February 24, 2015
Steve Norris, a retired professor from North Carolina, is stuck in the Calvert County Detention Center for the next few days. That is not his chief concern, though. And he’s expressed no remorse for his crime.
Norris was found guilty Monday of trespass on Dec. 3 for putting a bike lock around his neck and through door handles at the offices of IHI/Kiewit, a construction contractor for Dominion’s planned fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility in Lusby. Before sentencing at his District Court trial, Norris told Judge Michelle R. Saunders that he is “extremely, extremely worried” about what the future holds for his five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another grandchild will be born this summer, a child who will be Norris’ age in 2086. Continuing to put carbon into the atmosphere will be a “disaster for the planet and a disaster for my grandchild,” he said. “I’m doing everything — in a nonviolent way,” he said. “We’ve been losing this battle,” he said, because Dominion has millions
and “we are lucky to have $10,000.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the $3.8 billion facility in September, and Dominion began construction while an appeal is in the works.
Norris was the only defendant jailed among the 20 people sentenced Monday for charges related to actions in November and December designed to raise awareness of the threat to public safety from Dominion’s planned facility in Lusby and its connection to climate change. Most —including Clarke Herbert, who also locked his neck to door handles at Kiewit — received 20-day suspended jail sentences, some with credit given for time served; three years of unsupervised probation, during which they must obey all laws; and $157.50 in fees ($100 fine and $57.50 in court costs). Norris, who had several similar prior charges in other jurisdictions, was taken directly to jail from the courtroom and will be released Thursday at 6 a.m.
Tracey Eno, a co-founder of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and a defendant as well as a witness in two cases, said she feels “satisfied” with the results. “Everyone was very professional and prepared. Our attorney, Mark Goldstone, is to credit for this. He held numerous conference calls with us in advance. I feel we got our points across: The democratic process has failed; this is a life or death situation; we are opposed to climate change and will do what it takes to create a public spectacle, increase awareness and create pressure for change.”
Early in the afternoon, Goldstone started arguing a “necessity defense,” explaining that the defendants’ actions were to prevent a greater harm. “We’re not getting into that,” Judge Saunders said. And yet with each pre-sentencing statement and some testimony, the defendants “got into that,” creating a court record of all that is at stake.
Many wore red cloth bands around their arms or neck. The cases involved the Dec. 3 lock-in at Kiewit; a Nov. 4 group dash to the top of a pile of dirt at a Dominion construction site and the unfurling of a banner that said “WE > DOMINION PROFITS”; and a Dec. 1 action outside Dominion’s construction site when protesters linked arms and sat in front of a gate. As Eno testified about the Dec. 1 action, the actions were all designed to publicize the “dangerous gas refinery in my neighborhood.” Signs and red T-shirts often say “We are Cove Point” because, Eno said, “Dominion has stolen our community’s name, which is Cove Point. We — the people — are Cove Point.”
Some of the defendants told Judge Saunders that they preferred jail time, but she stuck with the suspended sentences and lengthy probation. Several said they would not likely be able to stay on the sidelines.
“I dedicate my life to this struggle,” said Charles Chandler, who had walked and camped from Ithaca, N.Y., to Cove Point —360 miles over 27 days — and who wore a bright orange jacket with his website in large block letters on the back: PeaceWalker.net. “You’ll probably see me again. I plan to participate in unlawful, peaceful protest. If we just hold signs on the sidewalk, the corporations will just keep rolling on over us. … We’re condemning our children and future generations to a garbage planet.” Without climate justice, there is no peace, he said.
As a public school teacher in North Carolina, Greg Yost said, he tries to weigh his responsibility to his students against the knowledge that his students “face climate change throughout their lives.”
“We are aware of the science, that three years is the time frame” before climate tipping points are reached, if they have not already been passed, Yost said. “I have work to do with my students. I have work to do with climate change. Nonviolent protest is all we can do. I will be back in front of you. I have work to do.”
“I care about the community,” Michael Clark said. “We are experts on living through human-induced climate change. I did what I did in celebration and defense of life. And I refuse to pay the fine.”
“I can’t sit passively while [Dominion’s facility] is built,” Kelsey Erickson said.
Elizabeth Conover said her state, Pennsylvania, is being destroyed by fracking, and the infrastructure for fracking “is creeping south … and Cove Point is the terminus.”
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a co-director of Popular Resistance who for 15 years was a practicing pediatrician, called on Judge Saunders to help expose the secrecy around Dominion’s project. She said the company lied about the number of people nearby, about the families across the street and the 2,365 homes, 19 home day-care centers and two elementary schools within 2 miles that have no evacuation route.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Judge Saunders said, and those concerns “are not for this forum.”
“I disagree,” said Flowers, who was acting as her own attorney. “You could allow the necessity defense” and call in experts to testify. “I appeal to you as a leader in the community to not allow this severe lack of democracy to take place. … I see the truth. … I ask you to bring that truth to light.”
At that, several spectators applauded but were immediately told to be quiet.
The only other break from courtroom decorum came during one of the brief recesses. A group of half a dozen or so people started singing “We shall not be moved,” prompting evictions from the courtroom of several people — including Norris, whose case had yet to be heard.
The defendants fell mostly into two camps. They were retired and feared for the future of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Or they were young adults, facing a decidedly bleak future — unless they and others intervened.
