Inner City Press Environmental Justice Reporter
2000 Archive [Some of]
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December 26, 2000
In Fall River, Massachusetts, the landfill moratorium that's been in place since 1995 is being removed. Browning Ferris Industries already trucks 15,000 tons of waste into Fall River every day. The state's DEP has issued a vaguely-worded environmental justice statement, that "Massachusetts is working proactively to ensure that every resident of the commonwealth has equal access to sound environmental policy decisions, and that no sector of the population bears a disproportionate environmental burden, regardless of race, color, national origin, culture or income." How does this play out in practice? We shall see...
The New York State Power Authority, which is planning to site four electricity-generating turbines in the South Bronx, says that mentions of environmental racism are "troubling." Meanwhile, ABB, a Swiss engineering and technology firm, is moving ahead with plan to build a $1 billion natural gas plant next to the Oak Point Rail Yard, also in the South Bronx. There a key concept, that will be elaborated in the months (and environmental review processes) to come: "cumulative impact"...
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December 18, 2000
General Electric has sued, seeking to have the Superfund law declared unconstitutional. GE -- recently reported to be "the world's most respected company" -- doesn't want to pay to dredge and clean the Hudson River, which is has polluted with PCBs for decades. Since the Supreme Court has apparently choose the president, by a 5-4 vote, why not ask it to overturn a lynchpin of environmental law? "World's most respected company" -- on what basis?
There are 1,231 Superfund sites nationwide, 95 of them in California. Added to the list on Dec. 1, 2000, was the ex-headquarters of Alark Hard Chrome Co., in Riverside, California. The soil beneath it is saturated with chromium (including chromium 6), and nickel and copper used in car bumpers. The toxic stew has seeped into groundwater within four miles of 18 drinking-water wells.
Meanwhile, at the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council's last meeting with the EPA under the current administration, NEJAC members lambasted EPA EJ director Barry Hill, for having developed forthcoming EJ guidelines "behind closed doors." Conservatives, on the other hand, are calling on the incoming president to repeal Executive Order 12,898. The need for increased advocacy -- has never been greater. As one NEJAC member said, "We've had eight years of disaster under Clinton. It's going to be a worse disaster under Bush, but it certainly wouldn't have been rosy under Gore. EPA has been dragged kicking and screaming into this every step of the way, so on one level, it doesn't matter who's in charge." But it does matter what the people do...
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December 11, 2000
The D.C. city council is zeroing in on a garbage plan, which involves keeping one of its two existing transfer stations, and building a third on an impoundment lot in (guess where?) -- Anacostia. Opposition is growing, including, ironically, from the three private companies that operate transfer stations in the district. Two are owned by Waste Management Inc., one by Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., and another by Waste Systems International Inc.. These companies are already in the environmental justice Hall of Shame -- we'll be watching their advocacy (and lobbying) around the D.C. plan.
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December 4, 2000
In Los Angeles last week, another (too rare) convergence of environmental justice and labor advocates. Both were opposing the permitting of a concrete plant, in south Los Angeles County, in unincorporated Rosewood. Robertson's Ready Mix got its approval, from the Board of Supervisors and the county Regional Planning Commission, despite testimony that that dust, odor, noise and traffic the plant will generate will make the neighborhood uninhabitable. Residents were supported by members of Teamsters Local 692, which accuses Robertson's Ready Mix of using union-busting tactics. Teamsters drove tractor-trailer rigs around the Civic Center before the board meeting. This story... continues to develop.
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November 27, 2000
New York City's "Solid Waste Management Plan" is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council by November 30. The plan relies heavily on a still-only-proposed facility in Linden, New Jersey, which would handle 60% of the City's residential waste, before it is transferred to landfills further south. The Plan says nothing about commercial waste, which is causing some of the most serious environmental justice problems in the City, at the many waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, Greenpoint, Williamsburgh and elsewhere. If the Council votes down the (Mayor's) plan, they have until December 31 to draw up and enact their own plan.
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November 20, 2000
Recent revelations about the water contamination by dry cleaning chemicals (tetrachlorethylene [PCE or perc] and trichloroethylene [TCE]) at Camp Lejeune, N.C. continue to reverberate. Legislation that would provide small business cleaners with a 20 percent tax credit to switch to safe and sustainable cleaning equipment utilizing water-based wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide has been stalled in Congress. H.R. 1303, also known as the Dry Cleaning Environmental Tax Credit Act of 1999, and S. 1939, the Small Business Pollution Prevention and Opportunity Act, encourages cleaners to adopt safer technologies that use reduced amounts of hazardous substances. The bills have gained support from 50 House Members and four Senate Members, but have not been passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
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November 13, 2000
In eastern Washington State, a lawsuit has been filed against growers' practice of simply burning off fields, in the late summer. Interestingly, the case invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act - and the U.S. Justice Department has sided with the plaintiffs, Save Our Summers, on this issue....
At LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis earlier this month, a Southeast-wide conference focused on "empowering citizens for stronger environmental protection." A community outreach worker with the Shelby County (TN) Department of Housing, discussed lead-poisoning, describing it as a major threat to children in Memphis and other cities where a large proportion of homes were built before lead-based paint was banned.
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November 6, 2000
In Utah, the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the Layton incinerator for failing to report high carbon monoxide emissions. A September letter from the EPA to the Utah Air Quality Board accuses the garbage incinerator of exceeding carbon monoxide limits and failing to report the violations. Under an agreement with the Utah Division of Air Quality, the incinerator is allowed to release high levels of carbon monoxide only during "unavoidable breakdowns." But the EPA suspects Wasatch Energy Systems (WES), the special service district controlling the solid-waste incinerator, is abusing the agreement and isn't reporting emission levels during the breakdowns. "It became clear that there was a significant amount of excess carbon monoxide emissions at WES," the letter stated. "It is our understanding that WES is the only facility in Utah for which all hours of excess emission are not being reported to the EPA." The letter from Ron Rutherford of the EPA's environmental justice division to Rick Sprout, executive secretary of the Utah Air Quality Board, says the garbage incinerator released excess carbon monoxide during at least 14 percent of its operating hours for the second quarter of 2000...
