Friday, October 02, 2015

Blued Trees Serves Cease-and-Desist on Fracked-Gas Corp. as Next Phase of Eco-Art Project Debuts Oct. 4

Sharing some exciting news!

October 1, 2015

Margery Newman, Publicity & Communications, 212-475-0252,
Aviva Rahmani, Eco-Artist, 212-864-0945;

Blued Trees Serves Cease-and-Desist on Fracked-Gas Corporation
As Next Phase of Eco-Art Project Debuts Oct. 4
Algonquin Gas Tranmission receives notice to halt forest destruction,
as Blued Trees Symphony’s First Movement Is about to launch.

Blued Trees is a symphonic art installation encompassing visual and musical art forms in concert with nature. The project was conceived by ecological artist Aviva Rahmani to move the function of art beyond witnessing or illustrating ecosystem devastation and into direct engagement with policy. Rahmani was recruited by New York residents-cum-activists faced with condemnation and seizure of properties and beloved places by fracked-gas pipeline corporations.

As corporations are leveraging the legal tool of “eminent domain,” Rahmani is contesting the justice of that leverage, using the sword of copyright law: Blued Trees is being copyrighted by Rahmani in discrete movements, as it grows in scale.

Blued Trees consists of trees in the line of destruction on which a blue sine wave is painted. One such tree is one note in the score. One-third mile of these notes constitutes one full measure in the symphony.

A Cease-and-Desist Demand has been served on the Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC. That corporation seeks to “condemn” the private property in Peekskill in Westchester County, NY, on which the overture for the project was installed on June 21, and copyrighted.

The overture was created on land that has been owned by a small group of families for four generations. That property lies in the path of the Algonquin Incremental Markets (AIM) pipeline for “natural” gas, planned by Algonquin and its parent company, Spectra Energy Partners, to span four states: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The pipeline is also slated to pass just 105 feet from vital structures at the Indian Point nuclear facility, 30 miles from New York City.

Additional measures and “Greek choruses” have joined the Blued Trees orchestra from 11 other sites internationally since the summer solstice overture launch.

On Sunday, Oct. 4, several simultaneous events in the Blued Trees Symphony/Saga will unfold:
·      Blued Trees’ First Movement will formally commence with a full 1/3-mile measure of the score being painted and performed in the rural Town of Augusta and Town of Kirkland, NY, threatened by the Dominion New Market Pipeline and Niagara Expansion Project of TGP/Kinder Morgan; and
·      Additional measures are joining the orchestra from the New River Valley of Virginia and Nassau, NY.

These new sites will be included in the second copyright filing. Five movements in total, over the next year, will complete this symphony, with the Coda planned for fall 2016.

The words of Pope Francis, delivered at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, resonate with Rahmani and other Blued Trees participants: “Any harm done to the environment
. . . is harm done to humanity.”

Individuals and groups whose properties lie in the path of fossil-fuel infrastructure are invited to join the Blued Trees “Greek Chorus.” Detailed instructions are at

NOTE to EDITORS and PRODUCERS: To arrange an interview with Rahmani or participants, please contact Margery Newman,, 917-608-6306.

View a short video about the project at

See map with locations and photos of Blued Trees Symphony and Greek Chorus pieces at

View a graphic from the Spectra Corporation’s website of Spectra AIM project path at

Blued Trees is an element of Gulf to Gulf, a fiscally sponsored NYFA project, which has since 2010 investigated how art might impact climate change policy,

More information about Aviva Rahmani is at

Blued Trees defense fund site:

Blued Trees art support site:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stop the Disinfo: New York Does NOT Have a Ban on Fracking

I would like to correct a serious error that, in its regular
repeating these days, is doing a lot of harm. I keep
hearing about New York's "fracking ban."

New York did not “officially ban hydrofracking [sic],” as I just read in a nice newsletter about sustainability. Nor did “the State DEC [issue] the final document needed to ban it.”

This misinformation has been spreading, causing people to believe they are now “safe” and need not spend any more time thinking about, let alone fighting, fracking. It is dangerous misinformation that has been picked up by all sorts of (irresponsible, gullible, lazy, or collusionist) media and should be challenged by anyone working for sustainability.

First of all, the term “fracking” is generally used by the many human beings who are fighting it (and other heavy industrial harms to water, air, food supply, and human and other species’ health) to mean all the processes involved in exploring, developing, extracting, disposing, storing, and distributing shale gas (so-called “natural” gas) via unconventional drilling, and all related industrial activities.

The Coalition to Protect New York and allied grassroots organizations use it secondarily but equally importantly to denote the “fracturing” of our health, environment, properties, communities, legislatures, media, and way of life by those who would usurp and abrogate our rights.

So, with that in mind, we’re being fracked badly. As FrackbustersNY wrote (and I cowrote) in December, and is still pertinent:
  • First, reversal of the “moratorium” is very possible. This policy of the governor and his Department of Environmental Conservation is vulnerable to reversal should they decide to weigh the scientific information differently in the future — and that decision could be influenced by any number of political or other factors. Also, the moratorium could be overturned as a result of a judicial decision should its legality be challenged, or a new executive could simply nullify this recent action. (Cuomo won’t be in the governor’s seat forever.)
  • Second, the ban applies only to high-volume hydraulic fracturing which uses millions of gallons of chemically-laced water under great pressure in the fracking operation. But it still permits low-volume fracking up to 80,000 gallons (the “official” figure -- we’ve heard of volumes as high as 300,000 gallons being used). Plus, this temporary ban in no way addresses the relentless installation of supportive infrastructure required for industry operations: pipelines, compressor stations, waste disposal sites, water withdrawals from public supplies, gas storage, power plant conversions, export terminals, and more. These activities threaten land, people, and vital local economies with a host of unacceptable impacts as destructive as fracking itself.
  • Third, there is the question of who should be making decisions about our energy future? We live in a supposed democracy. Only “We the People” possess authority to approve or disapprove an industrial undertaking and define its implementation. A moratorium declared by the Governor on the advice of regulatory agencies in service to corporate masters is neither democratic action nor democratic law. Democratic structures and processes must replace those of minority governance and the corporate class that rules it.
  • FrackBustersNY believes it is the obligation of citizens to compel lawmakers and state government to enact legislation that values ecological systems and the common good. As fracking and related industrial activities are exploitive and degrading of nature and community well-being, we call for them to be made crimes in our state law, through the passage of New York Public Law 1. The people, the true governors in a democracy, must seize oversight of this assaultive technology from regulatory agencies and place it within the New York State Penal Code.
This is what DEC head Joe Martens actually published in June: "After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative."