“I’m motivated by this really serious fear of what the future holds,” said 20-year-old Elias Weston-Farber, who is often the videographer at civil disobedience actions. “Science is telling really important things about our economy and our way of getting energy,” he said.
Berenice Tompkins said she acted to prevent far greater crimes: “the theft of my future and of future generations to thrive on this Earth.” Many people have urged her not to have children, she said. “My children, your children will not be safe as a result of what Dominion is doing,” Tompkins said. “I implore you to consider that … I am acting out of love. This is the only way I can act to express that love.”
“I’m terrified by what I’m seeing,” Deborah Wagner told the judge. The people of Cove Point have gone unheard; even Gov. Martin O’Malley fell asleep at a Board of Public works hearing regarding a Dominion permit, said Wagner, a grandmother with a background in science and nursing. “This isn’t right. I’m really afraid for future generations. I can’t not be there.”
Some charges were dropped along the way. When prosecutor Michael Gerst, assistant state’s attorney, argued during the case of the dirt pile that “protest does by its nature draw attention and that is the definition of disturbance of the peace,” the judge indicated that Goldstone needn’t bother to counter: “You’re going to win that,” she told the defense attorney.
In the bike lock cases at Kiewit, Kevin Zeese, an attorney and co-founder of Popular Resistance, testified for the defendants that his role at that action was as police liaison to prevent escalation. The goal was to get an image of Norris and Herbert locked to the doors, “to let the world know Kiewit is involved in this dangerous project.” The action lasted perhaps 20 minutes, until police cut the locks. Only two doors were blocked, so no one was trapped in the building, he said. Passersby were handed literature and were watching and interested. Gerst, the prosecuting attorney, argued that people and businesses “stopping their normal daily activity” was a disturbance to the peace. But Goldstone, who wore a “We the People” tie with writing from the U.S. Constitution, successfully argued that protests are designed to create an informed electorate. “It’s not a crime for people to speak out or for people to stop and find out what is going on.” Norris, who was acting as his own attorney in the case, said Gerst’s claim was similar to “blaming civil rights’ protesters for the violence [committed] by the people who didn’t like it.” Judge Saunders dropped all but the trespass charge in that case.
Cases against three defendants — Tracey Eno, Leslie Garcia and Martine Zundmanis — were put on a ‘stet’ docket; in return for no verdict, they agreed to obey all laws, stay off Dominion property, have no contact with Dominion employees and periodically discuss plans for protests and “escalation” with the sheriff’s office. While the other trials were in progress, Eno said, she was attending one of these meetings with the sheriff’s department and a Dominion official. They asked her if she had heard rumors about explosions. Eno said she “explained that the [Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community] vision is to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the citizens of Calvert County. Many of our members practice yoga and meditation.”
This morning, Eno spoke at the Calvert County Commissioners’ meeting, her 19th presentation to the officials about the hazards of the Dominion project.
— elisabeth hoffman
UPDATE: Steve Norris was released from jail Wednesday morning, a day early. He reports that he had great conversations with his fellow inmates about Cove Point.
June 2, 2014
Outside was the mock vapor-cloud wall.
Listed on the mock wall were the air pollutants and carcinogens that Dominion’s proposed plant would routinely or accidentally send from its compound into the lungs of playing children and their parents. Forming part of the mock wall were boxes with labels, each written on by opponents of Dominion’s plans: Wall of Shame, Wall of Poisons, Wall of Cancer, Wall of Decreased Property Values, Wall of Corruption.
Inside the Patuxent High School auditorium in Lusby was the seemingly impenetrable wall of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also possibly mock, as two FERC staff members and a court reporter — instead of the commissioners — sat at a table on the stage Saturday for this single public hearing on the environmental review of Dominion’s planned facility that would liquefy and export fracked gas. FERC concluded in May that the facility would pose no significant risks.
Outside, Dominion erected a tent and catered pulled-pork sandwiches and side dishes for its mostly blue-shirted supporters.
Between the Dominion tent and Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s mock vapor wall, Chesapeake Earth First! and Food Not Bombs set up a card table and handed out brown bag lunches with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple and a banana to the mostly red-shirted opponents waiting in line to enter the school.
Initially, opponents of the project and the real vapor wall had wanted to set up the replica in another spot opposite Dominion’s tent. But an officer had rejected the idea.
“This is their event. This is their expansion,” the officer told Lusby resident Tracey Eno. By “their,” he meant Dominion’s.
“Whose event?” Eno said, incredulous. “This is everyone’s event.”
Back inside, the FERC staff seemed earnest enough and extended the hearing an extra 90 minutes, until 7:30 p.m., giving everyone who had signed up a chance to speak. Anyone who could wait that long, anyway. Drew Cobbs’ name was called out in the late afternoon, but the executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council was long gone.
One of the FERC staff, Environmental Project Manager Joanne Wachholder, became tearful while praising the patience of 13-year-old Katie Murphy, who spoke late in the day.
“Please stop this expansion. You might just save some lives,” Katie said.
“I’m so glad you got to talk,” Wachholder said, rising and walking to the edge of the stage to offer a box of doughnuts to the girl.
Mostly, the staff listened intently, took notes and kept track of time, cutting off the very few who went beyond the allotted three minutes.
