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"We are ALL Seneca Lake" was the message delivered this morning by prominent environmental leaders Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, David Braun, co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, and Rachel Marco-Havens, youth engagement director of Earth Guardians during a protest at Stagecoach (formerly Crestwood) gas storage complex along Route 14 in the Town of Reading.
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[Editor's note: In October 2014, over massive citizen opposition and in spite of serious health and safety concerns raised by independent scientists, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave final approval to Houston-based Crestwood Midstream to expand gas storage in unlined salt caverns along the shores of Seneca Lake in the heart of New York's wine country. The caverns are left over from a century of salt mining. Immediately after the decision, having exhausted all appeals, the grassroots citizen movement, We Are Seneca Lake, began staging protests at gates of the lakeside compressor station. Since then, more than 600 arrests have taken place, many for trespassing. More than half of these cases have not yet been adjudicated. In late 2015, the posted no-trespass signs demarcating Crestwood's property line were relocated after defense attorneys for the protesters revealed that they were, in fact, posted on public property and that protesters and law enforcement officers were both misinformed about where the actual property line was located. The first trials in the 21-month-long campaign began last week. Tom Angie, whose case is detailed below, was the third protester to face trial. A pretrial motion to present a necessity defense was denied by the Town of Reading Judge.]
The trial of a Seneca Lake gas storage protester ended in dramatic fashion in the Town of Reading Court on Tuesday when Justice Raymond Berry declared a mistrial at the urging of the prosecuting attorneys and accepted a motion from defense attorneys to recuse himself from this and future Seneca Lake protest trials. Berry's rulings came after a strange series of declarations that appeared to indicate both prejudice against the defendant and ignorance of the law.
Defendant Tom Angie, 63, of Aurora in Cayuga County, was charged with violation-level trespass stemming from a Dec. 16, 2014 protest near the main gates of the Crestwood Midstream compressor station near Seneca Lake in the Town of Reading.
Angie's trial today—which was to represent the first trial of gas storage protesters in the Town of Reading Court—began at 10 a.m. By 2 p.m., the prosecutor, Schuyler County assistant district attorney John Tunney, who had put on the stand three witnesses, had just rested his case and chief defense attorney Joseph Heath had just entered a motion for dismissal. At this point, Judge Berry abruptly issued a guilty verdict for Angie.
Clearly flummoxed, prosecutor Tunney explained to the judge that his verdict was premature in light of the fact that defendant Angie had not yet presented his defense or called his own witnesses to the stand.
Heath, noting Tunney's attempt to explain criminal procedure protocols to Judge Berry, respectfully moved that the case be transferred to a law-trained judge. Heath noted that the judge's premature ruling of guilt at this stage showed a fundamental lack of knowledge of basic criminal law, most notably, the right to present a defense.
Heath further said that the fact that the prosecution needed to stop the trial in order to lecture the judge on "the simplest trial procedures" was clear proof that his clients were unable to obtain a fair trial in this court.
In spite of the fact that the prosecutor had just warned the judge that his ruling was premature, Justice Berry then reiterated his verdict, saying, "I still find him guilty."
Heath insisted that the trial could only go forward before a law-trained judge, which Berry is not. Heath noted, "The prosecutor is running this trial."
Sujata Gibson, a second defense attorney, stated that if the judge were going to insist on finding guilt before allowing a defense, then the defendants would simply appeal. She then entered a motion that Berry recuse himself from hearing Angie's case. She asked that the recusal be extended to all future cases of gas storage protesters.
In making her motion, Gibson described for the record a pattern of prejudice, unfair treatment and blatant bias and provided examples. Among them: courtroom observer Daniel Pautz, who was neither a party to the trial nor an officer of the court, was allowed use of his cell phone in the courtroom while she herself, an attorney for the defense, along with all other courtroom observers, had been forbidden cell phones.
According to witnesses, the Bailiff's response, when asked why Pautz alone was allowed to have access to his cell phone inside the courtroom was "because he is with Crestwood."
Pautz, whose legal work focuses on defending property owners against lead paint claims, is an attorney for Crestwood. He was merely an observer in court today.
Justice Berry granted Gibson's motion and agreed to recuse himself in this and all future trials involving Seneca Lake gas storage protesters.
He then asked, "Okay, where are we at?"
The prosecution then moved for an official declaration of mistrial. The defense attorneys offered no objection.
Granting the prosecution's motion for a mistrial, Judge Berry adjourned the court.
Defendant's lawyers with evidence that was never presented. Judge Berry proclaimed Tom Angie Guilty, not once but twice before hearing the defendant's case argued. A mistrial was mutually agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense and was granted.Photo credit: Colleen Boland
In a reaction statement outside of the courtroom, defendant Tom Angie said that while he saw the mistrial and recusal as a victory for We Are Seneca Lake, he was nevertheless deeply shaken by the experience.
"To have somebody look me in the face and say that I was guilty before I had a chance to put on my defense … is chilling. I was not really given my day in court."
Angie, who works as a mechanical design engineer, said that his time spent on legal defense comes at a personal financial cost. "I'm a contractor. When I don't work, I don't get paid, so being hauled into court over and over to defend my First Amendment rights of protest is tough. Like every other average American who wants to exercise my rights, I still have to live. And this affects my livelihood. That concerns me."
Chief defense counsel Joe Heath noted that, even prior to the judge's abrupt guilty verdict at the midpoint of the trial, the prosecution had failed to provide evidence that Angie was standing on Crestwood's property and had already conceded that, at the time of his arrest, the no-trespass signs demarcating the line between public and corporate property were incorrectly located. "In 41 years of practicing law, this is one of the worst mistakes I have ever seen in the courtroom."
Defense counsel Sujata Gibson hailed both the mistrial and the recusal. "This is a victory for the defense and for We Are Seneca Lake. I firmly believe Mr. Angie is not guilty. This is not a game. Each individual has the right to a fair trial."
Out of 606 total arrests in the 21-month-old We Are Seneca Lake campaign, 370 cases remain open. The majority of the adjudicated cases have been dismissed in the interests of justice at the prosecution's request or with their approval, many for admitted lack of evidence of guilt.
Last week, in the Town of Dix Court, Seneca Lake defendants Sue Kinchy and Barbara Barry were both found guilty of trespass.
Five feet in diameter and swirling with clouds, a blue and green replica of Planet Earth helped a dozen human inhabitants block three trucks this morning at the main entrance of Crestwood Midstream. The Earth Day-themed civil disobedience action was part of an ongoing campaign against proposed gas storage in Seneca Lake's abandoned salt caverns.
Organized by the direct action group, We Are Seneca Lake, the protesters, plus Earth, formed a blockade on the driveway of the Houston-based gas storage and transportation company shortly after sunrise at 6:45 a.m.
