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PA State Police and Private Security Firms Keeping Close Tabs on Fracking Opponents

Environmental watchdogs worried about the criminalization of dissent

Anti-fracking activists protesting a natural-gas conference in Philadelphia last fall were being monitored by a private security company that sent a photo of a demonstrator to the Pennsylvania State Police, according to an email obtained by Earth Island Journal.

A few months earlier, at another industry-led conference, state Trooper Michael Hutson delivered a presentation on environmental extremism and acts of vandalism across Pennsylvania's booming Marcellus Shale natural-gas reserves. He showed photographs of several anti-fracking groups in Pennsylvania, including Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective protesters demonstrating at an active gas well site in Lawrence County in western Pennsylvania.

photo of a woman holding a protest sign on a farmPittsburgh City PaperA Pennsylvania state police trooper used this photo of organic hog farmer Maggie Henry as part of a
Powerpoint presentation about “environmental extremism.”

That same Pennsylvania state trooper visited the home of anti-fracking activist Wendy Lee, a Bloomsburg University philosophy professor, to question her about photos she took of a natural gas compressor station in Lycoming County. Remarkably, the trooper earlier had crossed state lines and traveled to New York to visit Jeremy Alderson, publisher of the No Frack Almanac, at his home outside Ithaca, to accuse him of trespassing to obtain photos of the same compressor station.

The photo, presentation and house visits are part of a little-known intelligence-sharing network that brings together law enforcement, including the FBI, state Homeland Security agencies, the oil and gas industry and private security firms. Established in late 2011 or early 2012, the Marcellus Shale Operators' Crime Committee (MSOCC) is a group of "professionals with a law-enforcement background who are interested in developing working relationships and networking on intelligence issues," according to an email sent to group members by James Hansel, regional security manager for Anadarko Petroleum.

The MSOCC has taken a keen interest in environmental activists and anti-fracking groups, according to documents obtained through a state Right to Know request. The collaboration raises questions about the increasingly close ties between law enforcement and the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, and whether law enforcement has violated the civil liberties of protesters and environmental groups in its effort to protect the state's most controversial industry.

The production of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a formation that underlies several states, is a multibillion dollar industry that has grown dramatically over …more

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Election 2014: A Guide to the Biggest Environmental Battles

Green PACs amping up spending; more GMO initiatives; soda tax fights

Slogan-stacked yard signs proliferating like swarms of locusts. Leaflets cluttering the mailbox and the front porch. Histrionic ads filling up just about every spare minute of cable TV.

All of this can mean just one thing – election season.

Polling Placephoto by Theron Trowbridge/FlickrThe US Senate contests aren’t the only races to watch.With continued Washington gridlock certain, state and local governments represent the best opportunities for meaningful climate action in the short-term.

The national media is mostly obsessed with the fate of the US Senate. Thanks to the cynical and baldly partisan congressional redistricting that has occurred during the last four years, many House incumbents will glide to re-election, even though Congress’ favorability rating is polling at an all-time low. The main drama, then, centers on whether the Democrats will be able to maintain control of the Senate.

If you care about the environment – and, especially, maintaining a more-or-less stable climate – then you should care about what happens to the Senate. Here’s how Daniel J. Weiss, the senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, described the situation to me in a conversation last week: “[Current Minority Leader] Senator Mitch McConnell [a Republican from Kentucky], who would become Senate Majority Leader, has already promised to use the government spending process to block President Obama’s clean power plan, even if it means the government shuts down. So Mitch McConnell has already painted a bull’s-eye on President Obama’s power plan.”

To keep a more climate-action-friendly majority in power in the Senate, environmental political action committees are dramatically boosting their spending compared to previous mid-term election years. The League of Conservation Voters expects to spend $25 million promoting pro-environment candidates – fives times as much as it spent in 2010. Green billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee has already thrown down even more than that – $30.5 million according to its last filing with the Federal Election Committee – and will undoubtedly exceed that hefty figure. Steyer has said he will spend as much as $100 million this political season to keep climate change deniers out of office.

But the US Senate contests aren’t the only races to watch. With continued Washington gridlock certain even if Democrats manage to hold onto the upper chamber, state and local governments represent …more

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The Ghost in the GMO Machine

Independent research shows that Chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used in Kaua‘i's GMO fields, can cause significant harm to children, but Dow Chemical is intent on convincing the EPA otherwise

The bodies and minds of children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.

For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren't safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.

Entrance to Dow's fields in KauaiPhoto by Ian UmedaThe entrance to Dow's fields near Waimea in Kaua'i. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm.

