Free Your Voice Leaders @ the Maryland Climate Organizer Summit
United Workers youth from our Free Your Voice Human Rights committee have been active over the last month. On February 8, they led a session at the Maryland Climate Organizer Summit in College Park with other youth leaders about the pressing environmental justice issues communities face across the state (see above photo).
On Monday, February 24, Free Your Voice was interviewed on the Dan Rodrick’s Show about their struggle against the nation’s largest incinerator, which has been permitted to be built less than a mile from their school in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay. You can hear the segment here, beginning at 36mins.
They’ve also been busy in Annapolis, supporting legislation to address violations of the right to live in a healthy and safe community (below).
Free Your Voice Testifies in Annapolis
One of the bills, House Bill 1373, would close the loophole that allowed the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay incinerator to be permitted to be built less than a mile from two schools. Under the proposed legislation no incinerator could be built within three miles of schools, rec centers, parks, and other community spaces. Free Your Voices videos were presented yesterday in Annapolis hearings on this bill.
Other legislation, Senate Bill 706, seeks to address the fact that some communities across the state are overburdened with lethal levels of toxic air pollution. Currently there is no requirement that Maryland Department of the Environment consider the existing health status of a community or the cumulative burden from existing pollution levels. This bill, under debate in the Senate Education Health & Environmental Affairs Committee, would require MDE to factor in the cumulative impact of previous pollution on a neighborhood before issuing permits for new pollution sources.
On February 25, 2014, students from the United Workers Human Rights committee “Free Your Voice” testified in support of the bill (below). Read Destiny Watford’s written testimony below. The issue continues to be highlighted. Check out the latest in a series of Grist articles covering this story.
Free Your Voice has also started to connect with other students, parents, and teachers in order to build a united city-wide movement against the nation’s largest incinerator. Last night they canvassed in Hamilton and presented to the Hamilton Elementary Middle School Parent Teachers’ Organization (below). If you are connected to a school, let us know. We would love to come make a presentation!
Free Your Voice members present to Hamilton Elementary Middle School PTO
Below is Destiny Watford’s written testimony in support Senate Bill 706.
My name is Destiny Watford. I am a member of Free Your Voice, a human rights group of United Workers. I live in Curtis Bay, a tight knit community in South Baltimore. It is my home and I love it but Curtis Bay is pollution central. Anyone who has been to Curtis Bay knows that, largely due to the industrial area surrounding it, Curtis Bay is not the healthiest place around. In fact, we discovered that Curtis Bay, although it is a rather small community, is one of the most polluted areas in the state. We also know that people die in Curtis Bay of lung cancer, heart disease and lower respiratory disease at some of the highest levels in the city of Baltimore. All of this is enough to make it feel like the community’s fate is to be dirty and polluted. But when we learned about a plan to build the nations’ largest trash burning incinerator less than a mile away from our school – we were still shocked.
Our first question was “why here? Why here in a community that is already so burdened by pollution and bad health?” — Why add an incinerator that would burn 4,000 tons of tires, metals and plastics and release 240 lbs of mercury per year into the air?
To be honest, it made us feel like somehow our lives weren’t respected or didn’t matter as much to those making decisions about development. We went out and talked to hundreds of community members and so many of them – particularly those who have lived in Curtis Bay for a long time – said the same thing “What do you expect, Curtis Bay is a dumping ground”…to be clear, we are not saying our neighbors are wrong to express this – in fact we agree and that is why we are here today – We are here to say that no community should be another’s dumping ground.
We know that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s. We know that we have a right to a safe and clean environment and that our lives should not be limited by asthma or cancer just because of where we were born. We have a right to Fair Development that puts the health of all communities first –for a long time we have tried to do this. One way we tried to do this was through requesting a health impact assessment, to look at how the incinerator would affect the lives of Curtis Bay residents. The Baltimore City Health Department told us that although the project deserved a health study, they wouldn’t conduct one because of the fact that permits were already given to Energy Answers. Communities need to know how pollution is going to impact them.
This is why we are so excited to voice our support for this bill because it gets at part of the structure of the problem that we are trying to address. The spirit of this bill is something we all believe in – and that is Equity and fairness. This bill would make it so that communities like mine, communities that have historically had more than their fair share of pollution – and paid the consequences – are respected and recognized when new development decisions are made.
Then, instead of trash incinerators we hope that Curtis Bay and communities like it will be the destination for development that puts our needs first – in the case of Curtis Bay – we would love to see truly green solar energy, recycling and composting – development that would bring good jobs without adding to our health problems.
In a place like Curtis Bay, where it is not uncommon for developments like this one to show up, it’s easy to lose hope that things will ever change. It almost seems as if things will inevitably remain the same. What we’re talking about today really matters and could be a step towards real change not for just communities like Curtis Bay, but for all communities – because our fate as a city and as a state includes everyone.