The group held banners that read, “Happy Earth Day! Decarbonize Now" and "We All Are on This [Earth] Together. While blockading, they read aloud together from a new report released this week by the World Resources Institute, which documents alarming new scientific findings about the ongoing climate crisis. Among them: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and the first three months of 2016 each far surpassed the warmest average temperature ever recorded for those months.
"Today is the day before Earth Day and the historic signing of the Paris climate treaty—enjoining the U.S., China and 195 other nations of the world in a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to keep global warming below the catastrophic 1.5 degree level," Town of Caroline Councilmember Irene Weiser said in a public statement to fellow blockaders.
"I am proud to stand here today, an elected official, joined by activists from across the region—to say that we stand in solidarity with the people of nations across this one precious earth, with a commitment to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable in upholding that essential promise."
Weiser is an active member of Fossil Free Tompkins, working politically across Tompkins County to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and increase renewable energy construction. Their work includes political action against new fossil fuel infrastructure, including the Crestwood storage facility on Seneca Lake.
The protesters this morning were all charged with disorderly conduct and arrested at about 7:30 a.m. by Schuyler County deputies and transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff's department, where they were ticketed and released.
Among the 12 arrested was a member of the We Are Seneca Lake media team, Michael Dineen. At the time of his arrest, Dineen, who was not part of the blockade, was photographing the protest from across Highway 14. Dineen was also charged with disorderly conduct.
Watch the protest here:
The total number of arrests in the 18-month-old civil disobedience campaign now stands at 549.
"We will not stop blocking the gates of Crestwood until the expansion is canceled," said Nathan Lewis of Hector in Schuyler County who was arrested today. "We will not sit idle as our community is threatened. There is more than one way to vote. We vote with our body and soul when we resist the fossil fuel industry."
Crestwood's methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.
Crestwood also seeks to store two other products of fracking in Seneca Lake salt caverns—propane and butane (so-called Liquefied Petroleum Gases, LPG)—for which it is awaiting a decision by Governor Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation.
"It's been six years since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; six months since the failure of the methane storage in Aliso Canyon; and over six days since TransCanada's 16,800 gallon dilbit leak into South Dakota farmland," said Debb Guard of Schenectady in Schenectady County who was arrested today. "Earth Day is a time to remind people that water, air and land are still at risk of contamination by the oil and gas industry. Earth Day is also a time to embrace renewable energy sources: solar, wind and geothermal."
Here's the full text of Weiser's Earth Day statement:
Today is the day before Earth Day and the historic signing of the Paris climate treaty—enjoining the U.S., China, and 195 other nations of the world in a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to keep global warming below the catastrophic 1.5 degree level. I am proud to stand here today, an elected official, joined by activists from across the region—to say that we stand in solidarity with the people of nations across this one precious Earth, with a commitment to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable in upholding that essential promise.
Forty seven years ago a peace activist named John McConnell proposed Earth Day at a UNESCO conference—with a vision to create a special day each year to draw people together in appreciation of their mutual home and to bring a global feeling of community through the realization of our deepening desire for life, freedom, love, and our mutual dependence on each other.
As a peace activist he considered the devastation caused by pollution as acts of violence against the Earth. One can only imagine what he would have thought about today's desperate measures to unearth fossil fuels by blowing off mountain tops, and raping the ground by injecting poisoned waters. What of the violence of slashing trees and leaving huge scars across our landscape to make way for pipelines? And what of the violence of ocean acidification killing countless species, and the warming waters and habitat loss in the arctic? What of the violent storms, massive floods, fires, droughts, and heat waves that have claimed countless lives? And the violence to the workers who are subjected to unsafe conditions to feed this planet's fossil fuel habit, and the cancers, heart and lung disease, low birth weights to those who live in sacrifice zones? What of the violence that is already visiting the poor in under-developed countries, where sea level rise has caused them to relocate, and where droughts and famine underpin massive uprisings and refugee crises?
As part of his Earth Day proclamation McConnell wrote that “Planet Earth is facing a grave crisis which only the people of the earth can resolve, and in our shortsightedness we have failed to make provisions for the poor as well as the rich to inherit the Earth … and our new enlightenment requires that the disinherited be given a just stake in the Earth and its future."
I am not so naïve as to believe that the disinherited will be given that stake. I believe we have to take it—take it back from the purveyors of violence like ExxonMobil who have lied about the harms their industry causes; take it back from Williams and Cabot for their unconstitutional pipeline, take it back from Crestwood who threatens the drinking water for thousands of people, and take it back from the regulators and elected officials who fail to do their jobs of protecting the public and our future.
And so I am proud to stand here today—not in violence—but in peaceful, loving, hopeful protest—to pledge my commitment to preserving this one and only and beautiful and cherished Earth for future generations.
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The fight over the fate of the Finger Lakes received national attention today when best-selling author, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, joined the opposition. McKibben, 55, was arrested this morning with 56 area residents as part of an ongoing civil disobedience campaign against proposed gas storage in Seneca Lake's abandoned salt caverns.
Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement uniting more than 270 Waterkeeper organizations and affiliates, recently approved a new affiliate, Seneca Lake Guardian. Joseph M Campbell and Yvonne Taylor of Gas Free Seneca are excited to extend their efforts as the Seneca Lake Guardians to protect and preserve Seneca Lake, one of New York's Finger Lakes, by combining their firsthand knowledge of the watershed with an unwavering commitment to the rights of the community.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
“Waterkeeper Alliance is thrilled to have Seneca Lake Guardian to be the eyes, ears and voice for this vital watershed and community," Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said. “Every community deserves to have swimmable, drinkable and fishable water, and Joseph Campbell and Yvonne Taylor are the right leaders to fight for clean water in the region."
Seneca Lake Guardian will be an advocate for the Seneca Lake watershed and its tributaries, protecting and restoring water quality through community action and enforcement. Campbell and Taylor will work on watershed-related issues from their home base in Watkins Glen, New York.
“Seneca Lake Guardian, a Waterkeeper affiliate's aim, is to provide strong advocacy that will result in an improved quality of life for all citizens whether they rely on it for drinking water or recreation or whether they simply value the lake's continued well-being," Campbell explained.
“Seneca Lake Guardian will have an incredibly important job," Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, added. “Waterkeeper Affiliates defend their communities against anyone who threatens their right to clean water, from law-breaking polluters to irresponsible government officials. Until our public agencies have the means necessary to protect us from polluters and the will to enforce the law, there will always be a great need for people like Joseph and Yvonne to fight for our right to clean water."
“Gas Free Seneca has, as a small grassroots organization, been successfully keeping Crestwood's misbegotten plans to industrialize the shores of Seneca Lake from coming to fruition for five years," Taylor said. “But the threats to our lake are many and this collaboration will now allow us to fully address those threats and bring the resources of the Waterkeeper Alliance into the fray. Becoming a Waterkeeper affiliate was the perfect evolution for us."
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'Wake up, humanity! Time is running out!'
