Friday, July 10, 2015

Presidential Hopefuls -- Will You Protect Our Environmental Rights?

Bernie Sanders, what is your position on ensuring people have a right to get a healthy glass of water
out of their household faucet, one free of contamination and toxins from industry?

Hilary Clinton, do you agree children have a right to a healthy breath of fresh air free from pollution that won’t induce asthma attacks?

Jeb Bush, do you agree that businesses and workers who depend upon healthy rivers and environments should be respected and protected?

Rand Paul, do you agree that people should have a right to preserve the sanctity of their homes and properties and not be forced to leave because of a toxic spill or explosion from a pipeline or nearby industrial complex?

Ted Cruz, should industries who cause earthquakes in our US communities be allowed to continue despite the damage and dangers they cause?

Marco Rubio, do you believe that corporations have a greater right to use cancer-causing chemicals in their operations than kids have to live full and healthy lives?

Our Presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about protecting our rights to free speech, our right to bear arms, our right to freedom of religion and to use our property as we see fit; they spend a lot of time talking about jobs, tax incentives for the corporations and the top 1% in our nation.  But they spend very little time talking about our rights to the clean and healthy environments necessary to support healthy lives, sustainable jobs, effective children’s education, enduring energy supplies and good health. 

Given how broadly and deeply pollution and environmental degradation impacts us all, how is it that we allow our politicians to avoid these kinds of questions.  Every one of us knows someone who has been impacted by environmental degradation:
illness, flooding, loss of property value, the stress of perpetual industrial noise, stinky air, loss of a favored swimming spot, a child with autism or asthma….

In New Jersey communities are losing their drinking water supplies to perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) contamination by the industrial operations of Solvay Specialty Partners, a plastics company. (See

In Pennsylvania shale gas extraction, drilling and fracking, is spewing toxic chemicals causing increased illness in surrounding communities such as nose bleeds, skin irritation, hair loss, burning, and sinus problems and exposing residents to cancer causing contaminants pollution.  (See; )

In Oklahoma where earthquakes were a relative rarity, in 2014 they had 585, including 15 that measured over 4.0 on the Richter scale, because of industrial operations associated with fracking.  (See

In states across the nation, pipelines are taking (through eminent domain and strong arm tactics) public and private lands and subjecting communities to:

(To see a recent pipeline explosion captured on video: )

We all need to know from our political candidates where they stand on the rights of people to a healthy environment. 

In Pennsylvania and Montana strong constitutional provisions have recognized that the right to life,   There is currently an effort afoot to advance passage of strong environmental rights provisions in every state and to advance the call for constitutional rights at the federal level too  (See ).  But in every instance legislative leaders will be needed to advance the call for, and passage of, these kinds of constitutional provisions.  And so we need to get good people in office who value our right to life more than they value a corporation’s desire for profits.
liberty, happiness, good jobs and healthy economies is dependent upon protecting peoples’ environmental rights.

And so every political candidate for office, from the local town council to those running for the Oval Office should be required to answer whether they support passage of constitutional provisions in state constitutions, and at the federal level, that will recognize and ensure peoples’ rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment.

Things you can do to help raise awareness about environmental rights:
When you have an opportunity to ask a political candidate her position on the peoples’ rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment, or what does he think about constitutional protection for environmental rights, take that chance to get him/her on the record and ask.

For The Generations wants to hear your story – how have you, a member of your family, a friend, or your community been impacted by environmental degradation – tell us your story, send us pictures, help us spread the word about how decisions and actions that degrade our environment are degrading our lives.  If you have a photograph or a news clip please share it on our For The Generations Facebook page wall at You can also use the hashtag #ForTheGenerations on your images, posts and stories and we'll be sure to share some of your submissions.

If your community wants to learn more about constitutional environmental rights, why they are important and how to pursue them in your state, send a message to and we will arrange for a speaker to come to your community.  And be sure to download a copy of our Toolkit for Action at

3 Simple Ways to Help the Environment

The first Earth Day was an inspiration. On that day in 1970, 20 million people turned out to demand the protection and restoration of the earth, air, water, forests, natural lands, and species that support, sustain, and enrich every aspect of our lives.

