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Deep Disparities in Environmental and Health Risks

October 27th, 2011 No comments
DEP data show a direct relationship between pollution impacts and race and income. Poor and minority communities are disproportionately impacted, compared to white wealthy communities. The poorer and higher the percentage of minority residents, the worse the environmental impacts. The DEP's own data confirm longstanding claims made by environmental justice advocates. Source: NJDEP

DEP data show a direct relationship between pollution impacts and race and income. Poor and minority communities are disproportionately impacted, compared to white wealthy communities. The poorer and higher the percentage of minority residents, the worse the environmental impacts. The DEP's own data confirm longstanding claims made by environmental justice advocates. Source: NJDEP

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street Movement and global scale protests, the media spotlight is finally beginning to shine on the critical issue of deep inequality in wealth, income, and opportunity in America today.

So, we thought we’d take this opportunity to repost data about another severe inequality: the poor and minorities bear disproportionate health risks from pollution.

The same corporate power and abuses that are driving income and wealth inequality are poisoning the earth.

While the 1% are able to escape much of this pollution by living in far away upscale suburban green and increasingly isolated gated communities, the fact of the matter is that we’re all in this together.

We all breath the same air, drink the same water, and rely on the same ecosystems for survival.

We all love parks, forests, and healthy streams and rivers to play in.

We all must rely on adequate and healthy food.

We all suffer the same catastrophic effects of global warming.

There is no way out – the 1% can’t buy any stairways to heaven.

We all OCCUPY EARTH!

[Update: 11/11/11 - Naomi Klein better explains major sources of the problems here:

Half of the problem is that progressives—their hands full with soaring unemployment and multiple wars—tend to assume that the big green groups have the climate issue covered. The other half is that many of those big green groups have avoided, with phobic precision, any serious debate on the blindingly obvious roots of the climate crisis: globalization, deregulation and contemporary capitalism’s quest for perpetual growth (the same forces that are responsible for the destruction of the rest of the economy). The result is that those taking on the failures of capitalism and those fighting for climate action remain two solitudes, with the small but valiant climate justice movement—drawing the connections between racism, inequality and environmental vulnerability—stringing up a few swaying bridges between them.


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Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve

October 25th, 2011 No comments
boulder filed is just off the blue trail

boulder filed is just off the blue trail

I went for  quick lunchtime jaunt today with the dog at nearby Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve, part of the Hunterdon County Parks Sytem.

The place is highly recommended for a nice walk, being one of the loveliest 273 acres you will experience, with boulder fields, vernal ponds, beech and oak dominated forest (with lots of my favorite, ironwood), meandering streams, and swamps. The colors today were truly spectacular.

One word of advice: stay on the well marked trails (yellow or blue – here’s a map))  - the white trail at the end of the main service road trail is poorly marked.

It meanders across boulder fields that have a maze like quality.

If you’re  like me, you’ll find yourself wandering in circles for hours, looking for your way back to the main trail (or any marked trails).

The boulder fields, uniform topography, and consistent cover will leave you confused. With lack of any clearly defined features and visual makers, it’s very easy to get lost:

The Sourland Mountains are also steeped in mysticism and history. Some say compasses do not work in these hills; others say the mountains are haunted. John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, hid in these hills while fleeing from the British during the Revolutionary War. The Lindbergh Estate, the site of the famous baby kidnapping-murder, is an adjacent property.

sourlands2

Sourlands3

Buoy rules!

Buoy rules!

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EPA Sued to Uncover Toxic Risks In New Jersey

October 24th, 2011 No comments

[Update: 10/28/11: Excellent editorial from the Trenton Times: EPA should release information on contaminated sites

“By failing to disclose these hazardous ratings, EPA keeps the public in the dark about risks in their communities and frustrates their efforts to hold polluters and government accountable,” says New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe.

He’s right. And PEER was right to file the suit since it appears that will be the only way to get the information.

Residents of New Jersey and every other state should have the right to know what is simmering in their own back yards. It is disappointing that the EPA, especially under a president who has promised openness and transparency, should refuse to divulge that information.

Update: 10/25/11: Coverage:

Pompton Lakes is the best illustration of the dispute, but people there were organized and when they got more information, they grew more concerned about the cleanup,” Wolf said. “There are many other sites that people are not as aware about or where they think there’s no risk, but if this ranking information is released about those sites, people might start to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute — why isn’t this site also on the Superfund list?’ “

This lawsuit has the potential to provide a significant quantity of important public information about risks to human health and the environment from toxic sites in NJ – EPA’s denial of this information under the federal Freedom of Information Act is indefensible. My sense is that EPA will either lose the lawsuit or settle by revoking the 1991 Guidance and disclosing documents.

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For Immediate Release: October 24, 2011
Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

LAWSUIT TO UNCOVER TOXIC HISTORY OF NEW JERSEY — U.S. EPA Will Not Release Hazardous Ratings for Pompton Lakes and Other Sites

Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is wrongfully withholding hazardous ratings it has conducted at toxic sites throughout New Jersey, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The ratings gauge the sites’ level of toxicity, human exposure and contamination pathways through air, soil and water.