At high Noon Sunday, with temperatures heading toward 95 degrees, I'm confident I was not the only one preparing to march through the streets of downtown Philadelphia who recalled that old elementary-school story about the wig-wearing drafters of the Declaration of Independence huddled inside of Independence Hall on a sweltering July day.
Early this morning on a hillside above Seneca Lake, actors James Cromwell and John "J.G." Hertzler of Star Trek fame joined 17 area residents in an act of civil disobedience that is part of an ongoing citizen campaign against salt cavern gas storage.
While blockading the main entrance to the Crestwood compressor station, the two actors urged Gov. Cuomo to stand up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for green-lighting an expansion of this fracked gas infrastructure project against overwhelming local opposition and for undermining the governor's own stated commitment to a rapid transition to renewable energy.
Starting at 6:45 a.m. and continuing until their arrests by Schuyler County deputies shortly before 7:30 a.m., the protesters blocked all traffic from leaving and entering the facility, including two Crestwood tanker trucks. All 19 were transported to the Schuyler County sheriff's department, charged with disorderly conduct, ticketed and released.
“The prettiest place I've ever seen is right here: the Finger Lakes region of New York … Governor Cuomo, we, the people, do not want to see these pristine lakes turned into cheap, contaminated, industrialized storage facilities for Crestwood and Con Ed. Stand with us, Governor!," John Hertzler, 66, who played Klingon General Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, said.
"Defend your own program for getting New York State off of fossil fuels and transitioned to renewable energy. FERC—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—seeks to keep us chained to the energy of the past and, in so doing, threatens our water, our lands, our safety and the very climate of this, our planet. Boldly go with us, Governor Cuomo, into a renewable energy future."
Hertzler lives in the Finger Lakes region with his family in the town of Ulysses where he serves on the town board.
James Cromwell, 76, who played Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact and who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Farmer Arthur Hoggett in Babe, called on New Yorkers to join the We Are Seneca Lake movement.
"FERC-approved fracked gas infrastructure projects are taking over our entire state—from the crumbly salt caverns of Seneca Lake, where the gas will be stored, to the pipelines and compressor stations that devastate our farmlands, wetlands and maple groves, all the way to the burner tips of the natural gas-fired power plants that are planned for downstate," he said. "With all of New York under attack by the fossil fuel industry and by the rogue agency called FERC, all New Yorkers now need to stand up, stand together and say no."
Referencing the films in which the two have appeared, protesters held banners and signs that read, “We Are Seneca Lake, Babe/And We Will Not Be FERC-ed" and “Trekkies Against Crestwood-Con Ed Boldly Going Toward Renewables."
The total number of arrests in the 20-month-old We Are Seneca Lake civil disobedience campaign now stands at 604.
Crestwood's methane gas storage expansion project was originally approved by FERC in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. In spite of near-unanimous citizen opposition, FERC's last-minute permit extension on May 16 gave Crestwood's Arlington subsidiary another two years to build out its natural gas storage facility.
Salt cavern storage accounts for only seven percent of total underground storage of natural gas in the U.S. but, since 1972, is responsible for 100 percent of the catastrophic accidents that has resulted in loss of life.
Crestwood also seeks to store two other products of fracking in Seneca Lake salt caverns—propane and butane (so-called Liquefied Petroleum Gases, LPG)—for which it is awaiting a decision by Gov. Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation.
Watch today's action here:
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It's been over a year since New York banned fracking and we find ourselves at a crossroads. We can take the next logical step and reject the dangerous fracked gas infrastructure that increasingly threatens our wellbeing. Or we can continue to rely on fracked gas and accept the myriad risks that come with that choice. Like fracking itself, a maze of proposed gas pipelines, compressor stations and subterranean storage caves pose grave threats to New York's most precious resource—our abundant supply of clean water.
The same powerful grassroots movement that successfully achieved a statewide ban on fracking is now imploring the governor to reject infrastructure and embrace a truly renewable future. As he smartly did on fracking, Gov. Cuomo would be wise to listen. To truly lead—both on climate change and on protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers—Cuomo must turn away from new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state.
The Cuomo Administration has set a very reachable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. It's now clearer than ever that natural gas will not save us from the worst effects of climate change—particularly in light of a new Harvard study pointing to vast methane leakage throughout the typical fracked gas supply chain. In fact, natural gas is at least as bad for the climate as coal—it is 8,700 percent more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20-year period. And at this rate, 20 years is too late to save us climate catastrophe. Bottom line: New York can't hit the 80 percent goal if it swaps out one fossil fuel for another. That's just what these new pipelines and gas-fired power plants would do.
The good news is that Gov. Cuomo can take the first step today toward embracing a truly renewable future. He can reject pending projects like Constitution Pipeline. This Constitution Pipeline would run from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania into New York's Southern Tier and on to the Capitol Region. It would intersect 277 known bodies of water. Cuomo is likely to decide on the project any day.
We know from experience elsewhere that the question isn't whether a devastating pipeline leak will happen, it's when and where. In fact, a new audit by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that pipeline oversight is lax. And New York's Department of Conservation has described “catastrophic erosion events" caused by pipeline installation in a letter it sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the Constitution Pipeline.
What was FERC's response? They completely ignored New York's concerns, just as they did when Gov. Cuomo asked the agency to rethink the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) expansion pipeline—another risky pipeline whose route will run just feet from the Indian Point nuclear facility, 25 miles north of New York City. Gov. Cuomo has rightly expressed concerns about the AIM pipeline and in fact about Indian Point itself. But now is the time for him to leverage all of his political power to stop FERC's unconscionable rubber-stamping of potential catastrophe.
These dangerous pipeline projects are just the tip of the iceberg. The ravenous oil and gas industry has infrastructure plans for all corners of New York State—including another crazy plan to greatly expand an underground gas storage facility in an eroding salt cavern on the banks of Seneca Lake, a state tourism treasure. The list goes on and on.
To truly protect our water, we must turn away from all of these foolish, hazardous choices. Gov. Cuomo banned fracking. Now he needs to move us toward a truly clean, safe energy future. He should start right now by rejecting the Constitution Pipeline.
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By Lorraine Berry, Raw Story
In New York's Southern Tier, local newspapers are investigating the connection between a local racetrack owner's sick foals and the fracking fluids present on his farmland. The Ithaca Journal featured a report by Tom Wilber in which he investigated the ongoing issue with foals being born without the ability to swallow—17 of them so far—on the breeding farm of Jeff Gural, owner of the Tioga Downs, Meadowlands Racetrack and Vernon Downs.
The foals have survived, although all of them have had to be transported to Cornell's School of Veterinary Medicine, located 50 miles north in Ithaca, New York. An earlier study by Cornell professor Robert Oswald and Cornell veterinarian Michelle Bamberger linked the presence of the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing to numerous animal deaths and stillbirths. Their research included 24 case studies of multiple farm animals who had either been killed outright by the cocktail of chemicals or later proved unable to successfully reproduce after exposure.
