In This Huffington Post blog, political activist, Hal Donahue, compares the KSL expansion issue to Flint and highlights the impact of community action via Friends of Lackawanna.
How very far America has fallen was brought home to me in stunning fashion when I read a New York Times article on how the poisoning of Flint, Michigan was uncovered.
“...Joyce Zhu, a doctoral student, went to collect samples at a Flint hospital, looking for signs of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’.
“When I turned on the tap, you see this corrosive, reddish, brownish tap water,” she said. “It’s that moment that made it so real.” Ms. Zhu said she had planned on a “typical” academic career, doing lab research with limited application off campus. But after analyzing lead-tainted water samples in the labs in Blacksburg and traveling to Flint, she said, she is considering how her career can benefit the public.
“I grew up in Singapore, where clean water, you take it for granted so much,” Ms. Zhu said...”
Not only did the United States fail to provide safe water to its citizens, it is readily apparent that government at all levels was unable to prevent environmental disasters. Flint was not an isolated event.
“Last week’s major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, which cut off water to more than 300,000 people, came in a state with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy...”
In January, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported:
“A new report released just days after the second anniversary of the Elk River Spill highlights shortcomings of the private water company that dealt with the spill. 300,000 people were told not to use their water for days following the accident. The report asserts that privately owned West Virginia American Water hasn’t taken adequate measures to protect against potential disasters nor invested enough into existing infrastructure, among other complaints. The report comes from Boston Action Research - a project of the Civil Society Institute...”
Meet the Friends of Lackawanna. A huge local garbage dump (called sanitary landfills in business and political speak) controlled by a billionaire of dubious reputerequested an expansion of Keystone Sanitary Landfill and renewal of its license for an incredible half a century.
Local outrage began building slowly. A non-profit environmental group was officially formed:
“Friends of Lackawanna is a Pennsylvania Non-Profit committed to protecting the health and safety of the local community, as well as the regional image and the environment. Friends of Lackawanna consists of and represents the interests of citizens concerned with environmental matters, including Keystone Sanitary Landfill, Inc. (“KSL”)’s ongoing operations and proposed Phase III expansion.”
The younger professional people of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a region often described as downtrodden, seem to have had enough. Pushing older, usually corporate compliant people aside, citizens wanting a future formed Friends of Lackawanna. Starting slowly with letters to the editor, smaller gatherings and quiet meetings, the group built both momentum and experience.
With the exception of the Times-Tribune Newspaper, few other media outlets appear to have any interest. After all, the billionaire ‘businessman’ influences massive regional advertising dollars through family participation in interlocking boards ranging from gambling and banking to religious education and universities. The meeting last week was little different. Yet, an incredibly diverse crowd of citizens in their hundreds packed a local hotel’s largest ball room to ‘Talk Trash’.
Senator Bob Casey introduced a panel of experts including State Senator John Blake, Mr. John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Ms. Lois Gibbs, a long time hero of mine who is Founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and CHEJ Science Director Stephen Lester, a graduate of the Harvard University School of Public Health.
The panel presented information concerning the state process and possible legislation at Federal and State legislative levels. Ms. Gibbs presented reality which was confirmed by the rest of the panel - bodies matter. The hundreds of attendees spoke volumes for both consumer interest and hard count votes. By that measure and by the prestige of the panel, Friends of Lackawanna ‘Talking Trash’ was a major success.
Looking at the Friends of Lackawanna filling that ballroom, I wondered if I was seeing the beginning of the end of America’s new Gilded Age. Local action already has some impact at the voting box. Republican political elites have lost control of their party and populist candidate Bernie Sanders is pressuring Democratic Party front runner Hillary Clinton.
Millennials have the courage to confront the corporatocracy. Gilded Age laissez faire capitalism is again failing faster than communism. The question is not if, but rather when. Friends of Lackawanna indicates it will be soon.
Follow Hal Donahue on Twitter: www.twitter.com/haldonahue