Sunday, April 24, 2011

Date set for Springfield City Council hearing on biomass incinerator

OK, this is it-- on Tuesday, May 17, 4:30 pm., at the request of Council President Jose Tosado and Councilor Melvin Edwards, Springfield City Council will hold a hearing to consider amending or revoking Palmer Renewable Energy's permit to construct a biomass incinerator in Springfield.

We who have been opposing this plant have been organizing for almost two years, doing everything we can think of to wake up our community to this threat to our already poor air.

I'll have a lot more to say about the City Council hearing in the days ahead, but there are two actions people opposed to biomass incinerators can take right now, whether you live in Springfield or not.

First, you can comment to the Dept. of Environmental Protection about the draft air permit for Palmer Renewable Energy.  From the Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield website:

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield has recently  learned that the developers of the PRE biomass incinerator have paid  extra fees to 'fast-track' their state permitting process.  And they  only need one more permit before they can put a shovel in the  ground. Can you please spare a minute to click here and comment on the State's draft air permit? The deadline for the air permit comment period is Friday, April 29.

Hampden County is already home to the dirtiest, unhealthiest air in the state (please visit Several hazardous air pollutants are already alarmingly above allowable  levels.  Springfield children have blood lead levels and respiratory  disease rates twice that of the children of the state.

You can make a  difference!  We have already stopped these developers from burning  construction and demolition debris in their incinerator.  The state  and city of Springfield are taking notice of our requests for clean air  and its link to our health.  Thank you for continuing to support this  citizen activist effort by sending the message that clean energy does  not come from a smokestack. 

Second, you can sign a petition to Gov. Deval Patrick, asking for a three year moratorium on all biomass permits in Massachusetts.

More to come.

Photo from Basibanget's photostream at Flickr.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to support unions after breaking the labor taboo

I know there's been a lot of discussion (most of which I haven't been privy to directly) over the blog post I wrote about building trade union behavior at the Palmer Renewable Energy air permit hearing.  As I suspected might happen, my criticizing unions is of greater importance to at least some union members than the booing and bullying tactics of the building trades.  How quickly someone can move into the enemy camp by breaking a taboo: criticizing unions.

When I sat down to write my blog post, less than 24 hours after the hearing, relationships with unions was not the first thing on my mind.  Poor strategic thinking?  What very much was on my mind was the fear in the eyes of the children sitting in the Duggan Middle School auditorium who had come to talk about their own asthma.  They were bewildered.  They didn't understand what was happening.  I was ashamed that I had asked them to come only to be subjected to booing.  In fact I was furious, and still am.  But everyone who came to oppose the biomass incinerator felt attacked and traumatized-- even we relatively thick-skinned organizers

I admit I don't understand unions very well, beyond an intellectual level.  I've never been in a union, and most of the people in Arise, very low-wage workers, have never been in a union, either.  And yet we have never failed to support the organized labor movement.  Anyone who reads this blog, or my own blog MichaelannLand, knows that.  So a little context to the "Michaelann as enemy to the labor movement" might be warranted. And the rest of the labor movement, beyond the building trades who were present at the hearing, should be asking themselves: who really did harm to the public perception of organized labor on April 5?

At the same time, I could (and should)  have applied that context to my own blog post.  I wrote, " I will tell you that my first reaction was that you couldn't pay me enough for me to ever show up at another pro-union rally."  Well, yup, that was my first reaction.  But intellectually, I have not changed my mind about the absolute necessity of supporting organized labor.  Yesterday at Arise I was trying to explain to Ruben how unions help keep the wages up for everybody, not just union members, by using the fruit-picking story from The Grapes of Wrath.  He understood what I was saying, even though, at the air permit hearing, where he carried around our giant asthma inhaler, he got more than one sneer from members of the building trade unions.

After the air permit hearing, I asked a couple of my contacts in labor to explore three questions: 1. Is there a way that what happened at the air permit hearing could be  used to build a bridge between the building trade unions, who often  stand aloof from labor's larger struggles, and the rest of the  movement?  2. How did the building trades so successfully mobilize at the air permit hearing, who paid for it, and were they likely to do it again at the still-pending city council hearing about PRE's local permit? And 3:  Is there any way that other unions could take stands against biomass? 

If any of these questions get answered in a way that moves us forward, then I'll try to decide if it's worth it to be viewed as the enemy by organized labor (although Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield and Arise shouldn't be tarred with that brush).. I'm not at all convinced that there would be much discussion among local labor going on at all if I hadn't written what I did, even though I wish I had been clearer about not indicting all of labor.  Too many times our movement, such as it is, avoids tough questions,  fails to think seriously about what divides us, and calls out for solidarity when the foundation is shaky and ill-defined. I don't know why I think it should be any different this time around, but I still have hope.