Those in favor called Dominion a “great corporate citizen” and the project a source of jobs and tax revenues and perhaps a pool for the high school. “This is about jobs, about good family-sustaining jobs,” said Mark Coles of the Building and Trades Council. Tax revenues would pay for teachers and public safety, said Brad Karbowsky, a Huntingtown resident and member of United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. Kelvin Simmons of the Lusby Business Association said he had confidence that Dominion would protect the Chesapeake Bay. “All construction jobs are temporary,” said Austin Pacheo, whether 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months. These jobs, he said, would last three years.
Where proponents see jobs, those opposed see poisoned air, the threat of a catastrophic fire, and increased fracking with accompanying pipelines and compressor stations. They pressed FERC to conduct its most thorough environmental review and said the risks to safety, health and the climate of this venture far outweighed jobs, tax revenue and corporate benevolence. Most were from Lusby and Southern Maryland, but some had traveled from Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties, Baltimore and Virginia.
“Come to my house, sit on my front porch swing and look across the street and imagine the future of my home,” said Rachel Heinhorst, whose front door is a hundred yards from Dominion’s front door. Her three children play football, soccer, Frisbee and catch fireflies less than 200 yards from where the boilers and turbines would be.
Coming from the plant, she said, would be nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, hazardous air pollutants. “My children will be breathing dangerous levels of these pollutants every day. They will know what is across the street, because we will have to explain emergency preparedness, and they will be scared. My daughter will be scared. She will look at me and want me to assure something that I cannot. I cannot say that I can protect my children from this, but you can.”
“Dominion and the Calvert County commissioners focus on two things: jobs and tax revenue,” Tracey Eno said. “That’s all they’ve got. They never talk about the risks.” Such as, Eno said, “Risk of death by asphyxiation in the event of a flammable vapor cloud; 20.4 tons of air pollution emitted every year; 275,000 gallons of water used every day; constant noise for the next 20 years or more; up to 85 more tankers polluting the [Chesapeake] Bay each year; foreign ballast water bringing invasive species to the Chesapeake; more traffic; increased greenhouse gases; terrorist target. Does Homeland Security know about this?”
Don’t sacrifice people for profits, Eno said. “Everyone says ‘money talks’ and ‘this is a done deal.’ It’s ‘David and Goliath.’ … I want you to at least know who your decision will affect and how unfair this is.”
“Who would put 20 tons of toxic and hazardous pollutants on a neighbor’s lawn?” asked Bill Peil of Dunkirk. Hearing no takers, he continued: “That’s what’s going to happen every year” if Dominion’s plans proceed. And that would be in a routine year, never mind an accident. Many of the pollutants are carcinogens, he said. “Unfortunately, the word carcinogen is not mentioned” in FERC’s environmental review.
“This is not about jobs,” said Marcia Greenberg of St. Mary’s City. Although everyone is concerned about jobs, she said, “Dominion has turned this into a discussion about jobs.” She voiced her outrage that the commissioners weren’t present. They have “a huge responsibility” to balance the facts in this divided community, she said.
Several speakers noted that the environmental assessment omitted the population of Lusby: 2,473 live within a mile of the plant, according to Calvert County emergency planners. The evacuation plan is not so much a way out as a way in for emergency crews, Eleanor Callahan of Lusby complained: The plan “maroons residents.”
“No jurisdiction can handle a fire” of the sort that could happen at Cove Point, said Mickey Shymansky, a DC firefighter and Lusby resident. In April, he resigned his post as local assistant fire chief because he thought the department was understaffed and ill-trained to handle an accident at the export plant. “I am so brokenhearted,” he said. His brother was a firefighter at the Pentagon when terrorists attacked on 9/11. “We cannot have that here. Please hear my words. When I’m at work protecting the nation’s capital, who’s going to protect my family?”
For six and a half hours, the FERC staff called on speakers according to names on sign-up sheets at the entrance to the school auditorium. By the end, 105 people had spoken, 38 in favor, 67 opposed and urging the more stringent environment impact statement. Dominion said on its Facebook page that 75 to 80 percent were in favor. Which is wrong even if Dominion counts the 50 comment sheets that one proponent turned in.
Wachholder, from FERC, had sharp remarks for only one speaker: Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Council.
The day before, Tidwell told the FERC staff, the state Public Service Commission had ruled that the proposed project would provide no “net benefit” for Marylanders. For causing higher utility bills, the PSC ordered Dominion to pay $400,000 a year for 20 years to help compensate low-income families. For contributing to climate change, Dominion would have to pay another $40 million over five years into a fund for renewable energy. But the PSC approved the permit for the on-site power plant.
“It’s inconceivable that FERC doesn’t see the hazard” of this plan, Tidwell said. “FERC seems to not want to see how hazardous this is….Why wouldn’t FERC want to quantify the risk?” He criticized FERC’s failure to consider the consequences of fracking: “If fracking weren’t happening, what would Dominion export?” He called FERC’s environmental assessment a failure and said the people in Garrett and Frederick and other counties across the state want a similar public hearing.
“NO. We are not doing that,” Wachholder said sternly.
Tracey Eno says she remains an optimist. That David and Goliath battle? We all know how that turned out, she said. “All we need is one stone.”
