MEJC’s “Fireside Chats” are a series that will be a source of information and serve as a catalyst to activate people around Environmental and Climate Justice issues around the state. To sign up and register for this event use this link.
Reposted from Beyond Nuclear
“Black communities get more promises than jobs — and they get pollution and they get sick”
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Systemic racism in the nuclear industrial complex has endured for decades. Every community of color has been affected. As we confront the wider impact of centuries of racism in the US, we take a closer look specifically at discrimination against African Americans in the nuclear power sector.
The shackles of slavery may be gone, but there is now a knee on the neck of African American voices, whether literal or metaphorical, when it comes to challenging injustice. And it is there when confronting the bias of the nuclear power industry and other lethal polluters. It is quite deliberately there. It is there not only to oppress — and in the case of George Floyd to kill — but to silence and disenfranchise. To stunt movements for change.
That is perhaps how the NAACP’s A.C. Garner, felt after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed black concerns over a proposed new nuclear power plant in Mississippi in 2005. It was, he said, like “posting a ‘WHITES ONLY’ sign on the hearing room door.”
Garner’s statement was a reaction to a January 19, 2005 decision by the NRC to grant permission for a second nuclear reactor to be built at the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi. It was to be built in the poorest county in the state, itself the poorest state in the union.
It would join Grand Gulf Unit 1, opened in 1985 in the Claiborne County city of Port Gibson, and would be known as Grand Gulf Unit 3, as all there is of Unit 2 is an empty concrete pad— the plant owners, Entergy, having asked the NRC to revoke that planned reactor’s license in 1991.
Grand Gulf 1, the largest single unit in the country, with an output of around 1,500 MW, is located in a community that is 87% African American, with a poverty rate of 46% according to census data. The median household income in Claiborne County is $24,601 per year. At least 35% of the population depends on Medicaid. The Covid-19 infection rate there is still headed on an upward trajectory.
Back in 2005, the county was already ill prepared for a health crisis of any sort. It had just one crumbling hospital, struggling to meet the needs of a deprived community and with zero capacity to handle a nuclear emergency. Evacuation routes were washed out and impassible. The police force was completely under-equipped.
“The county doesn’t even have a hospital that’s open 24 hours, and there’s only one fire station in the entire county,” Rose Johnson, chairwoman of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Jackson Free Press at the time. “The situation should send chills down the spines of anyone who lives within a 100-mile radius of Port Gibson.”
Why such deprivation? Why weren’t Port Gibson and Claiborne County flush with the tax revenues the plant should have brought in? Because in 1986, fearing price hikes for the “too cheap to meter” electricity generated by Grand Gulf nuclear Unit 1, Entergy succeeded in getting the predominantly white Mississippi legislature to pass a bill to redistribute more than 70% of those tax revenues to 47 other counties in the state. It is the only reactor community in the country that does not reap the lion’s share of its nuclear plant tax dollars.
The law left an already poor black community even more desperately deprived. But it pre-empted any complaints about increased electricity costs from whiter communities elsewhere in the state.
By the time of the 2005 NRC decision, the agency had also conveniently ruled that issues of environmental justice such as racism, fairness and economic equity would not be considered litigable during reactor licensing proceedings. It was a move clearly designed to silence black voices. “Whites Only” was indeed firmly nailed to the door.
It’s an old story, one of systemic racism throughout the nuclear sector.
It began with the uranium mining conducted largely by Native Americans, without protection and unaware of the health risks. It continued with the Trinity test, irradiating downwinders, many of them from Native American and Hispanic communities.
Then the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an act of racism that did not pass unnoticed by the African American community, many of whom — including Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, and Marian Anderson — came out to join the nuclear freeze movement.
The US atomic tests carried out overseas blasted the atolls of the Marshallese, treated as guinea pigs and described by a US official as “more like us than mice.” The domestic tests were conducted on land belonging to the Western Shoshone.
The British tested their bombs at Maralinga in Australia, on Aboriginal homelands. The Belgians mined their uranium in the African Congo. The French tested atomic weapons on Algerians in the Sahara, then moved to the South Pacific islands.
Back in the US, Hispanic communities such as Sierra Blanca, TX were targeted for nuclear waste dumps, a trend that has continued; with the choice of Yucca Mountain, on Western Shoshone land, as the place to host the country’s high-level nuclear waste; with the imposition of unwanted new nuclear reactors and the huge nuclear weapons complex at the Savannah River Site, which would poison black communities. And on and on.
