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Megafarms and oil & gas producers in Californias Central Valley are some of the worst polluters of local air, soil, and water. Well hear how Central Valley residents are pushing back. Later, author Naomi Klein talks about her book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal. But first, we go to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where we learn how six Native American tribes are harnessing wind power to bring economic development to their members.
Image: Kern River Oil Field; view from Panorama Park in Bakersfield, on the blufftop across the river. This is the most densely developed oilfield in California, and the fifth-largest producer (as of 2006) in the US. Image Credit: Antandrus Wikipedia administrator
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ML: This week on Making Contact
Megafarms and oil & gas producers in Californias Central Valley are some of the worst polluters of local air, soil, and water. Well hear how Central Valley residents are pushing back
And later in the show, author Naomi Klein talks about her latest book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal.
But first, we go to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where reporter Jim Kent explains how six Native American tribes are harnessing wind power to bring economic development to their members.
JK: The Pine Ridge Reservation is located on the open, rolling plains of South Dakota. Its known primarily for the Wounded Knee Massacre site and for the widespread poverty that impacts the area. About 80 percent of the 30,000 Oglala people who live here are unemployed. But their 2 million-acre traditional homeland does have a natural solution for ending that poverty: wind.
Where are we right now?
LJ: Were settin out by Pass Creek District, just north of Allen out nearby the buffalo pasture.
JK: Its a beautiful Spring day on the Northern Plains as I meet with Lyle Jack, a Renewable Energy Consultant and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Were standing on a muddy road and as close as we can get to a project Jacks been trying to bring to life for 20 years.
LJ: Were planning to build a 120-Megawatt wind farm. Weve got high unemployment. Our socio-economic status is not very good. So, were always looking for jobs, trying to find something that can sustain us.
JK: And, so, you came up with the idea of a wind farm. LJ: Yeah, a wind farm JK: As were standing here in the wind what made you think of wind?
LJ: (laughs) Well, wind goes along with our cultural beliefs. Its good for the environment, its very clean, theres zero emissions that come off of it. As you know, were going through major climate change right now, so our part would be to help reduce that carbon thats released into the atmosphere. The wind we consider sacred, so its gonna give us energy and be able to help us sustain ourselves.
JK: And when you live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, as Lyle Jack does, where the soil is poor and there are few natural resources, you turn to what you have for help.
Lyle Jacks dream of bringing wind energy to Pine Ridge dates back to 2000. Then he was among a group of Oglala people who took over the tribal government headquarters over claims of mismanagement of federal funds on the reservation. A few years later Jack was elected to the tribal council, where he served as chairman of the Economic and Business Development Committee.
Escaping from the wind to his truck, Jack says the primary problem was finding a situation where the tribe could do more than just provide the land for wind turbines.
LJ: A lot of these investors want to come in and they want to own the project. Control the project. They want to lease the land from the tribe and pay the tribe royalty, but theyll control and own the project itself. Thats not something that we wanted to do and thats one of the reasons why its taken us so long because we want to own our own project and we also want to control our own destiny.
JK: Lyle Jack and representatives of the Rosebud, Flandreau, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River and Yankton Sioux tribes came together from across South Dakota to form the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority.
LJ: The Oceti Sakowin Power Authority is a federal corporation comprised of six tribes. The six tribes have equal ownership of it. And what it is its a vehicle to go out and develop projects for the tribe. To go out and sell the power for the tribe. But also to put the tribes at least risk. Its the Power Authority thats taking the risk. Its the Power Authority thats putting themselves up, waving immunity. So, the Power Authoritys out there as a vehicle for the tribes but it also keeps the tribes secure.
JK: And though the Power Authoritys bylaws require it to keep the leadership of the 6 tribes informed of its actions, it works as an independent entity.
LJ: Thats the good thing about this. You know, we set it up as a federal corporation. It gives the corporation a lot of it shields them from politics, you know? The incoming administration just cant just dissolve the corporation because under the rules only Congress can do that. So, it gives a lot of stability to the corporation.
JK: In other words, a new tribal president cant dissolve the group. It also gives the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority the ability to negotiate prices with energy companies or buyers and negotiate with land owners on behalf of the tribes. That freedom of movement led the O-S-P-A to attend the Clinton Global Initiative where their efforts caught the eye of Bill Clinton.