The vets are conducting their own study of what may be causing the epidemic of horse birth defects. The veterinary team cite the presence of a gas well adjacent to Gural's land that was drilled by Chesapeake Appalachia LLC as the “prime suspect" in the Gural farm problems. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that the farm's water is contaminated, although they failed to cite Chesapeake as the cause.
Gural is on record as a supporter of gas shale exploration in the Southern Tier. He still is. “It created jobs in Pennsylvania, and look what it's done for the price of gas," he said in an interview. But he is mad that so far, companies have not had to disclose what comprises fracking fluid because of the so-called “Halliburton Loophole."
“That they don't have to tell you what chemicals they are using is ridiculous," says Gural, although he is quick to blame the lobbying power of the gas and oil industry rather than holding Chesapeake liable.
Scientists at Cornell are conducting a two-year study on Gural's farm to investigate links between the plethora of deformed foals and fracking fluids. Foals with the inability to swallow, a condition called “dysphagia," were born on other properties–but all of their pregnant mothers had drunk water at Gural's farm at some point in their pregnancies.
New York has resisted a lobbying effort by the gas and oil industry to allow fracking along the Southern Tier. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the state in December of 2014. Pennsylvania approved fracking with very little investigation of possible health hazards, and this latest case is one of many that have demonstrated that their rush to judgment may be environmentally costly in ways that will offset the economic benefits of the practice.
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By The Climate Mobilization
When establishment civil society groups and politicians gather Friday to cheer the signing of the Paris agreement as a “historic" achievement that will avert global catastrophe, a group of climate emergency protesters will stage a “mass death" and collapse scenario outside the United Nations to demonstrate the reality of the future the agreement locks in.
The protesters will act out the collapse of global civilization that will occur if humanity remains on the Paris agreement's non-binding emissions trajectory toward a world 3.5 C hotter than the pre-industrial period.
More specifically, they will enact the mass starvations the agreement ensures, erect grave stones for the nation-states that will collapse under the stress of extreme drought and water scarcity and play the government and civil society bureaucrats who pretend that the situation is under control and that business-as-usual reforms can protect humanity and the natural world.
Speakers will include Theravadan Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi and the Climate Mobilization's Founders Margaret Klein Salamon and Ezra Silk. All of the speakers will call for an emergency, World War II-scale mobilization that eliminates global net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and restores a safe and stable climate by drawing down all excess carbon dioxide and cooling the planet from the dangerously high temperatures reached in recent months and years.
The Paris agreement calls for net zero greenhouse gas emissions at some point “in the second half of this century" and does not directly cover aviation, shipping or agriculture, which collectively account for, at minimum, between a quarter and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the first three months of 2016, global average temperature anomalies approached and surpassed the limits called for in the agreement, rendering its gradual emissions trajectory irrelevant and dangerous.
“The Paris agreement is historic in the sense that the Munich Agreement was historic—a catastrophic act of appeasement meant to maintain business-as-usual arrangements," said Climate Mobilization Deputy Director Ezra Silk. “Leading economists argue that climate change could cause at least as much destruction as World War II—and the non-binding Paris agreement paves the way for that future. It's time to stop waiting for another climate 'Pearl Harbor' and to mobilize all available resources to save human civilization."
The Climate Mobilization is sponsoring the event with the support of the People's Climate Movement New York. Since last fall, the Climate Mobilization has pressured all Democratic and Republican presidential contenders to endorse a WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate. Last week, Bernie Sanders embraced the idea at the CNN debate held at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which played a pivotal role in the World War II home front mobilization of the 1940s.
“Of course the [Paris] agreement is a step forward, but you know agreements and I know agreements, there's a lot of paper there," Sanders said. “If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war—you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now."
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By Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Our Longmont, Sierra Club
Today, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the rights of Coloradans to protect their health, safety and wellbeing from fracking through the use of local bans. The justices denied residents their “right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness" as outlined in the Colorado Constitution, by determining that oil and gas development is pre-empted by the state.
This decision overturns the democratically enacted measure to ban fracking passed overwhelmingly by Longmont residents in 2012 and strips all Coloradans of their Constitutional right to say “no" to fracking in their communities in order to prevent problems inherent in fracking, including air pollution, health complications, water contamination and reduced property values.
"It is beyond comprehension that the Colorado Supreme Court still fails to recognize the rights of people to live in a safe and healthy environment," Kaye Fissinger, president of Our Longmont, said. "The state has declared that fostering oil and gas development is in its interest. That the court apparently equates a government interest superior to human rights is a severe slap in the face. Our country's founding fathers are most certainly turning over in their graves."
In 2012, residents in Longmont passed a city charter amendment, Measure 300, which banned fracking and the disposal of its waste products, including injection wells within city limits, to protect homes, schools and public parks. The local ban passed with an overwhelming 60 percent majority despite being outspent 30-1 by the oil and gas industry. Gov. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry sued Longmont over this democratically enacted measure.
“Today's decision deals a devastating blow not just to Longmont residents, but to all Coloradans who have been stripped of a democratic process that should allow us the right to protect our health, safety and property from the impacts of this dangerous industrial activity," Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director with Food & Water Watch, said.
After appealing the District Court's ruling in 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear this case. In an unprecedented decision, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear this case and listened to oral arguments in December 2015, leading to this historic decision.
“Straight out of Orwell's Animal Farm, the Colorado Supreme Court just decided that the oil and gas industry is 'more equal' than other industries," Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel said. “Turning democracy on its head, today's ruling prohibits local communities from deciding whether and how to balance their health against the fracking industry's profits."
Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy conducted an analysis of peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking and shale gas development. It found that 21 of 25 papers published on the health impacts show potential risks or actual adverse outcomes, including increased incidence of cancer and birth defects associated with living in close proximity to oil and gas wells. The group's survey also showed that 33 of 48 water quality studies find either the potential for, a positive association with or direct evidence of water contamination. In addition, 30 of 34 focused on air quality found elevated levels of air pollution and that children are especially vulnerable to exposure to such pollution, according to the scientists.
As these inherent harms of fracking become ever-clearer, Gov. Hickenlooper's failed task force—formed in 2014 as a way to keep several anti-fracking measures off the ballot—has left municipalities frustrated as proposals to drill continue to encroach closer to homes and schools. In Adams County, a recent proposal to drill several new mega-facilities could place fracking wells within 100 feet from homes and a middle school. The governor's task force has failed to provide Coloradans with a way to protect their homes, families and futures from this dangerous, industrial activity.
“As a retired RN I am horrified that we continue to allow this toxic industry to operate next to our homes and schools," Karen Dike of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter said. “The Colorado Supreme Court ruling discounts the inherent rights of the people of this state to have clean air to breath, fresh water to drink, land free of contamination and safe places to live, go to school and work. The ruling places profit of corporations before people and will allow the continuing toxic onslaught of this dangerous industry."
