April 23, 2014

A Reflection on Earth Day in Northeast Pennsylvania

Yesterday, I spent a couple hours at the Earth Day celebration in Wilkes-Barre. I thought a lot about the environmental crises northeast Pennsylvania has endured over generations.

The Wyoming Valley, which includes Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, especially has seen the horrors of unbridled resource extraction.

471 Ongoing Waste Coal Fire in Simpson PA (Times-Tribune)In Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties alone, there are eight mine fires burning continuously and the town of Simpson is currently engulfed in sulfuric smoke as the DEP scrambles to put out the most recent waste coal fire found in December. Millions of gallons of acid mine drainage are pouring out of bore holes stuck into the bellies of abandoned anthracite mines by the Army Corps of Engineers. Below Old Forge, where 65 million gallons of mine drainage spill out every day, the Lackawanna River runs orange with remediation proposals slow to proceed and all but abandoned.

I passed by the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore, where convicted mob associate Louis DeNaples is seeking permission to expand his dump 143 million cubic yards vertically over the next 47 years. Approximately ten percent of that will be drill cuttings from the fracking industry, which are used as landfill cover to tuck in the trash every day.

In Avoca, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. agreed this month to pay $5.15 billion to settle an environmental contamination case against its subsidiary Kerr-McGee Corp. and some of its affiliates accused of fraudulently transferring assets to avoid paying its bills. The settlement calls for $4,101 to go to Avoca for cleanup of creosote, a distilled coal tar, at the former wood-treatment plant on a 35-acre site off York Avenue. According to a case summary released by the EPA, people injured or killed because of contamination will split $605 million.

I told the story of the Tocks Island Dam and Delaware Water Gap in the next valley over during my spot in the program. I told how a young, popular Democrat in 1961 proposed the seizure of 40 miles of Pike County to flood it with a dam, obliterating the agricultural heritage of our river valley and leveling the homes of our neighbors.

The people beat back the Cold War-era US government to declare their right to remain, despite losing a vast majority of the land to the National Park Service by eminent domain. The center of the village I would call home, Dingmans Ferry, is now a barren intersection and many of the fields for miles up and down the river lay fallow.

The toxic legacy of industrial expansion in our Commonwealth has many stories to tell us, especially about who we should trust.

For my generation, another young, popular Democrat president has condemned the fate of Pennsylvanians. This time, he's put the entire Commonwealth on the table, wherever his friends among the oil and gas industry can find shale. He sings its praises and expects that we will fall in line.

We only have to look around our towns and region to know that Barack Obama's is a false promise. He develops his shale gas policies with the same arrogance and disrespect as the industrialists who ravaged this place before him. Now is the time for Pennsylvanians to reverse the trend of history, grasp control of our fates, and declare self-determination from our enemies who would otherwise lavish in our exploitation.