In more recent times, Earth Day hasn't had quite the same impact. Let's change that. More important, let's support and defend the earth every day, not just on Earth Day.

Here are three simple but meaningful things you can commit to that will help protect the earth for present and future generations:

1. Bring your own cups, bottles, and bags. 
When you picked up your morning coffee, did it come in a disposable cup? Was your bottled water in a plastic bottle? Out shopping, did you take your purchases home in a plastic bag?

Next time, plan ahead. Have your own cups, bottles, and bags ready when you need them. This simple act benefits not just the environment but also your own health in important ways. With regard to the environment:

  • Only 18 percent of the plastic used in the U.S. are recycled. That means nearly 29 tons of plastic waste are thrown into the trash each year.
  • Just one in five plastic bottles used in the U.S. get recycled. That means every year, more than 40 billion plastic bottles end up in the trash.

With regard to human health: Those 1 trillion plastic bags that are thrown away annually require about 12 million barrels of oil to make--which means that with every piece of plastic we use, our water, air, and soil are being polluted and our health and safety are threatened by oil and gas drilling.

In addition, dangerous chemicals in plastics, including endocrine disruptors that are a concern in reproduction and human development, leach into the water and liquids the plastics contain, which is harmful to human health.

A large proportion of plastic ends up in our waterways--in our streams, rivers and eventually our oceans--where it harms at least 267 species through ingestion or entanglement.
So this year, save a life--save many lives, human and animal. Set aside your disposable plastic bags and bottles. Set aside that disposable coffee cup. Protect the environment. When you choose to bring your own cups, bottles, and cloth bags, you are helping to reduce pollution and the harm associated with disposables.

2. Switch from disposed-of paper to reusable cloth. 
Reducing your trash generation at home is another easy daily step with a huge environmental impact. Although recycling is great, actually reducing the amount of waste you generate is even better. One easy and cost-saving place to start is the kitchen.

Paper towels and napkins have become the norm for drying hands and cleaning up messes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates we throw away 3.5 million tons of paper towels and tissues in any given year--this equals 7 billion pounds, which works out to be more than 20 pounds of paper towels and tissues per person per year. Paper towels can't be recycled, and they usually come into our homes wrapped in plastic, another enduring and harmful piece of trash. All this waste takes up landfill space. It also comes at a price: loss of trees (for the pulp), use of water (for production), and the generation of greenhouse gases (during production and transport). Also, most are bleached, which further increases their environmental burden.

Instead of using paper towels or wipes, reach for a cloth towel. Cloth towels and wipes can be used, rinsed, and used again. Wash them along with the rest of your laundry, and cloth towels and wipes will serve you for many years to come. They can also become lovely kitchen accents. The tea towels I use are decorated with artistic whales, dolphins, and elephants. Whatever pattern I select, my dish-drying and hand-drying towels add texture and color to my home. And when I pull out my blue, yellow, or pink cloth wipes, the effectiveness of my cleanup job for the spilled juice, the dropped pizza, or the drizzled ice cream is much more effective and satisfying.

For more reusable fun, consider using colored cloth napkins instead of paper ones, and maybe find some fancy napkin rings so each person can identify his or her napkin for reuse between washings (the actual purpose of napkin rings, which were created during the 19th century).

Assuming you use three paper towels a day, even at $10 a pop for hand towels and $5 each for organic-cotton cloth napkins, those cloth equivalents become free in a matter of months. If you keep paper towels around for occasional use, buy recycled paper towels with no bleach and no dyes.

3. Shovel the snow and rake the leaves--leave gas-powered engines behind. 
Gas-powered leaf, lawn, and snow blowers require loud engines that run on polluting fossil fuels. Rakes and shovels require people power. By cutting out the gas, you are avoiding the harms that come with the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and saving yourself and your neighbors from the noise pollution they inflict.

Leaf, lawn, and snow blowers emit carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. These small machines have not been subject to the same air-pollution mandates as other industrial operations and so are even bigger contributors to air pollution than you might imagine. The California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board calculates that "hydrocarbon emissions from one-half hour of leaf blower operation equal about 2,200 miles of driving, at 30 miles per hour average speed."