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October 30, 2000
An interesting environmental justice case is evolving in southeastern Massachusetts, in Freetown. The town's people of color, most of whom are descendants of immigrants from Cape Verde, have seen their neighborhood zoned "industrial," and now targeted for a large warehouse facility. The EPA has been called in, and James Younger, director of the EPA's Office of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs confirms that the EPA is investigating the environmental justice aspects of the zoning, and the warehouse proposal (which, by the way, is by TJX Companies Inc., wbich owns the T.J. Maxx chain).
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October 23, 2000
A report in Michigan has raised serious questions about the enforcement of environmental laws by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. John Engler. The report points to:
* Ground-water contamination in Saginaw, Mich.
* Waste-water treatment plant failures in Bay City, Mich.
* Livestock pollution near Freeport, Mich.
* Clean Air Act violations in Wayne County and river pollution in Antrim County.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Engler called the report "a political ploy."
Speaking of ploys, the "National Center for Public Policy Research," which describes itself as "a non-partisan Capitol Hill think-tank," distributed a misleading op-ed last week, through Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. It begins by saying that "environmental laws are unfair to minorities," and only mid-way through reveals it chief argument: that environmental laws should be less, and not more, stringently enforced in communities of color, due to the need for jobs. It is based on contorted survey questions ("do you need more jobs in your community?"), and it surely of great comfort to the corporate owners of waste transfer stations, incinerators, and oil refineries. Speaking of which: Texaco last week announced its intention to merge with Chevron. Texaco has been active in the Ecuadorian Amazon for two decades, spilling 4.3 million gallons of toxic "produced water" every day, leading to fungal infection, dermatitis, headache and nausea. Less chemical, but just as toxic, has been Texaco's alliance with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a missionary organization with a long-reported history of collaboration in human rights abuses. One affected indigenous people, the Cofan, "have suffered a process of social disorganization, rapid acculturation and near cultural extinction" -- this from the World Bank! The Tetete culture was wiped out and the indigenous peoples of the region were reduced to minorities in their own homeland. We will be following this proposed merger.
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October 16, 2000
In Albuquerque, New Mexico earlier this month, religious leaders, including the state's Archbishop, Michael Sheehan, convened to express their concerns about, and commitment to work against, global warming. They issued a statement: "Global warming is real, it will harm God's creation and we must address the issues around it as a matter of religious faith and moral obligation... People of faith are increasingly concerned about the heavy burdens that fall disproportionately upon the most vulnerable of our planet's people: the poor, sick and elderly." Can you say... environmental justice.
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October 9, 2000
This week, the interface between environmental justice and corporate globalization. The Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Commission last week issued a report, which backed away from previous calls that it establish buffers between residential and industrial uses. The reason? Well, Dow Chemical spokesman Scott Anderson blamed residents' health problems on "poor health care or pollution from cars and trucks," not on industry. Dow (and other corporations) oppose the buffer proposal; Dow's Anderson says: "This is a global economy we're competing in now. It would place them at an economic disadvantage." That's the argument: since some other countries (including, for example, those in which U.S.-based chemical companies still sell pesticides that have long been outlawed in the U.S.) have fewer environmental protections, "we" (meaning Americans, or American companies) can no longer afford them.
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October 2, 2000
Connecticut: Texas-based Kirsch Inc. has copped a guilty plea to ten counts of Clean Water Act violations, agreeing to pay $1.5 million in fines. The company's Beacon Falls, Connecticut plant discharged high levels of cyanide and heavy metals into the Naugatuck River.
In New York, the co-owner of Analytical Laboratories of Albany pled guilty to violating the Clean Air Act by falsifying sample results from asbestos projects
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September 25, 2000
We'd like to separate environmental justice from politics, we really would. But this week's stories, without exception, make this link. In Utah, the state environmental agency is opposing a plan to store nuclear waste on the Goshute Indian Reservation in Tooele County. They run up against a problem: the tribe's (certainly deserved -- that is, never legitimately taken) sovereignty. But Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and a key participant in the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in late 1999, points out that historically, power companies have sought to exploit native peoples by using tribal lands as dumping grounds for wastes that no one else will take. "We feel that many tribal communities are put in a situation where there has been lack of economic development opportunities, and Skull Valley is a case example of this."
In New York, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which tried to jam a "state of the art" newsprint recycling plant, in which they were a joint venturer, in the South Bronx over community opposition, shows up in a September 21 press release, as part of a Con Edison-funded plan to give grants for clearer air in communities of color. Is this a way to say, "We're sorry"? There's not a hint of that, in the press release...
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September 11, 2000
Our focus this week is one a Federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, which at first blush appears to be a matter of international law, but on closer inspection is quite revelatory about environmental issues, and the political / judicial process in the United States.
In 1993, indigenous people in Ecuador filed a class action lawsuit against Texaco, in U.S. Federal court, accusing Texaco of polluting their land and failing to use cleanup methods adopted by other oil companies. The case has bounced back and forth between the trial court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The most recent development is a motion by the plaintiffs demanding the recusal (that is, the removal from the case) of Judge Jed S. Rakoff, because he attended an expenses-paid seminar on (that is, against) the environment, held by a foundation that receives regular donations from, you guessed it, Texaco. Beyond the funding, a retired Texaco executive was a speaker at the seminar Judge Rakoff attended, according to the motion. We're all for "judicial education" - but when the class if funded by an environmental defendant, and the teachers include a ex-executive of the defendant, the fairness of the process is (further) brought into question. The plaintiffs here can hardly fund their own seminars, and pay for judges' attendance. Texaco official Chris Gidez declined comments, saying only that "this is a matter for the court to consider"....
