Belated Summer Solstice Vows : Buy Secondhand

Some will think I’m crazy, but fundamentally,  I believe that the members of multinational corporate boards really do  sit around asking themselves, “How little can we invest and still keep The Public  anesthetized?”

And then, as with any market survey or drug trial, they measure the results.  Will The Public doze fitfully  through the theft of its savings if we distract them with cheap reality programming?  If  The Public Beast stirs in agitation,  either the dose or the specific soporific/narcotic will be changed.

My mental state aside,  (I just heard The Natural Resources Defense Council attorney all but say that hydraulic fracturing is a done and protected deal) …

I vow never to buy brand new or retail products whose ads feature:

1.   human domestic males dumber than posts;

2.   human domestic females more viperish than Voldemort;

3.   disclaimers longer than the ad  (e.g. “… not for use by women who are pregnant or children who walk  on two legs and plan to reproduce one day….”;

4.   the words,  “The Surgeon General…,” “We’re on your side,”  “rosy” or “daisy-fresh”;

5.   perfect fruits and veggies that shine like waxy goo;

7.   “homemade anything” in a  box or can;

8.   people in a bath of gauzy, fantastical light;

9.   mean-spirited babies;

10.   financial institutions “that are with me during the hard times.”

11.   realtors intoning, “Now is the time!” while flying around in hot air balloons;

12.   alternative energy from companies who (by law, they’re people)  have poisoned the planet for decades;

13.   unctuous, compassionate tones;

14.   insurance companies  who  cradle me from birth to grave but pay  my Congresspeople to kill a single payer plan.

Please make a vow and  share it with the rest of us  in the comment box below. 

Hinchey: Fracturing Responsibility

While being interviewed by WJFF’s  (90.5 FM) Dick Riseling,  Representative Maurice Hinchey discussed House Bill  (HR2766,  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009) and its companion Senate Bill, S1215.

The bottom line:  Congress does not have the chops (votes) to pass a bill that will prevent contamination of our drinking water.

Last week the House of Representatives passed an energy bill with the bare number of votes needed (219).  To be sure, it incorporated truly radical ideas like reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but somehow, our intrepid Congress got the job done.

One listener, Susan Sullivan,  called in to say  that  chemicals do migrate to ground water and wondered if  the EPA would  be required to  rely on  real science in formulating its oversight  and enforcement policies of the drilling industry.

In response, Representative Hinchey said,  “Fifty-sixty years ago, we already understood  the dangers of contamination.”

But will the EPA be required to rely on that really available science in formulating its oversight and enforcement policies?

No answer.

The two frack bills do nothing more than:  force drilling companies to identify the chemical constituents used in hydraulic fracturing to a State administrator;  force the Administrator to make those constituents available to the public;  and to make proprietary compounds available in emergencies (after proper permissions have been filed and, where appropriate,  confidentiality agreements are signed.)

How much less demanding can The Public  be, for Pete’s sake?  It’s akin to asking,  “Please tell me what the slop in the bowl is before I eat it.”

No more than common courtesy, I say.

And how many Congresspeople have signed on as sponsors to this White Flag?   Ten in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

The Natural Resources Defense Council attorney,  Kate Sindling,  was next up.  She encouraged all of us to support the bill because, in context, it’s the best we can do and even though the chemical disclosure provision is a no-brainer, its passage is not assured.  “I echo Congressman Hinchey,” said Attorney Sinding.  “‘Let’s get this thing passed.’   It’s a critical first step.  The public will be able to determine  whether chemicals are turning up in the water after  hydraulic fracturing.    It makes the actual chemical components available to  medical people in case of emergencies and  ill health.  It makes epidemiologic studies possible.”

In other words, once we’re poisoned, we’ll know by what.  And ten years from now, we’ll know to what extent.  (By the way,  the “Frac Act” specifically exempts injections of natural gas for underground storage from its disclosure requirements.)

Attorney Sindling  also reminded us that the Clean Drinking Water Act refers to public waters and suggested pressure would be required for the EPA to consider private wells as “public.”  Here followed some mumblety jumbo about the water in private wells coming from  aquifers which are in the public domain.  “Hopefully,”  Attorney Sindling said, “we’ll be able to pressure the EPA into extending its definition of  ‘public’  to include  those private wells.”