True. A real prohibition on all fracking IS the only smart or reasonable thing to do.

But we do not have a real prohibition on fracking, not even if we forget about our definition. We have an extension of the temporary moratorium on one type of fracking: "high-volume hydraulic fracturing," that which uses more than 300,000 gallons per drilling operation, per the DEC. And I’d wager that was a very carefully constructed verbal smokescreen.

Low-volume horizontal shale-gas drilling has been done in NYS for years, and such fracking is not covered under this falsely named "ban." Other types of fracking for shale gas are in test stages, using lower volumes of water and/or other toxic substances including diesel fuel and other petroleum products. One would have to be hopelessly naïve to think that the fossil fuel industry would blithely comply with all so-called "bans" and regulations and not use every available option—of which they’ve been granted many by corrupt government entities—to get around them.

Let’s not forget that the fossil-fuel industry is exempt from numerous environmental safety laws (including the Clean Air Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act aka the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, to name just a few) as well as worker-safety regulations.

Further, DEC head Martens was interviewed in April by Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom radio show and actually admitted that the high-volume fracking ban would be "permanent until the information changes. . . . I don't think there's any such thing in the environmental world as permanent. Information changes. In this case, the health studies . . . may draw a conclusion that there absolutely is public impact . . . but they may find they don't need to use hydraulic fraking to reclaim . . . " [3:23-4:52]

Even more immediate, we should all be alarmed that the proliferation of fracking infrastructure and other fossil fuel infrastructure continues at breakneck pace:
  • Water is being withdrawn from NYS lakes, rivers, and aquifers for use in Pennsylvania fracking.
  • Silica — the hard, sandlike substance for which majestic bluffs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois are being blown apart and which is the cause of the deadly and incurable disease silicosis when ingested through skin and lungs — is being shipped by rail and truck through NYS. It's on its way to fracklands south, where it’s used as a proppant allowing the tiny molecules of methane to be released from the shale.
  • Just down the road from sustainability-minded Ithaca, in neighboring Chemung County, and in several other communities in the state, county landfills are accepting tons of radioactive frack waste from Pennsylvania.
  • Liquid frack waste is being spread on roads.
  • Thousands of miles of pipelines are going in around the state (and the rest of the continent); they come with compressor stations and many other accouterments that invite leaks and explosion. Among the most horrific of these are one planned running adjacent to the ancient (more than 52 years old) Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, already in terrible shape; an explosion there would wipe out hundreds of communities and millions of human lives. (A transformer fire there in May caused thousands of gallons of oil to leak into the Hudson River. It’s also situated within the Ramapo seismic fault line region. Oh, and there are bomb trains running down the tracks along the Hudson River, past Indian Point, next to the passenger Metro North Hudson Line and through numerous populated communities.)
  • Export terminals are planned for off the coast of Long Island/New Jersey/Brooklyn.
  • And fossil fuel storage already happening in the Finger Lakes, starting with storage in compromised and insecure salt caverns along lovely Seneca Lake.
  • Former coal-fired electricity-generating plants are being converted to “natural” gas, and fleets of trucks and buses are being converted to run on “natural” gas, and boilers and cooking stoves in NYC have been mandated to convert to “natural” gas, to boost this rapacious industry, with the cooperation of captured politicians, at a time when all such fossil fuel activities should be shut down as they contribute to hastening catastrophic climate change.
  • The industry continues to enjoy tax benefits and exemption from common-sense environmental and health standards, even as it contributes to hastening catastrophic climate change . . . and even as millions of sustainability and climate activists are conserving energy, switching to wind and solar, building transition economies, bicycling and walking, planning energy-efficient mass transit options, growing organic food in community, and doing all the other wonderful things they are doing alone and collectively to lessen the painful impacts of climate change.
I’ve probably left out some things . . . but this is what’s going on while people are being lulled into a false sense of security on fracking in New York State.

So PLEASE let’s not continue propagating this misinformation!

All those who care about climate and the negative effects of the continuing use of fossil fuels must vigilantly continue the fight against fracking, even as they continue all the positive work they're doing to keep our planet habitable for our and other species.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

From DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn, Exclusive: Tea Party, Fracking Industry Launch Astroturf Campaign Against Mansfield, OH Community Bill of Rights Referendum


    Exclusive: Tea Party, Fracking Industry Launch Astroturf Campaign Against Mansfield, OH Community Bill of Rights Referendum (via Desmogblog)
       Ohio is referred to as a "battleground state" due to its status as a "swing state" in presidential elections. But another important battle is brewing in the Buckeye State, also set to be settled in the voting booth. This battle centers around a "Community Bill of Rights" referendum in Mansfield, OH…

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Are There Prospects for Democracy in Burma, Iraq, and the USA?

This is a talk delivered at the Asian American Heritage Conference, Northeastern Illinois University, April 12, 2012 [delivered only in part because of time constraints]