It is a culture and a practice that have never changed. In a 2016 paper — Emerging Environmental Justice Issues in Nuclear Power and Radioactive Contamination — published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, academics Dean Kyne and Bob Bolin noted that the NRC’s “growing constraints” in public participation spoke to “who is or is not recognized as worthy of inclusion in decision-making regarding the allocation of hazard burdens.”
They described the culture at the NRC as reinforcing “a tradition of secrecy, denial, and misinformation that has long been part of the nuclear industrial complex.”
They further noted that while “federal agencies are mandated to identify and address adverse human health and environmental impacts on minority and low-income populations,” this does not apply to the NRC, for whom it is “not mandatory” but merely “voluntary.” In allowing this level of discretion over what issues may be considered an environmental justice concern, “not surprisingly, 76 percent were labeled as being of ‘small significance’,” the authors wrote.
“The NRC once again bowed to its master — the nuclear industry — to pave the way for construction in an area where they expect least resistance,” said Garner of the Grand Gulf 3 debacle. (As it turns out, Entergy canceled Grand Gulf 3 in February 2015, when its lousy economics finally wouldn’t stand up).
The forced imposition of a dangerous and polluting industrial installation on a poor community of color in desperate need of jobs remains an age-old tactic of corporations and governments. In challenging Grand Gulf 3 before its cancelation, residents of Port Gibson rightly asked why, if a new nuclear power plant was such an economy-boosting bonanza, the area was still the poorest in the country two decades after the first reactor came on line?
Residents of Burke County, Georgia, are asking similar questions. The county itself is about evenly divided between black and white populations, but the communities of Shell Bluff and Waynesboro, poor and black, have been the hardest hit by nuclear installations in the area. Today, 40.9% of the children there live below the federal poverty line, with a higher rate of childhood poverty than 86.8% of U.S. neighborhoods. Waynesboro is 70.4% black.
The poisoning of surrounding communities began in the 1950s, when an entire town was relocated to make way for the massive Savannah River Site (SRS) atomic bomb factory just across the river and state line, near Aiken, SC— the place where tritium and plutonium was produced for nuclear weapons.
In the 1980s, a whistleblower named William Lawless revealed how the US Department of Energy, which owns SRS, had been dumping cardboard boxes filled with nuclear waste into trenches, where the boxes had leaked their deadly inventory into the groundwater.
In 1987, two nuclear reactor units came on line at Plant Vogtle, just 10 miles from Shell Bluff and 18 miles from Waynesboro. Cancer rates started to creep up. Then, against the objections of the local black community, the green light was given for two more reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle.
The decision was made all the more painful given that it was Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, who came in person to announce the Vogtle 3 and 4 go-ahead, sweetening it with a $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee and flanked for his big media moment by two white guys. Meanwhile, Vogtle 3 and 4 are both still under construction, wildly over budget and way behind schedule and with a micro-epidemic of Covid-19 cases among the workforce.
Reposted from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
*This letter was originally prepared for a meeting with EJ Public Advocate Regina Strong, and Dr. Brandy Brown, Climate and Energy Advisor to the Governor
Memo on Governor’s Climate Agenda: To Address the Urgent
Need for Environmental Justice, We Must be Climate READY
First, we want to recognize the moral significance of making time and space to meet directly with environmental justice communities and organizations on the urgent demands of the climate crisis.
Vulnerable communities, Black, Latinx, Arab, and Indigenous peoples have bore the brunt of contamination and degradation in Michigan for decades, if not centuries. As such, our expertise of the regulatory system, our traditional ecological knowledge, and our social networks are rich, exact in their capacities, and best suited to troubleshoot and resolve climate issues – whether the issues are ones that are emergent or ones tied to past abuses of the energy sector.
Additionally, organizations and Tribes led by leaders who live in their communities bear externalities and the highest risks of bad policy decisions. They also have the most to gain from positive results of good policy in physical and material ways. The rewards of positive policy decisions should seek to amend and resolve the historic disproportionality of toxicity and inaccessibility to food, water, land, healthy communities and cultural freedoms.
With this in mind, we believe there are several low hanging fruits for the Governor to move on that exemplify early stage crisis responses that are administratively sound. We summarize them in a community-useful acronym called Climate R.E.A.D.Y. that identifies our priorities and timeframe.