And just exactly how many rural dwellers drink from city wells?

Finally, when a caller said (in so many words)  that The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009  ignores known dangers and does nothing to prevent contamination (“The water will be polluted!” he insisted) Ms. Sinding laid this bombshell,  “We at the Natural Resources Defense Council are treating  hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shale as a foregone conclusion.  So  the best we can do is try to come up with effective ways to protect…” people’s interests after the fact.

So let me make sure I’ve got it:   if we can demonstrate we’ve been “injured” (asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune diseases, liver failure, cancer and other ailments such as headaches, nausea, and sleeplessness) we can then use the publicized list of poisons in an effort  to prove (in a lawsuit) what sickened us.

Even better, our ill health won’t be in vain!   Purpose has been delivered to us out of the dark!   We’ll be the subjects of epidemiologic studies!  It’s not the same as having our names in lights on Broadway and there’s no guarantee the studies will be funded, but what do we expect from an Oligarchy?

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Legal note:  In Coalition of Towns v. EPA the United States Court of Appeals for the Second  Circuit articulated who has standing to bring a lawsuit:

“As a threshold matter, the EPA argues that, under the “case-or-controversy” requirement of Article III of the Constitution, the Towns lack standing to bring this petition because they have not
suffered any “injury-in-fact,” i.e., an invasion of a legally protected interest that is “concrete and particularized . . . and [ ] actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical”. (Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)… see also id. at 560-61 (holding that the three elements of Article III standing are (1) an “injury in fact” that is (2) causally related (“fairly traceable”) to the challenged action and (3) likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision).”

Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years.

(James Barth’s commentary in response to the New York Times article, Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears was recommended for its “thoughtfulness” by The NY Times’ editorial staff.  It is re-printed here by permission of the author and with appreciation by Breathing Is Political.  Also, please follow these links for the earthquake threat in New York State, FEMA’s Earthquake Hazard Map and Water Under Attack, a new documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox)

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The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years. They will not be drilling to release geothermal energy, but what we call “natural gas”.  The Marcellus shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and extends into the Catskills and Southern Tier of NY State, is the prime target of the gas and oil industry. Other shale layers may be targeted, and indeed even sandstone layers, like the Oriskany, which Chesapeake is currently drilling into in Wayne County, PA.

These wells will be drilled up to a depth of 9,000 feet (or greater), and then they will turn horizontal for another 3,000 to 5,000 feet in length before being hydraulically fractured through our pristine aquifers using proprietary toxic chemicals that the companies, like Halliburton and Schlumberger, manufacture and sell. These companies and these toxic solutions are exempted from the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air and Right to Know Acts (among others) by the absurd amendments that were included in the July 29, 2005 Energy Act that was passed by Congress.

Not only do we fear correctly for the health of our drinking water systems from this drilling, but now, as it is explained in this article, we have to fear the potential seismic ramifications of these projects. These potential seismic activities further undermine any credible claims by the oil and gas industry that such drilling will never endanger our drinking water. Whether such earthquakes will topple buildings or not, they certainly will undermine any pathetic cement bonding and sealing that this industry claims will keep the production gas, and poisonous cocktails from migrating upwards into our aquifers.

I’m very grateful that the Times published this article. I’m also mystified  as to why it is about drilling for geothermal energy in California, when the Times has not yet published one article that explores the potential devastating implications to the health and environment of our immediate New York City area  that such horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing poses! This threat has been loud and developing over the past one and a half years in our region. It is well past time for the NY Times to directly take on this issue, and for the more than fifteen million area residents who depend on this water for life, to become aware of it.

Angela Page, Folk DJ Extraordinaire.

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On July 5, 2009,  a dream ticket of Folk music notables will join hands and raise voices on behalf of  one of their greatest fans and staunchest supporters:  Angela Page, Folk DJ Extraordinaire.

For thirteen years, Angela Page worked for the Liberty Middle School in a leaking library.