Telling stories, especially the stories of those who are not often heard, can give us the deepest understanding of the human condition. We don’t often read or see or hear nuance in mainstream media. We are given one side, or two sides, and expected to make decisions based on the information the media choose to give us. But that’s hardly the whole story. As any student of history can tell you, there are rarely only two sides to any story, and never only one side. And never just the government’s side.
That is even more true when reporting about places and people living under conflict, war, tyranny, and injustice.
In nearly two decades in international journalism, I came to realize that true journalism is a matter of finding the stories of real people and how they are affected by the political or economic or social actions that generally grab the headlines — the stories that are often neglected in mainstream, or corporate-run, media. It’s giving voice to the voiceless, to the powerless and ignored who would not otherwise be acknowledged as even deserving a place on the planet.
It’s also exposing government corruption and of not allowing liars to get away with their lies — whether the liars are elected officials, regulators, military officers, police officers, corporate tycoons, community leaders, religious figures, or anyone else who held a position of economic, political, social, or technological power.
As consumers of media, we cannot allow ourselves to buy into mainstream media’s false idea of neutrality. We should be demanding the truth, not the company line or the state line. Nor one party’s line or another party’s line. Nor the Arabs over the Israelis, the Catholics over the Protestants. As the great Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk says, “It is the duty of the correspondent to be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer, whoever they may be.”
As you’ll see just from this panel, we necessarily bring our own perspectives, even as scholars and reporters, to our scholarship and our reporting; hence it is important to follow many media, but ensuring that these media are truly independent from corporate-state or control or from other biases that are detrimental to the health and well-being of people and the environment on which we all depend for survival.
Earlier this week (April 10, 2012), in my role as the associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media, I had the great good fortune to cohost the Izzy Awards for achievement in independent journalism. The Award is named after the great muckracking journalist I. F. “Izzy” Stone.
This year we had two honorees. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, former producer and now Middle East correspondent for Democracy Now!, received the Izzy Award for his courageous and insightful reporting from Egypt’s Tahrir Square during and since the 18-day popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s regime that began on January 25, 2011. I’m sure many of you watched and listened as he brought us those stories, even sometimes as bullets and Molotov cocktails whizzed by.
We also honored the Center for Media and Democracy for its in-depth analysis of hundreds of formerly secret documents of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. CMD exposed how lobbyists of huge corporations and right-wing special interest groups met and continue to meet in secret with primarily conservative legislators to craft pro-business legislation on the federal level and in virtually every state in the USA. If you have not visited the website, I urge you to do so and see how this shadowy group has crafted laws on everything from education to the environment to guns to voting rights to workers’ rights — not all things one would expect corporations to be involved in.
I begin with journalism because an independent media is an absolute necessity for any kind of democratic society. Without its illumination of corporate-state-judicial-military corruption, there is no chance for democracy, freedom, and equity. Journalism is the only profession specifically protected under the U.S. Constitution, in the First Amendment.
But that protection is being ignored and subverted, journalists are regularly harassed, intimidated, and arrested right here in the USA.
The folks at the nonprofit have been tracking journalist arrests at his site They have documented 76 journalist arrests in 12 cities since Occupy Wall Street began last September.
That is clearly police intimidation — again, the kind the U.S. decries when it happens in Egypt, Iraq, China, or Burma. But it’s happening here, and not just to independent and citizen journalists, but to mainstream reporters from the New York Times, PBS, the New York Daily News, the AP, and even international reporters. The public seems ignorant of or indifferent to these vicious attacks on the very lifeblood of democracy.
And it’s not just journalists. Those of you who have lived under a brutal regime, perhaps suffered torture and incarceration or seen loved ones abused or even killed, think of the United States as a safe haven, a bastion of right. It certainly was on the way, with increasing civil rights, relative tolerance of difference, and a seemingly prosperous middle class. But this is no longer our parents’ or even our own USA; in the last few years it has been sliding backward. Now we are under an increasing military-police crackdown. Many activists I know personally have been harassed with increasing regularity in recent months by police/FBI/Homeland Security.
I said I’d talk about how populist movements and evolving political and social situations around the world, but especially in Burma, Iraq, and the United States, might play out, and to do that I need a bit of setup.
With my husband, George Sapio, I first visited Iraq in January and February 2003, weeks before the U.S. invasion. At the time I believed, as many of you probably did, that the unprecedented outpouring of popular antipathy toward an invasion would halt the Bush rush to punish Saddam Hussein for, well, who knows. In all, some 36 million people in 800 places around the world were in the streets — including Rome, where 3 million people demonstrated on February 15, and even Antarctica — as well as nearly every large city in the USA. Thirty-six million people. Demanding that the U.S. and its “coalition of the coerced” leave the people of Iraq alone.
But once again the media made a difference. A big difference. Most notably, and most heinously, the New York Times beat the war drums, publishing story after story echoing whatever the Bush-Cheney administration fed it, unquestioningly.
Those who watched, read, and listened to independent reporting knew that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction nor any way of making them. His country had sunk under 13 years of sanctions from a verge first world nation (as Iraqis told us) to “third world” status (also their term). But the mainstream media, in collusion with a corrupt government, fed the flames of war. On March 20 the 36 million licked their wounds and went home to sulk, many of them never again to engage in activism. This reminded me of how so many of the Boomer generation that had protested the war of aggression on Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s sold out and moved to Wall Street in the Reagan years. 
But perhaps, with the inspiration from popular uprisings elsewhere — in Burma in 2007, Iran in 2009, and the 2011 Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Greece, etc. movements — that is changing now. Perhaps the U.S.A. has a fighting chance, as people begin to connect the dots.
In Iraq, despite what Dr. Farzanah said earlier in this session about Iraqis’ harshness to one another over years, in my experience, that was primarily driven from the top down, and not in evidence on the grassroots level. The oppression was generally practiced by  Saddam Hussein loyalists, the Ba’athists, who were deeply resented by the people — not for their religious practices but for their collusion in oppression and for their brutality and inhumanity to their fellow Iraqis. During our time in Iraq before the invasion and until August 2003, we saw no evidence of a Sunni-Shia-Kurdish divide. In fact, a good third of the many families we visited and interviewed were “mixed,” and Christians were tolerated.
In the early days after Saddam Hussein fled [April 9], the people were jubilant. Small independent presses sprang up everywhere, many publishing in both English and in Arabic. People felt real hope that things would change, despite the lack of electricity, water, a reasonable currency, and especially jobs for Iraqis. But just a few months later, that had all fallen apart. Criticism, quite reasonably, grew of U.S. motives for the invasion, of the outrageous number of attacks on civilians, and bumbling and corruption during so-called reconstruction efforts by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The U.S. coalition and its minions sowed seeds of discord as a way to keep the public in check, but this tactic backfired. The divide became more dangerous and deadly. Fear took over, and the people stopped publishing their papers for fear the “other side” would exact revenge. Without a free press to keep people informed, rumors fueled the fears and hatreds.
Divide, conquer, and terrorize. That strategy has always been a mainstay of conquerors and of repressive regimes. Now in Iraq, as in many other places, the sectarian divide seems almost insurmountable. The other main reason the U.S. touted for the invasion, to “sow democracy,” is an abject failure.
The U.S. occupation is not really over, despite the mainstream reports — straight from White House press releases. There are still thousands of mercenaries — corporate soldiers, with little accountability to the taxpayers who employ them — and four military bases.
So how can Iraqis overcome the corruption and uncertainty? I just took a look at a piece I wrote in various forms over the first two years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. I revised it a bit over the years, but for the most part it remained solid, and it’s still what I recommend today.
1. The United States and the United Nations must work seriously with Palestinians and Israelis, not just the leaders but with grassroots groups that are already working on the ground toward ending the occupation, building a lasting peace between their peoples, and forming an internationally recognized and supported Palestinian state.  Other Arab states have to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state as well. Internationally recognized peace leaders like Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson might be convinced to take a major role in this effort.
2. The United States must pledge to maintain no permanent military bases in Iraq and to stop supporting the private mercenary corporations still in business there.
3. The United States and its “coalition partners” must provide reconstruction money for Iraqi companies, hiring Iraqi workers to rebuild infrastructure. The big multinationals have to be sent home immediately. (Hah! I know that is unlikely now, although in 2005, when I last wrote that, it might have been possible.)
4. As individuals, Americans still have the opportunity to lobby with their wallets (those who have any money at all, that is). We have to stop patronizing corporations — as customers and as investors — that follow practices that strip people of their rights and sovereignty.
Since I wrote that, much has changed, but for the Iraqi people, things are as desperate as ever. Millions are still displaced. The infrastructure is still broken. The government is still corrupt. And neighboring Syria is in turmoil, Iran threatened. It’s time perhaps for a peaceful popular uprising in Iraq.

