mankind to help those in need, those who have no voice, no way of helping themselves. Having compassion for others in adverse situations is the very thread that creates a civilized and just nation, a just society." - Hilton Kelley
Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
Michigan’s livestock and dairy industries are well-connected in the state, with ties to the Department of Agriculture and footholds in nearly every county. Read more »
Family farmer and activist Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
Dirty Business Michigan’s livestock and dairy industries are well-connected in the state, with ties to the Department of Agriculture and footholds in nearly every county. While the industries provide significant economic benefit to the state, their lax environmental practices have ignited a citizens’ movement among rural residents living near their operations. Specifically under fire are concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, the large-scale feedlots where thousands of dairy cattle, poultry and pigs are confined for their entire lives. Dairy cows remain for milking while pigs and poultry are sent to slaughterhouses, whereupon the packaged meat is supplied to grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Michigan, with a long history of family farming, now hosts more than 200 CAFOs, with many rural citizens living in close proximity to these facilities.
CAFOs can house as few as seven hundred and as many as millions of animals in confined spaces with no natural vegetation, either in outdoor pens or in huge windowless structures. The animal excrement produced daily at a medium-sized CAFO amounts to that of a city with 69,000 people. High-pressure sprayers remove waste from the floors using powerful chemical solvents. The run off is then channeled into huge open pits or vats on the CAFO’s property, where it remains untreated. This toxic brew of feces and urine, chemical agents, pesticides, hormones, bacteria such as e. coli, antibiotics, blood and even birth fluid and decaying carcass parts is left to ferment for weeks, creating noxious fumes and dangerous chemical compounds like methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The waste is then trucked or piped to nearby fields, where the untreated substance is sprayed as “fertilizer,” seeping into ground water supplies and running off into local streams and rivers. Family farmers, economically stretched to near collapse, are often paid by CAFO operators to allow them to spray their fields, creating toxic conditions on their property. The resulting fumes and toxic waste in the water supply lead to significant health problems for those living nearby, such as hydrogen sulfide poisoning and giardia. CAFOs have recently been identified as some of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, as well.
CAFOs are a fundamental part of the factory farming system that has developed in the United States as a result of the public’s insatiable appetite for inexpensive meat and dairy products. The livestock industry is also incentivized by large federal subsidies. However, the American public is largely unaware of the process by which most animal products arrive at their tables. In contrast, in rural Michigan, local people cannot escape the realities of factory livestock farming. The stench is described not as a normal agrarian manure smell, but something far stronger and more putrid that causes nausea, burning sinuses and breathing problems. CAFOs, usually operated by large conglomerates without connections to the local communities, have impacted the property values of homes and farms adjacent to them, with declines of up to 70% in some rural counties.
While municipalities producing similarly large amounts of sewage are required by law to treat that waste, the state environmental laws that previously proved effective in controlling CAFO waste have been steadily weakened or repealed since the 1990s. By 1999, Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), a strong supporter of CAFOs, was essentially a gatekeeper between CAFO practices and the laws and state agencies meant to regulate the industry. The MDA continues to administer a voluntary compliance program for agribusiness regarding its adherence to state air pollution laws. Since 2002, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regained authority to regulate water pollution and require permits at large CAFOs, but weak regulations and inadequate funding has limited their enforcement capability.
Community Action Lynn Henning has emerged as a leading voice calling on state and federal authorities to hold livestock factory farms accountable to water and air quality laws. With her husband, she farms 300-acres of corn and soybeans in Lenawee County within 10 miles of 12 CAFO facilities. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law, both in their 80s, live within 1000 feet of a CAFO operation, and have both been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
In 2000, as her small rural community was inundated with CAFOs, a nearby CAFO operator accused Henning and her husband of reporting the facility’s waste discharges to state officials, which they denied. The accusation prompted Henning and other concerned neighbors to form Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), and they began organizing to bring the CAFOs to justice. Soon, Henning was urging state and federal agencies to step forward and protect the environmental and public health of the region. Reaching out to neighbors, fellow farmers and EPA enforcement officials, Henning gathered as much information as possible about CAFO pollution spills, their locations and points of origin. Regularly driving a 125-mile circuit multiple times a week to track CAFO operations and surreptitiously take water samples, Henning began to understand the practices at CAFO sites that were causing the pollution of the area’s waterways.