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September 5, 2000
We'll begin with week with an EJ win: the announced planned phase-out and closure of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority's landfill in North Hartford. The victorious opponents of the landfill went further, proposing that in the future, at least ten percent of the residents should be directly informed of proposed project and their effects, noting that a small-print legal notice in the newspaper, as current Connecticut law requires, does not go far enough. This idea of "actual notice" is an important one, in Connecticut and beyond
Meanwhile, dozens of EPA employees rallied in Washington on August 30, protesting what they claim is rampant racial discrimination within the agency, in preparation for filing a class-action lawsuit. Among the speakers was Anita Nickens, who recounted being ordered to clean a toilet during a 1993 EPA event in North Carolina. She was the only African American of the six EPA employees preparing for the event, and stated that she was singled out by a supervisor to clean the toilet in anticipation of the arrival of EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
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August 28, 2000
McKinley, Texas: The state Natural Resource Conservation Commission continues to consider a proposal to fill limestone quarries on the east side of town with construction debris. The applicant, Construction Recycling Waste Corp. of Dallas, says that "[w]e've gotten letters of approval from almost all of our adjacent landowners. We think the idea of refilling and recycling these quarry pits is a good one." Not mentioned are nearby local water bodies, including the creeks that flow into Lake Lavon, which supplies the city's drinking water. The plan would generate 300 truck trips per day on the surrounding (narrow) streets The environmental justice implications of the plan are now being raised. The spokesman of the state agency, Tom Kelly, says We are still in negotiations with them....
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August 21, 2000
In Jacksonville, Florida, the needed study of the toxicity of the Browns Dump Superfund site is being delayed by funding disputes. Ash from city-owned trash incinerators was buried there throughout the 1940s and 50s. Then a public school was built on it -- a school that has since been closed. Soil tests have found high levels of lead and other heavy metals that hurt children's growth and ability to learn. Tests have also found dioxins and other man-made pollutants that pose cancer risks. The citys proposed funding of the next study? Only $40,000. Progressive Congresswoman Corrine Brown has been petitioned to get involved...
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August 14, 2000
This week: leaking underground storage tanks, known by the eye-catching acronym LUST -- despite the EPAs December 1998 deadline, a number of state and municipal governments have failed to remove or upgrade their underground tanks, most holding gasoline or other oil products. The state of Ohio, for example, has 29,177 active storage tanks, only 4,556 of which were fully upgraded, according to data that Ohio filed with the EPA last March. A recent train ride along the shores of Lake Erie, from Cleveland / Elyria to Toledo, passed by numerous abandoned factories, bus depots, and gas stations. To the eye (and relatively easily verifiable with geo-coded data), these derelict (and presumably not upgraded) facilities are disproportionately located in communities of color. This, perhaps, is the tack to take, to finally force the needed removal or upgrading.
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August 7, 2000
In Illinois, State Attorney General Jim Ryan's office filed suit on August 2 against Amoco Oil Co., saying the company failed to clean up 73 gas leaks from underground storage tanks... In Wisconsin, dozens of people protested on August 1 against the Perrier Group of America's plans to drill high capacity wells in central Wisconsin, demanding that a detailed environmental impact statement be completed before Perrier's plan is approved...
In New York, NRDC's "senior scientist" Allen Hershkowitz confirmed that the South Bronx paper mill project "deal [is] dead... There were a bevy of issues that resulted in the project not making it to financing It was extraordinarily close to financing. I would be dishonest to say I wasn't disappointed."
When local South Bronx residents raised questions about the plan, Hershkowitz was dismissive, spouting off that "environmentalists need to become more like investment bankers," and design projects rather than oppose them. His statements meant little to Bronxites; his arrogance only increased local opposition to the project. Now that it has fallen apart, one could ask: if an investment banker worked on a single project, for almost a decade, and the project fell apart: what kind of investment banker would that be? .
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July 31, 2000
In West Dallas, the RSR lead smelter smokestack is finally being taken down. But the EPAs clean up process has probably not been sufficient. Lead buried deep in the ground often moves toward the surface with the help of water, earthworms, ants and gardening activities, according to James L. Carter, geochemistry professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.
In the study he presented last year before a meeting of the Geological Society of America, Dr. Carter said he found lead levels as high as 1,900 parts per million in areas that appeared to have been cleaned. The EPA will not release information about areas in which it replaced soil...
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July 24, 2000
Near Corpus Christi, Texas, concerns are mounting around landfills at Greenwood Drive and Prescott Street. Officials from the Texas Department of Health met with Greenwood area residents on July 18, but offered little more than a commitment to continue testing the sites. A neighborhood group has identified, around the sites, 220 people with illnesses including a variety of cancers...