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In a win for climate activists and the anti-fracking movement, and a blow to fossil fuel polluters and the federal regulatory agencies that enable them, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied a key permit to companies seeking to build a 124-mile fracked gas pipeline.
The Constitution Pipeline Project—a joint venture between four oil and gas companies—was proposed to transport fracked natural gas from Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania through Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties in New York to existing interstate pipelines. The pipeline route would have crossed hundreds of streams and wetlands, including those supplying drinking water to families along the proposed route. Using the power granted under the Clean Water Act, DEC officials rejected the companies' permit application, citing damage the project would do to water supplies along the pipeline route.
"Today is an incredible Earth Day! Thank you again to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation for putting the protection of our precious water and the public health and safety of New Yorkers ahead of the special interests of the oil and gas industry," Mark Ruffalo, advisory body member of New Yorkers Against Fracking, said. "This is what real climate leadership looks like."
The nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice has been staunchly opposed to the project and represented a coalition of groups—Catskill Mountainkeeper, Riverkeeper, Clean Air Council, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the Pennsylvania and Atlantic chapters of Sierra Club—in pipeline approval proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC.)
Last month FERC gave the go-ahead to pipeline developers to clear-cut 20 miles of trees along the pipeline's planned route through Pennsylvania. Pointing to the fact that New York State had not yet issued a permit, Earthjustice and other environmental groups called FERC's move premature and illegal. New York's rejection of the project today bolsters support for criticism of FERC as an agency that rubber stamps fossil fuel infrastructure projects.
The DEC's decision comes as world leaders gathered in New York City to sign the historic Paris climate agreement. More than 170 countries, including those responsible for the bulk of the world's climate pollution, signed the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Here's what Earthjustice attorney Moneen Nasmith had to say about today's announcement:
“Today in New York City, world leaders gathered to sign the COP 21 climate agreement. Today in Albany, state leaders displayed precisely the leadership necessary to help us meet the goals of this historic climate treaty—by choosing to protect New York State's waterways and reject a massive fossil fuel infrastructure project.
“The 124-mile Constitution pipeline, planned to run through five counties and two states, and hundreds of waterways is the sort of massive fossil fuel investment that would have locked our region into continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels and irreparably damaged precious water resources at a time when we need instead to be protecting these resources and speeding the transition to 100 percent renewable energy for all.
“World leaders and our leaders in New York State are doing what's necessary. Unfortunately their efforts are undermined by rogue agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which is failing to do its job and evaluate the environmental and climate impacts of the massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects it approves. FERC is an outlier agency that, with every day, is exposed as being drastically out of step with its peers. It's time for fossil fuel industry enablers and apologists to step aside and let the rest of us continue the work necessary to solve the climate crisis and transition our society to 100 percent renewable energy."
“Governor Andrew Cuomo's smart decision to reject the Constitution Pipeline sends a clear message: New Yorkers' health and safety will not be sacrificed for fossil fuel industry profits.
“Just a year after his monumental decision to ban fracking statewide, Cuomo has clearly embraced the urgings of thousands of grassroots activists: Clean, renewable energy is the only responsible path forward for New York. This latest act by the governor against fracked gas infrastructure sets a bold example for all public officials in America: Environmental leaders don't frack, and they don't tolerate new fracking infrastructure either.
“The Cuomo administration set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. The state would not be able to meet that by swapping out one fossil fuel for another. That's what new pipelines and gas-fired power plants would do—and why rejecting the Constitution pipeline was the only sensible option."
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Yesterday afternoon, in an old vaudeville music hall in downtown Kingston, New York, Bernie Sanders' campaign held a rally "for clean energy and safe climate" to build support for the presidential candidate and mobilize the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Southern Tier to fight climate change in advance of New York's Democratic primary election on April 19.
Sanders himself was not on hand—nor was he part of the billing. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 people packed the damp, chilly hall to standing room only capacity to hear from anti-fracking leaders, as well as organizers from the campaign itself, who instructed the audience members in the art of door-to-door canvassing, signed them up for tours of duty, and, when the rally ended, sent them out into the community to knock on doors, phone bank and turn out the vote.
Spirits were high. Excitement was palpable. Chants and ovations were loud and long. It was a moment when elements of the grassroots anti-fracking movement in New York State joined hands with the larger political groundswell behind the Sanders campaign.
Serving as master of ceremonies, environmental justice organizer Anthony Rogers-Wright set a tone of urgency.
“We must abolish the system of oppression known as climate change ... We are out of time. We have to get radical ... We are talking about keeping our planet alive. Our children are our landlords; we are renting from them."
Wright pointed out that fracking disproportionately harms people of color, especially in California where 90 percent of fracking wells are located within one mile of communities of color. A come-from-behind win for Bernie in New York, observed Wright, would serve as wind in the sails of Bernie's later primary race in California, as well as bolster anti-fracking efforts there.
Kelleigh McKenzie, a local delegate from the Kingston area who has been organizing for Sanders in the region, said that with Sanders' campaign, “a political movement has arrived in the Hudson Valley" that stands against “the suicide economy," which fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction enable.
The recurring themes of the day—the generational and racial inequities of climate change; the lateness of the hour that makes incremental solutions and half-measures ineffectual; the need for bold political leadership; the multiple perils that fracking poses for climate, water and public health—were made by several speakers, including tribal rights attorney and Honor the Earth campaigns director Tara Houska, 350.org founder Bill McKibben (participating via Skype) and anti-fracking activist and filmmaker Josh Fox.
I also addressed the crowd. Here is a transcript of my remarks:
Hi everybody. My name is Sandra Steingraber and I occupy the anti-fracking wing of the climate justice movement.
I bring you warm greetings from the snowy shores of Seneca Lake where an uprising of brave citizens winemakers, nurses, farmers, teachers, veterans, chefs, moms, dads, granddads and great grandmothers are peaceably standing up to a Houston-based gas company called Crestwood which seeks to turn our beloved lake shore into a massive gas station for the products of fracking.
It's a plan that threatens not only the climate but also a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. That contested lakeshore is our Greensboro lunch counter.
But I left the shores of Seneca Lake to join you on the banks of the mighty Hudson, not as a partisan of that struggle, nor as a co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking—which is how you may know me. Today, I am casting off those hats and speaking to you out of two even more fundamental identities—as a biologist and as a mother.
Biology and motherhood are deeply entwined for me. My own mother was also a biologist and, because I was her adopted daughter, she helped me to see that the whole living world—all flora and fauna contained therein—was my family tree.
Thus, my first memory is cracking open fossils with my mom on the front stoop of our home. That project gave me a sense of ancestry. By age six, I had straightened out all of my little friends on the question of where babies came from. By nine, I had my own microscope. With these gifts from my mother, came lessons about the interconnectivity of creation.
One of every three bites of food is brought to us by the efforts of insect pollinators. The oxygen in one in every two breaths of air we breathe is brought to us by the ocean's plankton via the miracle of photosynthesis.