BC: I would like to explain why this is such a big deal. It gives Native tribes who dont have who arent in populous areas and dont have casino revenue a chance to earn some real money that can then be used to reinvest in the community, to diversify the economic bae that exists and build out a lot of small businesses, support the schooling system, do a whole range of things that otherwise there would be no funds for.
JK: Of course, having a president of the United States support the project doesnt guarantee its success. But it did help the consortium find a company willing to invest in their project.
EP: About 2 years ago we were approached by the Clinton Foundation and they mentioned that they were working with the OSPA and several of the Sioux tribes and that they were looking for a wind development partner. And they put us in touch with Lyle Jack.
JK: Eamon Perrel is Vice President of Business Development at Apex Clean Energy in Charlottesville, Virginia. Founded in 2009, the companys mission is to accelerate the shift from fossil fuel-based generation to clean energy, including wind, solar and whatever other technologies may be developed.
Perrel was intrigued by the Oceti Sakowin Power Authoritys goal of being heavily involved in whatever wind energy project might come to their reservations.
EP: And I think what we ultimately arrived at was a unique solution in which they truly are a joint venture partner with Apex in this effort. Theyre involved in all of the decision-making. Theyre investing some capital into the project as are we. And theres just quite a lot of trust that Hey, we will be pursuing a lot of things that have never been done before in this country, but we have a joint venture and we have quite a lot of trust and theres confidence through that structure that well be able to get through all of these challenges.
JK: Those challenges include negotiating complicated real estate issues concerning tribal and private land, understanding the differences between the tribal culture and a mainstream business culture and finding customers for this first-ever joint venture where the tribal partner will control 51 percent of the project.
Partnering as 7G (for Generations) Renewable Energy, the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority and Apex are working on their first project: the 120-megawatt wind farm Lyle Jack referred to. A megawatt is 1000 kilowatts. A 120-megawatt wind farm will power 60,000 homes indefinitely.
Before any of this can happen, meteorological towers need to measure wind speeds to determine how much energy the site will generate, wildlife and environmental studies must be conducted for several years and the OSPA needs to raise 5 of the 7.5 million dollar startup cost for the project. Potential customers for their electricity must also be found.
Sounds of store (Door slams Clerk: Hello! Customer: Hi! You getting ready for that blizzard? Clerk: Oh, yeah.
JK: Thirty miles away from the proposed wind farm is the reservation town of Batesland population 108. Im sitting with Lakota elder Seymour Young Dog in the only store around for many miles, its heater blasting out warm air regularly. Seymour worked as an engineer for 40 years all over the country before coming home to Pine Ridge. Growing up with no electricity, hes thrilled about what the O-S-P-A has planned.
SYD: You know, the grass roots people, the older people like me, we want things to happen. But it seems like the tribe is afraid of us or they dont want to do anything. You go to the tribe and they talk big some of the older people we didnt want the tribe to be involved in some of this stuff. Cause all they want to do is make money or get a big name and nothing happens. We kind of lost the trust in the tribe. But we want this to happen to our people. We need to use our own resources here on our reservation.
JK: It’s estimated that the project will create some 200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs in this land where employment is scarce.
Although the wind farm wont provide energy to the Pine Ridge community without the necessary grid infrastructure, it will generate about $15 million in sales taxes by the time construction begins in 2021. The Oglala Sioux Tribe should then receive about $8 million per year in sales revenues.
As for Lyle Jack, realizing the dream hes had for two decades is exciting and a bit unnerving
LJ: Tateh Topah – the Four Winds has always been sacred to us. So, this is like a gift from the Great Spirit to us and we need to utilize that for the good of our tribe. And not only our tribe but the good of the planet.
JK: Jack says hes grateful for the opportunity to change the future for his children, his grandchildren, and for his people
For Making Contact, this is Jim Kent on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
ML: Californias Central Valley stretches 450 miles–from the LA megalopolis up to Sacramento. Its an agricultural powerhouse that grows more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the United States. Producers reaped over $50 billion in 2017. And not everyone shares in the bounty. The Valleys average per capita income is 32.2 percent lower than the rest of the state. But as reporter Bobbi Murray explains, the environmental effects of Big Ag, oil production, and transport in the Valley touch everyone.
BM: This rural-industrial landscape produces some of the worst air quality in the nation, consistently failing EPA and the American Lung Association standards.
