From Despair to Action: A Climate Activist Leader in the Making

Will our children ask, ‘Why didn’t you act?’ or will they ask
‘How did you find the moral courage to rise up and change?
’” – Al Gore

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Last November, I took my daughter to see 350.org’s community showing of Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, at Central Lutheran Church. I walked into the showing-room sanctuary where a man played the organ and multi-colored light crashed in through the stained glass windows. It seemed an appropriate venue to learn what humans are doing to one another and creation—this room was a place where many contemplated their idea of a creator. As Al Gore says, this is a moral issue.

Mysti and her daughter at one of the Eugene screenings of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”

I’d wrestled with whether to expose her to the same truth that had thrown me into despair in my youth. The look on my daughter’s face as the movie described our current crisis made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. She has a right to know, though, as do all the children whose futures are being decided by our present action or lack of it. We need all hands on deck, and Mr. Gore did balance the message of current doom with one of future hope—a belief that humanity can change.

Gore mentioned the Climate Reality Leadership Training Corps (CRLTC) at the end of the film. I did a little research and, before I knew it, was hugging my daughter goodbye at the Eugene Airport, boarding a plane to LA for the CRLTC’s conference and training. I’d joined up with the Climate Corps.

Mysti standing with 2,220 climate activists from around the world who attended the Climate Reality Leadership Training Corps in 2018.

The base of operations for our training was the Los Angeles Convention Center, in the heart of downtown LA. Lines of training attendees pushed out the door until we finally joined 2,220 climate activists from around the world in a stadium-sized room.

People looked like I felt, mostly overwhelmed and nervous.

The United States’ first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, opened with a poem. Her voice rolled like waves, baptized us with renewed hope, and restored our faith that, together, we can corner and solve this thing.

FOSSIL FUELS AND THE POOR
Renewable technologies shouldn’t be reserved for the rich alone. The working poor are hit the hardest by high gasoline prices, those of us who could never afford a Tesla—that sleek, all-electric vehicle I dream of daily. However, if we demand green technology we know the price will drop and that poor and working class people will finally have access to energy-efficient technologies. Who wouldn’t choose technologies that save them money while saving the planet? I can’t think of a better reason for pushing solar panels and electric cars into the market, which will blast the green revolution forward.

PANEL 1: ROADMAP FOR CHANGE

Cars and trucks continue to be the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions.” — Al Gore

Former California State Senator Fran Pavley, called “the mother of California climate policy,” spoke about their battle to pass California’s Clean Car Standards in 2002. That law inspired 13 other states to do the same—Oregon among them. This landmark bill was the nation’s first to set limits on global warming pollution coming out of our tailpipes. President Trump’s declared intent to attack this trailblazing legislation caused all of us to question his moral competence and only served to strengthen our resolve.

Gore impressed on us the need to not only strengthen our resolve, but hasten its pace with his announcement about a bill being voted on in the California Senate that would require 100% renewable energy by 2049. The bill had failed earlier that morning but had made it to a second vote in the afternoon. Gore asked every Californian in the audience to call their representative immediately. The room erupted with excitement.

Afterward, Mr. Gore talked about how even oil-dependent countries like Saudi Arabia realize that the dirty fuels market is dying. He wheeled out a quote from Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yamani: “The Stone Age did not end because of a shortage of stones.” Gore continued, “The fossil fuel age will not end because of a shortage of fuel. We have enough fossil fuels to completely incinerate the planet. No, the Stone Age ended because something way better came alone. The fossil fuel age will end—and is ending—because something better has come along.”

Apparently, the California Legislature recognized this inevitable progress. Later that day they passed the bill to have 100% renewable energy by 2049. The bill was then immediately sent to Gov. Brown of California, who promptly signed it. If California can do that, so can Oregon.

This is why I’m pumped and prepared to fully support legislation like Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill. By working as a climate educator, activist and champion of climate justice I can do my part. Voting is key, and we all know it is essential to motivate young people and future voters to participate.