Now to Burma. As Kyi May Kaung has told us, Burma is opening up. Whether or not democracy ensues is another question. But it’s a very critical time. Eighteen months ago many observers thought there wasn’t a prayer that Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, or other longtime regime-defying democracy groups, would be in the position they appear to be in today, with a chance of actually participating in the governance of their country.
One thing I know for certain about Burma: it is poised to be the next big resource colony for the big multinational corporations that are running rampant across the globe, despoiling lands, privatizing water and other commons resources, displacing communities, and abusing workers.
If Burma is ever to have a viable future, its democracy leaders, including the grassroots, need a solid plan to build an autonomous government unshackled to these corporations, with unbreakable economic and environmental protections codified in national law. They must engage in long-term strategic planning so that the Burmese people don’t go from being abused by one corrupt military regime to being abused by a soulless conglomerate of capitalist marauders.
Those multinational conglomerates, in cahoots with corrupt governments worldwide, are in essence the root of all evil. In the United States, the entrenchment in law of this phony “corporate personhood” that gives corporations more rights than individuals has brought us to the brink of tyranny here.
Things are so bad in both Iraq and Burma that my friends there tell me they live in constant fear, despair, and depression. They say they’re ready to rise up, they just don’t have the energy. Well, maybe for once the USA can help them — at least the grassroots can help by serving as inspiration.
Occupy Wall Street and related social justice movements get it. They see that these things are all related [NOW I NEED TO TAKE A BIG BREATH, here goes an incomplete list]: the offshoring of jobs; chronic unemployment; rampant foreclosures; rising homelessness; the assaults on education, workers, women, immigrants, voting rights, health care rights, and every aspect of environmental sustainability; the drain on the country’s coffers into military contractors’ pockets from the ongoing war on Afghanistan and from the prolonged military occupation and subsequent privatization of the war on Iraq. Threatened war on Iran. The so-called war on terror. Food insecurity. Water shortages. The government’s self-imposed paralysis in the face of catastrophic global climate change. And the greed, corruption, and shortsightedness of a ruling class embedded with Big Banks, Big Gas, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Pharma, Big Chemicals, Big Insurance, Big Military — Big Business in general.
Occupy is active in scores of U.S. cities and states and in numerous cities worldwide.
If you don’t understand Occupy, if you still think it needs a unifying message, that’s because we’ve been so colonized that we’d hardly recognize democracy if it bit us on the ankle. That’s understandable, given our systems and how they are set up to keep us in check, to support them even as they suppress us. Witness the nearly 50 percent of the population who voted for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and the large numbers who turned out to elect Barack Obama in 2008, only to discover that he, too, is friendly with the very corporations that are colluding with corrupt legislators in ALEC to squelch our civil rights and liberties. It’s hard to recognize that our country is on such a swift decline.
I spent years in U.S. schools that assured me I lived in a democracy, and years of working for democracy and freedom in several countries. But except for small groups, I had never really experienced truly democratic process until I began participating in Occupy General Assemblies. It’s poetry. It’s not perfect, because it’s made up of people, but the General Assemblies and working group meetings I’ve attended have been truly respectful, inclusive, yet effective in meeting consensus.
Occupy may not be the answer to democracy in the USA, but, if it can keep its purity and not be co-opted by a political party or special-interest group for its own ends, it is the most hopeful development I can remember in nearly 40 years as an activist on various fronts.
There has never been a more dangerous or less democratic time. There have never been more compelling reasons to take to the streets here than hastening climate change and the worldwide corporate-state malfeasance that is responsible for so much usurpation of people’s rights. If the revolution does not now happen in the USA, if people do not join in in numbers far greater than the 35 million of us who took to the streets in 2003 to try to block the invasion of Iraq, I guess all I can say is that we’ll get what’s coming to us.
We all have the chance to begin taking part in this burgeoning movement and being heroes in our own salvation. A national coalition of Occupy assemblies is calling for a nationwide “Day without the 99%” on May 1, or May Day. (Do not confuse this with the “99% Spring,” which is not approved by General Assemblies of the Occupy movements and which has been largely co-opted by the Democratic Party.)
This is your chance to get involved and learn more about how democracy can work and how peaceful uprisings can take shape. Those who work and study at universities will say that’s too busy a time for you to participate. But I challenge all faculty, staff, students, and administrators to engage on May Day. Worldwide, May Day is traditionally a public holiday, a Labor Day with marches and celebrations of workers — and of immigrants’ and migrants’ rights. This year, the general strike is intended as a day away from school and the workplace, a day away from shopping and banking, to shine a light on the “the way the system has enslaved us and burdened us with unmanageable debt, incredibly long working weeks, unfeasibly expensive healthcare.”
There are great educational benefits to engaging in something outside the workplace and classroom on that day. Administrators, deans, and chairs should give their blessing and encourage everyone to participate in May Day alternatives; this will only help the university in the long run, with the growing movement for more government funding for education.
Faculty might give students an assignment instead of requiring them to attend classes — perhaps an essay reflecting on how the Occupy movement, or the “Day without the 99%,” matters to their field of study, whether it be chemistry or accounting or music theory, as well as disciplines for which the connection may seem more obvious. Learn more about this important nationwide day of action at
However you decide to mark that one day, your actions and commitment should not end at midnight on May 2. It’s very easy to get caught up in our work and home pressures, but in truth we need to join with each other by the millions if we are ever going to change our unjust, inequitable, and unsustainable systems. And time is short.
If we don’t work our hardest in concert to restore freedoms and build democracy in the USA, and if the trend of arresting and brutalizing peaceful protesters continues, in a few years we may well be looking to the Burmese, Egyptians, Tunisians, and Iraqis to help us out. And who knows if they’ll feel any compunction to help those who left them out to dry when they needed food, water, medicine, electricity, and compassion — not tanks, bombs, abuse, indifference, and abandonment.


