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So often, we, in the environmental justice movement are bombarded with immense challenges and often heartbreaking losses from corporations that seem undefeatable, legislators that don’t seem to make decisions with the people’s best interest in mind and legal systems that are unbearably slow.  And no matter how hard we work on one issue, there’s always that other one that seems to slip past us.

We know we’ve got a difficult task ahead of us, and no one will argue that this isn’t tough work.  But, here’s the thing, we need to celebrate our victories along the way or else we’ll all end up feeling defeated, and essentially will be defeated.

Every year, The Goldman family hosts a ceremony for the annual Goldman Prize recipients.  Many of us pull out our best outfits and dust off those dress shoes to go celebrate six grassroots leaders that have made significant and widely beneficial changes within their community.  We’re reminded change is possible and rejoice in their presence and maybe even secretly hope that shaking their hands will give us a little more patience and strength in our own challenges for grassroots change.

However, since the Goldman Prize is only awarded to six individuals from around the world, once a year, we’d like to outline a few more victories to give us all a little more patience and strength in our fight for environmental justice.

  1. New York: Tonawanda Coke was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    Image from the Buffalo Record

When nearby residents started collecting samples with GCM’s Bucket Brigade, sample results revealed startling high levels of benzene, levels that were 75 times higher than acceptable health standards, in the surrounding air.  The EPA and local legislators took notice and began their own investigation and in March 2013, after a long and complex trial, a guilty verdict was reached by the jury!

     2.    India: Sterlite Copper Plant ordered closed after gas leak.

On March 28, 2013 nearly 5,000 people marched to the Sterlite Copper Plant in protest of a toxic gas leak that occurred five days before.  Two days later, “officials from 10 governmental departments arrived by the vanload”.  Hours later, the plant had been shut down and the electricity connection to the copper plant had been disconnected.

     3.    Little Village, Chicago, Illinois: 2 Coal Fired Plants to shut down

Image from warresisters.org

Although this is a victory honored with the Goldman Prize it still deserves much mention here.  A Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution.  After a ten year grassroots battle, residents earned support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the owners announced the shutdown of the Crawford and Fisk coal burning plants.

     4.     Installation of air monitors along the fenceline of dangerous oil refineries

Many residents living in environmental justice communities believe,rightfully so, that they at least have the Right to Know what’s in the air that they are breathing.  That will allow them to make informed decisions for their health and the health of their families.  As fair as that sounds, residents are often faced with strong opposition from their industrial neighbors on this very subject.  So when oil refineries start footing the bill to install air monitors on their fenceline, we need to chalk that up as a win! 

In 2004, monitors at an oil refinery in Rodeo, CA were upgraded to include a real-time, public internet feed.  In May 2012, the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana agreed to install air monitors along their fenceline and rumor has it that Chevron in Richmond, CA is working with the City to install similar equipment at their refinery.

      5.     An estimated 40,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate Rally in February 2013.

Image from campusprogressive.org

Anyone who’s ever done any kind of movement organizing knows just how hard it is to get 40,000 people to stand together in solidarity for something, and anyone who’s spent a February in D.C knows how unbearably cold it can be.  So let’s recognize how big of a win this is!  Our message about how dirty tar sands oil is has

reached the masses.  It was only a few years ago, people thought I was collecting signatures on a petition against Tarzan.  This past February, those 5,000 signatures collected were distributed to the White House in connection with one of the largest climate justice rallies in US history.

All of these victories have help people breathe easier, created less pollution in the air, less asthma and an opportunity for people to actually have their inherit right of living with clean air.  Although, we can only list out these five at the moment (we need to get back to turning our work in CA’s Central Valley into something that will make this list!) there are many more!  Have one that we missed?  Feel free to tell us about it below!  We share our challenges, we need to remember to share the victories as well.

Hopefully, these big victories will remind us- “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

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This is a guest blog written by April Lane, a Bucket Brigade leader on the front lines in Arkansas.

oil spill 302On Friday March 29, 2013 an Exxon Mobile Pipeline ruptured sending oil some experts compare closely to tar sands oil through a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark. The pipeline blew at approximately 2 p.m. and was discovered by area residents soon after. The subdivision that sits right off of I-40, one of the busiest interstates in the state, never knew the pipeline was even there and it is just now being marked.This subdivision also sits just a creek and railroad track away from the Mayflower school. As the wave of oil made it through the subdivision it found a drainage ditch and then it hit the creek that runs down the side of the railroad tracks.  It ran to a pipe that goes under the interstate and comes out on the other side into Lake Conway and a wildlife habitat.  

Estimates are now saying that at least 10,000 barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil were lost in the incident. On Saturday, March 30th crews arrived from out of state to begin the clean-up. It was then that we learned that the pipe had leaked from 2 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning at approximately 3 a.m. oil spill 367The efforts were led by the county and state agencies at first and they had a lot of trouble getting the blockade to hold to keep the oil contained. Residents were evacuated but not everyone chose to leave. A few residents decided to stay and still reside inside the “hot zone.” Local teams have been working around the clock at the various places throughout this junction in town that this oil has popped out at.  But once you have walked the streets and surveyed the area in its entirety you can’t help but ponder, “how will they ever get it all cleaned up?” oil spill 379
Sunday, March 31st new wildlife effects were discovered surrounding the Lake. Ducks were found covered in oil. Some made it through but many did not and the window to helping the one’s that can be saved is closing rapidly. The total amount of wildlife that has been affected is still unknown and numbers continue to rise. More alarming than the loss of wildlife is that local residents have already begun to notice the effects. The first resident we approached on Saturday was one of the effected residents who chose to evacuate but only after her son began having wheezing, diarrhea and nausea from the fumes. Many residents outside of the hot zone in the surrounding neighborhoods that run next to where the spill occurred are experiencing symptoms. They describe the odor as being so strong that you can “cut it with a knife” and following the spill on Friday they began having a metallic like taste on their tongue and severe headaches followed by nausea. All of their questions have been left unanswered and the only answer they have received is that the air is safe.  Monday and Tuesday followed with an increased influx of companies and out-of-state license plates. oil spill 339

Today, our Attorney General Dustin McDaniel toured the area and described the neighborhood where the spill originated as a scene out of the walking dead. I would say I think it is clear to everyone that has walked the streets and the various locations surrounding the lake that this is an event that not only will take months to clean up but will also have an impact on the town of Mayflower and the residents that will ripple outwards 
into the surrounding areas that will last much longer than anyone is currently addressing.  However, the after-school sports practice involving 8 to 10 children practicing outdoors directly across the railroad tracks from where the spill occurred clearly emphasizes that appropriate measures to limit exposure to area residents are not yet being enforced to the fullest as to limit panic and further public outcry demanding answers and action.

oil spill 301