The suit filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arose out of EPA’s failure to disclose its Hazardous Rating System scores for one of New Jersey’s most troubled toxic sites – the old E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company armament factory at Pompton Lakes.  The agency has rebuffed past requests for these scores based upon a 1991 internal directive.  According to EPA, these ratings both factor into whether to list a site under Superfund, which confers a higher clean-up priority, more funding options and citizen oversight, and also on how best to address the relative risks posed at each site.

PEER has asked for these hazardous rating scores for not only Pompton Lakes but for all other New Jersey sites not listed as national Superfund cleanup sites – a list of approximately 70 of the most contaminated locations in the state.  EPA sat on the request past the deadline mandated in the Freedom of Information Act, which serves as the basis for the PEER suit.

“By failing to disclose these hazardous ratings, EPA keeps the public in the dark about risks in their communities and frustrates their efforts to hold polluters and government accountable,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe.  “People should be alerted about vapor intrusion into their homes.  Keeping these scores secret makes EPA part of the problem and impedes a solution by shielding industrial polluters from public oversight from affected communities and the media.”

New Jersey has the most Superfund sites in the country (144) but could have even more if the Hazardous Rating System scores were the dispositive benchmarks for Superfund listing.  Many sites in New Jersey pose risks equal to or greater than Superfund-listed sites, yet these uncontrolled sites (such as Pompton Lakes, where clean-up has stumbled along for more than 20 years) remain in regulatory limbo.  Publication of all Hazardous Ranking System scores would enable apples-to-apples comparisons which, in turn, would help prioritize sites for clean-up and target responsible parties.

“EPA has taken the stance that these Hazardous System Rating scores do not have to be disclosed on the grounds that they constitute ‘pre-decisional’ policy recommendations.  Yet, numbers are not policy recommendations – they are factual statements which are considered public records under the Freedom of Information Act,” said PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass who drafted the complaint.  “Moreover, we are well beyond the pre-decisional stage as EPA long ago made the decision to let these sites languish.”

The U.S. Justice Department, representing EPA, has 30 days to file an answer to the PEER suit.

“The Obama administration said it was going to be transparent,” Wolfe added. “Here is an opportunity to reverse a 20-year secrecy policy so that communities can see what EPA knows about toxic conditions in our own backyards.”

###

Read the PEER lawsuit

See the role of Hazardous Rating System scores

View the list of New Jersey facilities covered by the suit

Look at the regulatory limbo of Pompton Lakes

Examine the 1991 EPA directive

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Goat Hill Views

October 24th, 2011 No comments
Washington's rock (Delaware River) - Goat Hill

Washington's rock (Delaware River) - Goat Hill

It’s nice to visit places in all seasons – the colors, smells, sounds, wildlife, and vegetation are in constant flux and places are never the same twice.

I hadn’t been to Goat Hill for some time – it sure looks different in the spring.

It’s practically right in my backyard – so I really enjoyed rambling in the woods there this weekend.

The place is spectacular, one of the best along the Delaware.

According to DEP, the land is rich in history too:

In addition to views of the Delaware River, the property features a prominent rock, known as Washington Rock. According to local legend, General George Washington used the views from Goat Hill Overlook to assess battle conditions during the Revolutionary War. The site also offers miles of hiking trails and contains a variety of wildlife and plant species.

The Goat Hill Overlook acquisition is part of the Green Acres’ Crossroads of the American Revolution land preservation initiative, which links Revolutionary War sites across the state to help interpret New Jersey’s role in the American Revolution. More Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes took place in New Jersey than in any other state. The DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry will manage the area as part of Washington Crossing State Park.

Goat Hill Lookout (north) - Lambertville Bridge

Goat Hill Lookout (north) - Lambertville Bridge

Goat4

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Occupy Movement: Obstacles to Overcome

October 24th, 2011 No comments
Edmund Pettis Bridge, Selma, Alabama

Edmund Pettis Bridge, Selma, Alabama

“We have undergone a corporate coup. It has to be reversed.”

Chris Hedges is perhaps the most visionary and forceful writer of out times.

I’ve been following his work since he left the NY Times, and in today’s column at Truthdig.com, he nails another critical issue – a challenge of race and class and liberal failure facing the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Read the whole thing, but here’s the killer lede::

Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent

The occupation movement’s greatest challenge will be overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color. Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected. This distrust is not the fault of the movement, which has instituted measures within its decision-making process to make sure marginalized voices are heard before white males. It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics.

The civil rights movement, after all, achieved a legal victory, not an economic one. And for the bottom two-thirds of African-Americans, life is worse today than it was when Martin Luther King marched in Selma in 1965. King, like Malcolm X, understood that racial equality was impossible without economic justice. The steady impoverishment of those in these marginal communities, part of the Faustian deal worked out between the Democratic Party and its corporate sponsors, has been accompanied by draconian forms of police control, from stop-and-frisk to militarized police raids to the establishment of our vast complex of prison gulags. More African-American men, as Michelle Alexander has pointed out, are in prison or jail or on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began. The corporate state keeps some two-thirds of poor people of color in the United States trapped in internal colonies—either in the impoverished inner city or behind bars. And the abject failure on the part of the white liberal establishment to stand up for the rights of the poor, as well as its decision to throw its support behind Democratic politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who abet this institutionalized and economic racism, has left many in these marginal communities disdainful of protesters from the newly dispossessed white middle class.

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