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Special report, July 24, 2000: A convergence is beginning, between grassroots organizations in low-income neighborhoods in the United States and the more middle-class environmental and anti-corporate globalization groups which organized the December 1999 protests of the WTO meeting in Seattle. The bases for the alliance are obvious. Many of the same multinational corporations which are funding and participating in the destruction of ecosystems in Africa, Latin America and Asia are also either excluding, or taking predatory advantage of, low-income communities of color in the United States. What has hampered collaboration to date is disparities in income and access to technology, incongruity of cultures, and a sort of divide-and-conquer on automatic pilot occasioned by the media, and either a lack of effort, or of efficiency, in bridging these gaps. But recently Inner City Press has seen, and participated in, new efforts to build alliances, the beginnings of a new and fruitful convergence. For example:
Last week, representatives of twenty five organizations gathered outside of San Francisco, for a two-and-a-half day strategy session on the largest U.S.-based bank, Citigroup. Many environmental groups had begun to see the need to expand their advocacy from companies engaged in the extraction or sale of our planets dwindling natural resources to the companies which finance and plan such ecologically destructive projects as the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, or Chinas planned Three Gorges dam (which would displace two million people, creating a 400 mile reservoir on top of polluted former industrial sites). Inner City Press was invited, to speak and strategize on Citigroups destructive practices in the United States: the redlining of low-income communities of color followed by targeting with high-interest rate, predatory loans from Citifinancial; arranging financing for the private prisons of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation; the closing of bank branches, etc.. Also attending were a number of student environmental groups; advocates of boycotting the World Banks bonds; and organizations involved in the Seattle WTO protests, and people whod just attended trainings for the Los Angeles Democratic convention of August 14-17, 2000.
The meeting was by no means secret (click here to view Bloombergs coverage). The strategies arrived at need not be described here, at least not yet: they will become known, in the near future. But it was the collaboration of such diverse organizations and constituencies, the convergence (a term much-used by the post-Seattle movement), that most struck and inspired the participants and observers. Something new is afoot in the United States, something barely if ever covered by the mainstream (read, corporate) media. Citigroup will be the first, but by no means the only, focus of this energy.
Building bridges takes time. Inner city residents (ICPs members and affiliates included) have perceived the (non-urban) environmental and college student movements as being disconnected from problems right here in the United States, particularly in communities of color. In the South Bronx, for example, the Natural Resources Defense Council in the mid-90s promoted a greenwashing newsprint factory, that local residents opposed, on grounds of air pollution and asthma. (See this weeks ICP Bronx Report). NRDC was dismissive of Bronxites concerns. Its lead scientist said that environmental groups should become like investment bankers, proposed project rather than opposing them. Why here? local people asked. No answer was given. The sub-text answers were either (1) because theres land, or (2) because therell be less public process. This is only one example of the gaps that have developed. But inner city groups, for example organizations active in enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act, havent reached out to more progressive / activist environmental groups, made proposals for collaboration, a joining of resources, common endeavors. The time has now come. Corporations like Citigroup have been able to keep separate the activism and demands for accountability of community groups, on one side, and environmental groups, on another side. Seven months into the new millennium, new steps, new convergences, are taking place. It promises to be exciting, and will be covered on this site, including on our just-began Citigroup Watch page) in the coming weeks and months. As they say, developing... stay tuned. Readers of this page are encouraged to contact us with their views and ideas on the above-described convergence...
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July 17, 2000
In southwest Pennsylvania, Sunoco Inc. has agreed to clean up soil pollution and possible groundwater contamination caused by gas spills at 113 gas stations. In Colorado, Kaiser-Hill, the clean-up contractor for Rocky Flats, has been fined $160,000 for a series of safety violations. The company is not contesting the fines, which include penalties for mishandling radioactive contamination. In Texas, Koch Industries has agreed to pay nearly $172,000 to settle claims that it broke environmental laws at its oil-storage tanks. In California, Chevron on July 13 announced that it has settled Communities for a Better Environments lawsuit against it. As reported by the L.A. Times, Chevron will spend $ 500,000 to install improved smog controls at its oil tanker terminal 1.5 miles off the El Segundo coast. The oil company also will pay $ 500,000 to develop a free health clinic in the Wilmington area, and pay the environmental group $ 485,000 in legal expenses.
The difficulty of getting a stay or injunction before environmental litigation reaches a conclusion, however, was highlighted by last weeks decision by San Mateo (CA) Superior Court Judge Quentin Kopp, requiring the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection Information Center to post of $250,000 bond to get a stay of Pacific Lumber Co.s planned helicopter logging of 705 acres surrounded by the Headwaters Forest Reserve. With this type of bond requirement, only those with money... can seek to defend their rights to health...
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July 10, 2000
Brownfields legislation, which supposedly enjoys bipartisan support on Congress, is being delayed by a bit of (EJ-relevant) politics, in the form of a deal between Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID). One of Crapos focuses is an overhaul of the Superfund law (given the corporate interests affected, surely a lucrative focus). Lott had agreed to oppose any piecemeal amendments to Superfund, as long as Crapo agrees to support Lotts little (but also lucrative) focus: exempting scrap metal dealers from Superfund. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this exemption could be worth as much as $700 million to the scrap metal industry over the next decade. Meanwhile, ruined and leaking cars accumulate in places like Hunts Point in the South Bronx...
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July 5, 2000
The city of Lawrence, Massachusetts is moving toward banning medical waste incineration. The municipal ordinance, pending before Lawrences City Council, would prohibit emission of lead, mercury or dioxin by any stationary industrial facility in the towns borders. Stericycle, Inc., which purchased Browning Ferris Industries medical waste incinerators, including one in Lawrence, from Allied Waste Industries, Inc. in 1999, has said it will sue if the ordinance is enacted.
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June 26, 2000
The EPA has now released its new draft regulations for environmental justice complaints. Industry outcry at the 1998 proposal (which was subsequently withdrawn) has resulted in an absurdly high burden of proof in the new proposal. For example, the proposal at 42-43 states that [w]here credible measures of both the demographic disparity and the disparity in rates of impact are at least a factor of two times higher in the affected population [the EPAs Office of Civil Rights] would generally expect to find disparate impact under Title VI. For anything less than two-to-one, a finding of disparate impact is... less likely. Id., at 43.
