Sunday, October 20, 2013

Letter to Sandra Steingraber: Your Lake Seneca is My Loyalsock Creek

Dear Sandra,

I hope my letter finds you, and finds you well. I have followed and, where I could, photographed and documented the defense of Lake Seneca against those whom I have called the industrializing profiteers of the extreme extraction corporations, Inergy in this case.

While my temptation is to draft a scorching analysis, I know the relevant facts about the gas storage, frack rig, compressor, pipeline, dehydrator, deep injection well, waste pool, sand truck, chemical cocktail, and on and on, are as fully at your disposal as they are at mine. So, instead, I decided to write something different—a letter—whose aim it is to tell you about another endangered moment of this life on Earth, namely, my Loyalsock Creek and state forest. While you may not know, my beautiful creek is your magnificent lake.

Inergy plays a lead role in both of our stories. While the fight in Watkin’s Glen and its surrounding villages and vineyards takes the form of resistance to Inergy’s plan to construct an LPG storage facility utilizing the abandoned and potentially seismic salt caverns of Lake Seneca, our struggle is for one of the few remaining pristine forests and watersheds left to Pennsylvanians—the Loyalsock.

The difference is that while your moratorium holds—and we hope this continues for our own sakes—we have now been fully occupied by what amounts to an invading and terrorizing industrial army whose soldiers of fortune—Inergy, Anadarko, Kinder Morgan, Chesapeake, EXCO, XTO, Cabot, Range Resources, Consol, WPX, Halliburton, Aqua America, and so many more—have converted the conditions of life—water, air, and soil—into off-shore bank deposits, real estate schemes, investments in fracking technologies for use overseas, climate change denial propaganda, pro-fracking hit squads, and the purchase of our elected representatives. I understand that you are right now in jail; you’ve no idea how much I admire your courage. It is, indeed, to that courage to which I am appealing now.

We are at war in rural Pennsylvania. Our tree-sitters like my good friend Alex Lotorto have been cut out of the ancient Eastern Hemlocks they’re defending by a co-opted machinery of the state so that Kinder Morgan can rape the Appalachian Trail in the interest of constructing the Tennessee Pipeline.

Our citizens are being evicted from their homes only to be disgorged into cities like Williamsport where the rents are as high as imported frack-industry workers will pay, and where every corner and crevice has been transformed into a man camp. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the occupation of Riverdale Mobile Home Community, I am reminded of the intimate connections between social and economic justice, the particular vulnerabilities of poor women, children, and the elderly, and the unadulterated waste that fracking has made of these.

Your dogged quest for justice reminds me a little of Deb Eck’s, one of the resident leaders at Riverdale whose mobile home was one of the very last to leave after the June 12th state police raid, and during the demolition of the park. I am reminded of the Faustian bargains made routinely by our churches, schools, universities, retirement homes, and state agencies to lease land to interests whose record of environmental, labor, and safety violation should make our stomachs clench and our fists clench harder.

Worn down by the recession, by the conversion of great rivers like the Susquehanna into toilets for the coal industry, the pharmaceuticals, and now by Act 13’s gutting of what little say our municipalities enjoyed by a corrupt and corporatized state government, it’s a wonder we have been able to foment resistance in Pennsylvania at all. But what we know is that the war for our homes, our water, our air hasn’t really even yet begun. That awaits the pipelines—at which point we will not only be at war, but under siege. It is vital that New York’s moratorium hold. Without it, there is no border to brake the trucks, no symbolic line in the sand, no last best chance for us to put a stop to what amounts to a kind of slow but sure genocide in the name of “free enterprise.”

I realize as I draft my letter to you that I am not really writing for you—though I do sincerely hope you’ll be able to rejoin your family soon. I am writing for myself, for my children, for my communities. You and I are both mothers. My four children—three sons and a daughter—are mostly grown. One lives in Michigan where the industry is just beginning to power up its destructive machinery; two live in the West whose extraction wars are well underway. My daughter is soon to leave for Ukraine, a Peace Corps assignment I find especially poignant given my own communications with friends in Romania and Russia over what are and have always been global issues: extreme extraction as the last desperate gasp of the fossil fuel behemoth, its consequent contribution to climate change, deforestation, desertification, and the coming mammoth migrations of people and animals in search of water. It is a dark prospect—but I now find myself imagining the possibility that we could find ourselves at war here—anywhere—over access to what clean water remains after we have destroyed it to fuel not only our own accelerating consumption, but the weaponry we’ll deploy to prosecute just such a conflagration.

I’d be tempted to call this a kind of ironic justice, except that the people (not to mention the countless extinguished nonhuman animal species) who will do the suffering and dying are all the same. They’re the ones who always suffer first, poor women, children, the elderly, non-whites, indigenous peoples.

Still, I promised this letter would be about Inergy. And truly it has been—if symbolically. But let me make the connection to your Lake Seneca more real. On Labor Day 2012, an Inergy pipeline construction crew had an accident that allowed spill a fair swathe of bentonite directly into Loyalsock Creek just upstream from World’s End State Park family swimming area.

As you can see from my photograph, the creek was clouded, its late Summer foliage suffocated by the spill. Bentonite is, of course, not itself especially toxic—but it can strangle aquatic life. DEP not only did nothing to chastise Inergy, the state agency refused even to advise swimmers to avoid the family recreation area. In the grand scheme, the spill was a minor episode in the ongoing fracktastrophe that is Pennsylvania—but for us who love the Loyalsock is was an omen. Anadarko now plans to begin drilling operations in Loyalsock at Rock Run—and I can barely say this out loud without crying.

This is the people’s land, the people’s forest, the people’s creek. It is as much my creek as Seneca isyour lake. Moreover, it is precisely the same story to be told about EXCO’s drill pads in Elk Grove, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, or Consol’s operations on Beaver Lake Reservoir, Westmoreland County—and countless other beautiful vulnerable places.

I am writing to ask you to keep fighting. Just as you and your fellows bravely blockade the Inergy gates, I and mine chain ourselves to access road gates and truck fenders—and to trees. Your moratorium is a vital part of our reason to hope, and our willingness to fight is part of what has helped to hold your moratorium.

I love my children, Sandra. When I saw the image of you holding your son’s face, I wept for all of us, but not just at the injustice of you and your fellows’ arrests, but for your child and my own who face a future for which “sustainable” is fastly becoming little more than the hollow promise of a gray sky, a brownfield earth and, as Carson might have put it, a silent spring.

Fight, Sandra.

You have my word that I will.


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