I must step up now because we are running out of time. My goal is to educate my community. Climate change is a bipartisan issue that affects all of us and it is not a political issue, it is a moral one. We must demand that our elected officials make fossil fuel independence a major focus and if they don’t, we, the people, will organize an army of voting activists to defeat them. We are ready. We will win this! Vote like your children’s lives depend on it. Because they do.

My daughter is very proud of me for becoming a climate reality leader, and that, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.

Mysti Frost, Environmental Justice Community Organizer
Beyond Toxics

STORIES FROM THE FIELD: Public comment needed to protect children from air toxics

I wanted to share my story with you with the hope that it will inspire you to take action. I have lived in the Eugene area for over 15 years. My grandparents moved here in 1980 and bought a beautiful farm just outside of Cottage Grove. As an environmental justice organizer for Beyond Toxics I have great concerns about the air quality in our state and the effect it has on children.

Western Sugar Company factory in Billings, Montana.

I moved here because I thought Oregon was a clean, healthy state to raise my child. Eugene looks very green and sustainable compared to where I was born, Billings Montana. My father was a member of the Crow Tribe (and still is) and had a small house just outside the Crow reservation. This house was built by his father when nothing else was built in that area of town. Then, a sugar beet factory was built just a short distance away. I can still remember the horrid stench of the air. There were many days when the smell made me gag and run inside my house and close all the windows. It gave me headaches and nausea. I developed childhood asthma, which plagues me even today. My parents could not afford the expensive asthma medication. As a kid I experienced asthma attacks so severe I thought I would die. I would not wish this on any child, anywhere. As a young child I was so often left gasping for air, searching all over my house for an inhaler, hoping there would be a tiny bit more medicine left inside. I remember feeling hesitant to ask my parents to scrape together the money to pay for my asthma medicine, year after year. The feelings of guilt, shame and utter desperation haunt me still. As I got older, I learned about air pollution and further investigating air pollution specifically emitted by sugar beet factories. I learned that sugar beet factories, along with the foul stench, emit hydrogen sulfide. It is well documented that hydrogen sulfide has many human health risks, asthma among them.

This is the typical environmental justice story. A polluting industry moves into a minority community, dumps their toxins and manages to evade responsibility for the human suffering it causes. I am pretty sure that the sugar beet factory will never know the suffering they caused my family and me.

Far too often, polluting businesses use the threat of job loss as their reason not to invest in cleaner technology. They place a burden of guilt and fear on their employees, threatening their jobs if they are made to comply with new regulations. What about the burden placed on my family in Billings? What about the burden on West Eugene families? In West Eugene we have factories that emit toxic chemicals into the air that impact nearby neighborhoods. Childhood asthma in West Eugene is at 14%, nearly double the state average.

Please keep in mind that early exposure can lead to cascading harm over a life time. Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of chemicals and deserve regulations that provide additional protection. There is already a precedent for lower thresholds to protect children in toxicology models. It is clear the science is here to back up the work Oregon’s regulatory agencies need to do. Now the question is a moral one.


If you would like to let our state government know about the importance of clean air to you, please use the DEQ online form. You can reference talking points created by Lisa Arkin to help craft your testimony. Deadline: Monday, August 6th at 4 PM.


Mysti Frost is the Environmental Justice Community Organizer for Beyond Toxics and has been elected to be a member of the board of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency.

This blog is a modification of the testimony submitted to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for their Cleaner Air Oregon program.

Counting on pollinators to return

Bombus appositus, a.k.a., white-shouldered bumblebee, is one of the native bees we found in the Whilamut Natural Area during our Pollinator Week Bee Survey with Walama Restoration and Oregon Bee Atlas.

While working alongside other local naturalists and bee-enthusiasts at the 2nd Annual Bee Count, I was thrilled to discover that at least 24 different species of native bees have returned to the Whilamut Natural Area, a rehabilitated prairie habitat north of the Willamette River. This was a remarkable turn-around for this area since non-herbicide habitat restoration efforts were implemented 14 years ago.

During Pollinator Week, representatives from Beyond Toxics, Walama Restoration Project, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, and Oregon Bee Atlas worked with our community to identify and track wild and native bees in the Whilamut Natural Area. I am happy to report some of the pollinator species have returned to this area since non-herbicide habitat restoration efforts were implemented. We discovered that at least 24 different species of native bees have returned to this rehabilitated prairie habitat.