Readiness for the crisis
● Establish regular communication with frontline communities, especially those that are
multilingual and accessible for multi-abled people;
● Engage local hearings, townhall, and listening sessions on toxics, vulnerability, health, pollution, legacy sites, flooding, high heat and extreme cold;
● Meet regularly with EJ organizations and Tribal governments about climate, environmental impacts, and troubleshooting resilience strategies;
● Communicate with multi-platform channels through televised, print, and online sources.
● Establish cross-agency and cross-jurisdiction working groups that can quickly mobilize when there is a threat of exposure and/or contamination along with extreme weather contingency planning, funding, and execution;
● Troubleshoot and evaluate emergency situations and closure of regulatory loopholes;
● Disclose fully all materials, incidents and responsible parties, with fines and fees levied at the scale of the risk and directed toward clean up and harm reduction/mitigation;
● Deploy effective and timely risk communication to potentially impacted communities, with
adequate evacuation notification.
Assess past and foreseen harms
● Employ Cumulative Impact Assessments and Health Impact Assessment in decision-making;
● Assess climate risk in decision-making at the permit level, and certificate of necessity, IRP and other planning, including high lake levels, including life cycle analysis of all GHG emission sources (public and private);
● Establish a Climate Commission in which equity is central and where environmental justice communities have a majority in decision-making;
● Enact vulnerability criteria that are utilized in decision-making processes regarding emissions control, reduction, mitigation and adaptation strategies.
● Aggregate financing, block grants, and special funds deployed for Just Transition within geographies directly impacted by pollution, flooding, food shocks, high heat, drought, extreme cold and persistent contamination AND particularly where there is no or inadequate access to healthcare, housing, food and clean water, and other resilience measures for public health and welfare;
● Direct public dollars to leverage the Just Transition of municipalities and workforce sectors impacted by fossil fuel regulatory statutes like facility closure;
● Target strategies for transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable economy within those same vulnerable geographies, including EV access, clean drinking water and sanitation infrastructure, organic food, waste reduction and elimination, community solar, energy, efficient retrofits, transmission renovation and distributed generation;
● Create a “Do business in Michigan” incentives program for Michigan-based companies to receive tax breaks or other incentives as they pursue/maximize using local production inputs and purchase products, minority-owned businesses, as locally as possible to reduce transportation emissions, which will also create Michigan jobs and economic benefits.
● Train those most under-represented in the clean energy workforce including but not limited to: returning citizens, veterans, Tribal members, DACA residents;
● Reject bailout promises that burden residential consumers with debt from stranded assets we foresee in the energy sector;
● Adopt strategies for EJ communities displaced by extreme weather events settling or unsettled in Michigan.
● Acknowledge that by all estimates the climate crisis is upon us in Michigan and there is no time to wait.
● Pursue aggressively 100% renewable energy by 2030. As the steward of 89% of the nation’s fresh surface water, Michigan must act.
● Reject the false solutions presented by the oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and storage, cap and trade, and nuclear energy, as being the only options to put millions of people to work, and save lives on a global scale.
With this Climate R.E.A.D.Y. program for Michigan, we believe the Governor’s Climate Agenda has the best opportunity for ecological and environmental justice success. MEJC is ready and able to help you meet this challenge and demonstrate our commitment to Michigan communities and the nation.
Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Reposted from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Michigan, Open Your Eyes to Racism
The gruesome violence that erupted in Virginia last week was a terrible reminder of the stark reality of racism in the United States. It’s a hatred imbalance of power wrought from the treacherous past. The explosive clashes, tragically resulted in the death of a young woman Heather Heyer. In her obituary, published by the New York Times, they describes Heather as a young passionate woman who died standing up for what she believed in: love and equality.
Equality. This is a notion that the Alt Right explicitly denounces. It’s a notion rejected by Vanguard, the group James Alex Fields Jr.—the man charged for striking 19 and killing Heather Heyer with a Charger– reportedly marched with in the Charlottesville rallies. Although the group denounced his actions, and deny his membership, Vanguard’s ruthless intentions were laid bare for the nation to see– a vision of the United States fortified by hatred. Their manifesto details “that equality does not exist in nature, and a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notions of equality.” It rails multiculturalism, “international Jews”, and sees men as the sole provider for women.
