Protest Against Fracking Industry Continues at Riverdale Mobile Home Park
Right now more than 30 supporters and residents are blockading access to a mobile home community that is facing imminent displacement at the hands of Aqua America, a water withdrawal company that supplies natural gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale region.
The blockade was launched to halt Aqua America’s plans to begin construction of a withdrawal facility for water from the Susquehanna River to be used in fracking operations. Aqua America recently purchased the entire Riverdale mobile home unit to be used as a withdrawal site, and has issued lease termination notices to 32 Riverdale families. Construction was set to begin on June 1, but supporters of Riverdale mobile home park believe the blockade and protest kept the company from starting the project last week. It is unclear what additional steps Aqua America will take to displace those families who are choosing to remain.
The dismantling of the community has left many residents in tears over the loss of their home. Deb Eck, one of the remaining residents, stated, “This park isn’t just a bunch of trailers with a bunch of people who don’t know each other. We’re all friends. We’re all neighbors. It’s a community. It’s one big family.”
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) permitted construction of the Riverdale water withdrawal facility in March. The SRBC, comprised of representatives from the White House and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, granted forty-eight withdrawal permits at its March meeting, despite the objections of concerned residents. Aqua America has been permitted to withdraw up to three million gallons of river water daily. Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the SRBC, stated that the Susquehanna has been facing severe drought this spring “at levels that haven’t been seen since 1910 and 1946.”
Fracking has been linked to cases of water contamination in towns across the country including Dimock, PA and Pavilion, WY. The gas industry is exempted from the Clean Water Act and Safer Drinking Water Act and as a result, many of the chemicals used in drilling are unknown. Pennsylvania law restricts the ability of local governments to regulate fracking operations and gags doctors from sharing information about chemicals used in fracking with public health officials. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protecting is facing criticism for its refusal to list the Susquehanna River as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. According to John Arway of Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, there has been a significant increase in fish with black lesions in the Susquehanna since last summer.
Today's blockade is one of a series of escalating actions in resistance to increased fracking operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions. Pennsylvania activists disrupted the SRBC’s March hearing and have blockaded trucks carrying drillrigs in Lycoming County, and eleven Ohioans have been arrested for anti-fracking actions since last November. Additional major anti-fracking events scheduled for this summer include a takeover of the Ohio statehouse on June 17, the Earth First Rendezvous from July 1-7, a Youngstown-based action camp from July 13-17, and a July 28 convergence in Washington D.C.
Residents and supporters are committed to stopping construction of the water withdrawal facility that threatens to raze their community. They are demanding that Aqua America permit residents to remain in the homes, compensate those who have already left and allow for the return of all residents who have already been displaced. Residents have requested that more supporters converge in defense of the Riverdale mobile home park and to, in Deb Eck’s words, “help us keep the River in Riverdale.”
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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