A single-state grass roots environmental organization joined forces Thursday afternoon with a name well-known in the environmentalist community. EcoWatchOhio and Waterkeepers Alliance have created EcoWatch, an online magazine with stories and commentary from grassroots environmental groups and writers nationwide.
“For people who care about the environment, this is going to be the way that they communicate with each other,” Waterkeepers founder and President Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told an audience Thursday afternoon.
Kennedy was keynote speaker at the official announcement event, at Rivergate Park, in Cleveland, Ohio, on the banks of the Cuyahoga River — a site holding special significance for many environmentalists.
The river caught fire in 1969, and spawned a nationwide awareness of the need to regulate businesses whose unchecked effluent could, and often still does, make nearby air and water unusable by humans and other living beings. A layer of oily crud coated the water, June 22, 1969, when it was ignited by a spark from a passing train, or maybe a piece of molten steel from a neighboring mill.
June 22, 1969 wasn’t the first time the river had caught fire, but that time it caught public attention. Four decades later it commands the same attention among environmentalists as the coal fire that has smoldered beneath Centralia, Pa. since 1962, when a trash fire ignited an exposed coal seam.
It may be slightly inappropriate to attribute the Centralia fire to industrial pollution, though the now-underground, inextinguishable fire has pretty much eradicated the town that was Centralia, on Pa. 61, near Ashland.
But at best it shows how inattention to industrial operations can cause catastrophic effects decades after the initiating event. And how a steady paycheck can help hide industrial abuse of the air we breath and water we drink.
In 1988, the International Paper mill in Jay, Me., was the site of a labor strike. IP hired workers from South Carolina-based BE&K and bused them to Maine to work as permanent replacements. (Although workers at the plant were in a union, Maine was a “right to work” state, meaning if someone wanted to breach the picket lines to work, that was fine with the law.)
Until that strike, workers had thought each generation of young men graduating the local schools would have access to good-paying jobs at “the I-P,” as it was colloquially named. Each generation also endured the foam and smell on the Androscoggin River that assailed human noses 20 miles or more from the town. But when the strikers found they would not have jobs even when the strike was over, they decided progress was no longer defined by the trashed river.
Within a few years, the town had passed new anti-pollution ordinances, and the mill cleaned up what it was pouring into the river. Now, the Androscoggin looks like a Maine post card scene.
The game of football is not nearly as important as clean air and water. Why not just put 22 players on the field and let them go at it until only one member of one team is left standing. That’s the winner. But most of us think it only fitting there are rules against grabbing an opponent’s facemask, or pushing after the play had ended.
Industry knows it needs rules, but Rule One calls for immediate and consistent profits. Industry will find the money to respond to rule making, but if there are no regulations, profits will be greater.
So industry, from IP in Maine to Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas, spends huge amounts of treasure on lobbyists who buy politicians, on condition that the lawmakers look the other way.
“Their constant refrain is we have to choose between environmental [protection] on the one hand and economic [growth] on the other,” Kennedy said Thursday, calling the proposal “a false choice” that would provide “a few years of pollution-based prosperity.”
“We can make a few billionaires by making everybody else poor,” he said, “but our children are going to pay for our joy ride.”
“I love corporations. I love free market capitalism,” Kennedy continued, “but they should not be running our government.”
He pointed out the federal Clean Water Act “has a guarantee that all pollution in the nation’s water would cease by 1984.”
“We don’t have that [universally clean water] today,” he said.
“One of the keys to democracy is communication,” Kennedy said, noting American’s access to information began to seriously unravel when Pres. Ronald Reagan, in 1988, abolished a 1928 law requiring radio and television stations “to inform the public.”
“You can’t have a democracy very long if you don’t have an informed public,” he said.
Hence “EcoWatch,” with its array of topics and writers, aggregating ideas and issues from more than 700 organizations.
Industry has given us airplanes and cars, water where there was none, Blu-Ray DVDs and tablet computers, and most of the food on our tables.
But if we want to enjoy those benefits in safety, there need to be rules. We have to recognize the need, and demand it be met.
On the other hand, we could just put 22 guys on the field and let them go at it until only one is left standing.
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