In turn, we animals and humans exhale carbon dioxide, which has the ability to trap the sun's heat and so keeps us warm at night, preventing the oceans from freezing over after the sun goes down. It's a perfect balance between plants and animals that allows living organisms to sustain the conditions of life that make more life possible, which is why, as environmental attorney Joseph Guth reminds us, a functioning biosphere is worth everything we have.
Now that I have kids of my own and now that I make my living as a systems ecologist, here's what I can tell you:
By trying to run our economy by shattering the bedrock of our nation to exhume oil and methane via fracking, we are destroying and poisoning the nation's drinking water sources in the aquifers deep below our feet. And because methane is a such a powerful heat-trapping gas that cannot be wholly contained in the piles of rubble left behind, we are also exacerbating climate change in the atmosphere high above our heads—at a time when we urgently need to be coming up to the rescue with renewable energy.
Fracking is not safe and can't be made safe. That's what science shows, and those findings are a direct threat to my own two children, who are 65 percent water by weight. My children's safety depends on safe sources of water. Their future depends on functioning pollinator systems to provide them food and thriving plankton stocks to make oxygen for them to breathe.
Science shows pollinators and plankton stocks are now in trouble. Hence, it's my job as a mother to engage with the biological consequences of climate change precisely because it's my job as a mother to keep my kids from harm and plan for their future.
I can't do my job as a mother in a fractured America.
I can tell you what I saw in a Romanian village where I was invited to give a lecture on the public health impacts of fracking and where my 12 year old son and I were both pepper-sprayed by military police acting as a private security force for a fracking operation run by the U.S. company called Chevron.
An old woman said to me, “We waited 50 years for Americans to show up here, and you brought Chevron." It was she who explained to me the foreign policy objectives for opening eastern Europe to U.S. fracking operations.
I can tell you what I saw at the climate treaty negotiations in Paris last December. Renewable energy CEOs, and their would-be financiers, urged political leaders to give them a clear, strong signal that indicates the energy revolution has begun. At the same time, the world's climate scientists warned those same political leaders that we're out of time and that signal must come now.
As a biologist, I am looking for a presidential candidate who can be realistic about this science, which says that we cannot frack our way to climate stability.
As a mother, I am looking for a Presidential candidate who can recognize an emergency when they see one, who knows, as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us that “the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
As a citizen, I am looking for a presidential candidate who knows a government tasked with ensuring security and domestic tranquility, cannot do so when seawater is sloshing through New York's subway tunnels or when vineyards of wine grapes—the economic goose that lays the golden egg in my part of New York—have to compete with flare stacks compressor stations and pipelines. Or when we keep the lights on by shoveling fossil fuels into ovens and lighting them on fire and so threaten to tear up what Abraham Lincoln called our nation's “salubrity of climate" that makes agriculture possible.
In 1979, my mother and I became became co-cancer patients together. Her advice to me was, “Don't let them bury you before you are dead." She was dealt a very tough prognosis at age 46, and yet she went on to defy all prediction, outlived three oncologists, and is now 85 years old.
So, I offer my own mother's advice to the Sanders' campaign and to all of you.
We are not here to simply express our hope for a strong, clear signal on renewable energy from the executive office. We are here to make it so and change providence itself. That's the spirit that allowed New Yorkers, against all prediction, to evict the frackers from our state and ban fracking now and forevermore.
Against all prediction, fellow New Yorkers, let's help elect the nation's first keep-it-in-the-ground president, willing to defend our bedrock, our water and our climate from those who would thrown our own children under the bus to line their fossilized pockets.
Let's make it so.
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Nearly 400 people from across the state of New York and beyond rallied in Albany today asking Gov. Cuomo to stand up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and use the state's authority under the Clean Water Act to deny the 401 water quality certificate for the Constitution Pipeline.
The Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture between Williams Pipeline Companies and Cabot Oil & Gas, would run approximately 124 miles from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to Schoharie County, New York. The pipeline would be 30 inches in diameter, and transport natural gas—the equivalent of 4.68 million gallons of oil per day—from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to New York state.
The rally was organized by Stop the Pipeline, with the support of 60 participating organizations. The event included speeches from prominent environmentalists, including Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and a march from the capitol to the headquarters of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. People whose land has already been taken by eminent domain for the construction of the pipeline led the march, followed by “the spirit of the Susquehanna,” symbolizing the water that nourishes all life.
“FERC is a rogue agency that is captured by the very industry it is supposed to regulate,” Kennedy said. “We need to reclaim our democracy from corporations that routinely pollute our water, and are now taking people’s land for their profit. Governor Cuomo can continue his environmental leadership by denying this 401 water quality certificate.”
“I implore Governor Cuomo to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers by saying no to dangerous fracked gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said at today's rally.
“He should start by denying a water quality certificate for the Constitution Pipeline. This project would cross hundreds of streams and put New York’s most essential resource—its clean drinking water—at risk. Governor Cuomo should listen to the hundreds of New Yorkers who are here today, and the many more that they speak for, and reject antiquated fossil fuel infrastructure like the Constitution Pipeline.”
In January, FERC approved limited tree cutting along the Pennsylvania section of the pipeline route, which includes about 25 miles of the 124-mile route. But, FERC delayed similar operations in New York.
On March 1, guarded by heavily armed U.S. marshals, a Constitution Pipeline tree crew began felling trees in the Holleran family’s maple sugaring stand in New Milford, Pennsylvania to make way for the pipeline. The cutting began 11 days after Federal Judge Malachy Mannion dismissed charges of contempt against the landowners for allegedly asking a tree crew that had arrived on the property not to cut the trees.
On March 24, seven people, including Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox and Pennsylvania landowner Megan Holleran, were arrested in the driveway of FERC in Washington, DC, while waiting for commissioners to join them for pancakes topped with the last drops of maple syrup from the Holleran family farm.
"FERC has become the henchmen of the pipeline companies,” Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said. “It uses legal loopholes and violations of law to strip states and communities of their legal rights to review, challenge, and even deny pipeline projects. We need Governor Cuomo to stand as our champion by saying "no" to the Constitution pipeline and "no" to FERC."
Other speakers today included Karenna Gore, director of the Center of Earth Ethics at Columbia University; Kanerahtiio Jock, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Bear Clan; William Roche, a property owner whose land and dreams have been taken by eminent domain; Doug Couchon, We Are Seneca Lake; Jim Cutler, Sugar Shack Alliance and Hilltown Community Rights; and representatives of many other groups.
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By Virginia Student Environmental Coalition
[Update: 17 students have been arrested. For the latest update via Twitter, click here.]
Thiry-five students from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition are refusing to leave the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) lobby until the director, David Paylor, complies with their demands regarding Dominion Resources' dumping of coal ash wastewater into the James River and Quantico Creek. This action is taking place in light of the recent news that Dominion illegally dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek last summer.
The demands are as follows:
1. The DEQ repeals the permits issued to Dominion to begin dumping coal ash wastewater from their Bremo and Possum Point power plants.
2. The current permits are re-issued only after an investigation into the 2015 dumping of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek.
3. The permits for coal ash wastewater release are rewritten to comply with the best available technology standards, in accordance with the Clean Water Act and that a mechanism for independent third party monitoring is implemented.
Students from the University of Virginia, University of Mary Washington, College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University entered the headquarters at 629 E Main St, Richmond, Virginia, at 10 a.m. and presented their intentions and demands, requesting to speak with Paylor immediately. A rally is also taking place outside of the building.
“David Paylor can't keep his story straight regarding the wastewater dumping that took place last summer," Sarah Kinzer, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, said. "If this is because he is covering for Dominion's illegal activities, then how can we trust him to make future decisions regarding our environmental safety? If this is not the case, then why is he failing to address the issue now?"
Kendall King, the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition chair, agrees. “If David Paylor cannot adequately meet the health and safety needs of Virginia residents, then he is not fulfilling his role as DEQ Director and we are prepared to demand his resignation," she said.
“These incidents of environmental injustice are not isolated," Jong Chin, a senior at James Madison University, said. "In Flint, Michigan, we've recently seen what devastating effects that water containing concentrations of heavy metals can have on communities. This national pattern of water safety violations is indicative of widespread systemic issues."
“The coal ash wastewater dumping is only one example of Dominion's tendency to value profit over the safety of Virginians," Aaron Tabb, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, said. "This corporation continually endangers our health and safety by burning fossil fuels and building fracked gas pipelines. This is why, as students, we fight for fossil fuel divestment while simultaneously working to prevent Dominion from further endangering our safety. We need to cut all ties with fossil fuel companies."
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[Author's Note: As this goes to press, Reverend Nancy Kasper's charges were dismissed in the interest of justice. She was one of 42 dismissals at the Reading Town Court on March 18. (See video below) Reverend Kasper will still go to trial for her second arrest.]
It was 4 degrees on February 23, on the drive from Mecklenburg to the Reading Town Court. It had become a familiar route. Since October, I've been part of a local movement protesting the expansion of gas storage beside Seneca Lake by a company called Crestwood Midstream. The argument is a familiar one. People against the expansion cite environmental concerns: unstable caverns with a history of collapse, air quality issues and their associated health risks, increased train and truck traffic. Local winemakers are concerned about their grapes, being sullied by an industry known for its cavalier destruction.
To date, there have been 216 arrests at the gates of Crestwood. Since November, I have watched musicians, professors, nurses, teachers, bakers, chefs, psychologists, farmers, philosophers, business owners, winemakers and parents face charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct at the Reading Town Court. It is, my husband says, my miniseries.
The best part of the drive is heading west on 79 out of Burdett when the lake just appears. Boom. Like a guy jumping out of a cake. I grew up downstate, in a family that eschewed fresh water for salt. I find it hard to trust water that doesn’t move with the moon. (I once burst into tears at a gas station in Queens because I could smell the ocean). My children, however, were born here. Ignorant of sand up their swimsuits, or being caught in a dead man’s roll, they make piles of shale on Lodi Point every summer, squawking with excitement when a boat goes by, and for a moment, there is a wave. They are lake people. Headed down the hill, the lake was on my right, massive and unapologetic. It was so cold I was driving with my gloves still on.
In three speedy hearings on Wednesday night in the Town of Reading court, Judge Raymond Berry granted a motion to dismiss all charges “in the interests of justice” brought by 42 Seneca Lake protesters. Photo credit: We Are Seneca Lake
Today was Reverend Nancy Kasper’s trial. She pled not guilty at her arraignment, and chose to go to trial with a public defender. For a violation, there is no jury, just the judge, which I have learned, is called a bench trial. The deputy at the door of the courthouse asked me if I was there for an arraignment or if I was ‘just visiting”. This is the euphemism he uses every time he sees me, though I am attending a public trial, in a public building. Then it was time for the search. I held my arms out in a T, and told him I’d left my phone in the car. We both agreed that I didn’t have any weapons or bombs on me. He outlined my down coat with the metal detector, and it beeped its assent. All I had on me were mechanical pencils.
I’ve been attending these court proceedings for two reasons. One: moral outrage. Jamming fracked gases into unstable caverns under one of the biggest sources of freshwater in the state, in the heart of a thriving, award winning wine industry is madness. Two: Gratitude. I came of age in a world without trustworthy role models. My heart has grown three sizes watching the people here stand up to defend their home, their water. They have given me the beginnings of faith. So I show up.
There were a handful of people in the courtroom: a few Seneca Lake Defenders that I knew; Barry Moon, the director of operations at Crestwood; and a young man in a dark suit and hair product sitting beside him. He never identified himself.
Wesley Roe, Reverend Kasper’s public defender, started things off by reminding Judge Berry that he had passed a motion requesting an expert witness. His argument, he said, was two-pronged. One, the Reverend had acted on a belief of imminent harm, and two, that harm was real. In order to show this, he said specific testimony was necessary from an expert witness.
John Tunney, the assistant District Attorney, took issue with Mr. Roe’s request, saying, “justification is not an applicable defense.” The question, he said, was not why the defendant had trespassed, but whether or not she had trespassed. Judge Berry said he agreed with ADA Tunney and that there would be no expert witness.
Judge Berry went on to say that in his understanding the application for construction of a compressor station had not yet been approved by the DEC. Roe reminded him that FERC had approved Crestwood’s request to expand their current methane storage to 2 billion cubic feet last summer. Judge Berry still would not allow the expert witness.
Mr. Tunney called Barry Moon and Deputy Eberhardt to testify. Mr. Moon, who is the Director of Operations at Crestwood, has worked for the company for the last 27 years, since they were Bath Petroleum. He is familiar with the physical plant, and involved with the wells and layout of salt and gas facilities. He told us about the NO TRESPASSING signs at the site and that the protestors did not have Crestwood’s permission to be on the property. He was working at the brine field on November 19, 2014, when he was informed that the gate was being blocked. He made the official complaint to the police that resulted in Rev. Kasper’s arrest, among others. This was my first time seeing Barry Moon in the flesh. He wore a striped shirt and corduroy pants. He was unassuming and polite while on the stand. I wondered what he really thought about all of this.
Deputy Eberhardt described the scene at the site of the arrest and identified Rev. Kasper as one of the people blockading the south gate. Mr. Roe asked him if the blockaders were doing any harm. Mr. Tunney objected to that line of questioning. Mr. Roe was finally allowed to ask Mr. Eberhardt if the protestors had been compliant. “Did they resist? Were they reasonable? Did they answer your questions?” They had not resisted, they were compliant.