Like a ghost drifting through a child's bedroom window, the airborne insecticide can settle on children’s skin, clothes, toys, rugs, and furnishings.

In fact, it's likely that the only people who needn't worry about exposure to chlorpyrifos are adults living far from the fields in which it is sprayed. That includes civil servants who work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the stuff, and executives with Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures it.

In a regulatory process known as re-registration, the EPA will decide in 2015 whether it still agrees that chlorpyrifos is safe for farming, or whether it will order a complete ban, as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pesticide Action Network have demanded in lawsuits filed in 2007 and in 2014.

Dow has long insisted that its chlorpyrifos products are safe, despite tens of thousands of reports of acute poisoning and multiple studies linking low-level exposures to children with lower IQ. The company also has a long history — going back decades — of concealing from the public the many health problems it knew were linked to chlorpyrifos.

In 1995, the EPA found that Dow had violated federal law by covering up its knowledge of these health problems for years. In 2004, then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had been lying about the known dangers of the pesticide in its advertising for nearly as long. Together, the EPA and the State of New York have levied fines against the …more

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What’s Wrong With the Radical Critique of the People’s Climate March

The movement to stop climate change needs both mass mobilizations and direct action.

Last Sunday, we joined 400,000 people in the People’s Climate March (PCM) to demand action on climate change. The next day, we joined with 3,000 others to participate in Flood Wall Street (FWS), disrupting business as usual and naming capital as the chief culprit of climate change.

Peoples Climate March 2014 NYCphoto by South Bend Voice, on FlickrThe People’s Climate March in New York City.

In the days leading up to these mobilizations, a few critics on the left framed a stark dichotomy between these two kinds of actions. The PCM was cast as a depoliticized, corporate-friendly sellout, in contrast to more militant direct action, which Flood Wall Street soon emerged to organize. Chris Hedges, for example, called the PCM “the last gasp of climate change liberals,” and argued that the real resistance would come afterward “from those willing to breach police barricades.” Resistance, according to Hedges, can only be effective “when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.” Likewise, Arun Gupta accused PCM of spending too much money on subway advertisements and wondered how much political value a march can have when mainstream politicians and other elites felt comfortable enough to march in it.

Surely there are critiques to be made of last week’s mobilization – there is always room for improvement. But last Sunday’s march was an important step toward building a popular movement for climate justice, which, in turn, is a necessary condition for more radical actions – like the ones FWS organized. The dichotomy between the PCM and FWS is a false one. What the world saw last week in New York was a vibrant movement ecosystem in which a broad mobilization and its radical edges engaged in a critical interplay.

What Hedges overlooks is how easily direct acts of revolt can be dismissed or repressed, if they are carried out by a small number of people who are not visibly tied to a broader social base. This is why Flood Wall Street’s mobilization in relation to the PCM was so vital. To grasp this relationship requires us to shed the dichotomous thinking that pits this vs. that and us vs. them – too often extended to even our closest allies – and that …more

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The Risky Business of Building on Sand

In Review: Shored Up

Three years ago, when I was reporting on a story on climate change adaptation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s sea level rise expert James Titus told me that “managing human expectations” was by far the toughest part of figuring out how to adapt our lifestyles to a quickly changing world. This is especially true in coastal areas where, as the waters rise, we will have to make value judgments about which places to let go and which places to save by trying to hold back the sea. (Trouble is, no one expects to be the ones to be asked to let go.)

Beach replenishmentPhoto courtesy Shored UpMore and more people are moving to coastal communities. So what do you do when a mega-storm like Sandy hits or when slow beach erosion eats at the foundations of beachside homes?

The documentary Shored Up shows that we have, in fact, already been making those value judgments, and so far, the decisions have neither been egalitarian nor, some would argue, sound calls.

The United States is a largely coastal nation. About 123 million, or 39 percent, of the country’s 300 million people live in coastal counties, which make up a mere 20 percent of the nation’s land area. There are enough reports and studies out there now that show how these coastal communities are at grave risk from climate change. Yet, more and more people are flocking to these communities. So what do you do when a mega-storm like Sandy hits or when slow beach erosion eats at the foundations of beachside homes? Which homes do you save? Which shoreline communities do you protect from future disasters of this kind?

Using TV footage from Hurricane Sandy and past severe storms, interviews with Sandy survivors, scientists, politicians and activists, as well as neat, hand-drawn animation, Shored Up explores these questions and highlights how heavy development along the nation’s coastline has put us in a tough predicament. And it shows how, usually, it’s the ones with the money — think $2 to $6 million “supersized McBeach” holiday homes — that get bailed out.