GA: If you take an aerial view of the Central Valley, I mean, the topography it’s Central Valley, right?
BM: Thats Gustavo Aguirre, Jr., an organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. Its a six-year-old organization that has taken on the valleys pollution by engaging neighbors in shaping local air and water quality.
GA: If you take a 360 view of that, you’re going to see mega industrial farming scale, you’re going to see here in Kern County. 75% of oil and gas industry in the state is produced here, the other 25 is in the other part of the Central Valley along the coast and in Los Angeles, including offshore.
BM: Among other duties, Aguirre runs the organizations citizen scientist program. He teaches residents to collect what are called bucket sampleslocal air specimens in environmental hotspot neighborhoods which are shipped to a lab for evaluation. There is also a program for on-line reporting.
The evidence documents pollution levels from the Valleys many sources, one of which is the sprawling dairy industry.
NM: And the problem with dairies is that we don’t have small mom and pop dairies, we have mega dairies that have 20,000 cows in a dairy.
BM: Nayamin Martinez is executive director of the Environmental Justice Network.
NM:All those cows are emitting methane through their waste, they’re emitting ammonia, which comes out of their urine, and they accumulate all that waste in lagoons. So, all that is coming and releasing into the air and contributing to air pollution.
BM: Martinezs family moved to the valley 18 years ago from Mexico City. After she left that smoggy urban area she was surprised when her son began to suffer from asthma in the rural-seeming Central Valley. She learned it has some of the countrys most dangerous air.
NM: You have mega operations with thousands of cows, with thousands of acres being farmed, yet you don’t even know who they own them, they don’t live in the area, they don’t care if they’re applying pesticides or if they have all these dairies in one place, because they are not there to see it, smell it, breathe it, drink that water that they are polluting.
BM: Its not only dairy–mega-operations in the Valley produce hundreds of millions of pounds of beef annually, along with vast amounts of methane. In 2012 NASA found a methane hotspot in the Valleys Fresno and Kern Countiesthe second-largest concentration in the United States.
GA: So Methane and the health effects of methane really are at a global scale, right? When you start looking at what are the toxic air contaminants, and the global climate change contaminants, methane is one that is on the global scale of it.
BM: Methane is a precursor to the local health threat known as PM 2.5, particulate matter created when methane combines with other chemicals. PM 2.5 levels in the Central Valley are among the worst in the nation. PM 2.5 endangers lungsbut its more insidious than that.
NM: Because the PM2.5, they are so tiny particulates, that they go into your bloodstream. They travel throughout your body, and they not only land in your lungs, they could go all the way to your arteries, to your brain, and cause a stroke.
BM: The local air district reports that the primary sources of PM 2.5 are motor vehicles, agriculture, wood burning and oil production.
Valley resident Francisco Gonzalez loved his house on Nelson Court in the town of Arvin in Kern County. He moved there from LA in 2008a good deal, a pretty place.It was also right near an oil operation with a pipeline not too far from his front yard. The Kern County Economic Development Corporation reports that Kern produces more oil than any county in the US. They call us, the Texas of the United States, its CEO said in 2014. And in 2014 an oil pipeline near Gonzalez home and close to Arvin High School was discovered to be leaking dangerous levels of toxic gasses.
That was the same year an oil pipeline near Gonzalez home was discovered to be leaking dangerous levels of toxic gasses.
FG: Cuando el petreleo salio de lasas casas de en frente, en todas las casas el gas salio de las plogas de electricidad, hasta el punto que volar aqui.
When the oil came up in the front houses, in all of those homes, the gas leaked out through the electrical outlets. We were at a point where it was going to explode here.
BM: The fire department and police came out, but didnt flag a problem, Gonzalez said. He contacted Aguirre and the Environmental Justice Network showed up, measured the levels of gas leaking through neighbors electrical outlets and found them alarming. The Arvin Fire Department later determined gas to be at explosive levels. Some three dozen residents were evacuated for eight months. Petro Capital Resources LLC, the pipeline operator was eventually fined $75,000.
Only those closest to the leaking pipe were evacuated, not Gonzalez family. He didnt feel safe then and doesnt now as air issues persist.
FG: Ni modo que una pared va parar la contaminacion en nuestras casas, a meterse.
No way a wall can keep the gas out, keep it from getting in.