Reverend Kasper testified on her own behalf. Tall and neatly dressed, she spoke calmly with clarity. She said she was compelled as a mother and as a citizen of this planet to protect our future. She spoke of mass extinctions and environmental degradation, about being a minister, and the harm that she has witnessed to the earth over the course of her lifetime. She said she put her body in the way of progress, that ... But Tunney stopped her before she was finished, saying, “I have tried to be indulgent. I understand the point. It is not unfounded. I am objecting on the subject of relevance.” The only thing that mattered, he argued, was that she admitted to trespassing. Mr. Roe urged Judge Berry to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice. Mr. Tunney insisted that was a pretrial motion and couldn’t be requested now. Mr. Roe objected to the preclusion of his expert witness and asked again how imminent harm could possibly be irrelevant. He got no answer from Judge Berry.
The court was adjourned. I asked Mr. Tunney to explain his argument about the justification defense not being relevant. He said in Section 35 subdivision 2 of the Penal Code it says that under certain circumstances criminal conduct may be justified and reasonable and necessary to avoid imminent harm, such as a man breaking into a house that is on fire to save a child’s life. As an example, he mentioned a case down state where some people had blocked a bulldozer in an attempt to save a park from destruction, but they did so 7 hours before the demolition was to begin. They could have used those 7 hours to call a lawyer and get an injunction, Mr. Tunney explained to me, so they therefore could not use the justification defense. Rev. Kasper’s case was even more pronounced, he said, as it had been several months since her arrest, with no new developments at the construction site.
I drove back the way I had come, my face smarting from the short walk to the car. The wind had picked up, and the air was exquisitely painful. The lake was on my left now. Tidal or not, the sight of all water was comforting. Still a liquid, holding strong at 32 degrees. A warm spot. A 600-foot deep, forty-mile long warm spot. Even now, in this harsh winter, the lake was moderating the climate for us. A miracle.
‘I have tried to be indulgent,’ Tunney had said, as he interrupted Nancy. I have indulged many a toddler in my career, and I know that telling them they are being indulged is the final flourish on the manipulation. He didn’t have to let her talk about why she trespassed, but he did. For a little while.
State Route 14 south merged from two lanes into one and I eased in behind a truck. It was hard to keep my attention on the road, rendered a gray by the salt, boring compared to the shifting textures and tones out on the lake. There was wind out there, slicing the water into pieces of light. I ran through the words for blue that I knew: Cobalt. Cerulean. Aegean. Azure. Ultramarine. Sapphire. Lapis. None of them were accurate enough for what I saw. Take all the words for blue, put them into a kaleidoscope, look straight into a cold sun. That’s what color it was.
I thought about Mr. Tunney’s definition of imminent harm, how small it was. Nancy Kasper, on the other hand, made the issue big. Big like the lake is big. She had big reasons for risking arrest. Our water, our soil, is at the very root of what this place is, and why we are able to live here. Tunney said our concerns weren’t unfounded. Why isn’t he fighting for us? Why is the DA’s office protecting an industry that considers the lake, the grapes, and the farms an insubstantive issue?
Of the 216 arrests that have occurred, Reverend Kasper’s trial is the first. She is the first voice of many to publically stand trial in an attempt to protect their home, their water. They aren’t going to stop, those clear, calm voices. The water was still on my left as I put my Subaru in fourth to get up the hill. Soon it would be behind me, just out of sight.
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The Democratic debate Sunday night discussed important issues to our food and water, including the contamination of Flint, Michigan's water supply and climate change. The fact that CNN allowed University of Michigan student Sarah Bellaire to ask the candidates whether or not they support fracking—bringing a real discussion about dirty fossil fuels to center stage—shows how large and influential our movement to ban fracking has become.
Bernie Sanders' concise response after Hillary Clinton's long list of “conditions" that must be met in order for her to support fracking was met with thunderous applause: “My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking."
While the Obama administration—including Clinton herself as secretary of state—has been a staunch promoter of fracking, touting industry claims about energy security and that it could be a bridge to renewables, a growing movement is forcing Democratic leaders to acknowledge that fracking is bad for our environment and public health and a disaster for our climate.
Here is what Clinton—who has fundraising ties to the oil and gas industry—had to say about fracking:
"You know, I don't support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one; I don't support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present; I don't support it, number three, unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using—so by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. And I think that's the best approach. Because right now, there are places where fracking is going on that are not sufficiently regulated. So first, we've got to regulate everything that is currently underway and we have to have a system in place that prevents further fracking unless conditions like the ones I just mentioned are met."
The State of Fracking in the Democratic Party
While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo effectively banned fracking in New York in 2014 after a massive grassroots movement to halt it, some Democratic governors—including Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Gov. Jerry Brown in California (who has been dealing with his own climate disaster) and Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado—continue to support fracking. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked Sanders about this insistence from some Democratic governors that fracking is safe. “I happen to be a member of the environmental committee ... And I talk to scientists who tell me fracking is doing terrible things to water systems all over this country," responded Sanders.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker took on Sanders' statement, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) study released last year asserting that fracking and drinking water that fracking has had no “widespread, systemic" effects on water. After we contacted them, Fact Checker updated the piece to acknowledge the continuing controversy around that claim, including the EPA's own scientific advisory board questioning that conclusion and calling for the agency to revise the statement. The EPA had long abandoned its investigations in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas. And inexplicably, the EPA had excluded their “high-profile" cases of contamination from the assessment. Public testimonies from people suffering from contaminated water also continue to undermine the legitimacy of the study.
Today, nine months after the release of that study, the agency is holding a public teleconference about the ongoing controversy. The case of the claim there has been no “widespread, systemic" contamination is far from over. And the movement to ban fracking is taking on the Democratic establishment, as Sanders calls it, descending on the Democratic National Convention in July demanding action to leave fossil fuels in the ground and transition swiftly to clean energy.
Five years ago, when Food & Water Watch became the first large, national organization to come out strongly for a ban—following the lead of communities that had already been grappling with concerns about the practice—we didn't think we'd come so far so fast. The Democratic debate shows the power of organizing to shift decision makers. In fact, continuing to apply pressure on our leaders to keep fossil fuels in the ground is the only way to bring about a true, clean energy future. Market-based schemes like pollution trading and pricing carbon will only prolong our fossil fuel addiction. Our planet can no longer accommodate business as usual and we're pleased to see the Democratic debates reflecting this discussion that our nation needs to have.
This piece was originally featured on Food & Water Watch.
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This is an excerpt from Dick Russell's and my new book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an eye opening exposé of the people and corporations most responsible for today's climate crisis and their roles in President Trump's new administration.
Not long ago, the legendary economist Amory Lovins showed me two photos, taken 10 years apart, of the New York City Easter Parade. A 1903 shot looking north from midtown showed Fifth Avenue crowded with a hundred horse and buggies and a solitary automobile. The second, taken in 1913 from a similar vantage on the same street, depicted a traffic jam of automobiles and a single lonely horse and buggy.