On March 23, 2017, Mary GUTIERREZ, head of the local branches of Earth Ethics and Earth Action, hosted a community meeting on Escambia County's environmental legacy, with a look backwards and to current problems.
Additional speakers were Dr. Jackie LANE, co-founder of the Friends of Perdido Bay and author of Perdido Bay Blues: The Struggle to Save Perdido Bay Black & White Edition; Dr. Gloria HORNING, Social Justice Advocate; Linda YOUNG, Florida Clean Water Network; and, Nonie CELESTE, Nonie's Ark Animal Encounters. James Scaminaci III provided an overview, but a camera chip malfunction prevented filming. Below is reproduced his opening remarks.
There are three articles authored by James Scaminaci III at the Bream Fisherman's Association website under Resources, Local Issues. Readers can find the 1999 Grand Jury Report and the 2004 Grand Jury Report at the links.
This brief overview covers four salient points: environmental racism and justice; the changing level of environmental concern; the role of citizens groups; and, what is to be done.
Studies of environmental racism demonstrate that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the location of hazardous waste sites or industrial plants, and consequently suffer much higher rates of chronic illnesses or fatal diseases.
But, those same studies also show that poor white communities, located in or near the same vicinity, are also affected similarly.
In America, communities of color and poor white communities are under assault from a free-market industrial system that treats humans as guinea pigs in weakly regulated environmental chemistry experiments.
There was a time when reporting on environmental issues was taken seriously. No more.
In 1999 a special grand jury report concluded that the contamination of our groundwater was "the result primarily of discharges by industry (especially the pulp and paper mill and chemical factories), sewage treatment plants, and stormwater runoff." The grand jury, consisting of local citizens hearing testimony from scientific experts and reading corporate and government reports, was highly critical of state regulators who substituted studies for action and local government officials who protected industry's profits rather than residents' health.
In late 2003, Pensacola News Journal articles on the coverup of radioactivity in ECUA wells by the ECUA, the Department of Health, and corporations led to the convening of a second grand jury. Two top ECUA adminstrators resigned and barely escaped criminal indictment--saved from indictment only by the actions of Elvin McCorvey and the ECUA board that "legalized" their actions.
The second grand jury was scathing in its criticismss of the ECUA, federal and state regulators, and industry's efforts to evade controls and pass the costs of cleanup and the resultant damaging health effects on to the public.
In September 2009, the University of West Florida's Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation issued its final report, Environmental Pollution and Community Health in Nortwest Florida. The project ran out of money before it could study the destructive effects of the paper mill on Perdido Bay.
In 2009, Carl Wernicke of the Pensacola News Journal published a series of articles on environmental pollution in the area with the titles: "Hold Your Breath," "How's the Water?," "A Main Offender" (Gulf Power and International Paper were covered), "Political Waters," and a "Call to Action." No grand jury was convened.
In subsequent years the Pensacola News Journal has virtually stopped writing about the environment. The Pensacola News Journal does not bother to call out GOP leaders who lie about climate change or who claim with a straight face that you can eliminate the federal Environmental Protetion Agency without negatively affecting our local environmental conditions, quality of life, and prospects for attracting tourists.
And so, the changing level of environmental concern has deterioriated from moderately strong to weak and virtually non-existent. Since 1999 concern for the environment has changed for the worse. Much worse.
Which leads to the final point, one of the major findings of the 1999 special grand jury's report--the role of citizens groups.
The 1999 report noted that local citizens groups were actually the first line or the last line of defense in defending the environment, their lives, and their homes. The grand jury stated, "In response to the failure of government to perform its regulatory duties and uphold the public interest with respect to the environment, a number of citizen groups have formed" including Friends of Perdido Bay and, Citizens Against Toxic Exposure.
This is part of the environmental legacy in northwest Florida. The question of what is to be done is a question of strategy, organization, networking, and mobilizing the local media and residents.
Today we salute these brave and tenacious environmental activists--all women, and other women heading other groups like Barbara Albrecht (Bream Fishermen Association and Panhandle Watershed Alliance)--who have stood up for the environment and the public interest.
The following videos are the presentations given by the panelists to an enthusiastic audience of concerned residents.
Mary GUTIERREZ, Earth Ethics & Earth Action
Linda YOUNG, Part 1, Florida Clean Water Network
Linda YOUNG, Part 2
Jack BONNEY, Community Advocate
Dr. Gloria HORNING, Social Justice Advocate
Dr. Jackie LANE, Friends of Perdido Bay
Nonie CELESTE, Nonie's Ark Animal Encounters
Mary GUTIERREZ, Earth Ethics & Earth Action
Mary GUTIERREZ, Auden Quote
Tony MCCRAE II, Gulf Coast Voice