In Environmental Justice work, we fight every day for equality. It is not just a concept, rather it is a moral imperative, that has far ranging impacts even down to the molecules of the air that we breathe. Equality decides who has the right to live, and for how long. Whether we are talking about losing your home in the foreclosure crisis[i], the per pupil amount distributed to students[ii], health disparities[iii], the amount ofchemical pollution we breathe[iv] [to name a few], all are injustices, and, none of them are distributed equally in our society. Rather, each of these issues are racialized. That is, if you are a person of color, you are statistically more likely in every category to be on the losing end. And that is so true for Michigan.
In the case of Flint, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights found that the underlying issues of racism contributed to the water contamination crisis in Flint. MDCR, publicly stated, “a complex mix of historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias led to decisions, actions, and consequences in Flint would not have been allowed to happen in primarily white communities such as Birmingham, Ann Arbor, or East Grand Rapids.”
In the wake of the Flint Water Crisis the Governor of Michigan formed the Environmental Justice Working Group to explore possible solutions to help forestall or foresee other catastrophes. Residents from SW Detroit zip code 48217 – known as Michigan’s most polluted zip code—organized and hosted a listening session for working group members to hear local concerns. Local residents asked for so many things, from an EJ Office, to more pollution mitigation funding. But none more poignant that the local nurse, pleading nearly in tears on behalf of the asthmatic teenagers who visit her River Rouge clinic, “they want to breathe, they want to breathe”. Detroit has three times the asthma rate than the rest of the state.
So, is our society equal? No. We have proven that over and over in every sector from here to the moon. The conversation that is present now is whether or not you believe it. Are you of the ilk of Vanguard, James Fields and the Alt Right which seeks to deny it? Or do you deeply and profoundly agree in equality, what Heather Heyer was marching for? And if so, what are you going to do about it?
The full report on the Detroit Opportunity Index, and other major cities, can be seen on the Kirwin Institute website of Ohio State University
Michelle Martinez is the Coordinator for theMichigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and the Executive Director of Third Horizon Consulting, a Detroit-based social justice consulting firm.
State of MichiganEnvironmental Justice Working Group Northern Michigan Listening Session Thursday, August 24th, 2017, 6:00 PM Reception, 6:30 – 8:30 PM Listening Session, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, MI 49610, State of Michigan Working Group Website
Our Kitchen Table is joining many other community organizations to share information on environmental justice. Please join us!
The Great Lakes are home to 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and, increasingly, host to a worrisome class of chemical compounds known as contaminants of emerging concern.
Often originating from everyday products ranging from shampoos and pharmaceuticals to textiles and home furnishings, as well as from common agricultural practices around the Midwest, these compounds can have impacts on people and wildlife that are far from benign and are raising concerns about their effects on the body’s endocrine system—the driver of key functions such as growth and development, metabolism and reproduction.
A report released today by the Alliance for the Great Lakes notes that since the production of synthetic chemicals took off after World War II, the waters of Lake Michigan—which take a century to refresh—have yet to see a completeturnover.
Halfway through this cycle, scientists are beginning to see alarming trends of an increasing multitude of chemicals found in thewater. In southern Lake Michigan, one of the most urbanized and industrialized areas in the Great Lakes Basin and home to approximately a third of the Great Lakes population, these contaminants are a steady source of chemical exposure for aquatic species, and affect the quality of the waters we rely upon for drinking and look to for recreation.
“The number of chemicals entering the nation’s environment each year is staggering, as is the potential for them to degrade the water we drink and swim in,” says Alliance President and CEO Joel Brammeier. Upwards of 85,000 chemicals are in production and use in the U.S. today—more than 2,200 of them produced at a rate of 1 million-plus pounds a year. Beyond this, consumers can choose from more than 50,000 pharmaceutical products, and nearly 20,000 registered pesticide products have entered the market since registration began in 1947.
The report applies a published, peer-reviewed scientific framework to rank chemicals of highest concern found in national waters that are representative of those found in the Great Lakes. The methodology examines both surface water and treated drinking water—identifying the top 20 emerging contaminants for each based on occurrence, ecologic and human health impacts, and water treatment capabilities. The top-ranking chemicals include representatives from a broad range of categories: hormones, synthetic musks, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials and preservatives, UV blockers, plasticizers, flame retardants and pesticides.
As the chemical presence around us expands, the potential for them to end up in the Great Lakes also grows—arriving there via atmospheric deposition, stormwater runoff and sewage overflows. Others are released into the Great Lakes at trace concentrations via treated wastewater discharges because conventional sewage treatment isn’t designed to remove them.