A naturalist for over 30 years in the Eugene area, Rick Ahrens is associated with Nearby Nature, West Eugene Wetlands, and Mt. Pisgah Arboretum.

The east Whilamut Natural Area (WNA) is an urban park that has been recognized by the City of Eugene as valuable habitat to OUR natural plant communities – upland prairie, oak savanna, and riparian woodland – that support native pollinators, birds and other wildlife. A long-term priority for the east WNA is to provide non-toxic habitat and forage for native pollinator species by introducing a large diversity of native plants without the use of pesticides and herbicides.

In the 60s and 70s, the east WNA was a toxic landfill–literally a dump where pollinator diversity was presumably zero. Transforming this area from a former landfill site to a vibrant prairie plant community, without the use of pesticides or herbicides, has significantly boosted the biodiversity in this natural and recreational area. The Whilamut Natural Area also helps non-profit organizations educate community members about the importance of non-chemical land-use decisions, especially adjacent to river banks and native pollinator corridors.

There was such an enthusiastic response to our bee survey that we plan on doing much more native bee monitoring in the coming year. Ongoing monitoring is needed to better understand the species diversity and richness within this bio-diverse natural area.

Krystal Abrams, Pollinator Projects Manager
Beyond Toxics

Protect Oregon’s bees and have a good time doing it!

Important action is being taken across our state to protect honey bees. However, the public is less aware of the critical role Oregon’s native bees play in pollination and maintaining the healthy environment we all enjoy – nor of the threats they face. Did you know eight different species of native bees are currently listed on the United States Endangered Species List?

Pictured: The Franklin bumble bee. Also known as Bombus Franklini, this bee is sparsely distributed species making it endangered and localized to the western United States.

Here in Oregon, six bumblebee species are considered vulnerable or at risk. According to our friend Aimee Code at the Xerces Society, “the most imperiled is Franklin’s bumble bee, found only in a small area centered on Grants Pass. It was recommended for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but it might be too late as one hasn’t been seen since 2006.”

The health, diversity and sustainability of our ecosystems depend on wild and native bees, and we must act now to acknowledge and protect Oregon’s wild bee populations. We continue to move pollinator protections forward in Oregon by raising awareness and educating people about native pollinators and conservation issues.

Beyond Toxics has introduced important legislation to create policies that help us support our native pollinator species. We’ve had lots of success, as well as working with businesses and government officials to create bee-friendly campuses and cities!

Just this spring, we have worked with University of Oregon faculty, alumni, staff and students to get the University of Oregon registered as an official Bee Campus and to create ongoing conversations on campuses that keep our native bees in mind while making decisions about landscaping and insect removals. It’s also a nice way to give back to our community and be part of our local campuses in a very tangible, physical way.

Friends of native bees also have a nice way to support our work by joining us on the summer solstice at Silvan Ridge Winery for Bee Jazzy. On Thursday, June 21st, internationally acclaimed pop/jazz chanteuse Halie Loren will be taking a detour from her “From The Wild Sky” world tour to headline the 5th Annual Bee Jazzy, a benefit to save bees co-hosted by Mountain Rose Herbs and GloryBee.

This gala evening takes place from 5:30pm to 9:30 pm in the wine country of southern Lane County. Proceeds from the evening benefit our Save Oregon’s Bees Campaign.

As a life-long lover of nature, I know how important bees are in creating and maintaining a thriving ecosystem. I love being able to support Beyond Toxics and the work that they do to preserve and protect the health of our precious pollinators,” says Halie. “And I love to play music in my hometown (performing in Eugene is a rare treat for me these days!), so it’s a multifaceted joy for me!”

In addition to jazz music by the Halie Loren Jazz Trio and opening act the Dana McWayne Quartet, Bee Jazzy features a silent auction with packages that include getaways to some of Oregon’s hidden gems and date night excursions to the opera or the theater. Two of Eugene’s favorite food carts, Navarro’s Latin Creole Kitchen and Sammitch Food Cart and Trucks, will be on hand with a selection of delicious food.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door, and include a glass of Silvan Ridge wine. Visit beejazzy.org for tickets and full details.