In 1991, a week before the school’s official opening,  the Liberty School Board was informed that water was leaking into the building from the library’s roof.  The District placed buckets above the ceiling tiles to catch the incursions and for the thirteen years that Angela was the librarian,  the buckets remained.  They were still in place when the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) issued its negative health assessment in 2005.  (See:  2005 NIOSH report of its findings.)

In short,  the underlying water problem was never effectively addressed during Angela’s tenure with the District and by 2004,  after suffering prolonged exposure to mold gases, she found herself in the nightmare world of  neurotoxicity.  (After you read about neurotoxicity, you might wonder as I have whether  Angela represents a horrible kind of “canary in the mine.”)

She fought to work and live with her illness.  She sought out  medical specialists and the resultant  testing and treatment protocols have been extremely expensive.  Despite  NIOSH (2005 NIOSH report) urging employees to, “Seek physician treatment of health symptoms related to the school environment, report health symptoms related to the school environment and to immediately report water leaks or incursions to school facilities personnel,”  the Liberty School District responded to Angela’s  plight by launching  employment termination proceedings against her.  With  her health deteriorating, after more than twenty years of service,  she was forced to fund a legal defense against the District’s  charges of incompetency. (See:  New York State Education Department §3020a hearings.)

When the Liberty School Board fired Angela, questions were raised by the public and in the press concerning the ethics and humaneness of the decision.  Nonetheless, in one felled-swoop, Angela lost both her job and critical health insurance coverage.  Her only recourse was to seek relief from Workers’ Compensation and thus began a treadmill of court hearings, doctor depositions, constant delays, appeals and orders to consult yet more medical professionals.

For more than two of the past five years, Angela has lived with  no income. To date, the school’s insurers have paid only a tiny fraction of her expenses.  By law, even when  Workers’ Compensation hearings end favorably, the worker’s  income is capped. Angela’s cap was set at $400 per week and from that pittance,  attorney fees are deducted. Though more recent caps are higher,  workers whose rates were established at an earlier time do not benefit from those increases.

Having met the statutory requirements to explore all other legal remedies, Angela filed suit in The US District Court.  She charged that The Liberty School District  discriminated against her on the basis of her disability. If the case proceeds as most of this sort do, it will  be lengthy and debilitating.

Angela’s  life has been turned inside out.  Due to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, she must live in a chemical-free environment.  She only travels or goes into  public when she can exercise control over the environment she’s entering.  Her Valentine’s Day wedding was broadcast over WJFF so friends and family could join the celebration without risking Angela’s health.  (For more information on Angela’s illness and legal battles, go to Liberty School Mold and to School Mold Help which have a large number of articles.)

Though embarrassed by her  loss of financial independence, Angela “is very grateful for the farmers, friends and family who have bridged financial gaps. I’d rather be struggling financially with these friends and family that I have, than wealthy without them.”

On Sunday, July 5, 2009, bring the family to The Beaverbrook Rod & Gun Club on Dexheimer Road in Narrowsburg, NY for a day of celebration and great music.

Visit Jill’s Kitchen for event details, performers, ticket information and to help out  the day of the event.  Jill Padua says,  “20-25 volunteers will be needed for shifts at the “gate,”  CD sales, parking, set-up and clean-up. You’ll get to enjoy music all day and I’ll feed you a meal!  Please call Jill at 845-252-3043 if you can help us to help Angela. Thank you.”

You can also visit CottageWorks Events & Calendar for updates and to volunteer via our Swaps, Barters & Freebies page.

Fresh Air Fund

Years ago,  a  child was designated “at risk.”  

His father had been poisoned with Agent Orange and the boy’s body had absorbed the toxin as birth defects.  Even after years of speech therapy,  he had to be reminded to “speak slowly”  so that people outside the family could understand him. 

He was taller than all his classmates but wasn’t an athlete. He’d grown too fast and hadn’t learned yet to manage his size.

His parents’ divorce threatened to split him down the middle. 

By the age of nine,  his peers had marked his awkwardness and unclear speech. He had no welcoming place where he belonged easily and he had no tools to express his isolation.

Near the end of that school year, an adult mentor nominated the boy for a scholarship to a summer camp for at-risk youth – rural kids and city kids in every stripe and flavor with two things in common:  they were poor and “stuck on the outside looking in.” 

