Thirteen More People Arrested in Seneca Lake Seven Generations Blockade

From Earth First! Newswire:

photo from We Are Seneca Lake

photo from We Are Seneca Lake

A Seven Generations blockade of a Crestwood fracked gas storage facility in Seneca Lake occurred this morning, resulting in 13 arrests. The same amount of activists were arrested on August 4, ratcheting up this month’s total to at least 26 people.

The arrestees represented students from five different colleges, as well as families, teenagers, and the elderly.

According to We Are Seneca Lake, “A tanker truck was waiting on the side of the road before the We Are Seneca Lake blockade was in place. The truck was later guided into the driveway in front of the blockaders. Blockaders were then told they were being arrested for disorderly conduct.”

A participant in the action, Gabriel Shapiro wrote:

“Today young people and their supporters took a stand for our collective future here in the Finger Lakes. Crestwood wants to turn our region into a storage hub for fracked gas serving the entire Northeast U.S. Their plans put too much at risk. We want to come back and possibly raise children here someday. We don’t want methane, LPG, brine, heavy machinery and the fracking industry to have anything to do with that.

“We are living a different story and it involves locally grown food, world class wine, and a vibrant, self-sustaining economy. We are the Finger Lakes and we are standing together for a different future than Crestwood is presenting us with.”

The We Are Seneca Lake civil disobedience campaign has been ongoing for years, and has led to hundreds of arrests. The campaign has brought public attention to the widespread disapproval of fossil fuels development in the region.

Mass Incarceration vs. Rural Appalachia

by Panagioti Tsolkas / Earth Island Journal

prison

A mountaintop removal mine in Wise County, Virginia. The federal Bureau of Prisons wants to build a prison over a similarly strip-mined parcel of land in neighboring Kentucky which is still being drilled for gas, and which is located amid a habitat for dozens of endangered species.

The United States Bureau of Prisons is trying to build a new, massive maximum-security prison in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky — and there’s a growing movement to stop it.

The prison industry in the US has grown in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years— a new prison was built at an average rate of one every two weeks in the ’90s, almost entirely in rural communities. As of 2002, there were already more prisoners in this country than farmers. The industry seems like an unstoppable machine, plowing forward at breakneck speed on the path that made the world’s largest prison population.

Today, about 716 of every 100,000 Americans are in prison. Prisoners in nations across the world average at 155 per 100,000 people. And in the US, Southern states rule the chart. Viewing these states as countries themselves,  Kentucky ranks at lucky number seven.

“Sounds terrible…” you may be thinking, “But what does it have to do with the environment?”

Well, this seemingly impenetrable multi-billion dollar bi-partisan government-driven industry does have a weak point: it’s a well-verified ecological mess. For a 10-year period of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Prison Initiative, prison after prison that the EPA’s inspected in the Mid-Atlantic region was plagued with violations. Violations included air and water pollution, inadequate hazardous waste management and failing spill control prevention for toxic materials.

From the initial breaking ground on construction in rural and wild places to the inevitable sewage problem from operating chronically over-populated facilities — running a prison is dirty business. And when you factor in the plethora of environmental justice issues facing the prisoners, disproportionately low-income and people of color, it becomes an outright nightmare.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the Bureau of Prisons’ latest plan for a new maximum-security federal prison is on a former mountaintop removal coal mine site, which is still being drilled for gas, and which is located amid a habitat for dozens of endangered species. Where else but Appalachia?

The proposed half a billion dollar facility is to be located in Kentucky’s Letcher County. If built, this would be the fourth new federal prison in eastern Kentucky, and the sixth federal prison built in Central Appalachia, since 1992, making the region one of the most concentrated areas of prison growth in the country.

In March of this year, the Human Rights Defense Center’s new Prison Ecology Project joined the fight against the proposed prison. So far, opposition to the Bureau of Prison’s plans have been led primarily by the statewide grassroots nonprofit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC),  which is opposed to “prison expansion as a form of economic development.”

The prison industry and its proponents say the prison will bring jobs and economic growth to Letcher County, which is one of the many regions in eastern Kentucky suffering from the decline of the coal industry. But past studies have shown that new prisons do not improve the local economy and in most cases appear to harm rather than benefit host communities. That certainly seems to be the case in Kentucky’s McCreary, Clay, and Martin counties.

In 2013, when the Bureau of Prisons began seeking public input about the project,  KFTC outlined a series of questions and concerns, including questions about the projected economic benefits, the stability of the reclaimed mine site, and possible environmental impacts of the new prison. In its statement to the bureau the KFTC said: “It’s clear we need economic transition in our county and region, but history shows that prisons have not provided that. And, when we talk about transition, we desire a transition that is equitable to all people, not just those at the top.”

But when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project was released earlier this year, it was clear that these concerns had fallen on deaf ears. In fact, the Bureau of Prisons went so far as to state that “scoping comments were in support of the project with no major issues or concerns raised.” (Emphasis added.)