Krystal Abrams,
Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager
Beyond Toxics

Earth Week reminds us to fight for environmental justice

Written by Mysti Frost, Ana Molina and Krystal Abrams

This year’s Earth Week celebration offered a twist on the usual flower plantings and electric car demonstrations through a focus on community health and environmental justice.

Photo of our home planet credited with inspiring the flowering of the environmental movement.

The first Earth Day celebration in 1970 represented a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy. That special day followed the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act on Jan. 1, 1970, under the Nixon administration. National leaders were deeply influenced by the heightened public concern about environmental pollution spurred by Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.” Their first steps toward environmental advocacy included the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

During the 1980s, communities of color came together to fight for their right not to be routinely targeted with environmental pollution and destruction. African American, Native American and Latino people began to challenge how institutional racism forced their communities to endure hazardous waste dumps, chemical factories, coal-fired power plants and pesticide-­laden work sites.

The environmental justice movement exposed the truth: Those who live and work in our country’s most polluted environments are overwhelmingly low-income families and people of color.

Oregon is not immune to these unjust patterns. Think of the polluting chemical weapons incinerator built on tribal lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla along the Columbia River, or the way Oregon’s large agricultural businesses expect to spray highly toxic pesticides right up to the doors of farm worker cabins with impunity.

By the 1990s, the environmental justice movement was on track to gather allies and influence the way our country understands how racism intersects with environmental policy and social values. In 2000, Beyond Toxics was founded to carry on this work in Oregon, to advocate and support communities whose health and well-being are robbed from them by patterns of environmental racism. Beyond Toxics sees environmental protection and environmental justice as the same goal.

Krystal Abrams (R; shovel in hand) leads a team of volunteers in creating a pollinator-friendly garden in Huerto de la Familia’s garden in West Eugene. Photo by Ephraim Payne (April 21, 2018)

We share one Earth. This is our common ground. As we cele­brate Earth Day this year and around the world, let’s show our respect for the Earth and not forget  about many of the vulnerable communities who are forced to bear the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards.

Mysti Frost, Environmental Justice Community Organizer
Ana Molina, Environmental Justice Campaign Liaison
Krystal Abrams, Social Media & Pollinator Projects Manager

Events held during Earth Week->>

Traversing the gauntlet

Environmental bills don’t always make it through the “gauntlet,” known as the Oregon legislative battlefield. There are more obstacles in our State Capitol than any Quixotic environmentalist could hope to vanquish. The Cleaner Air Oregon bill, SB 1541 B-Engrossed, sailed through the Senate today (passing with a unanimous vote!), despite having its own burden of impediments.

The one impediment most shocking to air advocates, especially those of us who have been dedicated to a strong and just Cleaner Air Oregon policy, was a backroom deal that produced SB 1541. This bill was an end-run by industry and anti-regulation legislators to strike down some of the protective requirements of the original Cleaner Air Oregon policy.

Beyond Toxics doesn’t support the changes to the policy, including language that allows polluters to expose us all to air toxics many times over the health standards for cancer.

Beyond Toxics was the group that first identified and was able to stop other dangerous language in SB 1541 that would have given a “legal shield” to polluters in a court of law by barring scientific evidence gathered during a pollution investigation from being presented as evidence.

We recognized this poison pill from our experience watching pesticide trespass cases go to court, and seeing how corporate lawyers protected their polluting clients with a “shield” against scientific claims. We argued that SB 1541’s corporate legal shields were unfair and unjust. And we won an amendment to take that language out of the bill!

But, in the end, Beyond Toxics supports SB 1541 because it sets these important precedents:

• Polluters pay to fund the program and give the agencies the budget they need to be our air quality watchdogs.
• Creates a health-based program for the first time in Oregon.
• Requires polluters to report their air emissions to the public.
• Requires community consultation and involvement.
• Establishes a new program to track cumulative air impacts from multiple polluters on a neighborhood.
• Acknowledges that air pollution causes cancer and other serious diseases such as strokes, heart disease, asthma, neurological damage and reproductive disruption – the new program will set health benchmarks for cancer separately in addition to all of the other health impacts.
• Brings environmental justice into the conversation in air quality regulations.