— elisabeth hoffman
March 12, 2014
The police citation says I was charged with willfully obstructing and hindering free passage of others in a public place “against the peace, government, and dignity of the state.”
Along with three other activists, I blocked the doors to the Frederick County Courthouse last week as part of a peaceful protest against Dominion’s planned compressor station in Myersville, as well as its proposal to build a $3.8 billion giant facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and haul it off to Asia. We were the Frederick Four.
Dominion’s planned actions are far less peaceful and dignified than ours.
In Myersville, one division of Dominion wants to build an oversized, air-polluting compressor station for fracked gas against the wishes of the town’s residents and officials. In Cove Point in Calvert County, the scheme of another Dominion division involves a gas-fired power plant that would yield no power for Marylanders; storage tanks of toxic and combustible chemicals; a long list of air pollutants; and a six-story-tall-by-three-quarters-of-mile-long wall. The super-cooled gas in its liquid form would get to Asia on tanker ships fueled by the dirtiest of oils, bunker fuel, which coats and suffocates wildlife when it spills. This plan too has aroused resident fury, although Lusby officials seem happy to support and deal in secret with Dominion.
And the gas for both these facilities would come from fracking all over the Marcellus and other shales that lie under our homes, schools, businesses, farms, playgrounds, parks and rivers. Even though scientists and physicians are raising grave questions about the wisdom of allowing this industry to operate in our backyards, particularly because of the millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals, the noise and countless diesel truck trips. And even though fracked gas is a bridge to a catastrophic 6 degrees F of warming on our planet.
But Dominion’s CEOs won’t be pondering their willful obstruction of our safe passage in our communities in a 7-by-11-foot dull yellow, concrete block cell anytime soon.
Our civil disobedience action was the second in as many weeks. Previously, four activists were arrested in Cumberland. We are making clear that — as much as Dominion denies it — Cove Point has everything to do with fracking and the connecting web of pipelines and compressor stations that would run through our communities. We are saying that rushing ahead with these plans without a thorough environmental review of health, environmental and climate effects puts us all at risk.
“We stand together,” Ann Marie Nau told a WFMD radio reporter at the rally. “We stand with Western Maryland. We stand with Lusby. We stand with Myersville. We stand with all the other communities that are impacted. Myersville matters, Lusby matters. Western Maryland matters. And we stand up for one another.”
At the rally before the arrests, we read our statements. Steve Bruns, who’s running for an at-large Frederick County commissioner seat, blasted the gas industry’s PR campaign to promote fracked gas as clean and safe, as well as Dominion’s lawsuit against Myersville and the Maryland Department of the Environment to force approval of the compressor station within a mile of the town’s elementary school and evacuation center. “This sort of contempt for the health and safety of the people of Maryland is unacceptable in a democratic society. If our government isn’t getting the message, then we’re just going to have to crank up the volume,” he said.
Sweet Dee Frostbutter, who grew up playing in the forests and fields of Calvert County and lives in Frederick, said: “This place and these people mean too much to me to stand by and just watch that happen. We have to resist, and I hope you’ll join us!” In June 2011, Sweet Dee was a cook on the weeklong, 50-mile March on Blair Mountain to stop another form of extreme energy extraction: the blasting away of that mountaintop to excavate the coal. The same mountain where, in the summer of 1921, 10,000 armed coal miners battled for the right to form a union against strikebreakers and lawmen hired by mine operators.
“Maryland could virtually turn into one large industrial zone and be sacrificed for energy being shipped overseas,” said Joanna LaFollette of Frederick. Joanna, who has asthma in a county that has a mortality rate from air pollution among the highest in the nation, was there in place of her son Dylan Petrohilos, whose arrest for civil disobedience at a frack-sand processing plant in Boone, N.C., was still being processed.
At a small rally in a plaza in front of the courthouse, we held signs and a banner, “Stop Cove Point.” We chanted, “Myersville is not for sale,” “Lusby is not for sale,” “Garrett County is not for sale” and “Allegany County is not for sale.” Sweet Dee made up the best chant, a syncopated “We gotta beat back, the frack attack, we gotta beat beat back, that frack attack.”
After about 30 minutes, one of the officers said we had to leave the plaza because we lacked a permit for a rally. Instead, the four of us risking arrest moved closer to the courthouse to block the doors. We chanted more and tried singing a verse of “This Land Is Your Land.” Eventually, Sweet Dee and Joanna were given one more warning and then arrested. A few minutes later, police gave Steve and me our final warning. And then officers, who greatly outnumbered us, moved in and escorted us about 20 feet to the Frederick City police office, where we were quickly searched for weapons.
Sweet Dee and Joanna were booked first and never saw the inside of a jail cell. But Steve and I were put in adjacent concrete-block cells with sliding solid metal doors. Solitary confinement. The only opening on the door was a 4-by-6-inch window.
The cell had a metal bench with rings along the back wall, but I wasn’t handcuffed — or handcuffed to these rings. It also had a stainless steel toilet/sink combo on one side behind a partition. I was thirsty from all the yelling, but when I pushed the first of the three buttons on the sink, the toilet flushed. The only reading materials were the scratched messages on the bench from those who had gone before me under much more miserable circumstances. “Fox + Mel 4 Ever” was on someone’s mind. But so was “LSD” and “ebay.” And “This sux!”