Industry groups have already praised the proposal. The National Association of Manufacturers Keith McCoy gushed: EPA listened to all the concerns and incorporated them into the document... [A] lot of our concerns are addressed.
Community and environmental enforcement groups will feel differently, when they review the proposed reg, which is immanently to be published in the Federal Register, for a 60-day comment period.
A PDF version of the proposal is available at http://www.epa.gov/civilrights/t6dft_inv_guide_june2000.pdf
EPA officials will be conducting a listening tour, with stops in Dallas (July 17), Chicago (July 18), New York (August 1), Los Angeles (August 2), and Oakland (August 3).
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June 19, 2000
In St. Louis, opposition continues to mount to Stericycle's medical waste incinerator at 6240 McKissock Avenue, east of O'Fallon Park. The facility is burning plastics, such as intravenous bags and tubing, presumptively produces dioxin. Significantly, St. Louis County has already banned medical waste incinerators, while the city of St. Louis has not. The demographics are not lost of local residents. A leader of the anti-incinerator movement notes: "It's basically saying that a child in north St. Louis is not as valuable as a child in Creve Coeur. Officials of Chicago-based Stericycle claim they are upgrading their filtering system to comply with tougher federal laws that will take effect in September, but state that they plan to continuing burning at the site.
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June 12, 2000
From fish to sprawl: In East Hampton, Connecticut, town officials suspended chemical treatments of Lake Pocotopaug last week after discovering thousands of dead fish. Oops! In Maryland, officials have acknowledged that carp have been dying in "unprecedented numbers" in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. The causes: Spawning stress, rapid temperature changes and bacterial infections.
In Montana, the State Department of Environmental Quality has hit Canyon Resources Corp. for another $11.6 million for pollution cleanup at its closed CR Kendall gold mine. In Mississippi, the Army Corp of Engineers has issued a report predicting serious environmental impacts from dredging the Mississippi Sound for yet another casino.
One of the more interesting trend articles in recent weeks was the Christian Science Monitors round-up on alliances between inner city and suburban anti-sprawl activists (June 7, Page 2). Examples are given from St. Louis, Portland, Atlanta and San Francisco. Suburbanites dont want (over) development; inner cities apparently do. john powell (not a typos -- thats how he likes it, no capitals) of the University of Minnesota Law Schools Institute on Race and Justice is quoted: "Many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the racialization of space in metropolitan areas. Sprawl is central to that and so many other issues. I think it will be the civil rights issue of this century." That -- is a trend worth watching...
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June 5, 2000
The environmental beat is week is mostly political: while Gore is pointing to Texas low enviro ratings as proof of George W.s laxity, several environmental groups continue to oppose Gore, his book-writing notwithstanding. The Native Forests Council calls Gores record a sham; a Sierra Club memo critique Gores record has surfaced, even as the Sierra Club runs TV ads against Bush. Sierras Michael Dorsey now disclaims his previous analysis of Gore, writing letters to the editors of all the newspaper that carried APs report of Sierras previous stance. Bushs June 1 speech on the shores of Lake Tahoe was protested by environmental groups.
The EPA has announced a $37.2 million settlement with 51 companies to clean up a contaminated 112,000 acre aquifer underneath Los Angeles. Drink up, then...
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May 30, 2000
In California, San Diego is being fined $3.47 million for failing to prevent a 34 million gallon raw sewage spill in February... In Richmond CA, Chevron is being fined for a plume of black smoke released by its refinery on May 19...
In New Jersey, residents of Linden, which would process much of New York Citys garbage under Mayor Giulianis new plan, are questioning the health effects... In upstate New York GE continues to run ads opposing the dredging of the Hudson River...
Finally,for this week, a footnote and gratutious link: click here for a fragmentary treatment of the controversial urban renewal proposal for downtown Pittsburgh, against which not only land use and historic preservation, but also environmental objections may be raised...
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May 22, 2000
In Connecticut, the legislature went out of session without voting on a bill that would have required plants in that state to clean up by 2003. CT Governor John Rowland then signed an executive order, which while requiring state regulators to act by 2003, allows utilities to buy pollution credits from one another...
Another example of toothless environmental enforcement, this time with respect to NAFTA: while the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation has finally agreed to study whether Mexico failed to follow its own laws by not forcing the owners of Tijuanas Metales y Derivados battery recycling plant, closed since 1994, to clean the site up, the CEC has no enforcement power, and can only publish its report, when its completed. It seems unlikely that the (NAFTA-created) CECs report will be too hard-hitting, since that would only emphasize CECs powerlessness....
In urban U.S. news, the EPA is considering a site in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, to its Superfund list. The site, called the Capital City Plume, is tainted with toxic solvents...
In San Antonio, opposition is picking up to the coal-burning electricity plant near Calaveras Lake. More on that in coming weeks.
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May 15, 2000
San Diego / Tijuana: Satellite photographs document that polluted water from Mexican sewage plants may be contributing to pollution at beaches in southern San Diego County. The photos, commissioned by the San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater Department, show "red plumes" that are likely caused by sewer discharges from the San Antonio de los Buenos plant about six miles south of the border. The facility is supposed to process 17 million gallons of sewage daily, but much of it flows untreated into Los Buenos Creeks and into the surf. The images also document discharge problems from the International Wastewater Treatment Plant just north of the border on the Tijuana River...