Now the policy will get a thorough review by the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission. During the upcoming public process, Beyond Toxics renews our pledge to keep ever vigilant as Cleaner Air Oregon continues the arduous process of becoming law.

Basically, without passing this bill, we would have nothing more than we had before the Cleaner Air Oregon process began. Remember, we had no health-based air regulations at all before this process started 18 months ago. Now, Oregon is catching up to our neighbors in California, Washington and 30 other states who already protect public health instead of protecting polluters.

Quoting from an attorney who worked on Cleaner Air Oregon: “Any new piece of environmental legislation always has flaws and requires compromise. This bill as amended is far from perfect, but it gets Cleaner Air Oregon off the ground at a time when it was poised to potentially go down in flames before it even got started.”

I want to let you know that we’re going to take the hopeful road. Our work continues to make Oregon strong in environmental protections and justice.

Lisa Arkin, Exec. Director, Beyond Toxics

Eugene embraces climate justice (on a global playing field)

I believe Oregon is going to be a global leader to champion human rights as a guide star of a meaningful approach to climate change.

What evidence do I see?

On February 12th, the Eugene City Council overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to endorse the International Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change. Our Council and Mayor are standing on the precipice of a new direction to address climate burdens! Foregrounding human rights at the heart of green energy conversations is a response to the ethical quagmire in which our nation is stuck. Placing the dialog into a framework of human rights changes the underlying assumptions of the climate movement from political concerns to principled action, from marketplace considerations to morally-based decision-making.

L to R: City Councilor Emily Semple; Eric Richardson, President of the
Eugene-Springfield NAACP; Mayor Lucy Vinis, Brittany Judson, NAACP; Mysti
Frost, Beyond Toxics Environmental Justice Community Organizer and Lisa
Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics.

Eugene is the second government entity in the global climate movement and the most populated city to formally endorse the International Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change (HRCC)! The first city to endorse was Yachats, Oregon, home to one of the Declaration’s authors Dr. Tom Kerns. Tom, a former Beyond Toxics board member, worked with an international team that included numerous world-renowned environmental-human rights scholars to draft this amazing statement of principles. The Declaration is a clarion call to governments to address the human rights implications of climate change. The HRCC Declaration is part of a growing movement of initiatives reflecting the need to understand human rights and environmental justice as intrinsically threatened by climate change. The Declaration has been adopted by institutions around the world and was presented at the Paris Climate Accord Talks.

By endorsing the Declaration, Eugene can declare itself a visionary, taking needed action that recognizes the rights of humans and the natural living ecosystems that we are not separate from. Eugene is leading the way in the effort to recognize that climate injustice is closely intertwined with historical patterns of socio-economic, racial and gender injustice.

Earlier that same day, I marched with over 400 Oregonians at the Clean Energy Jobs Rally at Oregon’s State Capitol. The positive energy of climate activists was vibrant and inspiring! We also met with legislators to ask them to take action now, this year, to transition Oregon away from a fossil-fuel driven economy and towards a renewable economy. Beyond Toxics continues to help shape Oregon’s policies based on an environmental justice framework.

Clean Energy Jobs rally Feb. 12th, Salem, OR

As I write this blog, I’m happy to share with you: the Clean Energy Jobs bill passed out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee today, on Valentine’s Day! (See the video, shot and edited by our own Ephraim Payne, of the Monday Clean Energy Jobs Rally.)

Of course, Beyond Toxics is here for the long haul to work with communities for climate justice. Climate change is predicted to impose the harshest burdens on communities with uneven and unrecognized vulnerabilities and those without power. I’m thinking of children, who depend on adults to make the world a safe place. I’m thinking of island communities, farming-dependent cultures and indigenous peoples. Oregon is home to a number of tribes and people of indigenous ancestry. As eloquently stated by some of the authors of the Declaration, for indigenous peoples “the threat of climate change goes to the heart of their existence as a people, with all that that implies for their right to exist as the people they are.”