She joined forces with the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter as a volunteer Water Sentinel in 2001, and became a staff member in 2005. With their support, Henning led efforts to develop water quality monitoring programs to measure pollution levels from CAFOs and document their impact on local watersheds. Working with a volunteer pilot and a photographer, Henning used satellite imagery and GPS coordinates to document specific areas and waterways impacted by CAFO pollution.
Henning and ECCSCM developed a body of data on CAFO operations beyond that of Michigan’s own regulatory agencies, including the DEQ. She brought her data and tools to state regulators to encourage them to take stronger enforcement action, sharing her monitoring techniques and aerial documentation, as well as her findings on CAFO pollution. As a result, the DEQ levied hundreds of citations against Michigan CAFOs for environmental violations.
For the first time, in 2008 the DEQ denied a permit to a proposed CAFO facility, based largely on Henning’s findings and recommendations of the local citizens group fighting the proposal. While a new permit was later granted, the community is crafting an appeal with Henning’s support. Henning regularly travels to assist other communities across the country that are challenging CAFOs. Region 5 of the EPA, which serves several Midwestern states, has incorporated some of Henning’s techniques into its own CAFO investigations.
Henning recently helped form a statewide committee made up of representatives of the state departments of agriculture and health, the DEQ and Michigan citizens groups charged with conducting a first-ever assessment of the environmental impacts of CAFOs on public health. Lisa Jackson, current head of the federal EPA, recently stated that her department will take steps toward stricter enforcement of the Clean Water Act rules regulating CAFO waste.
As a result of her activism, Henning and her family have been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Her mailbox has been blown up, dead animals have been left on her front porch and she has been followed and run off the road while doing water quality monitoring.
"Our future depends on healthy food, clean water, clean air and productive soil, and industrial livestock operations put all of that at risk. We must change to a sustainable system that supports farmers who produce food with integrity and pride, that protects our children’s health, and ends the nightmare of concentrated animal feeding operations.” - Lynn Henning
In the heart of Appalachia, where the coal industry wields enormous power over government and public opinion, lifelong resident Maria Gunnoe fights against environmentally-devastating mountaintop removal mining and valley fill operations.
In the heart of Appalachia, where the coal industry wields enormous power over government and public opinion, lifelong resident Maria Gunnoe fights against environmentally-devastating mountaintop removal mining and valley fill operations. Her advocacy has led to the closure of mines in the region and stricter regulations for the industry.
Mining Nature The Appalachian Mountains, stretching from Canada to Alabama along eastern North America, contains some of the most important forest ecosystems in North America. Central Appalachia, including West Virginia, is home to the most diverse hardwood forests of all Appalachia with oak, buckeye, birch, maple, beech, ash and dogwood species. Central Appalachia’s headwater rivers and streams, historically some of the purest water on the continent, are the water source for millions of people. Central Appalachia also contains coal, a critical fossil fuel resource. The coal industry has long been the backbone of the region’s economy and the main employer of generations of working-class families living in the Appalachian coalfields. In recent decades, mountaintop removal coal mining has become common in Central Appalachia. Different from traditional underground coal mining, mountaintop removal is highly mechanized and thus employs fewer workers. Companies first clear-cut a mountaintop and then blast an average of 800 feet off the top of the mountain in order to access coal seams that lie beneath. Rubble from the blasted mountains, often containing toxic debris, is dumped into adjacent valleys to form “valley fills.” Without foliage and natural layers of soil, the land is rendered unable to retain water. As a result, flooding of communities below valley fills has become a severe and increasingly frequent problem. In December 2008, the Bush Administration approved a final rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and other mine waste from mountaintop removal mining operations into nearby streams and valleys. Weakening what is known as the federal stream buffer rule, the move is one of the most controversial environmental regulation changes coming from the Bush Administration in its final months. To date, mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia has destroyed an estimated 470 mountains and has buried or polluted 2,000 miles of rivers and streams. Unique Appalachian Culture Maria Gunnoe, 40, was born and raised at the mouth of a narrow hollow in Boone County, West Virginia, now one of the most active mountaintop removal regions in the United States. Her family’s roots in the region date back to the early 1800s, when her ancestors escaped the forced removal of their Cherokee peoples from Georgia by walking along streams to the headwaters, settling safely in the fertile hollows of Central Appalachia. She comes from a long line of coal miners, including her Cherokee grandfather, who in the 1950s purchased the land where her home stands today. Throughout much of rural Appalachia, a unique culture of survival and living off of the land has thrived for centuries. Gunnoe’s family instilled in her a deep connection to the forest and streams, where her community hunts, fishes, and gathers foods and medicinal plants throughout the seasons. This traditional rural culture is threatened by the invasive mining practices that now dominate the region. Coal Miner’s Daughter Speaks Up In 2000, a 1,200-acre mountaintop removal mine began on the ridge above Gunnoe’s home. Today, her house sits directly below a 10-story valley fill that contains two toxic ponds of mine waste comprised of run-off from the mine. Since the mine became operational, Gunnoe’s property has flooded seven times. Before mining began, Gunnoe’s property was never prone to such flooding. In a 2004 flood, much of Gunnoe’s ancestral home was destroyed and her yard was covered in toxic coal sludge. The coal company told her the damage was an “act of God.” As a result of mine waste, her well and ground water have been contaminated, forcing her family to use bottled water for cooking and drinking. In 2004, Gunnoe, a medical technician by training and former waitress, began volunteering with many local advocacy organizations and then working for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) to educate her neighbors about the environmental dangers of mountaintop removal. She organized monthly Boone County meetings, and soon provided community trainings on how to read mining permits, write letters to the editor, interface with the media, and protest using nonviolent methods. Gunnoe also created neighborhood groups to monitor coal companies for illegal behavior and to report toxic spills. She has encouraged other residents to speak at hearings about their concerns over mountaintop removal. In March 2007, OVEC and partner groups won a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers that repealed mountaintop removal valley fill permits in southern West Virginia granted without adequate environmental consideration, and banned issuance of new permits. In defiance of the federal judge’s orders, the Corps granted permits to Jupiter Holdings to construct two new valley fills above Gunnoe’s community at its Boone County mine. OVEC challenged the permits in federal court, and a hearing was scheduled for September 2007. Days before the hearing, Gunnoe organized a media training for 20 local residents, some of whom were scheduled to testify with her. However, at the community hall, more than 60 coal miners showed up and harassed Gunnoe and her neighbors, stopping the meeting and intimidating the group. After the incident at the community hall, Gunnoe’s neighbors decided not to testify in the hearing challenging Jupiter Holdings’ permits. Gunnoe was the sole community resident to do so. In October 2007, federal district court Judge Robert Chambers ruled in favor of Gunnoe and OVEC and issued an injunction, ordering Jupiter Holdings to halt the construction of any new valley fills at its Boone County mine. Gunnoe and a coalition of regional groups are now advocating for passage of the federal Clean Water Protection Act, and the reinstatement of the buffer zone rule that would strengthen environmental laws regulating mountaintop removal. She is also working with Appalachian groups to promote viable renewable energy opportunities for the region. Observers confirm that mine managers point to Gunnoe as an enemy of mine workers and their jobs, and have encouraged acts of harassment. Gunnoe has received numerous verbal threats on her life, and her children are frequently harassed at school. Gunnoe’s neighbors recently overheard people planning an arson attack on her home. Her daughter’s dog was shot dead, and “wanted” posters of Gunnoe have appeared in local convenience stores. Gunnoe has recently taken serious measures to protect both her family and property.
“The people of Appalachia have sacrificed everything including their lives for energy in America. We must put a stop to mountaintop removal coal mining and transition to renewable energy to allow us our homeland security and to preserve our rightful place and culture in the mountains.”