Finally, in the course of last weeks travels on the Web, we came across an interesting study, complete with GIS maps, of environmental justice in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles (as an aside, the author begins with a quote from Inner City Press). Check it out: click here to view
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May 8, 2000
Houston: Texas regulators on May 3 granted a permit for a new $150 million chemical plant in the Bayport industrial zone in the Clear Lake district, adjacent to the Lakepointe Forest subdivision. Resident Tamara Maschino says, We are going to continue the fight until this plant goes away. The facility would be run by American Acryl, a joint venture of the Japanese company Nippon Shokubai and the French company Elf Atochem, and would include a 120,000-tons-per-year acrylic acid plant (acrylic acid is used in, for example, disposable diapers, paints, inks and adhesives).
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May 1, 2000
Our focus this week is on Michigan. On April 26, Ford Motor Company agreed to a $1.1 million fine, for Clean Air Act violations at its Wayne Assembly, Michigan Truck Assembly, and Dearborn Assembly plants, due to paint emissions. Also last week, TPI Petroleum agreed to pay $9.9 million to clean up waterways around its Alma, MI plant. Meanwhile, Michigans Department of Environmental Quality had been participating in plans for a meeting of business groups and state regulators, to plan the reform of the EPA under a possible George W. Bush administration. The meeting has now been canceled; state regulators suddenly got cold feet, once the planned meeting was publicly reported. This from the Detroit News opinionated but energetic David Mastio, 4/25.
Meanwhile, the EPA is decided to limit the data under the Community Right-to-Know Act that will be available on the Internet, due to a fear that terrorists could use the data to target particular facilities. It seems strange that, after Bhopal, Congress would require that communities be able to learn what toxic chemical are stored in their neighborhoods, and what emergency plans exist, but that now, this information will be deleted from the Internet. Among the information to be deleted is that reporting the number of residents around particular facilities. A senseless deletion: one could extrapolate this data simple by having the street address, and other still-available data bases...
Another week, another suggested environmental justice link: this time, it's from the Pacific Institute, in Oakland; the page is updated monthly. Click here to check it out.
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April 24, 2000
Environmentalism, as happened every two years, and every four years for Presidential elections, is now a political chip. In the New York Senate race, Hillary Clinton has called on Rudy Giuliani to return a $100,000 soft money contribution from the Renco Group, a New York company that owns a Utah company federal officials have called the top toxic chemical dumper in the nation. Rudys demurred, and points to Hillarys ties with executives of Tyson Chicken ("a chronic Arkansas polluter") during Bill Clintons tenure as governor. Did anyone say, McNuggets?
Finally, for this week, we want to alert readers to another great Web site on environmental justice, that of Clark Atlanta University's Environmental Justice Resource Center. Click here to go there.
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April 17, 2000
At the deadline for this Report, protests continue of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington. Environmental justice, broadly viewed, is in the mix. World Bank president James Wolfenson defends his institution, saying that Were putting a hug amount of money into environmental issues. Were putting money into solar, into wind, into water.... But the conditions for IMF and World Bank loans often drive less developed nations into standardless exploitation of the environment, leading to environmental racism on a global scale. If the G7 nations can coordinate global standards for copyright and intellectual property, why is this not being done for environmental issues? Because, by the same logic that Manhattans garbage must go somewhere (increasingly, to waste transfer stations in the South Bronx), the First Worlds raw materials, and the pollution from their refinement, must come from and be confined to somewhere (the less developed nations).
In South Bronx EJ news, the machinations behind American Marine Rails planned waste transfer station in Hunts Point continue. Compost America Holding Company, Inc., which currently owns eight percent of AMR, recently sold its biosolids unit, Environmental Protection & Improvement Company Inc., to Texas-based Synagro Technologies, Inc., for $37.5 million. Richard Franks, Compost Americas general counsel, said, "It was not a last gasp, desperation thing. It provides an infusion of money, which is needed now." Franks said Compost America will now increase its stake in AMR from 8 to 28 percent...
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April 10, 2000
Well shift this week from our city-by-city reports, to the status of the EPAs new and improved guidance for handling environmental justice complaints. EPA Office of Civil Rights director Ann Goode met with members of the U.S. Chambers of Commerce on March 29; she also states that shes briefed staffers of the House Appropriations and Commerce committees (the House last year attacked a rider prohibiting the EPA from investigation new EJ complaints). Ms. Goode states that the new Guidance will have a glossary that will define all the critical terms... how we make an adversity determination is spelled out in a step-by-step process. Ms. Goode and the EPA seem to be emphasizing that with enough process, enough public hearings, continued over-concentration of noxious uses in communities of color may be OK. Heres Ms. Goodes quote: What we find in our complaints is two threads: One is a concern about impacts. But the other, very important, threat is failed public participation, failed communication, failed engagement... How to do it right on the front end, that is, to engage the community at the very beginning of the process to work and dialogue with them in a respectful and collaborative manner... you usually dont get complaints when you comport yourself that way.
Many, however, see the need for some standards -- how much over-concentration of toxic uses, waste transfer stations and the like, in low income communities is too much? Whatever the process, whatever the number of public hearings? In the South Bronx, more and more waste transfer stations are receiving permits, despite comment periods to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, despite public hearings. Pollution is not mitigated by public hearings alone...
Ms. Goode stated that once the EPA knows the date for Federal Register publication of the Guidance, she will be announced four listening sessions, in Washington, Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago. And the process continues...