Beyond Toxics wants to work with other communities, organizations, faith groups, schools and other institutions to build a vital and effective movement towards climate justice. Please join us by endorsing the Declaration! Please contact us to bring more government bodies to a place of compassionate action.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Stories from the Field

BLOG by Lisa Arkin

Clean Air versus Dirty Tactics

Eugene, OR

Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

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.

I can share surreal memories, such as looking on in disbelief when the woman representing Roseburg Forest Products, nearly sobbing, implored that her company was a small family-owned business that would fire workers if Oregon adopts air quality laws based on protecting health. She neglected to mention that Roseburg has polluting plants in Oregon, California, Montana, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Maybe she forgot that their California plants are complying with that state’s much stricter air quality standards.

There was also the dark time when a person representing the Pulp and Paper Association intimidated a mother representing her Southeast Portland neighborhood, the one downwind of notorious Bullseye Glass (the manufacturer who spewed hexavalent chromium and a soup of other highly harmful heavy metals on the adjacent daycare and the homes of working class Oregonians). The giant Pulp and Paper consortium threatened this mom with being hauled before the Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission for not registering as a lobbyist during the Cleaner Air Oregon meetings! This woman is a full-time speech therapist and was appointed by Governor Brown specifically to be the voice for her neighborhood. She’s a mom dedicating volunteer hours to help her neighbors – that’s not the definition of a lobbyist. She stayed strong, despite this threat.

There were also the incessant, thinly veiled threats to fire workers, the industry’s go-to mantra for every effort to protect environmental health. Yeah, we’ve heard it all before – threaten workers with unemployment so you can use them as a tool. Do workers never breathe the polluted air they work in?

These few examples only scratch the surface of the bullying and half-truths I witnessed during the Cleaner Air Oregon process. Nonetheless, we clean air advocates felt truth would prevail. After all, this was an official, science-based series of advisory committee meetings, right?

I’m sorry to say, I’ve become skeptical.

Because public response to Cleaner Air Oregon has been so positive, polluters are resorting to negative tactics. The evening the DEQ held public hearings in Eugene, Seneca Jones Timber and Roseburg Forest Products turned out dozens of their workers to demand the DEQ drop Cleaner Air Oregon.

Seneca strongly objects to the health-based goals of Cleaner Air Oregon and new requirements for industries to reduce pollution. I’d like to know how Seneca reconciles that with their claim to be “a sustainable, green business?” How much money is Seneca spending to fight Cleaner Air Oregon rather than supporting efforts to improve the health of their downwind neighbors in Eugene? Seneca neglects to mention that Cleaner Air Oregon proposed toxics reporting and modern pollution control equipment simply brings Oregon closer to the laws in other states.

Going lower still, Bullseye Glass just filed a $30 million lawsuit against Governor Kate Brown and the two agencies charged with public and environmental health. The lawsuit, which has every appearance of a slap-suit, claims Governor Brown conspired to launch an unprecedented crackdown on a small business – no mention of the many air quality laws they’re charged with violating and the citizen’s lawsuit for health damages.

Bend, Oregon

Clean Air gives us better views. Bend, Oregon. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

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.

Clean air is healthier kids. Clean air is less asthma. Clean air is less greenhouse gases and real solutions to climate change. Clean air is the only sane choice we have to move society forward. The status quo – where toxic air rains down on working class neighborhoods – is not an option. Don’t let industry drown Cleaner Air Oregon in lawsuits and lies. Throw a lifesaver by sending your support in the form of a public comment now. We all breathe this air – the forces of justice must prevail.

Lisa Arkin, Exec. Director

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

 

Farmworkers deserve better pesticide rules

By Lisa Arkin, David Vázquez and Raoul Liévanos

More than 1 billion pounds of poisonous pesticides are applied on farms annually in the United States, resulting in as many as 20,000 physician-diagnosed poisonings annually among agricultural workers. University of Oregon environmental studies scholar Sarah Wald puts the number of farmworkers exposed to toxic levels of pesticides closer to 300,000, more than 10 times the official number.