My jail memoir will be short, as I was probably in the slammer about 35 minutes. Eventually, officers unlocked our cell doors and took us to an office for a mug shot and booking. They asked about our action. One officer had read a lot about global warming but said he hadn’t made up his mind about it yet. Another thought nuclear power was the answer.
And then we were free to leave.
My arrest was a small action. I was trying to help make the future come out differently from the way it’s headed, one small shove to help steer us from fossil fuels and their giant corporate pushers. The Frederick Four and the Cumberland Four are not alone. In August, more than 2,000 people participated in a days-long campaign against fracking in Balcombe in the United Kingdom, including 20 who blockaded the headquarters of energy company Cuadrilla and six who superglued themselves to the doors at the London headquarters of Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. Last June, in Zurawlow, a rural community in Poland, 150 farmers slept in fields and blockaded a drilling site with cars and trucks. In the fall, farmers in Pungest, Romania, cut cables laid for seismic testing, scooped them up and dragged them through the street to protest Chevron’s plans for fracking on their land. They also formed a human chain around the land where Chevron wanted to place test drills. “We have to do these kinds of things. It’s our duty,” one farmer said.
“We are Romania. We don’t want to sell our country,” they shouted, echoing our chants in Frederick. Or, here’s a new one: “Out you flea-ridden dirty dogs.”
They don’t want fracking for “schist.” Even though Chevron offered the Romanian farmers T-shirts and yogurt — a ploy wackily similar to the cheese pizza Chevron offered residents in Greene County, Pa., after a well pad explosion and fire that burned for days and killed one worker. Note to Chevron: Communities want clean water and a safe place to live, not free dairy products and clothing.
Also note: Schist and fracking. In any language, it sounds like a curse.
Sometimes, civil disobedience is our only currency. We don’t have millions to spend on disingenuous television, radio and Web ad campaigns about “clean” energy that really isn’t and “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” that are inflated and too often in the rescue, emergency and mopping-up industries. Sometimes all we can do is get in the way, slow the machinery, free our voices, give the science time to catch up and emerge.
Just yesterday, at least 30 people were arrested in Philadelphia to protest the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil. As were 398 students who either chained themselves to the White House gate or engaged in a mock human oil spill on a black tarp in an XL Dissent a week ago. In 2012, several protesters chained themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at Maggie Henry’s western Pennsylvania farm 4,000 feet from a proposed Shell fracking operation. In Youngstown, Ohio, a nonviolent protest blocked the gate to an injection well for fracking waste. Last year, Sandra Steingraber and 11 other citizen-turned-activists spent 10 days in jail for blocking the entrance to a planned gas storage facility in salt caverns under Seneca Lake in New York. “My small, nonviolent act of trespass,” Steingraber said at her sentencing, “is set against a larger, more violent one: the trespass of hazardous chemicals into water and air and thereby into our bodies. This is a form of toxic trespass.”
At a Seneca in the Balance forum last night, Steingraber said that we each have to figure out our role in this movement and that “we can spend our bodies if we need to.” But, be clear, “we are way beyond the ‘every little bit helps’ stage. … When you think about what it is you are going to do next, know that it has be really big and something really heroic.”
Civil disobedience has been key to many justice movements, from Alice Paul and Martin Luther King Jr. to the many anonymous protesters who sat in at factories, lunch counters, nuclear facilities and treetops. As folksinger Anne Feeney would say, I’ve now “been to jail for justice” with the Frederick Four. The battle against fracking and Cove Point is now part of the justice movement to save life on the planet from catastrophic warming and, along the way, create energy forms that don’t bring sickness and misery to others. And the window for acting is small, not unlike the one in my jail cell door.
–by elisabeth hoffman
February 15, 2014
By NADINE GRABANIA
Hi, my name is Nadine Grabania. I live in Garrett County where I own a small farm and winery. Tonight I want to tell you why I care about the environment and how — let’s get the F-word out of the way — Fracking — will change communities across our state. I ask you to join me — and our state’s environmental leaders — to pass the Shale Gas Drilling Safety Review Act of 2014 — it’s our only way to ensure that Maryland’s lawmakers and citizens can make an informed choice on whether to frack Maryland.
Since I was old enough to explore the forest behind my childhood home in the suburbs of southwestern Pennsylvania, I’ve cared for the natural world. So it’s an honor to be a guest of Maryland’s environmental community tonight. To all of you who give your time to protect our shared resources: Thank you!
Shortly after my husband and I became parents, we left established careers: his in journalism; mine, as an art museum curator. We wanted to simplify our lives and start our own business, in a safe, quiet place far from polluted air that aggravates my asthma.
Our tiny plot of land has all we need for this simple life: a good water well, room to grow fruit trees, an organic garden, and grapes. The area is not merely picturesque; there is a fresh-ness about the place because it has pretty much escaped development. These qualities draw a lot of people to visit, to invest in, to retire in, to escape to my county. If you’ve ever been to Mountain Maryland, you know. It’s a charmed place.
But three years ago, life stopped being simple. Chevron was seeking to drill one of Maryland’s first fracking wells just over the hill. From that moment, we started asking questions and have never stopped.
“How many trucks will go by our home at all hours to get to this well site? What will they be carrying? How will this affect livestock? And children? This is how close to the Youghiogheny River?”