Solidarity mural: Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United  Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland  Avenue in Chicago, Illinois-- photo from Atelier Teee's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bald Eagle and babies cam - just for pure pleasure

Live Broadcasting by Ustream

30 second commerical then on to the good stuff!

Tell it like it is: are we getting a health study or not?

Guess I've reached my bullshit quota for the week.

This afternoon I went to Holyoke to hear Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach present one of his regional health dialogues on new directions in public health.   I was going to wait until after the presentation to catch up with him and ask him a question: when was the DPH going to do the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for which it had received funding nearly a year ago?  I haven't been able to get an answer from my contacts at the Environmental Health Bureau of DPH, and the clock is ticking-- the biomass incinerator we're trying to stop is only two months away from getting its air permit.

After Auerbach finished his presentation and called for questions, an older woman stood up and I recognized her right away as Jean Caldwell; in fact I'd just heard her give a statement at Tuesday's Dept. of Environmental Protection air permit hearing..  She doesn't come to meetings of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, but has become very engaged in this issue since our first phone conversations, doing her own research, contacting public officials and writing letters to the newspaper. 

She gave him a  overview of Tuesday's hearing, and mentioned a plant in Connecticut which required zero emissions from a proposed plant before they would approve it.  She said that while she recognized DPH had no authority over decisions made by DEP, what could they do to help us?  Possibly a Health Impact Assessment?

Auerbach had started nodding during Jean's presentation, showing he was familiar with Springfield's situation.  He began his answer by agreeing she was right about the relationship between DEP and DPH.  He then said  that as she knew, DPH had suffered substantial budget cuts.  DPH had the resources to provide existing data, but if she was thinking about focus groups, community input, anything in-depth, they just didn't have the money.  Of course he took about two minutes to say this, while my blood started to boil.  We have been depending on this study, and even though suspicion has been building up that it just wasn't going to happen, we've been trying to keep faith.

When he finished, I stood up, not waiting for him to call on me.

"Excuse me, that's not correct," I said, and introduced myself.  "DPH received a grant from Pew Charitable Trust to do this study and we have been waiting for it to begin.  I know it had to be reconfigured after the plant decided to burn green wood instead of construction and demolition debris-- but that was five months ago, and I'm not getting my phone calls to Suzanne Condon answered about when the study will start."

"Yes, we did get that grant," he said, "but that was for a different project."

"Why don't you just ask Suzanne to call me," I said, picked up my notebook, and left.  I could tell I might really lose it if I stayed any longer.  I wasn't yelling but I know my anger showed.  Mr. Auerbach did more than dissemble when he didn't tell Jean that DPH actually had a grant for the study. 

I probably now will get a call from Suzanne Condon, and I'm sure she won't be happy.   But I think we deserve the truth.  This has not been an easy week for any of us who are fighting this plant.  We've had rogue labor booing us, bureaucrats dissembling, and corporados cheerleading with their cynical  "clean and green"  mantra.  But we've had our resolve hardened and we're getting ready for whatever comes next.  Want to get involved?  Call Arise and leave a message for Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.

Graphic from Tomas Brechler's photostream at Flickr.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stooges for the rich

I've been so tied up with the fall-out and next steps from  Tuesday's biomass air permit hrearing that I've only kept half an ear to the national news. I've had time to glance at the headlines and know that our country is  headed for a government shut-down, but only tonight did I pay attention to some of the riders on policy Republicans are insisting be passed with the budget.

A chief target is the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be forbidden to regulate greenhouse gasses-- costs too many jobs, Republicans say.  Of course this put me in mind of Tuesday night's trade union vocal support support for Palmer Renewable Energy's biomass proposal.  Maybe those guys would agree with the Republicans on this one.

Here we are in the middle of the biggest upward transfer of wealth in eighty years and yet there are people out there thinking that making rich people richer is going to be good for them.  Maybe they haven't thought about it that way; the typical Tea Party member is a sheep who cries out for tax cuts and smaller government and then won't be able to get her aging mother into adult day care and her kids into a decent school.  No problem for the rich, though.

Poor and working class people don't think that way.  That doesn't mean we have all that much class consciousness-- hell, poor people would love to be rich-- but our expectations have gotten very low, as low as our economic ranking.  We got pushed down the ladder back in the 80's and 90's and have never accumulated any wealth to speak of in a lifetime of work..  Many poor people under forty don't know that times have ever been different.  We're so numb from assaults we hardly even feel it anymore.

I sat in a meeting today that is trying to promote a campaign to increase state revenue by returning to a higher previous income tax rate with substantial personal exemptions for the bottom 60%.  We spent a good bit of time talking about messaging and finding the right way to convey to the public that essential services are at risk-- firefighters, teachers, nurses, et cetera.

Meanwhile I'm wondering why we aren't out there telling the truth to people: the rich are stealing our lives!  They don't care that they ruin our environment, consign our children to mediocrity, shorten our days.

And they don't even need the money.