Monday, July 1, 2013

DRBC's Failures to Act Spur Direct Action

A movement is growing to change how we fuel our energy needs, to leave behind drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal and coal tar sands, to abandon polluting fossil fuels that are devastating our landscape and increasing extreme weather events. But our politicians aren’t listening, at least not to the people. Instead, they accept energy industry claims that we need shale gas when the facts, science and impacts on the ground prove this to be false.

After repeated and fruitless efforts to secure the attention of decision makers, we the people are increasingly turning to our last option—protest, civil disobedience and both legal and beyond-legal exercises of our first amendment rights—to be heard. Elected and appointed officials may try to dismiss these public displays of dissatisfaction and demands for environmentally responsible decision-making, but in doing so they are galvanizing public protest and outcry.

In February 2012, the environmental community 
asked the Delaware River Basin
The DRBC Commissioners
Commission (DRBC) to protect communities, wetlands, and old growth forests on public and private lands from the devastation to be brought by the construction of interstate pipelines, many of which are proposed for our region. Our request was ignored, as were subsequent requests submitted throughout the year.

DRBC is comprised of the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the federal delegate. The governors serve by virtue of their office; we the people elected them to those offices. But the Commissioners were clearly not listening to us.

After seven months, frustrated environmental 
and community organizations and citizens
submitted a formal petition requesting action in September 2012. Then, on December 5th, with no comment on our request and with no opportunity for public comment, the Commissioners voted quickly and unanimously to reject our request.

Remarkably, in January 2013, DRBC admitted they got it wrong when they failed to exercise jurisdiction over two pipelines that were among those specifically mentioned in DRN's many requests and that, by January, had already been built. The construction and subsequent
operation of these two pipelines resulted in close to 400 violations. Still, DRBC refused to exercise jurisdiction over other pipelines.

By ignoring the public’s interest, the DRBC spurred public action. We wrote the DRBC before their March meeting to say there was still time to avoid the harms to be inflicted by pipelines, and submitted a formal petition calling for DRBC action. We made clear that we the people expected our request to be addressed and that we expected a meaningful
opportunity to be heard before votes were cast. 

With that goal in mind, the Delaware
Riverkeeper Network along with over 140 citizens and colleague organizations attended DRBC’s March 6th meeting, but it soon became clear that the Commissioners planned to once again ignore our request and instead approve dockets for industry and others.

At that moment, we the people took over the meeting to send a message to the DRBC. We held a People's Hearing; people  testified in an orderly fashion, unconstrained by a time clock. Our hearing concluded with the presentation of a resolution that would commit DRBC to exercise jurisdiction over
pipelines. Still the Commissioners refused to act. And so we the people began to sing and chant, taking control of the meeting. DRBC was created to serve the public’s needs, yet was totally disregarding us to serve the gas industry. If DRBC wasn't going to act on our petition, it should not be allowed to approve industry projects in our Watershed. Singing and chanting continued until the Commissioners ended the meeting and left the building.

It was important for the public to take back control of this public agency, even for these few hours. Clean water, clean air, healthy food 
grown from healthy land are fundamental
rights. But these rights are being taken from us in service to industry. Because officials arefailing to do the people’s business, we the people are rising up to stop rollbacks of environmental laws, to demand that people be treated like people and that corporations be treated like the bricks and mortar they are. Our water, our air, our earth and our health are at stake. We the people are talking; it’s time our elected and appointed officials started listening to us again.

Commissioners leave the room

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