Economic questions like:
“How will new local jobs be created, when crews are working for the same companies over the state line in West Virginia and Pennsylvania? Who will visit if our farms and forests become industrial sites?”
“What will my property be worth if a compressor station is built in my neighbor’s field?”
And elemental questions:
“What will be emitted into the air? Will I be trapped here and unable to breathe?” And of course: “What happens if my water is contaminated?”Our questions led us to others in our county’s agri-tourism, construction, and real estate sectors who were concerned about fracking. Our economy relies heavily upon tourism dollars and property taxes on vacation homes. Yet, local and state officials dismissed our concerns outright.
When people started coming to us for answers, we formed CitizenShale to educate about the full impacts of industrial gas development, and to work for adequate protections should fracking occur. Rowing in the opposite direction from our local elected officials gave CitizenShale’s founders free lessons in democracy school: If no one stands up to ask tough questions, citizens must do it. If no one “in charge” seems willing to address a problem, citizens must confront it.
Thankfully, a legislator from across the state — our dear friend Del. Heather Mizeur — agreed to introduce a moratorium bill in the 2011 session. Delegate Mizeur understood early that fracking is not just a western Maryland issue.
Now it’s 2014, and gas companies from Texas are leasing land across the Potomac in Virginia, to frack the Taylorsville Basin. It’s beneath our feet. Suddenly fracking could happen near many more of us.
Last month, three different DC metro water authorities told the [U.S.] Forest Service that fracking in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest could threaten the Potomac — and the water supply for the nation’s capital. Mountain Maryland sends water into the Potomac’s North Branch. For Marylanders who get their water from the Potomac, fracking “elsewhere” in Maryland could harm your water. And we do not want to send anything bad to the Bay.
And, as Mike Tidwell told us, if Dominion receives permission to export LNG from Cove Point, communities across our state could face development of pipelines and compressor stations to move fracked gas to Asia. When someone wants to build a pipeline in your neighborhood, a federal regulator rubber stamps the location. Currently no program exists to inspect the miles of pipeline that would result from transmission of fracked gas in our state.
When Governor O’Malley issued his 2011 Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Commission and current study period, he gave us a chance that is unique in the nation. No other state has been able to so thoroughly study this issue before taking action, and we must get this right.
And in some ways, we are. One of the studies mandated by the Safe Drilling Initiative was an analysis of Dissolved Methane Concentrations in well water. My family — and the State of Maryland — now has proof that, today, our well water contains no methane. The “vast majority” of local wells sampled did not exhibit significant methane concentrations. Not only do we have beginning baseline data, but also the public record is clear: Our water is worth protecting!
Other important information has been produced in three years of Commission work. The study of Public Health is moving forward. And, due in part to pressure from the coalition of organizations working on this issue, the state is conducting a risk assessment of fracking’s potential impacts, while a second, parallel assessment has been commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CitizenShale.
The study period has given us time to learn more from research and experiences elsewhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report found methane to be an even more potent greenhouse gas than previously understood: 84 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years, and 28 times more potent over 100 years.
We now have data from the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment confirming, in its own violation reports, casing failure rates of up to 7.2% within the first year a well is drilled. 14,394 households in my county rely on water wells for drinking water. So if we drill for gas in Maryland, 1 of the first 14 wells will experience methane migration — or worse — due to casing failure.
Also from Pennsylvania today: You may have heard that today a Chevron gas well exploded in Greene County. This is one hour from Garrett County. Twenty workers were on-site; unfortunately one did not survive.
Watching Pennsylvania’s experience has also shown us how the opinions of the courts have evolved in a state with active drilling. Last December in an opinion issued by a bipartisan majority, the PA Supreme Court wrote some stunning words. They said: “By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”
Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order expires in August 2014, which is the deadline for state agencies to complete their studies.
When that deadline arrives, the studies will wrap up and the commission will have 60 days to consider the information and draw final conclusions. Will we know all we need to know? Do we have adequate time to understand the issues? Are we comfortable with essentially leaving this decision up to the governor — either our current governor or the next one — with no input from the public or the General Assembly?
Shouldn’t the legislature be given the opportunity to delve into the information collected by the state — especially since it’s certainly not clear that fracking can proceed in Maryland without posing unacceptable risk?
If legislators do not intervene now, Maryland communities like mine will lack any legal protections come August — regardless of the commission’s findings. And the state could feasibly issue drilling permits by the time the General Assembly reconvenes in 2015. The Shale Gas Drilling and Safety Review act will ensure we get all the facts on the table so that public and legislators alike have a chance to respond. Whether or not fracking poses unacceptable risks to Marylanders is a question that should be answered by all Marylanders. The process should be transparent.
This is our last chance to put our figurative stake in the ground, before the gas industry drives real ones into Maryland soil, staking its claim to Maryland’s resources.
These are life-changing questions: Will we choose to value shale gas over the health of our communities? Should we gamble the safety of our air and water on a get-rich-quick scheme?
The people who live atop Maryland’s gas basins must set our hopes on making wise choices. We need to do this. My mountain neighbors want to invite you to visit with this slogan, courtesy of my friend Crede Calhoun: “Come to mountain Maryland. We saved it for you.”
November 19, 2013
Today and every day, our burning of fossil fuels traps excess energy in our atmosphere equal to that of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Or 16,700 Hiroshimas every hour, 278 Hiroshimas every minute.
One of those energy bombs hit the Philippines this month in the form of Supertyphoon Haiyan.
No wonder, then, that photos of Haiyan’s devastation look eerily similar to those from Hiroshima. No wonder the mayor of one town said, “It was like a nuclear bomb struck us.”
Our energy imbalance is the mismatch between the solar heat the Earth absorbs and what it radiates back to space, NASA scientist James Hansen has explained. The Earth’s atmosphere is out of balance, overloaded with heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels. So, global temperatures continue to rise and our climate continues to change, creating warmer and more acidic oceans, superstorms like Haiyan, “rare and violent” tornadoes, “freak torrential” rainstorms, persistent drought, melting glaciers, disrupted seasons.
For a second year, a deadly typhoon shattered the Philippines just as U.N. talks on a global climate treaty were opening, this year in Warsaw. For a second year, Yeb Saño, now the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines, pleaded with the world to “stop this madness” of the climate crisis, of climate inaction. He also announced that he would start fasting: “[I]n solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother, who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect, Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this [meeting], until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”
Ted Glick, national campaign coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in an article published last week in Grist.org that he has joined the fast. “I woke up on Tuesday to find my mind and heart focusing on the Philippines and on Yeb Saño’s action. I was pleased to learn that [Climate Action Network] International had taken this initiative in support, and I’ve decided to join their fast in solidarity with him, eating no solid food and consuming only liquids for as long as his fast continues. Others may want to join and fast for a day, a few days or until the end of the climate conference,” said Glick, who participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren (WFOG) over the summer. (Glick also forwarded a YouTube video of Saño’s address edited with scenes from the Philippines.)
Soon other WFOG participants had joined, for a day or longer, including walk organizer Steve Norris, Deborah Woolley in Seattle, Jenny Lisak, whose organic farm lies near fracking operations in Pennsylvania, and Jerry Stewart, who will participate in the Great Climate March from Los Angeles to the nation’s capital starting in March.
The damage from this Category 5 “hellstorm,” the strongest to make landfall ever recorded, is “unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific,” Saño said last week. Bodies are rotting in the streets and people are desperate for food, water and shelter. He didn’t know the fate of some of his relatives, and his brother was weary, hungry and “picking up bodies with his own hands.” At times tearful, he urged swift action on climate change during the talks, which end Friday.
Repeating his pleas from last year’s climate talks in Doha, he said: “ ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?’ … What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness right here in Warsaw. … We need an emergency climate pathway.”
He urged “drastic action” to “ensure that we prevent a future where supertyphoons become a way of life … We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead become a way of life. We simply refuse to.”
He also said he feels drawn to join climate activists “who peacefully confront those historically responsible for the current state of our climate, these selfless people who fight coal, expose themselves to freezing temperatures or block oil pipelines. In fact, we are seeing increasing frustration, and thus more increased civil disobedience. … To the youth here who constantly remind us that their future is in peril, to the climate heroes who risk their life, reputation and personal liberties to stop drilling in polar regions and to those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting sources of energy, we stand with them. … We cannot solve climate change when we seek to spew more emissions.”
Exactly. We can’t solve climate change if we raze old-growth forests and boil out the tar sands oil and pipe it around the world. We can’t solve climate change if we drill for oil deep under the ocean floor or in the Arctic. We can’t solve climate change if Dominion gets permission to spew more emissions from a facility at Cove Point and export liquefied fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to Asia. We can’t solve climate change if we frack with freshwater mixed with toxic chemicals for gas under Maryland’s western counties.
We have been dismal caretakers of our planet in countless ways. Climate change and its close cousins, pollution and habitat loss, along with overfishing, have us on the verge of the sixth mass extinction. (Already, 90 percent of large fish species are effectively extinct.) We are decimating our only home, our life-support system. Our oceans are filling up with bits of plastic, derived from natural gas, while oxygen-supplying phytoplankton has dropped 40 percent since 1950. The World Meteorological Organization says 2013 is on track to become among the warmest since records began in 1850. “All of the warmest years have been since 1998, and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend,” said Michel Jarraud, the group’s secretary-general. “The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998.” Concentrations of greenhouse gases “reached new highs in 2012, and we expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013. This means that we are committed to a warmer future,” he said. By warmer, he means disastrous.
As Saño says, time to stop the madness.
November 10, 2013
But wait. There’s more.
If the Myersville compressor station is connected to exporting LNG from Cove Point is connected to more fracking is connected to a poisoned planet is connected to climate change is connected to all of us having to take on the extra job of making governments do their job, then this whole fracking mess is connected to the Trans Pacific Partnership. At least, I think it is. Hard to know because the whole thing is top secret.
The Trans Pacific Partnership is a wide-ranging deal among the United States and 11 other nations bordering the Pacific that would break down the few remaining barriers to free trade, mostly by undermining environmental and health regulations and labor protections. President Obama missed recent talks in Asia about the TPP because of the government shutdown, but Secretary of State John Kerry went in his stead. The TPP is high on Obama’s agenda, and his goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.