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April 3, 2000
The EPAs National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which includes garbage industry representatives, including from Waste Management, Inc., has finally released its report on the clustering of waste transfer facilities in communities of color. NEJAC came to New York City in November 1998, and studied Washington, D.C. in February 1999. More than a year later, NEJACs report calls on the EPA to issue non-binding best management guidelines. Waste Managements NEJAC representative, Sue Briggum, said she likes guidelines, because they are not literally binding. You have the flexibility to say that is the best we can do given our situation. Briggum added that the EPA in no way should attempt to override local zoning. What a convenient position for a company that has flooded the South Bronx and other communities of color with waste transfer stations. The EPAs Assistant Administrator of the Office of Solid Waste Emergency Response, Tim Fields, has written in an internal agency statement that If action is not taken by state and local authorities or the companies that build and operate waste transfer stations, EPA will consider whether to take further regulatory action or seek new legislative authorities. To be waiting for the companies themselves to stop, and to still be only considering taking action -- is a sad state of affairs, at the EPA. Both Clinton and Gore need to be questioned on their commitment on this issue. The South Bronx, for example, doesnt need another study of the issue (particularly one including the supposedly objective participation of Waste Management itself) -- we need action....
In other New York news, while the state attorney general is suing Midwest power plants for pollution that wafts east to NYS, a General Accounting Office study shows that between 1993 and 1998, NYS utilities sold ten percent of their pollution credits to Midwestern plants. As weve stated before, NYS should begin by controlling its own plants. Its hard not to conclude that in-state xenophobia, and campaign contributions, arent playing a role in this litigation...
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March 27, 2000
Sleaze of the week / a week in sleaze: in California, Contra Costa County supervisors on March 21 dismissed a proposal to compel safety improvements at chemical plants and refineries. Instead, they adopted an Alice-in-Wonderland scheme under which companies only have to give explanations as to why they cannot implement safety measures.
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March 20, 2000
Daly City, California -- Residents of the Midway Village housing project, built on land previously contaminated by Pacific Gas & Electric, are close to being relocated. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved a request to give Midway Village residents priority on the countys 10,000-person waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers. Extra vouchers are contingent on a finding that the housing project should be demolished due to irreparable contamination. The EPA has previously found that the vast majority of residents displayed genetic abnormalities. Somehow, it doesnt seem that mere relocation is enough here...
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March 13, 2000
California: A new study has found that in 1998 more than 2.3 million pounds of the toxic pesticide methyl bromide were used near 455 California public schools. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, the state Board of Education has decided against requiring schools to inform parents when pesticides are to be used in their childrens schools. Instead, the Board has adopted rules leaving it up to parents to tell schools if they want to be notified of pesticide use. Hey -- that way less people will know...
In Amarillo, Texas, contractor Mason & Hanger Corp. reported last week having contaminated the Ogallala Aquifer with trichloroethylene (TCE). The Department of Energy is now investigating whether the contractor should have reported this back in June 1999... Also in Texas, Coastal Refining & Marketing and Javelina Co. have reached a $6 million settlement with Corpus Christi plaintiffs for pollution caused by their refineries. Coastal was represented by Texas State Senator Jamie Capelo (no full-time legislature in Texas), who called the settlement fair. Hmm...
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March 6, 2000
Cant tell the players without a scorecard -- in the last week, Koch Petroleum Group pleaded guilty to violating federal air pollution laws at its Rosemount refinery in Minnesota; the EPA and Massachusetts local officials announced soil tests and studies at former W.R. Grace plants in Easthampton and Billerica, where Grace processed asbestos-tainted ore from the companys Montana vermiculite mine; the City of San Diego acknowledged that it has dumped 36 million gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean, and the Justice Department filed Clean Air Act lawsuits against American Electrical Power, Southern Co., FirstEnergy and Cinergy -- you can put your name on a baseball stadium; it doesnt give you the right to pollute the air. In Alaska, environmental activists have set up a camp to protest BP Amocos Northstar oil project. More next week...
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February 28, 2000
Welcome to inner city America, where, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, there are more than 80,000 acres of deserted, polluted brownfields. The Mayors released their study on Feb. 24, along with an estimate that cleaning the brownfields up would result in 550,000 new jobs, and $878 in new local tax revenue.
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February 22, 2000
Detroit, Michigan: Henry Ford Hospital, while stating that it will phrase out its incinerator at its Detroit hospital, is becoming increasingly vague about when the incineration will stop. Henry Ford Health System COO Nancy Schlichting now says that the length of time depends on us securing funds required for construction costs and higher waste management costs that result from the closure. Fords Detroit hospitals plant manager Peter Haag reiterates, despite the vague commitment to close, that we have a fully functioning, permitted and acceptable incinerator. Its currently running. The decision has been made to phase it out, so it just has to be an orderly process. Henry Ford Health System long ago closed similar incinerators at its centers in two predominantly white communities....
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February 14, 2000
An pipeline owned by Sunoco Inc. leaked 67,000 gallons of crude oil into a frozen pond in southwest Philadelphia on Feb. 5. In North Portland, Oregon, Union Carbide has finally agreed to develop a clean up plan for its former calcium carbide and ferroalloy processing plant, which is suspected of contaminating the Columbia Slough... On Feb. 8, 50,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into a Pascagoula, MS drainage ditch, broke past a dam and drifted toward Mississippi Sound...
Overseas, at the Bangkok meeting of the United Nations trade and development arm, UNCTAD, 500 protesters gathered on Feb. 12, echoing (including on environmental grounds) the WTO protests in Seattle last December. In Kyrgyzstan, the Kumtor gold mine, run by Canadas Cameco Corp. and financed in part by the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, had its third chemical spill in the last two years. Calls are mounting for an independent environmental audit, and for the release of a local emergency response plan...
And the Beat goes on...
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February 7, 2000
As Republican Presidential candidates traipse across South Carolina, environmental justice issues boil just below the surface. In Mount Pleasant, residents of the predominantly African American Four Mile neighborhood are protesting plans to bisect their community with a five lane road leading to Interstate 526. The Mount Pleasant Town Councils transportation committee voted 3-1 in favor of the route through Four Mile; the committees only African American member was alone in dissent. The Federal Highway Administration has told the Town Council that the project raises environmental justice issues, and has called for a community impact statement. None of the Republican candidates has addressed the issue while in the state. Also in South Carolina, the Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority has agreed to take over a Paris Mountain Utilities wastewater treatment plant that has been dumping raw sewage at Paris Mountain State Park...