The noise that gas-powered leaf blowers generate has led many communities to regulate their use, and a few have even banned them. Human health concerns associated with leaf-blower noise include noise-induced hearing loss; high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; and anxiety and physiological stress-related effects. Even at a distance, leaf-blower noise often reaches 70 decibels, the maximum safe level set by the U.S. for workplace noise. EPA recommendations for home and nonwork environments are 55 decibels (outdoor) and 45 decibels (indoor); recommended levels for schools and hospitals are even lower.

If you have a health issue that limits your physical activity, don't endanger yourself by raking leaves or shoveling snow. But if you're in good health, consider pulling out the rakes and shovels. In addition to saving on gas and cutting down on pollution and noise, you'll get the added value of a little exercise and some time enjoying the out of doors.

Taking small steps can have big impacts that protect and enhance our environment and in so doing directly protect our communities, our health, and our safety.

  • Bittner, G. D., Yang, C. Z., & Stoner, M. A. (2014). Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products. Environmental Health, 13(1), 41.; Time magazine: Walsh, Walsh, B. (2010). The perils of plastic. Time Magazine, 42-54., accessed at:,28804,1976909_1976908_1976938,00.html;
  • NCBI article specifically related to endocrine disruptors: Barrett, J. R. (2009). ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS: Estrogens in a bottle?. Environmental health perspectives, 117(6), A241. Accessed:
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010 Municipal Solid Waste in The United States: 2009 Facts and Figures. Retrieved from
  • California Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. A Report to the California Legislature on the Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Leaf Blowers. Retrieve from
  • Consumer Reports. 2010. Blower Noise: Leaf-blower regulations nationwide. Retrieved from
  • California Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. A Report to the California Legislature on the Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Leaf Blowers. Retrieve from
  • City of Burlingame Citizen’s Environmental Council. 2010. Recommendations to City Council: Leaf Blowers and Our Public Health Retrieved from

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why We Should All Have a New York State of Mind on Fracking, Drilling & Shale Gas

Where were you when New York banned fracking? December 17, 2014, has now joined the list of “where were you when” moments for everyone involved in the fight to end fracking in the U.S.

Based on an extensive review of the science regarding the health, environmental, and community impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—a new process being used to shatter underground rock formations to extract shale gas—New York has banned the practice. The state’s prohibition on fracking means that New Yorkers will be spared the harmful effects of industrial shale gas extraction.

Why did New York decide to make this landmark decision? While reviewing shale gas and fracking processes, the state identified a number of harms to human and environmental health, as well as economic issues inflicted by the shale gas extraction industry.

According to New York’s thorough five-year review, destructive impacts of shale gas extraction could include:

   Reduced air quality
   Polluted drinking water
   Soil and water contamination
   Surface water contamination
   Induced earthquakes
   “Boomtown economic effects,” including “increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints”
   Climate change.

New York’s detailed analysis stands in stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s approach. The commonwealth has moved full-steam ahead despite mounting evidence of the harms caused by this extreme industrial practice.

In Maryland, fracking isn’t currently happening, but that may change soon. Governor Martin O’Malley recently said that, while there is “no doubt” that shale gas extraction is a threat to public health, the environment, and important natural resources, the state will put in place regulations that will manage these harms so they are kept to an “acceptable level.” But if your tap water has been so polluted you can’t safely drink or bathe in it; if your air has been poisoned; if your lungs have been harmed or your body contaminated; if you now live in the shadow of the 24/7 lights, noise, and stink of a nearby industrial well site and the 1,400 to 4,000 truck trips it requires, there is no acceptable level.

As revealed in Unsafe & Unsustainable, a recent analysis of voluntary “performance standards” purported to make shale gas extraction safe and sustainable, this is an industry that cannot be made safe. Time and again, standards put forth suggesting that shale gas extraction can be done safely are found wanting, the task, unachievable.

The sad reality is that in Pennsylvania and Maryland, these decisions are being driven by politics, not science. When politics are taken out of the analysis, the full depth and breadth of harm from shale gas extraction is honestly and earnestly revealed and recognized. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to render a ruling about the impacts of shale gas extraction, in a legal forum not driven by politics, but by law and facts, Chief Justice Ron Castille wrote:

"By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction."

We all need pure water, clean air, and the healthy environment necessary to support and sustain healthy lives, yet political leaders fail to give environmental rights the same protections they give other fundamental rights like freedom of speech.