In Oaxaca, where unsustainable land-use practices have made it one of the world’s most highly-eroded areas, Jesús León Santos led a land renewal program that employs ancient indigenous practices to transform depleted soil into arable land.Read more »
In the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, Mexico, JesúsLeón Santos leads an unprecedented land renewal and economic development program that employs ancient indigenous agricultural practices to transform this barren, highly eroded area into rich, arable land. With his organization, the Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM), a democratic, farmer-led local environmental organization, León has united the area’s small farmers. Together, they have planted more than one million native-variety trees, built hundreds of miles of ditches to retain water and prevent soil from eroding, and adapted traditional Mixteca indigenous practices to restore the regional ecosystem. Efforts are paying off as barren hillsides turn green again, aquifers are recharged, and the high rate of migration slows as indigenous farming families find they are able to make a living at home. Climate Change, Industrial Farming, and Migration Studies indicate that climate change trends such as erosion, flooding, desertification and changing weather patterns will gravely affect small farmers and consequently food supply worldwide. In the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, this is grimly apparent. According to a UN study, the region has one of the highest rates of soil erosion in the world, affecting 83 percent of the land, with 500,000 hectares considered severely eroded. After adopting chemical-intensive varieties of corn seed in the 1980s, many small farmers in the Mixteca region found that yields were dropping and the soil was becoming depleted. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and US corn subsidies, maize prices dropped and many farmers could no longer afford the price of fertilizers and pesticides that the new varieties required. As the soil declined in productivity, small-scale agriculture became increasingly difficult. Erosion, coupled with declining prices for the staple corn crop, forced thousands of Mixtecans to leave the region. Solutions In the early 1980s, León, a Mixtec indigenous small farmer and cofounder of CEDICAM, began helping people organize to reforest the area to quell erosion. As more and more farmers requested trees to plant on their properties, CEDICAM’s first nursery expanded into a system of several community-run nurseries. More than twenty years of grassroots work has led to significant benefits for the region. With help from León and CEDICAM, people are now planting up to 200,000 native trees a year. The trees prevent erosion, aid water filtration into the ground, provide carbon capture and green areas, contribute organic material to the soil and provide more sustainable, cleaner burning wood to residents who cook on open fires. CEDICAM is teaching communities sustainable use of firewood and the use of wood-saving stoves. This alleviates the workload of women who, in the past, had to travel farther to collect wood. León is working with communities to retrieve pre-Hispanic traditions of using barriers to prevent hillside erosion. He has helped identify ancient terraced agricultural systems in the region, many in ruins, and helped communities rebuild the barriers using stones from the fields. The resulting flattened areas impede erosion and enhance agricultural production. León has pioneered the construction of contour ditches, retention walls and terraces to capture rainfall and prevent erosion on hillsides. Five kilometers of contour ditches have been shown to capture 1,800,000 liters of water after each heavy rain, recharging the aquifers below. An estimated 80 percent of rainfall previously flowed off the land without filtering, thus causing erosion and preventing the refilling of aquifers. León and CEDICAM have worked with farmers throughout the region to build hundreds of kilometers of contour ditches. Sustainable Agriculture In order to promote sustainable agricultural practices, León began a program helping farmers convert to natural compost fertilizers and to use native seed varieties. Today most farmers in the region use native seed. As a result of the public education and seed-saving efforts, the region is becoming a GMO-free zone. León also started a program to promote local foods and traditional indigenous diet, in opposition to the influx of processed foods accelerated by free trade and changes in the culture due to immigration. Many small farmers believed that using chemicals was the modern way and by returning to traditional practices they would be seen as ignorant. León taught people to appreciate the role of the small farmer, building prestige and pride into the recuperation of traditional indigenous and small farming methods. He began applying sustainable methods among a small group of farmers and as neighbors saw concrete results, they too converted to sustainable farming. León and CEDICAM are now working with more than 1,500 small farmers in 12 communities. They have planted more than one million trees and reforested more than 1,000 hectares. Their sustainable agriculture programs have led to the conservation of some 2,000 hectares. Further, they have protected 5,000 hectares with stone terraces and walls, leading to a 50 percent increase in agricultural production and increased topsoil and water retention, resulting in ecological, social and economic benefits. Where recently only 25 to 30 percent of the land was arable, communities now farm upwards of 80 percent of the land. The contour ditches that prevent run-off of rain water have led to a 50 to 100 percent increase in spring levels. Farmers throughout the area have converted from industrial fertilizers and pesticides to natural compost fertilizers and native seed varieties, and are returning to local foods and a traditional indigenous diet. For a semi-arid zone like the Mixteca, all of these changes have immensely improved lives throughout the region’s communities, leading to less out-migration. León’s success has led to interest from other regions and countries. He has shared his experience in water conservation, anti-erosion techniques and sustainable agriculture at forums throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and at various universities and events in the US.
“It is time we recognize that traditional agricultural methods can make strong contributions to biodiversity conservation. We should encourage it and value it as a way to produce healthy foods that conserve and care for the environment.”
Submitted by sorabliauskas07 on Fri, 2007-03-30 15:22
Sophia Rabliauskas succeeded in securing interim protection for the boreal forests of Manitoba, effectively preventing destructive logging and hydropower development while the government and international agencies deliberate on the future of the region.Read more »
Rightful Stewards of the Land The traditional territory of the Poplar River First Nation—1,200 members of the Ojibway indigenous people—is located on the eastern side of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, and forms a significant part of Canada’s boreal forest. For thousands of years, the Poplar River First Nation has carried out its traditional mandate to protect the region and its resources. However, massive industrial clear-cut logging to the south and hydro-power development on boreal rivers to the north of Poplar River land continue. First Nations territory is legally public land. As such, it is common for provincial and federal agencies to grant long-term leases to industry without consulting the First Nations who live on the land. A leader of her Poplar River First Nation in the boreal region of Manitoba, Sophia Rabliauskas has for the past eight years worked with her people to secure interim protection of their two million acres of undisturbed forest land (three times the size of Rhode Island). In 2004, Rabliauskas along with several other community members led Poplar River in the development of a comprehensive land protection and management plan for their territory—a precedent-setting accomplishment among First Nations in the boreal. Rabliauskas’s and Poplar River’s current efforts are focused on securing permanent protection of their land from the Manitoba government. With that victory, they will seek a UNESCO World Heritage listing for a larger region of First Nations boreal forest. Developing the land management plan was an intensive endeavor by Poplar River, led by Rabliauskas and a few others within the First Nation under the direction of their elders. Their efforts resulted in a full-scale blueprint of how they intend to document, protect and sustainably manage Poplar River’s forests, wildlife and other natural resources. The land use plan outlined the following core components: respecting traditional knowledge; benefiting from environmental analysis; developing economic opportunities, including protection of traditional hunting, trapping and fishing activities; and creating sustainable tourism opportunities. One year before the plan’s completion, in 2004, Rabliauskas helped secure five more years of “interim protected status” for Poplar River territory, which continued to prohibit any logging, hydro, gas or mining development within the two million acres. The Manitoba government announced its intention to grant permanent protection to Poplar River’s land, yet to date has not granted that protection. As 2007 is an election year in Manitoba, Rabliauskas and Poplar River will increase their efforts to keep the issue in the public eye. While physically isolated from the resources and conveniences of urban life (the main reliable route in and out of the territory is via air), Poplar River is considered highly successful and thriving among First Nations, especially in terms of its social cohesion and economic health. There is little turnover in its tribal leadership and women play an active role in decision-making and cultural leadership. The Boreal—Canada’s Essential Forests Canada’s vast boreal forest, which includes the lands of Poplar River First Nation, plays a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, as its intact forests and wetlands store massive amounts of carbon. Threats to the health of Canada’s boreal forest are numerous: less than 10 percent of the boreal is strictly protected from development, and, despite awareness of the area’s global importance, about one-half of Canada's annual wood harvest comes from the boreal. Canada’s boreal forest comprises 25 percent of the world's and more than 90 percent of the country's remaining large intact forests, and is home to more than four million people, including many First Nations peoples. Covering nearly 1.4 billion acres and 58 percent of Canada's land mass, the boreal forms a green belt across the center of the country, stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. Thirty percent of this coniferous old-growth forest is covered by wetlands, an estimated 1.5 million lakes and some of the country's largest river systems. This area is also home to some of the world's largest remaining populations of woodland caribou, wolves and bears, and more than 75 percent of North America's waterfowl.
“Creator gave us the responsibility to care for the land, the land that sustains our life. Our Elders have always believed that how we treat our land today will affect the health of the planet and the lives of many generations to come. It is critical now more than ever, that we fulfill that responsibility that was passed down to us from our ancestors.”
