Ken Ferruccio, Warren County, North Carolina
Warren County, NC PCB Celebration — Why I Did Not Attend
September 15, 2012
Let us celebrate the people of Warren County, North Carolina, for building and launching the four-year (1978-1982) research-based environmental justice model and convincing civil-rights organizations and many other people to march the model into history with them, for it was theWarrenCountycitizens’ environmental justice model that transformed environmentalism.
It was indeed a powerful model for social change because it demonstrated that the prevailing government-backed, industrial model for economic development and waste necessitates the preemption of environmental and human rights, not just the rights and protections of communities consisting of predominantly racial, or ethnic populations and people of disadvantaged economic class, but the rights of all people everywhere. The government model is neither environmentally nor democratically sustainable.
TheWarrenCountycitizens’ grassroots environmental justice model was therefore understood by the government to be a threat to high-risk economic development requiring toxic landfills and other waste facilities everywhere. Something had to be done. So, after the civil-rights movements of 1982 and 1983 (when the PCB landfill inWarrenCountyhad already failed), the citizen model that has been hailed for transforming environmentalism was then manipulated from the top down. The model was transformed into governmentally controlled, largely minority-driven, university and ecumenically-backed environmental justice institutions — that is, from an institutionalized environmental justice division within federal EPA down through state and local governments and organizations.
The purpose of the transformation was as follows:
(1) To use the argument of racism to prohibit the siting of toxic, hazardous, and nuclear waste facilities in poor minority and ethnic communities (except when the local leaders of such communities solicit them) and to leave the siting option open to communities that do not fit these categories. But no community should get these facilities because it is an inescapable historical fact and empirical reality that waste management facilities simply recycle waste back into the environment over time, contaminating the public health and natural resources of communities and regions. As long as a racial argument dominates the rationale for environmental justice while ignoring the critical necessity of independent science, it’s inevitable that communities everywhere will be contaminated and sacrificed.
(2) To establish partisan-driven government positions and grant-funded mechanisms to provide continuous income for trickle-down positions and jobs for supporters
(3) To sustain false historical narratives to protect principal responsible parties for pollution (local, state, and federal EPA)
(4) To promote the publication of fictional “I-was-there-from-the-beginning” credentials to create and enhance environmental justice-related careers and to justify linking environmental justice grants to government-connected institutions
(5) To provide fictional histories to environmental justice students and researchers who then perpetuate falsified narratives
(6) To formulate policies that implicitly facilitate environmental injustices that theWarrenCountygrassroots environmental justice model was formulated to prevent.
The governmentally controlled, minority driven, university and ecumenically-backed environmental justice model was the model celebrated on September 15 inWarrenCountyatColeySpringsBaptistChurchinWarrenCounty.
Guest speakers on the agenda were mostly government officials, including former U.S. Congressional Representatives Frank Ballance and Eva Clayton; North Carolina Senator Doug Berger; Director of the Office of Environmental Justice for the EPA Charles Lee; former Director of North Carolina’s Division of Waste Management Bill Myer; Reverend Leon White and Dr. Benjamin Chavis of the United Church Christ Commission for Racial Justice; and Representative to North Carolina Congressman Butterfield Dollie Burwell.
But what targeted communities have these leaders helped keep from being sacrificed since the environmental justice movement was launched in 1982? Where were these justice leaders whenWarrenCounty’s predominantly African American county commissioners tried to transformWarrenCountyinto a regional sacrifice zone with a massive commercial trash landfill that would have been open to interstate dumping? Where were these justice leaders when our neighbors in Granville and Halifax counties faced the threat of toxic waste incinerators? Where was the justice community when Governor Hunt offered upNorth Carolinato host the Southeast Compact’s low-level radioactive waste facility? Where were they when poor, minorityBertieCountybecame a massive dumping ground? Where were these leaders when Homeland Security attempted to build a deadly disease lab, landfill, and incinerator inButner,North Carolina?
And where does the government-controlled environmental justice community stand concerning one of the gravest environmental threats ever to North Carolina and her neighbors, namely, the potential mining of uranium and storage of radioactive waste in Virginia that would endanger the Roanoke River Basin, Kerr and Gaston Lakes, and the drinking water of more than a million North Carolinians and Virginians? Many environmental groups, civic organizations, and municipalities have taken a stand against the plan to lift the ban against uranium mining inVirginia, but where is the support and action from the minority-driven environmental justice and civil rights leaders and their organizations?
Their support is noticeably absent because many such environmental justice leaders have long been compromised by the institutions they represent and are in no position to help a grassroots effort to protect this part of the South or anywhere from pervasive radioactive contamination.
Committed grassroots leaders know that environmental justice requires sound, unfettered science and a transparent, democratic decision-making process grounded in the public sentiments of the targeted communities and regions. Dismiss these two critical necessities and what remains is a rationale for selective community and regional sacrifice under the guise of sound science and technology.
A rationale for selective sacrifice was EPA’s underlying rationale for approving the dry- tomb PCB-landfill in Warren County, North Carolina, that failed before it was capped with a million gallons of water in it; it was the rationale for the state’s preemption of human rights and the use of force to open the landfill; and it is the underlying rationale for mining uranium in Chatham, Virginia.
The proposed uranium site inChathamconsists of more than 3,500 acres, and the mining facility would be regulated by the same delusional science that perpetuates environmental injustice and pollution everywhere and would transformVirginiaand this region of the South into a radioactive wasteland.
Local, regional, and national resistance to uranium mining inVirginiawould affirm that the principles of theWarrenCountygrassroots environmental justice model are universal to all people, places and times, all races, colors, classes and creeds. This would be an affirmation worth celebrating.