The First Amendment of the United States: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Fracking: We Know What We're Against. What Are We FOR?

Our message is very simple.

We say NO to fracking, you bet we do. We say NO to the heavy industrialization of bucolic and wild places. NO to poisoning our air, water, and our children's health and future. NO to poisoning our croplands, and thus our food supply. NO to permanently withdrawing water from our precious rivers, aquifers, lakes, and streams -- water that will never again return to the water-life cycle of the planet. NO to diminished (and in some cases completely negated) property values. NO to increased traffic, fumes, smog, and accidents. NO to dangerous pipelines running through our villages and countryside. NO to job promises that always -- always -- fall short. We say NO to toxins and fossil-fuel byproducts in our food, personal care products, and items we need for daily living. We say NO to the corporate-government collusion that is hastening catastrophic climate disruption and the kinds of weather calamities we are seeing all over the country, and the globe. We say NO to the corporate-government cabal that would force our communities to do their bidding to the detriment of our health, personal finances, and very way of life. And we say NO to municipal, state, and national elected officials who do not represent the best long-tern interests of the people and the natural world on which we all depend for survival.

But this does not mean we simply say NO. There are many things to which we say YES. Because we believe we can do better, as individuals, as neighbors, as communities, as a society, as a nation, as a species.

We say YES to government spending for energy conservation, creating jobs that will remain local. We say YES to community-based renewable energy options, which will create a whole new sector of learning and job opportunities. We say YES to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructures -- another job-creating initiative. We say YES to transforming fossil-fuel-extracting and -producing and -delivering corporations into energy-conservation and renewable-energy-producing and -delivering models. We say YES to job-creating energy efficient transportation options for rural, suburban, and urban populations. We say YES to 90 MPG automobile fuel standards.

We say YES to organic farming without genetically deformed seeds (and outrageous use of hormones, antibiotics, and toxic pesticides and herbicides). We say YES to national and state agriculture policies that help rather than hurt family farms and discourage CAFOs ("consolidated animal feeding operations," a gross misnomer), a.k.a. factory farms. We say YES to policies and practices that help farmers and other large landholders engage in sustainable forestry and woodlot management. We say YES to policies and programs that enable farmers and other large landowners to lease their land for wind farms, solar farms, and other renewable-energy operations to directly benefit their communities.

We say YES to cutting all use of fossil fuels in this country. If small countries like Germany, Sweden, and Denmark have already turned to solar, wind, and hydro power, why shouldn't the "greatest country on earth" be able to do so?

We say YES to community-owned and -operated wind farms and solar farms. (We say NO to corporate-run wind and solar farms that simply add endless more energy to the current grid.) We say YES to removing fossil-fuel and nuclear energy at the same rate we add renewable energy.)

We say YES to government and community welcome of clean manufacturing in New York State and other states, restoring all those jobs exported by corporations to foreign countries back to U.S. workers.

We say YES to accelerated research and development of plant-based alternatives to the mountains of plastic and mining-based products we are now forced to employ against our wishes.

We say YES to representation by governing officials who truly care about our communities and the individuals within them, over a long term and without personal prejudice or conflict of interest.

We say YES to halting climate disruption by making the choices WE THE PEOPLE demand -- we the informed, caring, forward-thinking people, not the selfish, greedy, or hoodwinked people who still believe that the corporate state might have their best interests at heart.

We say YES to healthy environments for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

And as we work toward all these positive goals, we will continue to say NO FRACKING WAY with all our collective might.

Monday, August 20, 2012

More Media Madness -- This Time It's CBS

Last night (August 19), a friend called to tell me he'd just seen a report on CBS News titled "New York State to Allow Fracking," in which a farm couple from the Southern Tier of New York, not far from my own home, were interviewed. They described how much they're struggling and said that fracking would keep them afloat (actually they expect it to make them rich). The woman said, "It's like sitting on top of a bank with $1 million dollars, and you can't access that money."

My friend complained that the only rebuttal to this story was from Dr. Sandra Steingraber, my colleague and fellow antifracktivist, an environmental biologist and author who has written and spoken so eloquently about the health implications of fracking as well as of many other industrial activities that contaminate our environment. And, my friend said, Steingraber was "talking about xylene and toluene and other chemicals nobody knows about. She couldn't hold a candle to that farming couple. Of course everyone would sympathize with them [the farm couple] and not her."

My friend, a smart, educated, antifracking investigator himself, concluded, "You should get another spokesperson [instead of Sandra Steingraber]"

Without having seen the "news" report, I knew exactly what had happened. The "reporter" or producer of the piece wanted to draw sympathy to the plight of the pro-fracking farmers and make the opposition to fracking seem arbitrary and useless. I asked my friend to think about how the story was presented and see how much time was devoted to the pro-fracking side versus how much was given to the pro-environment and pro-health side. He reflected for a minute and then said, "Yeah, right, they hardly showed anything about the antifracking movement. Most of the story and most of the camera time were spent on the farm couple, who were made to seem very likable and hard-working."

Then, chagrined, my friend said, "Wow. I can't believe it. I know how the mainstream media works, but I didn't pick up on that. Even I got sucked into this, thinking this was a balanced report. And of course it's not Sandra's fault. She's always great."

But not if edited in a deliberately misleading way.

The headline of the story was pretty horrifying, too: "New York State to Allow Fracking." The piece then opened with the claim that "CBS News has learned that New York is about to okay fracking, and will issue guidelines after Labor Day." There was no attribution, and apparently no attempt to speak to Governor Andrew Cuomo or DEC head Joe Martens.

The whole thing was a travesty of journalism, but alas, not in the slightest out of the ordinary. I looked at the video of this CBS "news" report and immediately found a dozen things to pick apart: the headline; the unsourced claim; the heartstring-tugging barn fire the family had suffered a few years ago; the darling baby calves; the quote from the farmers about the money being a "great blessing"; the benign cartoon making fracking operations look clean and safe; a quote claiming that the DEC would put in place the "strictest standards in the nation"; the wording of the "reporter's" question to Sandra Steingraber ("The energy secretary says fracking can be done safely. The president says fracking can be done safely. Are they wrong?") and his deliberately disparaging and supercilious look during the segment; the choice of quote from Sandra Steingraber, which out of context seemed weak; the final statement from the farmers saying "everything in Pennsylvania is great, just they have more new tractors"; and the kicker (ending) quote from the "reporter," that "There are more than half a million wells across the country" (implication being, those pesky antifrackers are talking out of their arses).