Director and producer Ben Kalina had set out to make a film in 2009 about the state of barrier islands and the Army Corps of Engineers’ expensive beach replenishment process, that’s basically a Sisyphean effort to pile sand up on the …more

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Across the US, Cities Struggle to Figure Out How to Accommodate Urban Farming

Widespread interest in urban agriculture is forcing local authorities to re-examine rules that prohibit farming in cities

Sacramento has worked diligently over the past two years to brand itself as America’s farm-to-fork capital, hosting local food festivals, wine tastings, and gala dinners featuring the city’s premier chefs. Tickets for this year’s dinner, at $175 dollars each, sold out in five minutes. The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau has even organized a cattle drive and tractor parade through downtown.

2 for $1photo by Robert Couse-Baker, on Flickr Sacramento has its share of farmer’s markets, but there are no urban farms within the city limits

Sure, nearly 1.4 million acres of farmland exist around the city, which is located in California’s vast and fertile Central Valley region, and the climate is amenable to growing produce year-round (drought complications notwithstanding). But there are no urban farms in Sacramento. The closest and most prominent urban farm, the 55-acre Soil Born Farms, exists outside the city limits.

Sacramento is relatively progressive when it comes to gardening: The city already allows frontyard vegetable gardens, urban chickens, and community gardens on private land and runs 13 community gardens on public land. But farming – that is, growing crops to sell – has fallen behind.

In response to urging from the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition – which went so far as to draft its own proposed urban agriculture ordinance – the city may amend its municipal code to clear the way for residents interested in growing and selling produce by allowing farming as a primary land use in all zones, not only agricultural: that includes residential, commercial, and industrial.

The city has proposed an urban agriculture ordinance that would allow the cultivation of crops in residential areas up to 1 acre in size, in commercial areas up to 3 acres, and in industrial areas with no size restriction. Produce stands, greenhouses, and hoop-houses would be allowed, while mechanized farm equipment such as tractors would be prohibited after initial site preparation. The ordinance would also create an incentive zone providing reduced property taxes for agricultural plots.

But the urban agriculture coalition members were taken aback during a recent planning and design commission meeting when they learned that the city’s proposal would limit produce sales from these farms to areas where agriculture was the “primary use.” People who grow at homes, schools, or churches …more

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Rwanda Launches Project to Rid Its Freshwater Lakes of Suffocating Weed

Initiative to remove water hyacinth from lakes is part of a long-term effort to restore the African nation’s fragile ecosystems

Nestled within Africa’s Great Lakes region, landlocked Rwanda is dotted with many beautiful and ecologically diverse freshwater lakes that sustain numerous fishing communities. The amazing array of bird life at these lakes, including the largest and most spectacular Lake Kivu, draw tourists from all over the world. However, Rwanda’s lakes, as well other major freshwater bodies in the Great Lakes region, are being slowly suffocated by water hyacinth – a free-floating perennial native to South America that can be an aggressive invader. 

photo of a misty, tropical lake; people are harvesting greenery from the water The clean up campaign is starting with Lake Cyohoha, one of the worst-affected lakes in Rwanda’s eastern Bugesera district, where volume of water hyacinth is so high that it has nearly halted all fishing activities.

Over the past few decades, lakes such as Kivu, Cyohoha, Ruhondo, Burera, Mugesera and Rweru have become overrun with water hyacinth, which forms thick, floating mats that cover large surfaces and affect aquatic life by sucking oxygen out of the water.

The Rwandan government has now launched a campaign to remove the plant from its lakes as part of a five-year initiative dubbed “SupportingEcosystem Rehabilitation and Protection for Pro-poor Green Growth Program” (SERPG) that aims to preserve the country’s natural resources and boost its green economy.

The lake clean-up campaign spearheaded by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), is first tackling Lake Cyohoha, one of the worst-affected lakes in Rwanda’s eastern Bugesera district, where volume of water hyacinth is so high that it has nearly halted all fishing activities. The 16-mile lake straddles the nations of Burundi and Rwanda. Its watershed extends 196 square miles of which, 53.6 sq miles lie in Rwanda.

Water hyacinth have been reducing the lake’s water quantity as well as impeding fishing activities that are vital to the livelihoods of communities surrounding them, says REMA deputy director general Colletta Ruhamya. More than 94,000 people live by the lake, and about 30,000 Rwandans depend on it for their survival. (Though badly affected, Lake Cyohoha is still producing some fish – about 1.2 tons per month, according to officials.) According to REMA, Lake Cyohoha used to be a large lake until the year 2000 when the encroaching water hyacinth made the water undrinkable, leading to an acute water shortage in the region.

REMA embarked on the Lake Cyohoha …more

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