Lake Michigan’s surface waters are affected, with six of the top 20 chemicals detected—among them flame retardants, synthetic fragrances, bisphenol A (BPA), and a popular cholesterol-lowering drug—found in the open lake waters. Current data shows that, after processing in a treatment plant, drinking water drawn from Lake Michigan may not be significantly burdened with contaminants, with only one chemical—a flame retardant—detected of the top 20 identified in the report. The report cautions that the data collected thus far provides only a snapshot of what might be in the open waters of the Great Lakes, however, and doesn’t take into account the health risks that bioaccumulating chemicals in the water pose to people who eat Great Lakes fish. Also not known is the level of risk these trace levels of contaminants in the water actually pose for people and wildlife.
“With hundreds of mostly unregulated compounds detected in Great Lakes surface waters today, it’s critical to start identifying now those chemicals that pose the greatest threat to the health of the lakes, the wildlife and the 40 million people who depend on them for drinking water,” says Olga Lyandres, Alliance research manager and author of the report.
Some municipalities and public utilities already monitor or study emerging contaminants, among them Chicago, Milwaukee and the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency—which supplies drinking water to Lake Michigan communities in northern Illinois. But many smaller communities, such as Gary, Ind. and Racine, Wis., don’t monitor for them because of the absence of clear guidance on how to do so.
Although water treatment plays a key role in removing contaminants, the report emphasizes that water and wastewater utilities are not solely responsible for preventing and controlling contaminants in Great Lakes water. To that end, it calls for a comprehensive approach that involves not only technological solutions, but collaboration among utilities, regulatory agencies, public health officials, manufacturers and environmentalists to focus on pollution prevention.
“Together these entities must work to encourage policy, social and behavioral changes that propel businesses to evaluate chemicals before they enter the marketplace, and individuals to reduce their use of chemicals—thereby lessening the risks associated with the chemicals’ eventual release into the environment,” the report states. The report further calls for:
- Funding development of consistent, uniform regional monitoring standards.
- Encouraging the U.S. and Canada to draw on credible prioritization methods to set binational objectives for controlling high-priority Great Lakes contaminants, and to pursue these goals through domestic policy reforms.
- Reforming the 36-year-old federal Toxic Substances Control Act to feature a framework that places pollution prevention at the forefront of new chemical design and production.
On March 14, a free webinar, “Neurodevelopmental outcomes in children associated with chemical exposures occurring early in life” will be presented by Amir Miodovnick, MD, MPH, DTM&H (Pediatric Environmental Medicine, The Mount Sinai School of Medicine). The webinar takes place from 3-4PM EST.
OKT’s collaborative partner Dr. Clinton Boyd serves as the technical director for this effort which is a part of the state-funded Michigan Green Chemistry Clearinghouse. “As part of the Clearinghouse’s mission, we are trying to bring information on green chemistry to multiple audiences including: education sector, industry, government, not-for-profits and the public.” Boyd says.
If there is interest, OKT is considering setting up a venue where attendees could gather and listen. For information and registration (after March 1), visit www.migreenchemistry.org.
JANUARY 19, 2011
OKT has been addressing environmental justice and food security issues in the Grand Rapids area for the past several years. The grant will expand their
programs to many more area residents with the hope of making a real and lasting impact on people’s health in Grand Rapids’ urban neighborhoods.
OKT’s objectives for the grant funded project include planting and maintaining 100 neighborhood-based food gardens. OKT focuses on helping individuals and families plant those gardens in their own spaces. Education and training components will teach adults and children how healthy foods help manage both diet related illnesses (diabetes, heart disease and obesity) and environmental health issues (asthma and lead poisoning).
Twenty trained community Urban Fellows/Peer Educators will teach even more community members about food self-reliance, food security and having access to a nutritional neighborhood-based food system. Other objectives include establishing resident owned and managed Healthy Food demonstration sites and training both adults and children how to safely address environmental hazards associated with food gardening.
The project will focus on four Grand Rapids neighborhoods: Eastown, Baxter, SECA and Garfield Park. These neighborhoods have been identified as being at highest risk for food insecurity as well as environmental health issues, including lead poisoning.
In 2010, OKT offered the Grand Rapids community many educational and gardening opportunities including a food summit, food garden walking and bicycle tours and a series on healthy urban food gardening.
Anyone interested in starting a food garden or engaging with the program can contact Lisa Oliver King for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.