They were artists and writers who hadn’t learned to trust themselves.  They were star swimmers who, until that summer, hadn’t  seen a body of water larger than what collected in the potholes outside their apartments.  Some spoke Spanish better than English and others spoke English better than Spanish.  In the end, it didn’t matter. 

Astonishing what children who belong nowhere will teach each other when they come together.

At first,  his mother resisted her son spending a week with other  “marginalized” kids.  She feared he’d come to believe  that his only place was on the fringe.  Worse,  she worried that like Woody Allen, he wouldn’t join a club “that would have [him] as a member”  and he’d come home more isolated  than ever.

In the end, mother and son waved goodbye to each other as the camp bus pulled out of the parking lot and disappeared down the road.  He looked lost and uncertain  behind the  window and her eyes glistened above a rigid smile.  Her best hope was that in two weeks he would find a home beyond his hometown; that he would carve a niche for himself with words like Hamlet’s, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Who knows what a child remembers?  Who knows what shapes a child’s dreams?  Who knows what having a choice at the right time can yield?

Today, the boy who rode off on that bus is in college with plans to return to his alma mater as an English teacher. Even better, his friends  come in every stripe and flavor with two things in common: they spent their youths “on the outside looking in” and they taught themselves to grow from the inside out.

We can’t say for certain that spending two weeks in a place where he belonged as much as anyone else changed his life, but by the time he jumped off the bus,  he was waving goodbye to the friends he’d made.

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From the Fresh Air Fund website (which can be reached by clicking on the button to your right):

“Every year, The Fresh Air Fund gives thousands of inner-city children the priceless gift of fun – and opens the door to a lifetime of opportunities.

Whether its a two-week trip to the country to visit a volunteer host family, or a fun-filled and educational stay at one of our camps, our programs make for unforgettable memories – and open a world of new friendships and fresh possibilities.

We are a not-for-profit agency and depend on tax-deductible donations from people like you to keep our vital programs flourishing.

Right now, any gift you make to The Fresh Air Fund will be matched dollar for dollar by a group of generous donors. If you can give $25, that means $50 for inner-city children. $50 becomes $100!

But you must make your donation by June 30th to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.”

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Communities In Transition

According to an organizer,  thirty-seven participants attended the June 9, 2009 Transition Sullivan community meeting.   Their purpose is to build a Sullivan County whose economic base is “sustainable and resilient in a new age of expensive oil, galloping climate change, and reduced funding for communities.”

Like Transition Towns in England, Transition Sullivan participants will investigate two crux issues:  how does a community evolve past  its dependence on declining petroleum resources and reduce its carbon emissions in order to strengthen itself and its people?

The notion of communities powering themselves is not new but it is gaining in vigor.  This past weekend, I was delighted to spend  time with Tom Lambert who’s been a long time champion of Sullivan County’s evolving independence.  We reminisced about attempts twenty years ago to extend high speed rail service to Callicoon from Port Jervis.  (The memory of those frustrated efforts  spurred one of us to  unseemly language  and it wasn’t Tom.)  By the end of the discussion,  we cautiously agreed that perhaps we’d been too early to the party twenty years ago.

Whether it’s farmers growing their way out of oil dependence in Iowa, powering a town with wind in Minnesota or generating radio broadcasts with water power in Jeffersonville, NY,  the seeds of change have been sown locally, nationally and internationally.

In the past, some activists  stopped listening  the minute they heard “bio-fuels.”  Others buried their heads at the mention of  “wind towers”  and others sputtered unintelligibly when “nuclear” was  whispered.  We each have preferences.  Each of us is  capable of finding faults in any solution but more than ever, we recognize that our futures are being sorely wasted.

Today, The Center for Discovery’s Thanksgiving Farm is inspirational in its scope.  New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was an unknown agency just a few years ago but today, it reels beneath the demand for licensed professionals capable of comprehensive green renovations.  Our very own  Sullivan County Community College stepped up and now offers a degree program in Green Building Maintenance and Management.

