|BLOG by Lisa Arkin
Clean Air versus Dirty Tactics
Going head-to-head with corporate lobbyists and lawyers is a fine way to keep your environmental advocacy skills honed! During the nearly two years I served on the Cleaner Air Oregon rule-making committee, I got lots of practice dissecting the duplicitous arguments and twisted claims proffered by industry’s public relations people.
What other tricks are up the sleeves of corporate black suits to pressure our State to back down from a goal of cleaner air? They seemingly have no regret about pushing communities, workers and small businesses to the bottom.
|BLOG by Mysti Frost
Pushing for Clean Air
I think I will remember the day of the DEQ hearing on Cleaner Air Oregon for the rest of my life. I was sick with a very painful sinus and throat infection and I was not emotionally prepared for what was in store for me.
As I entered the meeting room at the DEQ in Eugene, I didn’t realize that I was walking into a room full of people opposed to nearly everything we at Beyond Toxics fights for.
Everyone in the room seemed friendly enough at the beginning of the Department of Environmental Quality’s presentation about Cleaner Air Oregon’s proposed rules. I listened to the enthusiastic presentation with a big smile on my face. It gave me hope to hear how the rules will try to balance the responsibility of cleaning up pollution with public health and cleaner manufacturing. I was very impressed and ready to give them all a high five.
The DEQ staff asked if there were any questions. This is about the time it became clear to me that the folks sitting around me were not impressed and smiling about these rules. They were more like spitting and hissing. They shouted out questions like “Why are you making us monitor chemicals you never monitored before?” “How can you impose laws on us requiring equipment improvements”? “Where are the fees you will collect from us going?” “To fund jobs!” I wanted to shout out.
Then came time for public testimony. For over an hour, one after another, they took to the mic and blasted the DEQ cleaner air staff. Roseburg Forest Products, then the Chamber of Commerce and Seneca. ALL of these testimonies claimed they would have to cut jobs and that these rules would damage Oregon’s economy.
By this time, I was both angry and confused about their tactics. It turned out I would be the last speaker of the night.I was ready to tell them all how I had worked for years at a law firm on work injury cases many involving the same businesses in the room. I was ready to cite statistics about the economic benefits of health communities. But as soon as I faced the room fear and my sore throat meant I was unable to voice my anger. I thanked the Cleaner Air Oregon staff for their efforts and mumbled something about the importance of regulating for human health and environmental justice. As I made my way down the aisle to exit the room, many there stared at me in disgust. As I approached the door, two large men stepped in my way. At first I thought it was my imagination. But the hair standing up on my neck told me it was not by accident. My eyes focused on the exit sign over the men’s shoulders. I said “excuse me” and a long pause followed. Then suddenly one of them stepped aside. As I pushed passed them he said, “That took a lot of guts. You should be proud.” He said this condescendingly with a straight face. No smile in his eyes. I didn’t bother to respond. I raced up the stairs and ran out the door all the way to my car.
I was hard on myself as I drove away from the hearing. Did I say the right words? Did I make a difference? But a few days later I got an email from a friend saying someone saw me at the hearing, representing Beyond Toxics and being the only one speaking out in support of the rules. I learned some valuable lessons that night. Don’t let them get into your head.
The experience made one of my favorite quotes come true: “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn
Mysti Frost, Environmental Justice Community Organizer