“It’s not really about trade, it’s not really free or about freedom and there’s not much agreement about it … so it’s a misnomer,” Lacey Kohlmoos from Public Citizen said. Over the summer, Kohlmoos, along with Leslie Morrison from Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Ilana Solomon from Sierra Club spoke at several town halls about the TPP. “It’s designed to break down all trade barriers, but what is a trade barrier has changed definition,” Kohlmoos said. The TPP is a “corporate tool of unprecedented power.”
What is known about the TPP has been leaked. Of its 29 chapters, only five are about trade. “The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or [establish] new powers for corporations,” Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said on a recent Democracy Now! segment.
A few legislators who asked to review the treaty have been allowed to look at specific chapters but can’t take an aide, take notes, make copies, make a phone call or talk about it. The text is to be released four years after the agreement takes effect — or if talks collapse. Corporations, including Halliburton, Chevron, the Gas Technology Institute, General Electric, Monsanto and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have a seat at the negotiating table, but environmental, labor and health groups do not. More than 600 corporate advisers have been working on the TPP for the last four years.
“It’s NAFTA on steroids,” Kohlmoos said.
It also sounds like the Halliburton loophole for the world, with corporations making all the rules. The Halliburton loophole, you will recall, was then-VP Dick Cheney’s escape hatch for drilling companies. In secret meetings with energy executives, he exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The TPP could also be called capitalism on steroids. Or, in activist and commentator Dennis Trainor Jr.’s words, a corporate coup. Economist Dean Baker has said on Democracy Now! that the TPP would “create a regulatory structure that is much more favorable to corporate interests than they would be able to get through the domestic political process in the United States and in the other countries in the pact.”
For example, any corporation that thinks its “rights” have been violated — meaning, its profits have been diminished — by a new environmental or health regulation could sue the country involved. The judges in these so-called courts would be corporate lawyers, making corporations the plaintiff and the judge. We know how that will turn out.
The TPP “empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation,” Wallach said. “They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action— a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety — that undermines the investor’s expected future profits.”
Similar rules in effect under NAFTA already have led to one lawsuit over fracking. Under NAFTA, Lone Pine Resources, based in Calgary but incorporated in Delaware, sued Canada in fall 2012, seeking $250 million in damages, after Quebec imposed a five-year moratorium on fracking in the St. Lawrence Valley until more studies could be completed. Lone Pine claimed Canada had violated its “right to mine” for oil and gas and expropriated its profits.
And now the connection to fracking is clear. If corporations can sue for lost profits whenever governments try to protect people and the environment, if corporations have a “right to frack” and a “right to export” liquefied natural gas (LNG), such as at Dominion’s Cove Point facility, decisions will never be made in the public interest. In fact, exports would automatically be deemed in the public interest, Solomon of Sierra Club said. It would become “illegal to put any limits on exports.”
“We’d be required to conform our domestic laws to terms in TPP,” Kohlmoos said. “It really undermines our democracy.”
The countries involved are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan — and other nations have expressed interest, including China.
Note that Dominion, via its proposed export facility at Cove Point, has contracts to supply LNG to Japan, one of the countries in the agreement. The United States doesn’t already have free trade agreements with Japan or India, but if the agreement goes through, Dominion wouldn’t need additional permission to send LNG to Japan.
Once the TPP is finalized, President Obama plans to ask to fast-track this treaty through Congress, meaning lawmakers could not amend or filibuster and would have to vote up or down within 60 days.
“Fast Track is not in effect,” Wallach said. “Fast Track is an extraordinary delegation of Congress’s authority. … So, we have to make sure that Congress actually maintains its constitutional authority to make sure that before this agreement can be signed, it actually works for us. … President Obama has asked for Fast Track, but it only happens if Congress gives it to him.”
That’s where we come in. Ask your U.S. senators and congressional representatives for their position on the TPP and express your concerns. The following are excerpts of emails about the TPP from three area lawmakers. (Several of us at HoCo Climate Change have received the same emails.)
Sen. Ben Cardin wrote:
I will not support any multilateral trade agreement that does not have robust protections for workers, consumers, and the environment, both in the United States and for our trading partners. … [A]s a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements, I look forward to extensive hearings on the TPP once the agreement is transmitted to the Senate.
Rep. Elijah Cummings:
Please know that I share your concerns regarding the commitments contemplated in the TPP that may affect patent and copyright law, food safety practices, environmental stewardship, health care, telecommunications, and the Internet, among other issues. I am also concerned by the limited consultation with Congress that has occurred during the drafting of this agreement. Given these concerns, I have joined many of my colleagues in a letter to be sent to the President urging broader consideration.
Rep. John Sarbanes:
You will be pleased to know that I joined a number of my colleagues in sending a letter encouraging greater transparency and oversight in the TPP negotiation process. I strongly believe that U. S. trade agreements should address labor rights, human rights, and environmental protection. … Unfortunately, our trade policies have long assumed that ‘free trade’ is the same as ‘fair trade.’ That assumption has touched off a race to the bottom where American jobs are shipped overseas to countries with non-existent labor standards and thread-bare environmental protections.
To borrow from John Muir, when we try to look at anything by itself — whether fracking, the Myersville compressor station, the Cove Point LNG export facility, the TPP, the KXL pipeline, climate change and devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan — we find it all hitched together and “hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
So, bumpy ride ahead.
— elisabeth hoffman