Thursday, November 9, 2023

National Environmental Justice Art Campaign - We Refuse To Die - Launching In Pittsburgh Area

We Refuse To Die” is a multi-year, multi-city campaign that connects frontline communities in the Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley to communities in the Gulf South, and the Permian Basin, leveraging art, storytelling, ceremony, and action to stop the fossil fuel and petrochemical poisoning of communities, lands, and waters. 

From Appalachia to the Gulf South and beyond, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and white communities near refineries, pipelines, fracking sites, chemical train runs, and other polluting infrastructure experience disproportionate rates of asthma, rare cancers, and other terminal illness. 

With “We Refuse to Die,” a new national environmental art campaign, the living dead speak back.

This new project forges new solidarities—across generations, geographies, and even species, metabolizing grief into collective strength and community power.

Incorporating visual art produced for both museum and outdoor exhibition, events in-person and online, and opportunities for people to gather within and across communities, “We Refuse to Die” launched in Pittsburgh this week with a convening of 30 frontline community activists from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

The convening featured--

-- A rally and press conference outside the MetCoke World Summit in Pittsburgh.  Read more here.

-- Billboards calling out MetCoke World Summit sponsors in Pittsburgh, East Palestine and Clairton.  Read more here.

-- Tours to so-called environmental and public health “sacrifice zones” in the Pittsburgh Region, including East Palestine, the Marcellus Shale Region, and the Mon Valley

-- “We Refuse To Die” exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art, featuring footage of industrial pollution and 6-8 foot Externality monuments made from trees killed in climate-fueled wildfires, hand-carved into human and other animal forms–which will be installed outside of fossil fuel facilities and petrochemical plants throughout the Gulf South and Appalachia/Ohio River Valley

-- A public ceremony and media event around the installation of a permanent Externality monument, overlooking US Steel’s Coke Works Plant. Featuring libation and prayer, local speakers, West African drumming and dancing, and the ritual planting of the carving in the ground. 

-- A new petition seeks to hold US Steel accountable for their harmful pollution and violation of the Clean Air Act. 

The people of Clairton, Pennsylvania breathe in some of the most toxic, cancer-causing industrial air pollution in the nation, thanks to the US Steel Clairton Coke Works Plant, the largest manufacturer of coke (a type of refined coal) in the country. 

The Clairton Coke Works was named Allegheny County's number one air polluter in 2021, alone releasing over 1.1 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the community’s air supply. 

More than 36,000 people live within three miles of the plant, and there are seven public schools within three miles of the facility. 

This disproportionate pollution burden causes high cancer risk, and is likely a leading reason for why Allegheny County is in the top 1% of all US counties for cancer risk from toxic air. 

Plant emissions have violated the Clean Air Act for years, and the company has been fined over $10 million since 2018. 

On Christmas Eve of that year, a catastrophic fire at the plant knocked out its pollution controls, resulting in 100 consecutive days of dangerous air. Residents were urged to remain indoors, and asthma cases and emergency room visits spiked. 

Melanie Meade, a life-long Clairton resident who will host the monument on her land explains her reaction when she learned of the project: “When I first saw the We Refuse to Die carvings, I was elated. I thought, ‘God is here in the City of Prayer,’ because this is exactly what the people need.”

Melanie came to environmental justice after experiencing incredible loss. She buried her parents, her older brother, older sister, and younger brother between 2011 and 2020. 

For her, “We Refuse to Die means you're taking action. You're not going down. We refuse to die when we stand up and say something, when we identify with our pain and speak to what we need to heal.”

The Clairton monument will be the first of many carvings installed in the yards of residents in Appalachia, the Ohio River Valley, and the Gulf South, symbolically facing petrochemical plants and fossil fuel facilities that are poisoning communities, contaminating air and water, and threatening our children’s future with catastrophic climate change.

“The fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are writing off some communities as “sacrifice zones”, or the living dead. With We Refuse To Die, the living dead speak back,” said Beka Economopoulos, Director of The Natural History Museum, a “traveling museum for the movement” that launched the We Refuse To Die campaign. 

“We Refuse to Die” is organized by The Natural History Museum with much support and collaboration from Breathe Project, Fractracker, Physicians for Social Responsibility-PA Chapter, and Black Appalachian Coalition. 

(Photo: The Externality carving overlooking the US Steel Clairton Coke [coal] Works in Allegheny County.)

Upcoming Events - DEP Environmental Justice Policy:

-- November 16-- Virtual.  DEP Hearing On Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy. Noon to 2:00 p.m. Persons wishing to reserve time to present testimony at a meeting must contact Jennifer McLuckie at (717) 772-5633 or at least 24 hours in advance of the hearing.  Read more here.

-- November 28-- DEP Hearing On Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy. Howard J. Burnett Center, Washington & Jefferson College, 292 East Wheeling St., Washington, Washington County.  6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Persons wishing to reserve time to present testimony at a meeting must contact Jennifer McLuckie at (717) 772-5633 or at least 24 hours in advance of the hearing.  Read more here.

-- November 30-- DEP Hearing On Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy. La Toxica Event Space, 1447 Lehigh St., Allentown.  6:00 to 8:00 p.m.. Persons wishing to reserve time to present testimony at a meeting must contact Jennifer McLuckie at (717) 772-5633 or at least 24 hours in advance of the hearing.  Read more here.

Resource Links:

-- DEP To Hold Last 3 Hearings On Interim Final Environmental Justice Permit Review Policy  [PaEN] 

-- Spotlight PA: DEP Has Updated How It Defines An ‘Environmental Justice Area;’ Here’s Why That Matters For At-Risk Communities


-- The Allegheny Front - Reid Frazier: Outside Coal & Steel Conference, Residents Rally Against Pollution In Pittsburgh

-- WPXI: Environmental Groups Rally For Environmental Justice At Coke, Coal & Steel Industries Conference In Pittsburgh

Upcoming Events

-- University Of Pittsburgh Studies Of Shale Gas Development Health Impacts To Be Discussed At Nov. 14 Joint Meeting Of DEP Citizens Advisory Council, Environmental Justice Advisory Board  [PaEN]

-- PA League Of Women Voters, University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health Nov. 14 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- Black Appalachian Coalition Urges Allegheny County Health Dept. To Hold US Steel Accountable, Protect Community Health, From Clairton Coke Works  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: Gov. Shapiro Must Acknowledge Health Risks Of Natural Gas Development And Take Meaningful Action To Protect The Public  [PaEN] 

-- Physicians For Social Responsibility PA: Gov. Shapiro's Announcement With CNX Does Not Go Far Enough In Protecting Public Health And The Environment From Natural Gas Development  [PaEN]

-- TribLive Editorial: Is Shapiro's Voluntary Agreement With CNX The Right Move For Gas Well Safety?  'We Do Not Trust Foxes To Guard Henhouses'  [PaEN]

[Posted: November 9, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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