Submitted by crwilliams06 on Mon, 2006-03-13 14:39
Craig Williams formed a nationwide grassroots coalition against the incineration of chemical weapons stored in the United States, and convinced the Pentagon to halt incineration plans at four major chemical weapons stockpiles.
A cabinetmaker by trade, Craig E. Williams is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who successfully convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in multiple locations around the United States. Read more »
A Vietnam Veteran Fights a New Battle at Home A cabinetmaker by trade, 58-year-old Craig E. Williams is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who successfully convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in multiple locations around the United States. Today, 24,000 tons of obsolete chemical weapons agents are stored in the United States. Williams started his campaign in 1985 after learning that one of nine weapons stockpiles to be burned was at an Army depot in his community. Worried that incineration would put local citizens and their environment at risk, he built a nationwide grassroots coalition — the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG) — to demand safe disposal solutions and openness within the Pentagon’s program. A Lethal Legacy of the Cold War It was 1985, a year deep into President Reagan’s “Morning in America,” when Williams attended a public meeting and discovered that the Department of Defense, with no public input, had decided to build an incinerator at the Kentucky Blue Grass Army Depot located about eight miles from his home. Williams decided to speak out against the plan, joining forces with citizens who lived near the other eight proposed weapons incinerators. After almost 10 years of petitioning, Congress agreed in 1993 to delay funding some of the incinerators while calling for a report on safer methods of weapons destruction. However, the subsequent Army report recommended proceeding with incineration at six of the nine stockpile sites. The report did not address the clear and voluminous evidence presented two years earlier by Williams and the CWWG that not only were there significant technical and environmental problems and huge cost overruns at the incinerators, but that safer alternative disposal methods were available. Creating Coalitions and Working Within the System Williams laid out the evidence to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who championed Williams’ cause in Congress. It was a major victory for Williams and his allies when the Army announced in 1996 that it would use a safer water-based process to destroy the weapons at the Maryland and Indiana stockpile sites, while suspending funds for incinerators in Colorado and Kentucky. At about the same time, Williams also played a key role in getting citizens unprecedented access to previously closed-door meetings where military, state and federal government officials decided how to destroy chemical weapons. Exposing Pentagon Wrongdoing Even after the Army had officially agreed to alternative weapons disposal at four sites, another agenda was playing out at the Pentagon. Internal documents were leaked to Williams that confirmed the Pentagon was defying Congressional directives and holding up more than $300 million in federal funds for safe weapons disposal. The plan was to redirect those funds to existing incineration sites that had cost overruns, now up to 1,400 percent. In addition, Williams and CWWG brought forward numerous whistleblowers at the incinerators who reported that fires, chemical agent releases and other dangerous conditions accompanied the burning of weapons at those plants. Williams gave the internal Defense Department memos to Sen. McConnell, who made personal phone calls to senior defense officials and sponsored legislation mandating that the funds be released. Subsequently, the Pentagon released the $300-plus million, money that allowed the Colorado and Kentucky sites to safely destroy more than 880,000 chemical weapons. From Citizen Activist to a Leading Expert on Chemical Weapons Today, Williams continues working with CWWG member groups and citizens in Oregon, Utah, Alabama and Arkansas, where incinerators currently are destroying chemical weapons. They use legal challenges, media campaigns, citizen organizing and other means to ensure proper agent monitoring, air quality compliance, protection of workers rights and improved communication with the local communities. The CWWG also plays a critical role in the oversight of weapons disposal at the other stockpile sites where alternative technologies are being deployed, thereby assuring the military’s accountability and a transparent process. Williams, a translator in Vietnam, has remained active in veterans groups. He was one of the original group of veterans who formed the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in 1980. The Foundation, in turn, was one of six organizations that co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
“We must not leave the health of our families and protection of the world ecology to corporations, governments and military organizations preoccupied with profit, power and armed conquest. Rather, we must take that responsibility into our own hands. It’s up to us to come together across cultural and political divides to prevent these military-industrial polluters from degrading the earth and threatening the well-being of our communities for their own selfish interests.”