Luckily, attorney and criminal justice activist Stephen Raher was among those who filed comments in 2013. A former co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Raher has been tracking environmental issues related to the Bureau of Prisons facilities for over a decade. Perhaps the flagrant disregard for his input added some fuel to his fire, because Raher then spearheaded a comment on the Letcher proposal that carried a passion rare in the world of administrative legalese. Leading with the quote by Caudill mentioned above, he tore into the Bureau of Prisons for taking advantage of the people and land of Appalachia with a new form of industrial exploitation:

“The EIS announces BOP’s plans to continue with a new type of extractive activity. BOP’s proposed project would take 1,200 prisoners, extracted from their homes and neighborhoods, and import them into Letcher County. Despite the EIS’s glib promises of employment and economic activity, Letcher County and surrounding environments would be forced to absorb the substantial environmental consequence.”

Raher and HRDC staff co-authored the comment, which was signed by  individuals and organizations from across the country. The Bureau of Prison’s charade of full support was blown.

The comment highlighted regional water quality records which show a history of water contamination from sources that would provide water to the prison, including heavy metals associated with mining as well as fecal coliform from defective septic systems. It also noted heightened presence of radon in the area, which often associated with coal and gas extraction.

Additionally, the comment noted that the Bureau of Prisons indicates intent to build an e-waste recycling factory run on prison labor on the site, but provides no information about how it will deal with the hazardous waste that these facilities have a history of creating.

None of these concerns seemed to slow the Bureau down — If anything, the opposite. The agency turned its draft Environmental Impact Statement into a final EIS in record speed. By mid-summer, it was ready to plow forward with the project, once again ignoring essentially every concern brought forward. Now, the agency is rounding the final corner of the federal permitting process for the 700-acre project expressly aimed at reducing the Bureau of Prison’s overpopulation problem. The agency’s facilities nationwide have been operating at 51 percent over capacity.

The 1,200 people moved to this new facility from other overpopulated prisons would end up hundreds of miles from most of their home communities with no mass transit options, making visitation an extreme hardship for their families. It’s this reality that’s earned central Appalachia, simultaneous home to the nation’s most biodiverse ecosystem and poorest rural economy, the title of America’s own Gulag Archipelago.

prison2

On July 31, the agency announced — via US Representative Hal Rogers’ office — its preferred site for the prison and the release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement. (Sadly, a majority of this document’s 800+ pages are taken up by letters from the local economically depressed post-coal community begging for prison jobs.) There is now a very short window of time left for public comments on the project. On August 31 the Bureau of Prisons will be closing the record on public input and making a final decision on the plan.

In the Final EIS response to environmental justice concerns raised, the Bureau of Prisons stated that it “does not concur with the assertion that federal inmates of mixed backgrounds (as to ethnicity, race, and income) to be housed in the proposed facility constitute either a minority or low income population for the purposes of EO12898, the President’s 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice. Nor that adverse health effects could result from living on top of a former mine site. The agency, however, provided no data on demographics, which is readily available from reputable sources such as the Prison Policy Initiative, nor on documented long term health concerns related to mountaintop removal mining sites.

The Prison Ecology Project is also opposed to the project on conservation grounds. As it outlined in a letter to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioner, which was also signed by the Center for Biological Diversity:

This project could adversely impact 71 species known to live in Letcher County and recognized as threatened, endangered, or of special concern in Kentucky. This includes the Kentucky red-backed vole, sharp-shinned hawk, American black bear, eastern red damsel, mountain midget crayfish, and Cumberland arrow darter, as well as the federally endangered Indiana and Grey bats, both highly imperiled species protected under the US Endangered Species Act. Protecting these species is integral to protecting the region’s rich natural heritage for future generations.

We can stop this prison plan, protect Appalachian biodiversity, promote a just transition for the people of Appalachia who are reeling from coal company exploitation, and turn the tide on mass incarceration. But it will take your help.

Three ways you can take action:

  1. Sign and share this petition to build momentum against the proposed prison, and show the Bureau of Prisons that opposition is growing across the country. HRDC’s Prison Ecology Project will submit this with our official comment on the Final EIS, Aug 31. Our goal is to reach 2,000 signatures. This link can be used to send a letter directly to the Bureaus of Prison’s team that is reviewing public comments. They are required by law to acknowledge and address them.
  2. Ask the EPA to keep it up! Reviewers from EPA Region 4 say they also found the Bureau of Prison’s environmental analysis for the project “insufficient.” We want them to keep fighting, and add environmental justice to their list of the EIS failures. Send an email to the EPA Region 4’s NEPA Program Office Chief, Heinz Mueller: mueller.heinz@epa.gov
  3. Donate and Share the Prison Ecology Project’s crowdfunding campaign so we can take this fight all the way to a victory in the courtroom, if needed.