This segment was a joke. But unfortunately, many viewers, especially those less connected than my friend who at least was able to call me to throw out a question, couldn't distinguish between a good story and a bad.

This is the S.O.S. way the "news" media have been "telling the story" since fracking began. I think it was about three years ago when I first noticed and began writing about the misinformation and outright lies the mainstream/corporate media were propagating. I won't take the time here -- I have more important things to do, especially if there is any truth to the report that fracking is about to begin here in New York -- to debunk this particular CBS piece.

But watching something like this, it should be no surprise that so many New Yorkers and others believe the B.S. being fed them by the mass media, which is gobbling up and spewing out the B.S. being fed to it by the industry and corrupt politicians. And it's not just corporate media that are at fault here. The so-called "public" radio is also to blame and in many ways, to my mind, much more culpable because people expect that source to be more reliable. It is not.

Oh, and as a crowning gem, the CBS News story online ad is from BP about how important the environment is to it. It would be laughable if so many people and ecologies weren't suffering and wouldn't continue to suffer from that corporation's wrongdoings. There's nothing funny about that.

Here are a few prior pieces on the subject:

15 Gas Industry Claims and Why They're Wrong.  They spend tens millions
of dollars a year to convince lawmakers and the public that "natural" gas is great. Let's take a look at the propaganda.

"Public" Media Joins "Gang Green" in Colluding with Frackers. NPR's serenades to the gas industry are getting more and more blatant. Let's pick apart some of these egregious transgressions from journalistic integrity.  

How Mainstream Media Fuels Rabid Anti-environmentalism.  The corporate-state collusionist framing is working. It's not just a few "Tea Party crazies" in Virginia who now think sustainable development is a plot against "the American way." And MSM isn't helping.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