A 2008 report by the state ­Department of Agriculture showed that 15.5 million pounds of pesticides were applied on Oregon farms. Many pesticide applications occur near farmworkers and their families, including young children, putting them at higher risk of health problems such as infertility, birth defects, neurological damage, cancer and death.

Two studies by researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University concluded that low doses of pesticides over time can cause measurable loss of memory and other brain functions. Harmful pesticides also accumulate in substandard farmworker housing, posing additional risks to workers and their families.

The public rarely sees the dilapidated shacks, with their open cinder-block kitchens, showers and laundry facilities, where Oregon farmworkers live due to a well-documented history of community opposition to safe and affordable farmworker housing. This history is worsened by agricultural employers’ tendency to locate housing among orchards and fields, away from public roads.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Division, or Oregon OSHA, is considering how to implement new federal protection standards for farmworkers. Adopted in 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these standards represent the first improvements in federal farmworker protections in a quarter of a century.

A pesticide application exclusion zone is a key provision of these new standards. The exclusion zone spans a radius of 100 feet in all directions from an air blast or aerial spray of pesticides. The EPA chose a 100-foot zone after a lengthy evaluation of medical and economic data. The EPA concludes that the exclusion zone will help reduce health risks for workers and their children, especially through pesticide drift from fields and orchards onto farmworker housing.

Oregon OSHA’s mission is to advance and improve workplace safety and health. The agency has a particularly important duty to protect the state’s farmworkers and inspect the quality of an estimated 309 farm-labor camps in Oregon where more than 9,200 people reside.

In contrast to its mission and contrary to the recommendations of the EPA, Oregon OSHA is proposing a “compliance alternative” that eliminates the 100-foot application exclusion zone around worker housing when people are present. Instead, the agency recommends that workers and their families stay inside their poorly sealed shelters when pesticides are being sprayed, euphemistically calling this practice “sheltering in place.”

Peer-reviewed studies show that substandard and crowded farmworker housing does not adequately protect these workers and their families from contact with pesticide drift and fumes.

OSHA is further proposing that when highly volatile pesticides are sprayed, workers and their families evacuate their houses to locations 150 feet away and wait 15 minutes before returning. These volatile pesticides require applicators to wear protective respiratory masks because breathing the fumes can result in serious injury, and even death.

It is unclear whether these same requirements would apply to the teachers, social workers and health practitioners who regularly visit these workers and their families.

Under Oregon OSHA’s proposal, as people huddled 150 feet away, their living areas would be exposed to concoctions of multiple harmful pesticides, leaving residue on toys, eating areas, laundry lines, doorknobs, shoes — and the list goes on.

Gov. Kate Brown’s Environmental Justice Task Force advises state agencies to conduct a detailed analysis of demographic, environmental and health data to identify adverse effects on communities. The extent to which Oregon OSHA has considered the possible adverse impacts of this proposed rule is inconsistent with task force guidelines.

Despite having data about the registered agricultural labor housing camps, Oregon OSHA made no estimate of the number of housing units falling within an application exclusion zone. Nor has the agency considered the medical costs associated with pesticide exposure to workers, their families and the public.

As Oregonians, we can do better. We have the power to ensure safe, sustainable working conditions for all Oregonians.

Oregon OSHA can require the 100-foot no-spray buffer zone around farmworker housing as an effective way to minimize worker exposure. We hope caring Oregonians let the agency know that its proposed changes to pesticide buffer zones are bad for agriculture and bad for Oregon.

Oregon OSHA will accept public comments until Dec. 15. Contact Beyond Toxics (beyondtoxics.org or 541-465-8860) for more information, and for a van ride to attend the public hearing in Medford at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director; David Vázquez is an associate professor of English at the University of Oregon. Raoul Liévanos is an assistant professor of sociology at the UO.

Resigning from GreenLane

Beyond Toxics is proud to have been one of the first nonprofits to join GreenLane Sustainable Business Network, a membership group for businesses and other organizations interested in sustainability. In September, I volunteered to serve on GreenLane’s board on behalf of Beyond Toxics. Unfortunately, as the Eugene Weekly reports in this week’s paper, I will not be serving on the board despite being voted in as an alternate member at the November 8 meeting.