In New York, the state DEC on Feb. 1 approved General Electrics bare bones plan to remove 8,700 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil from a Hudson River bank (GEs Hudson Falls and Fort Edwards plants discharged PCBs into the Hudson River until at least 1976). Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA moves toward a December decision on the full Superfund clean up...
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January 31, 2000
Bronx, N.Y. -- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation last week ruled that American Marine Rails plan to move 5,200 tons of garbage a day through Hunts Point will not result in any significant adverse impacts on the environment. The agency will not even require American Marine Rail to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The daily tonnage AMR would route through Hunts Point is nearly three times the volume that all Bronx households generate each day.
The proposal clearly involves the import of garbage into the South Bronx, the most predominantly minority section of NYC. If environmental justice has any meaning, this will not stand. A public hearing is slated for March 8 at 8 p.m., at Intermediate School 74 at 730 Bryant Avenue...
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January 24, 2000
On Jan. 19, the EPA announced that the fiscal 1999, her agency assessed $166.7 million in civil penalties, and stated that [t]hese figures show that our enforcement strategy has been enormously successful in targeting the most serious violators for aggressive action... while at the same time providing real incentives for those who voluntarily disclose violations. Many point out that not all of these fines are collected, and that some EPA regional offices require enforcement action to be taken only with the consent of the violator. More problematic is the seeming immunity given to companies which voluntarily disclose violations, no matter how long-standing.
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January 18, 2000
In one of the better Supreme Court environmental decisions in twenty years (that is to say, a rare decision by the current Supremes that does NOT roll back environmental law), the Court on Jan. 12 confirmed the continued viability of citizen suits against polluters. In Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc. (No. 98-822, argued Oct. 12, 1999), a 7-2 majority rejected the arguments of business groups and conservative legal organizations that only the government can sue to enforce the law. Justice Ginsburgs majority decision also holds that citizens suits can continue, even after the pollution has ceased, unless it is clear that the allegedly illegal conduct could not reasonably be expected to reoccur. The underlying case involved Friends of the Earth filing a Clean Water Act suit against a South Carolina hazardous water incinerator now owned by Safety-Kleen Corp; the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed the suit. The Supreme Court decision not only revives the suit, but affirms the continued relevance of enforcement from below -- at least in environmental law, perhaps also, if correctly applied, to private lawsuits to enforce such public interest statutes as the Community Reinvestment Act.
Other Administration agencies, however, are moving in the opposite direction. The Department of Interior recently announced it will refuse to process citizen petitions for endangered species designations. DOI lost numerous lawsuits for failing to adhere to its own timeframes; the new policy aims to prohibit such lawsuits. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity is suing the DOI over its new policy...
Around the nation: the Rio Grande water residents of Laredo, Texas drink contains levels of toxic contaminants that exceed state and federal standards, according to an analysis by the Rio Grande International Study Center... Roanoke, Virginia last week settled a federal enforcement action for improper storage of hazardous waste, for $600,000... And the beat goes on....
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January 10, 2000
On January 4, residents of the Midway Village housing projects in Daly City, California, held their seventh demonstration against Pacific Gas & Electrics turning up of contaminated soil to build a drainage pipe. Resident have filed a Title VI environmental justice complaint with the EPA, which has not yet been acted on.
The housing project was built in 1976, on the site of an old PG&E plant. Four years later, PG&E informed San Mateo county officials that the soil under the housing development contained polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, known carcinogens. Now, the most contaminated portion of the site is being dug up, for a new drain pipe for the town and the highway that runs through it. While the EPA in 1997, faced with a relatively similar EJ complaint for Oakland residents, concerning the unearthing of toxic soil during the reconstruction of the Cypress Freeway, ordered mediation between community residents and the defendant state agencies, the EPA has not done so here -- yet.
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January 3, 2000
Similar to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramms (R-TX) attacks in 1999 on the Community Reinvestment Act, House Transportation subcommittee on investigations chair Tillie Fowler (R-FL) is attacking the EPA, calling for a persistent, long-term effort to dig into issues at the EPA. Whats becoming clear is that these forays are at the behest of industry. The real problem(s) at the EPA? As the Justice Department confirmed in late 1999, each year since 1995, the number of environmental enforcement actions has decreased.
Meanwhile, in-fighting within the Sierra Club and its New York City chapter has heated up in court. The New York City Group of the Sierra Club is suing the national for defamation (and for other relief an NYS court may not be able to award). The national and its Atlantic Chapter have become consummate insiders in the past few years, and (pertinent to this page) have done little to nothing on issues of environmental justice -- nothing in deed, and little in write (see, e.g., <http://www.sierraclub.org/chapters/ny/nyconser.htm>. In the Village Voices long piece (Dec. 21), Atlantic Chapter director Rhea Jezer presented as major accomplishments that (1) I was able to get the respect of the governor, and (2) the Sierra Club got Chuck Schumer over. If Schumers commitment to environmental (justice) issues is anything like his backsliding on the Community Reinvestment Act, this is a questionable accomplishment (see ICPs CRA Reporters of Oct. 1999 for details of Schumers positions on CRA). Long-standing Sierra Club activist David Brower says It happens in democracies that they forget to be democratic now and then... Im in favor of the local group in New York. Yep...
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Click here for ICP's current Environmental Justice Reporter.
Click here for ICP's 1999 (archived) Environmental Justice Reporter
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