How One Town Beat a Billionaire Bully

A shorter version of this appeared in Yes! magazine Feb. 29, 2012. This is the full version, but it was written before the Middlefield ruling.
The fight to keep the destructive practice of fracking for “natural” gas is perhaps nowhere more critical than in New York State. Megabillion-dollar corporations, not content with the destruction they’re wreaking in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and 30 other states, have set their sights on drilling in rural communities in the Southern Tier and central parts of the state. There the economy has been sluggish for decades, farmers struggle, and people work hard yet barely make ends meet — communities ripe for exploitation by an unscrupulous industry.
But the industry didn’t bargain for Hilary Lambert, or Judy Pierpont, or Marie McRae, or any of the tens of thousands of activists who have mobilized to ban fracking in townships across the state before it begins. Or the pro bono attorneys who are helping many of them.
This is the story of one township, Dryden, New York, smack in the center of the state, where about 13,500 people occupy 95 square miles of rolling hills, deep glacial valleys, small towns, and the larger metropolises of Dryden (population about 1,850) and Freeville (500), all blessed by six watersheds.
The Town of Dryden has just won Round One in a bout with Anschutz Energy Corporation, owned and run by one of the richest men in the USA. 
On August 11, 2011, the Dryden Town Board unanimously passed an ordinance and zoning amendment that bans all oil and gas exploration and development activities in the town. It wasn’t the first New York State town or county to pass a ban or moratorium—there are now about 82, with at least another 35 in the works—but something about Dryden must have really irritated the guy who runs Colorado-based Anschutz Energy Corporation, which had leased a lot of land in the town, to the tune of almost $5 million.
The Argument
That guy is Philip Anschutz, who’d built his $7 billion fortune on oil, railroads, telecomms, sports, and entertainment. On September 16, 2011, Anschutz’s high-powered Albany lawyers from the West Firm filed a lawsuit against Dryden to overturn the ban. They claimed that the Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Law, Article 23 of the State Environmental Conservation Law supersedes all local regulations relating to oil and gas activities except as applied to local roads and real property taxes.
In other words, Anschutz claimed that Dryden has no rights to make local law when it comes to oil and gas, except to regulate road use and property taxes. It couldn’t determine where, if at all, the drillers could place their equipment, toxic waste impoundments, compressor stations, and the other heavy-industrial paraphernalia the industry requires.
But Judge Phillip Rumsey of the New York State Supreme Court ruled on February 21, 2012 that Dryden does indeed have the right to prohibit fracking in the town.
“Judge Rumsey gave a very reasoned, well researched, well articulated decision,” says Mahlon Perkins, who has served as Town of Dryden attorney for 33 years. “I think it’s going to stand up on appeal.”
Great Legal Minds
The activists who worked so hard over nearly three years to pass the ban —most of whom had no prior experience in politics or environmental activism before this — were jubilant at the news, but not entirely surprised.
“I think it will become clear that we’re standing on solid ground,” says Judy Pierpont, who retired as a senior lecturer in English from Cornell University in 2009 and has spent most of the time since then working to ban fracking. “We had great legal minds working on this.” 
Those great legal minds are primarily those of Helen and David Slottje, whose research formed the basis for the Dryden ban. Through their Ithaca law firm, Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc., the couple has counseled more than 50 municipalities around the state, doing all the work pro bono and relying on donations from individuals and foundations to help support the efforts.
They’ve been vilified by the gas industry along the way — that very industry that spends upwards of $130 million a year on advertising and lobbying to sway the public and legislators. Those attacks serve only to make this tenacious pair more determined than ever to help towns fight for their rights.
A decade ago, says Helen Slottje, she never would have imagined in her wildest daydreams that she’d be where she is today, at the forefront of a people’s movement to wrest control of their health, their communities, their government, and their future from corporations run amok.
“David and I are the least likely environmental activists you’d ever meet,” she laughs. “We were evil little corporate lawyers. We believed in what we were doing. I was president of my local Women’s Republican Club. When we first moved to Ithaca in 2002, I joined the League of Women Voters to meet like-minded people.”
But she didn’t fit in. “They were Ithaca hippies,” Slottje says. “They didn’t think we should go to war with Iraq unless the UN agreed. I thought that was ridiculous. Not that I was pro war, but I didn’t buy any of those UN arguments. So I quit.”
But something changed in both Slottjes, beyond just the influence of the famously liberal town they’d moved to and any tie-dyed, Birkenstock-wearing people they encountered there.
“As time went on,” says Helen Slottje, “I became increasingly disgusted with Bush-Cheney — the backroom handshake deals, their arrogance, their assumption that they can do whatever they want, no matter what the people think or what’s right. Remember Cheney’s secret energy commission, with all those oil people? The recount in Florida? It took a while, but I eventually realized it was insanity. The reason we help with the towns now is that we hate bullies. And we know the quality of thinking from the other side. Dryden and all these communities need to have the best legal representation they can have — and not be bullied.”
The Dawning
In early 2009 people in the Town of Dryden were just becoming aware of fracking, and that summer, a group met for the first time, hosted by a family who lived on a CSA (community supported agriculture) in an off-grid house with a wind turbine and orchards. After that first meeting, a core group began meeting regularly, primarily around the issue of fracking.
Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC) evolved; its 10 to 20 most active members would become the core of the town’s efforts, but the organization has no real hierarchy or structure. And that’s the way they like it.
“We set biweekly meetings, reserved space in Town Hall, and people just started showing up,” says Pierpont. “It’s a very loose group. People found their niche and contributed in whatever ways they could. Anyone can participate. We have no officers. Sometimes Marie [McRae] will get organized and make an agenda, and we’ll add to it, or sometimes Joe [Wilson] will be organized. At our last meeting we just made up the agenda on the spot. There are no specific responsibilities. We work by consensus. People volunteer for things, and people emerge as leaders.”
That was a new experience for everyone, perhaps no one more so than Wilson, who retired in 2009 from his long-time role as high school principal; he’d previously been a practicing lawyer and had lived in Baltimore and other cities before taking the job of principal at Ithaca High School and moving to Dryden with his wife, Marty.
“All my experience,” says Wilson, “had been in hierarchical organizations with formal planning. We even had plans on how to execute plans. I learned that significant things can be accomplished by people operating as a collaborative with virtually no hierarchy, coming to consensus on both what’s the right thing to do and on how to get it done. I also learned there’s power in such groups. It’s not futile to find grassroots groups that want what you want, band together, and lean on elected officials to move in the direction you favor.”
By early 2010, says Jason Leifer, a town board member who has served since 2007, at least some members of the board knew fracking was not something they wanted for Dryden. “I’d been reading blogs by people from other shale plays, in Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, who were writing about the bad things happening in their areas,” he says. “Spills, too many trucks, the trend toward suburban drilling. This was nothing like the old vertical wells.”
Leifer and town supervisor Mary Ann Sumner began talking about how the town might deal with fracking if it were to come to New York State. They thought vaguely about zoning, but Leifer, an attorney in private practice, didn’t have time to research the issue, and it lay dormant for a while.
“It seemed odd to me that we could have a say in cell towers — which have far less of an impact than a gas well,” says Leifer. “It made no sense. We should have some say in where these things go, if they go anywhere. But I didn’t realize we could do a ban.”
Making Connections
Meanwhile, activists in the Town of Ulysses, 22 miles west of Dryden, were moving ahead with door-to-door petitioning for a ban, based on the research done by the Slottjes that showed while towns are not permitted within New York State law to regulate the industry, prohibiting the activity of the industry in the first place avoids the problem of interfering in the industry’s conduct of its business.
The DRAC folks had connections with the Ulysses and with activists in other local towns who were working toward a ban, especially Ithaca, Danby, and more distant Middlefield. They were all trying something totally new, blazing new ground, and with the Slottjes’ counsel, each community was trying to customize what would work for its own unique character and needs.
“Initially, like the other communities, we didn’t think we had a right to ban fracking,” says Marie McRae, who owns and operates a small private horse boarding facility in Dryden and was invited to that first session by her hay supplier. McRae had signed a gas lease in 2008 after being “chased by a landman for nine months,” she says. “He told me that all the other land around was leased, and if I didn’t sign they’d come and take the gas from my land anyway. ‘This lease is your last chance to have a say about what happened to your land,’ he told me. That’s a lie, as I later learned, but I signed. Then I curled up in a fetal position, mentally, for about six months.”
But then McRae, who had never been remotely interested in, let alone involved in politics, woke up—and she has long since made up for any lost time. She found the DRAC group and joined, becoming a core member and frequent out-front spokesperson.
After Ulysses activists came to Dryden and gave pointers about how to petition for a ban, DRAC wrote a simple ban statement and began going door-to-door and collecting signatures.