 

August 10 is Prisoners’ Justice Day: Let’s Bring the BOP’s Plans for a Prison on Mountaintop Removal Site to the Forefront

From Earth First! Journal:

By Panagioti / Prison Ecology Project

August 10 is a day that prisoners have declared Prisoners’ Justice Day. It’s a day to demonstrate solidarity in remembrance of those who have died unnecessarily behind bars—victims of murder, suicide and neglect—at the hands of the police state.

August-10-plants-break-cuffs

 

It started in Canada in 1975 following the death of prisoner Edward Nalon in a solitary unit of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison located in Ontario, and it has remained most recognized in that country. While there has been some success in calling to use this day as a way to bring awareness to the plights of incarcerated people who suffer injustice worldwide, it still hasn’t quite caught on in the U.S. … yet.

[Check out a collection of reflections from Prisoner Justice Day in recent years here, specifically this “open letter to construction workers at prisons” released in tandem with a 2012 call for blockades of work aimed at expanding the Collins Bay and Frontenac prisons.]

But anti-prison activists in the U.S. and abroad, particularly those with an interest in environmental justice, should note that this year’s August 10 is marked by the proposal to build a new federal maximum security prison in the Appalachian mountains of Letcher County in eastern Kentucky, on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Just this week, after several years of local debate about the economic failures of building prisons on low-income rural areas, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has announced plans to move forward with another prison in a region that has been dubbed Appalachia’s Gulag Archipelago.

Despite the area’s long history of pollution from decades of blasting for coal, politicians like U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers have insisted on piling prisoners into this remote location which is likely to poison prisoners with tainted water. It also happens to be far from any reasonable transit options for family visitation, not to mention being planned on threatened and endangered species habitat of the incredibly biodiverse region.

What to do about the BOP’s Letcher County plan this Aug 10? 

Prisoners’ Justice Day is fast-approaching, but it’s not too late to plan for action. A quick place to start is sending over a letter to the BOP within this 30-day window telling them that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS )is insufficient, as it does not recognize the civil rights that prisoners have to receive environmental justice protections. This is, of course, in addition to the myriad concerns related to perpetuating the racist and classist mass incarceration system by building more prisons to extract poor people from their communities and warehouse them in toxic places.

Also worth noting is that there is a major PR firm called Cardno who is contracted by the BOP to conduct the EIS study. They are likely representing many more of your corporate and state enemies as well. According to their website, “Cardno now has about 8,200 staff working in 300 offices, on projects across more than 100 countries around the world.”  Their corporate offices are located within the following regions:
Australasia    Middle East    UK/Europe
North America    Africa    Asia
Latin America

 

 

The following text provides some additional history on Prisoners Justice Day becoming international day of solidarity with prisoners:

justice4prisoners

In 1983, prisoners in France refused to eat in recognition of August 10th, the following statement would be read on the Paris radio station Frequence-Libre:

Why not have on August 10 an international day of solidarity with our imprisoned brothers and sisters,

For here or elsewhere, prison kills,
Whether it be Nalon in Ontario, Bader or Meinhoff in West Germany,
Claude or Ivan in Switzerland, Bobby Sands in Ireland,
Mirval, Haadjadj, Onno, Youssef or so many others in France,
Whether they are serving 53 years like Alexandre Cotte or 16 years like Youssef,
Whether they are considered political or common prisoners,
PRISON KILLS!

By the mid 1990´s prisoners in parts of Germany, England and the United States would join this day of protest.

The number of issues focused on over twenty-five years has been extensive:

Double Bunking
Youth Incarceration
Safe Tattooing Inside
Special Handling Units
The Wrongfully Convicted
Twenty-five Year Sentences
The Right to Freedom of Speech
The Women Self-defense Review
Abolition of National Parole Board
The Right to Vote in Federal Elections
Decriminalization of Victimless Crime
Health Care Needs of Prisoners With HIV & AIDS
Return to Shorter Sentences with 1/3 Time Off For Good Behaviour
Medical Care and the Same Options for Treatment as Outside Prison
The Integration of Protective Custody prisoners into General Population
Decarceration – Release of Prisoners Who Already Served Their Sentence
Alternatives to Incarceration – the Eventual Abolition of Prisons
The Recognition of Political Prisoners in Canada
Early Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth
Moratorium on the Building of New Prisons
The Incarceration of Refugee Claimants
The Prisoners´ Right to Unionize
Privatization of Food Services
Needle Exchange Programs
Privatization of Prisons
Involuntary Transfers
Education Programs
Gating of Prisoners

The Right to Recognize August 10th Without Reprisals

PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY IS…

…August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily — victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

…the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

…the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners.

…is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

…the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

…the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

…the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

…the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

…the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

…the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

Info on Prisoners’ Justice Day courtesy of PrisonJustice.ca.