Seems to me that Tim Shera and Maria Grimaldi have organized their Transition Sullivan initiative at the perfect time.  Grab your neighbors and family.  Join them on June 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM at the Sullivan County Cornell Cooperative Extension for the second organizational meeting.

Try to  visit Transition Towns and Open Space Technology beforehand  so you’re familiar with the Transition Towns  model in England  and how the meeting will be conducted.  Think about the town, hamlet or village where you live.  Jot down a list of resources your community brings to the larger table and  for an overview of the first meeting, please see the new article at The Catskill Chronicle.

Buy local. Read local. Eat local.

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing. Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle. Check out Leni’s Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’ Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods. The Mamakating Messenger is another source for local news as is Ellenville’s Shawangunk Journal.

Every few years,  a new movement springs up.  In the sixties, housewives were freed to be all they could be.  Our  political conscience then  hop scotched  through Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans  and our systemic subjugation of African Americans.  Each group — whether they be  Latino, Irish or tree huggers — gets its day in the sunshine of national consciousness.   One can argue that a piecemeal approach to  human and Earth rights doesn’t work, but it’s how we’ve limited ourselves in the past.

Today, it’s all about  raising a Green Standard in Defense of  Local Communities.  Buy local, save gas.  Eat local, save the micro-ecology. Save the micro-ecology and we’ll preserve a healthy-world-diversity.

Everywhere we look,  hard copy newspapers are dying  slow strangling deaths.  Recently,  after years of cuts and accommodations,  The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle  Post-Intelligencer stopped arriving  on doorsteps.

Until recently, our Sullivan County backyards have been blessed with a  bevy of local news sources.

Perhaps we took them for granted because  The Times Herald Record was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s  News Corps and presto-change-o, Beth Quinn was canned.  Predictably,  readers in Orange and Sullivan Counties cried out.  We sent a flurry of letters supporting her.  The Orange County Legislature declared August 9, 2008  “Beth Quinn Day”  and hundreds turned out to commemorate her thirty years of community service.  (While some elected officials acknowledged her role in keeping our local ecology vibrant, to my knowledge,  The Times Herald Record neither published our letters nor covered our day with Beth.)

In 2006,  Catskill-Delaware Publications purchased The Towne Crier and its loyal readers held their collective breath in dismay.  Publisher, Fred Stabbert,  did not increase the Crier’s online presence.  In fact,  few articles appear in the online version of  Mr. Stabbert’s flagship paper, The Sullivan County Democrat. Local activists were not surprised when Mr. Stabbert  merged the two papers and The Crier breathed its (probably) last independent breath in May 2009.

Members of a local community need information about local happenings.  How else do we know where to volunteer?  Without local advertising,  how do we know where to buy local products and services?  Where will we learn about the latest School Board fracas or Town Board tumult?  How will we know that our neighbors are descending en masse on Town Hall to protest tax assessments?  How will we know when gambling interests, power line advocates  and natural gas “frackers”  have drawn a bead on our green mountains and fresh waters?

Citizen journalists,  local advocates and volunteer-run public radio (WJFF-90.5) that’s how.  Sustainable Sullivan, Coalition for a Casino-Free Sullivan,  The Riverkeeper, members of  the Upper Delaware Community, The Towne Crier,  The River Reporter and many others investigated and reported what they believed were threats to our “way of life.”   WJFF ensures we have  multiple community fora for airwave discussions.  (The River Reporter’s current online front page is devoted to  natural gas extraction from shale beds and the resultant designation of the Delaware River as endangered.)

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing.   Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer  for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle.  Check out Leni’s  Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’  Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for  referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods.   The Mamakating Messenger is another source for  local news as is Ellenville’s  Shawangunk Journal.

Most of these  efforts are in their infancy and though we might not agree with  their points of view,  our communities need and deserve a wide-ranging discussion of the forces brought to bear on us whether they originate in China, Washington, D.C., our State Capitols or our Town Boards.

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Disclaimer:  Liz Bucar is the proprietor  of CottageWorks and holds a longtime bias in favor of the community servants & groups mentioned in this article.  She offers heartfelt apologies to any groups not mentioned.  Hopefully, you’ll contact her so your group, local business and events will be posted in a future article or at one of CottageWorks pages.