“We divided up the town in a very unsystematic way,” recalls Pierpont. “I didn’t even know my neighbors at the time, but I made the choice to be responsible for my own area of the town. We started out with about eight of us, but then friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends joined. We also had an online petition, which was very helpful. If people weren’t home, or family members weren’t all there when we were, we left a printout with the petition online address, and we could send letters or e-mails to friends to let them know about it. One of our members, Peter Davies, managed all this.”
The canvassers found that 80 to 85 percent of those they approached were ready to sign the ban petition. But if people’s minds were made up on the other side, some would not even engage in conversation.
Media Role
“I relearned how important perceptions are,” says Wilson, “and how instrumental various media are in forming people’s perceptions.”
The people who believed fracking is “safe, clean, and domestic” shared their views and opinions in language that was straight out of gas company commercials, Wilson noted. They’d heard industry ads and thought of them as news.
“What people see on TV and in major publications is shaped by the gas companies’ ability to get broadcasters and reporters to use a position favorable to energy companies as a point of departure,” Wilson says. “They think they know facts, and therefore they disagree with us. Mainstream media are very powerful in creating frames of reference which we then have to deal with.”
During four months of canvassing, DRAC was also hosting community forums on fracking, where people could hear perspectives not generally available to those getting their news from mainstream media. That helped change some minds, reports Wilson.
“Taking media at its broadest to include the efforts of opinion shapers within communities, it was clear that people perceived to be disinterested had more of an impact,” he says. “People who seemed to move opinion best were the physicians and scientists, considered bound by their professions to be even-handed, unbiased. People were also ready to sign if they’d gotten their information from [non-mainstream] sources, such as reading a letter to the editor from someone trusted in the community, or if the veterinarian they’ve been going to for along time says fracking will harm animals, or if [environmental scientist] Dr. Bob Howarth says the methane leaks will have climate change effects.”
Taking It to the Board
And the Slottjes, who patiently explained complicated legal matters over many visits to Dryden, were influential on the residents and on the board. They recommended that Dryden and other municipalities who wanted to keep control over land use and avoid industrialization adopt a zoning law or amendment that specifically prohibits high-impact industrial use, which should be defined as “encompassing unconventional gas drilling and any other use they considered inimical to the municipality’s character and goals.”
The Dryden Town Board held two official public hearings, where the majority of speakers spoke against fracking. On April 20, 2011, at a board meeting packed with more than 100 residents, almost all of whom supported the ban, DRAC announced that it had gotten 1,594 signatures on the petition. Thirty of those signers got up to speak for two minutes each. Longtime resident and former Dryden Planning Board member Buzz Lavine said, as DRAC reported, “The federal and state governments cannot protect us. The power to do that is right here in this room.”
At that meeting an audience member warned that the town might be sued by a big gas company. David Slottje assured the board and the crowd that long legal precedent existed for towns to zone out undesired uses.
The Opposition
While all this positive work was going on to protect the town from dangerous industrialization, pro-drilling forces were hard at work in the town, led by resident Henry Kramer. In July 2011, Kramer and a few allies formed a group called “Dryden Safe Energy Coalition” (with the slogan “safe energy development for jobs and prosperity”), purporting to be an educational, unbiased organization but actually strongly pro-fracking. It claimed, using convoluted math, that banning fracking would steal $175 million from the town.
It’s widely believed among antifracking Dryden residents that Kramer and this group, who threatened the town in a letter dated August 1, 2012, set the town up for the lawsuit by Anschutz. Certainly the presence of a vocal pro-fracking group in town must have given the gas corporation some reassurance.
In September the board — consisting of four Democrats and Republican Steve Stelick — voted unanimously for a fracking ban in the town, in full knowledge that a lawsuit might ensue but determined to keep the town safe.
And elections heated up, with three pro-fracking candidates, including one running against incumbent Mary Ann Sumner for town supervisor, facing off against three antifrackers in what would come down to an all-but-single issue election on November 8.
Days before the election, in a courtroom heavily peopled with Dryden antifrackers and supporters from neighboring towns, Perkins presented a strong case before Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey. Using his own research built upon work done by the Slottjes, he challenged the insistence by Anschutz lawyer West that the state and its Department of Environmental Conservation have power to interpret the State Environmental Conservation Law, and claimed that only towns have land use management rights. Apparently West argued well, too, as Rumsey complimented both sides before adjourning.
On November 8, all the antifracking candidates won board seats, solidifying another solid 5-0 pro-ban town board makeup.
Three months later, the judge handed down his decision, and many sighs of relief were heard around Dryden on the evening of February 21.
Most DRAC members and the Slottjes think it’s likely Anschutz will appeal within the 30-day time limit. And if it doesn’t go after Dryden again, it will probably pick on a more vulnerable town that hasn’t built such as strong activist network and governing board. That’s what bullies do, pick on the weak.
And if there’s one thing Helen Slottje hates, it’s bullies.
“These gas companies are waging war on people, on communities,” she says. “You see this kind of bullying all over. In West Virginia, Morgantown passed a ban, and Chesapeake [Energy Company] took away the money they were donating for the school band. They get communities dependent on them, and then they use that dependence to buy silence. And towns don’t have good legal representation, so they get bullied, beaten up. The gas companies launch smear campaigns and make people’s lives miserable. That makes me angry. That’s what motivates me.”
Fortunately for many towns in New York State, the Slottjes’ continued motivation —anger at ongoing gas industry bullying  — will help them fight the some of the most powerful corporations in the world.
And for Dryden activists, even while waiting to see if Anschutz files an appeal, there’s plenty yet to do.
Hilary Lambert, who spent 20 years as a coal activist in Kentucky before moving back to her childhood home in Dryden, is steward of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network. She’s keenly aware of how blessed New York State is with its abundance of clean, fresh water.
Positive Steps
“Some people say that to say ‘No’ to natural gas makes you a NIMBY,” Lambert points out. “We’re very concerned about this. It’s a crowded world, and it’s getting more crowded. We know we have to take care of everybody’s water, everywhere. We work with everyone across borders, across Appalachia and every other part of the country. Without clean water, we don’t have anything.”
Beyond that, she and several other members of the core group have pledged to change energy choices in their daily lives as much as their means permit. “We need to move away from fossil fuel dependence toward renewables,” she acknowledges, “even as we fight gas extraction.” Through a project of the Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, which works with self-selected neighborhood groups, they’re taking advantage of programs to get energy assessments, home retrofits, and grants to help with conservation and installing renewable energy sources.
At Wilson’s urging, DRAC members are also planning to get the town board to put in place secondary protections, as a security measure: road, air quality, critical environmental area designations, rules about setbacks around wellheads. “Our county’s council of governments has a spreadsheet that lists 15 or 16 different municipal tools to enhance the protection of citizenry against fracking,” says Wilson. “We’ll be working on model regulations for the so-called gathering lines, pipes taking the gas from wellheads to compressor stations. No one regulates them now—not the feds, or the state, or municipalities. Perhaps this is something municipalities can claim.”
McRae expects, as many in Dryden do, that Anschutz will appeal. That process might take 12 to 18 months. “I see us winning that,” she says. While waiting, the onetime quiet, politically disengaged farmer won’t be sitting around. “I’ll be doing public educating,” she says. “I’ll continue to help organize forums to teach people about the legal and political process, and about corporations and what they want to do to us. And, very important to me is helping farmers remain viable — getting young farmers started and finding new ways for older farmers to use what they already have.”
Pierpont has already been helping other towns build their case for a ban, and plans to continue doing so as long as any municipalities still need assistance. “We’ve learned so much,” she says. “I want to use that knowledge to help other communities.”
In all this activity, would DRAC and friends think about taking a little break to kick back and celebrate their success? As it happens, Dryden’s first brew pub, with New York State’s only female master brewer, has just opened, so they intend to pay a visit to Bacchus in the next week or so.
There is much to celebrate, beyond the court decision. “I’m grateful for our brave town board who voted to ban a heavy industry, even knowing they might be sued,” says McRae. “I’m grateful to Ulysses and the Slottjes. I’m grateful to town attorney Mahlon Perkins for taking us through that first page and making the argument that would be understood by Judge Rumsey.”
And all of the DRAC members — who, except for Lambert, are all first-time activists over fracking — echoed one theme, as articulated by Pierpont: “I’m so grateful for all the people I’ve come to know, and all the work they’ve done for our community.”
Pierpont adds, “And it feels like affirmation that when you have integrity in a legal system, things can work. We were besieged by somebody with a lot of money and a certain ill will, and we were lucky to get an honest, reasonable judge who looked at this very fairly. We’re fighting to keep our communities safe, but also for the viability of our system of democracy. If we don’t defend it, it goes down. In this case, it worked.”
Photos by Hilary Lambert
Signs seen around Dryden (top), and DRAC rally, October 2011
DRAC's Judy Pierpont with attorney Helen Slottje and Shaleshock leader Sara Hess at a neighboring town forum
Dryden Town Hall packed for the town board's unanimous decision to sign the ban