Shale gas extraction is an extreme example of our right to healthy lives’ being
bargained away for political capital. But it doesn’t have to be that way. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has set the standard we can and should demand of all politicians: Put the rights and lives of the people before the profits of industry.

In fact, in the pursuit of energy, you can support people and profits simultaneously—just make the energy industries you advance are the ones that provide truly clean and sustainable energy options (go to to learn how your state can be fueled by sustainable energy in a matter of decades).

Now is the time to recognize that we all have inherent and indefeasible rights to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment. These are rights we must demand for ourselves and protect for the generations yet to come (learn more about what you can do to demand your environmental rights through our For The Generations program).

As the Post Carbon Institute’s Drilling Deeper report documents, the life of the shale gas industry will be but a few decades. We are all better served by investing now in clean energy options that will fuel our future and protect our air, water, sustainable jobs, economy, and lives.

This blog was originally posted on:

Huffington Post:

 Maria's Farm Country Kitchen:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Protecting Our Rights to Pure Water, Clean Air and a Healthy Environment

Our rights to free speech and religious freedom are among the many fundamental rights guaranteed by our federal and state constitutions, which we fiercely fight to protect in the United States.

But while our Declaration of Independence talks about the right to life and the pursuit of happiness, what we do not find in our U.S. Constitution are the rights to three basic needs for life and happiness: our rights to pure water, clean air, and healthy environments.

Only a few state constitutions include environmental rights among the list of rights to which we are each individually entitled. Pennsylvania is currently the state with the most protective environmental rights amendment in its state constitution, and its state Bill of Rights also enumerate those protections. And this past year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court breathed substantive life into the provision.

Until recently, despite the Environmental Rights Amendment in Pennsylvania’s constitution, the courts did not give due protection to the fundamental rights it pronounces. But as the result of a legal action brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and seven towns, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared the environmental rights of Pennsylvanians inviolable and deserving of the highest levels of protection in the State.

In the case, titled Robinson Township, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court went a fundamental step further than just protecting environmental rights in the state. The courts made clear that our environmental rights are not granted to us, but are in fact inherent and indefeasible rights (meaning they are rights given to us by nature and that cannot be taken from us by government or law). Of further significance, the plurality of the court said that these environmental rights belong not just to present generations living on the earth today, but they are rights that must be protected for the future generations yet to come.

Why is this important? Because every day local, state, and federal governments are granting permission to industries to pollute, deforest, denigrate, and despoil our environments, which is having serious effects on our planet and our bodies. For example, an estimated 1.3 million cancer deaths per year result from exposure to pollution in the environment, while air pollution has been characterized as “the world’s largest single environmental health risk,” causing the death of approximately 7 million people in a given year.

Often, the permission to pollute is defended by the assertion that it will create jobs, or that the near-term gain of a new energy source overshadows the need to consider environmental degradation and its harmful impacts. These kinds of excuses do not justify the harms that polluting industries create. After all, what good is a job if you don’t have the health needed to take advantage of it, or if you have to sacrifice your parent, child, friend, or neighbor in order to have it?

And the truth is that most goals can be achieved in a way that protects the environment and communities. For example:

-- Instead of drilling and fracking, which irreparably pollutes our water, air, and lands, by the year 2050 we could provide that very same energy using sustainable methods, such as wind, water, solar, and geothermal, while simultaneously avoiding the devastating pollution and climate-changing impacts of shale gas.

-- Instead of developing land by cutting down all of the trees, which creates floods, developers could use building practices that protect trees and the absorbency of the soils and capture rainfall in a way that allows the water to soak into the ground and doesn’t generate devastating floods and pollution.

Of the 35 states with constitutional environmental provisions, only Rhode Island, Montana, and Pennsylvania provide high-level protection, and of those only Pennsylvania has court rulings that ensure these rights are genuinely protected. There are 15 states with no provisions whatsoever.

It’s time for communities across the nation to demand that their environmental rights be protected by their states. It’s time for us all to embrace the truth stated by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, that we as people have an inherent and indefeasible right to pure water, clean air, and healthy environments.

To learn more, visit

This blog, written by Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, was originally posted on: