marco polo date of birth Environmental activists fight to change culture in Northwest Indiana
VALPARAISO Northwest Indiana has such a long legacy of industrial pollution and so many ongoing issues that people pushing for environmental justice can’t always fight every battle.
East Chicago environmental activist Thomas Frank and Hoosier Environmental Council staff attorney Samuel Henderson shared that message and more Monday during a talk at the Valparaiso Chain of Lakes Watershed Group’s meeting.
Frank helped form the Community Strategy Group, which has advocated for residents of the USS Lead Superfund site in East Chicago andfought against a proposed air permit for a company thatsupplies coke for the blast furnaces at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor.
The CSG also recently claimed a victory when state and federal environmental regulators announced in September they would study an option for off site disposal and capping of the most contaminated sediments from the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal. Army Corps of Engineers had been seeking to store the sediments at an existing confined disposal facility, less than one third of a mile from East Chicago Central High School.
Calumet Region residents for years have considered factory smoke a necessary part of life, Frank said.
“These were immigrants. What did smoke mean to them? It meant jobs. It meant food on the table. It meant clothes, right?” he said. “I’m now telling them, ‘That doesn’t just mean food and jobs. That also means poison.’ So we’re shifting that metaphor on a large population that saw themselves as the workforce of America.”
Frank who has taken students, lawyers and even the former acting administrator of the EPA’s Chicago office on his Toxic Tours of the Region said Indiana consistently ranks among the top 15 states for toxic releases into the air and discharges 33 percent more toxins into waterways than all other states.
American Bar Association data show industry and corporations employed 28,
000 environmental lawyers in 2012, while government and nonprofit organizations combined employed about 3,200.
Courts allowed environmental laws to be eroded during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, and new environmental laws were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.
“So it’s become a decades long slog to fight one polluter on one permit issue,” Henderson said. “There just aren’t that many attorneys working on these issues right now.”
Henderson said he and Frank discussed the environmental struggles in communities of color, but aren’t particularly representative of those communities.
“It’s the people living under the smokestack or next to the groundwater plume whose voices you really want to hear from in the debate,” he said.
“I think that’s something that all of us in the environmental movement need to continue to think about. . How do we build a movement,
how do we build legal strategies that center the voices of thepeople who are really on the front line?”