As EW’s Kelly Kenoyer reports, Beyond Toxics and several other businesses and organizations – including our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild – are resigning our memberships in response to a representative of Seneca Sawmill Company joining the board on the same slate. All of these groups made our concerns known to GreenLane board members well in advance of the vote.

Seneca is one of the worst environmental polluters in our community. It is inappropriate for their Senior Vice President for Public Relations to sit on the policy setting board of a sustainability organization while the company is engaged in an attempt to re-brand their destructive policies as sustainable. As I told the Weekly, “(T)he truly sustainable businesses and organizations in Eugene have worked hard for years to build social capital around sustainability. Seneca is coming in to harvest that capital, to extract that capital, just like they extract forest resources — without consideration for the effects on the community and the environment as a whole.”

Chief among our concerns is Seneca’s aerial herbicide practices. When whistleblowing forest worker, Darryl Ivy documented the company’s spraying contractor committing numerous egregious violations of the state’s paltry standards for herbicide spraying – violations that sent Ivy to the hospital – Seneca didn’t admit the problem or change their practices. Instead, they claim their neighbors are “comfortable” with their spraying expertise. As outlined in my letter of resignation to the GreenLane board, published below, instead of working towards a truly sustainable model of forestry, Seneca pushes to increase clear-cutting on state and federal forestland and participates in the ongoing assault against public lands. These are not the actions of a sustainability leader.

We at Beyond Toxics want to make it clear that our resignation does not reflect personally on GreenLane’s current board members. Board elections of this type are not typically controversial and perhaps some did not expect the level of opposition Seneca’s candidacy would generate. We understand that volunteer officers are hard to recruit. However, we believe that a full and open discussion of our concerns at the November 8 meeting would have been appropriate before voting started and would have led to a positive outcome.

Ephraim Payne,
Development and Events Manager

Read my resignation letter below:

Board of Directors
Green Lane Sustainable Business Network
1430 Willamette #181
Eugene, OR 97401

November 9, 2017

Dear Board Members,

I regret to inform the GreenLane Board that Beyond Toxics is withdrawing its membership in the organization and I am resigning my position as an alternate board member. As I stated in my email of October 31, I strongly support GreenLane’s role as a catalyst for community building around the principles of sustainable business in Lane County and Beyond Toxics is proud of its early membership in the organization. I had looked forward to adding my event organizing and advocacy skills to grow GreenLane and serve the board in any capacity.

While we support the principle of inclusivity for GreenLane general membership, to be true to our mission we cannot support an aggressive polluter playing a leadership role on the board itself. Our long history with Seneca, and those of our allies in the climate and forest protection movement, shows us that the company embraces unsustainable practices at the core of its business rather than looking for sustainable solutions. Currently, Seneca is investing heavily in a rebranding campaign to cloak its environmentally harmful practices as beneficial while paying lip service to sustainability in an effort to shape its public image and we cannot remain complacent.

Not only does Seneca engage in the highly polluting practice of aerial spraying of toxic herbicides, it employs subcontractors with known histories of violating the few aerial spraying guidelines that protect Oregon forest workers. Seneca officials have gone on record denying poisoning people they employ despite video documentation and medical records affirming the harm. Their even-age, monoculture plantations of Douglas fir reduce genetic diversity and biodiversity. Their reliance on short rotation clear-cut logging increases erosion, pollutes water, adds to carbon pollution and global climate change. It is telling that they do not qualify for even the most basic forest certification.
Seneca’s owners evince a clear antipathy to preserving public land ownership in the face of overwhelming public support in Oregon for our state forests. They label environmental groups they disagree with as eco-radical bullies in the press. People in their employ have been accused of assaulting protesters and causing illegal pesticide drift. They are currently pushing to increase timber harvest on public land under the false premise that logging reduces wildfire severity. Are these the actions of a sustainable business leader?

For these reasons, we cannot stand by while GreenLane is coopted to serve Seneca’s public relations needs. While we would prefer to remain a member in good standing, and I would prefer to volunteer my time, we value the integrity of the community enough to call attention to the problem by our resignation.

Sincerely,
Ephraim Payne