BM: Subsequent testing has shown high levels of at least two toxic chemicals, benzene and naphthalene. Gonzalez continues to keep track of emissions and report them with support from the Environmental Justice Network. He stays in the fight.
FG: Ellos Nos ensenaron come andar mirando donde esta el problema de petroleo . Nos ensenaron como agarrar informacion con unas cubetas que ellos traian y con unas camaras antired que venian . Agarramos mucho informacion y mandar a anilizar y todo eso para saber como nos estan contaminando aqui.
They taught us how to look where the oil drilling problem is. They taught us how to collect data in the sample buckets and the infrared cameras they brought us. We have collected lots of information and sent it for analysis so we know how much we are polluted here.
BM: Winds on the environmental justice front go slowly but perhaps steadily if you have a plan. The Central California Justice Network is just one of 79 San Joaquin Valley organizations that work together as part of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.
The work in the San Joaquin Valley helped push through a state measure in 2017 that directs support and resources to environmentally and economically distressed California communities. Districts throughout California have also created local community steering committees with representation from residents, environmental justice organizations and local businesses. Two of these are in the Valley.
According to Martinez, the Air District board, a panel of eight, has somewhat more of a community voice, these days than previously. At least two current appointees are more inclined to represent the public health or environmental justice perspective.
NM: Have all the changes been made that we could hope for? No. There are still only two out of eight seats in this board. We would like to see more representation of people that really have the concern of the communities that are impacted by air quality, poor air quality, more than the industry itself.
GA: There has been a change in leadership. I personally believe that the leadership that is currently at the Air District is better. By how much, I have no clue, but it is better than the previous administration. Now we have face to face. I mean, we have collaborated with them on a project to sponsor some of their programs in environmental justice communities. There has been a large turnaround between the relationship between Air Districts and environmental justice communities.
BM: The work is focused and steady, Aguirre says, and it involves making connections.
GA: I think it’s really been a very purposeful and systematic approach on using old school community organizing, and new school millennial technology, right? One of the old school ways that we do it is just, it’s old school community organizing, it’s hosting house parties, it’s getting some tacos, chile verde, and pollo azado, getting some chocolate and going to the comadres house and talking about what is environmental justice, what does it mean to you, how can you plug in? Really looking at the intersectionality between immigration, wild fires, environmental justice, social justice, and seeing them their eyes awake and saying, “Oh wait! Air quality is attached to poverty, and it is attached to racism.”
What it was is really engaging residents to speak and understand the same language that regulatory agencies use.
BM: That means training citizen scientists, arming residents with the knowledge and language to bring present it to governing agencies that conduct environmental policy.
GA: That includes pesticide safety, visible emissions training, and really getting to understand the flow and break of the regulatory system. So, for regular residents to understand their regulatory capacity of reporting say an issue to the exact department, and the exact office within their department, it’s a matrix. So, we serve, this cohort of citizen scientists serves as a buffer of information and knowledge to the common folk.
BM: Francisco Gonzalez does that and remains part of the ground game that has won change in the town of Arvin.
FG: Aqui pasamaos una ley para que no pusieron las pompas tan cerquitas de las casas. (00:10)?
We passed a law that says they cant put oil pumps so close to homes.
BM: The 2018 ordinance restricted the placement of new gas and oil wells within 300 feet of residential areas, hospitals, parks and schools–the first measure of its kind enacted in an area with such concentrated oil and gas production.
Later in November 2018 when there were 3 Arvin cirty council seats up for election, oil interests backed three candidates, potential votes to overturn the ordinance. The California Independent Petroleum Association and other business groups marshalled almost $30,000–this in a town with some 20,000 residents–to change the council make-up.
The oil interests were defeated.
Gonzalez says the community waged a two-year grassroots effort handing out flyers and organizing local events.
FG: Pero nos junto toda la comunidad que anduvimos por las calles, dando boletas a todos para que votaban por los que estan. Y les ganamos.
The community got together and walked the streets handing out leaflets so people would vote for our people. And we won!
BM: Environmental justice and health are day-to-day, ground level struggles in the central valley. Residents have been at it a long time and still are. Now they are waiting to see what happens in the broader environmental and climate change discussion as the country moves toward the 2020 elections.
For Making Contact, Im Bobbi Murray in Californias Central Valley.
ML: Naomi Klein, bestselling author of The Shock Doctrine, presented ideas from her most recent book On Fire, the (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. She spoke in front of an audience at a Berkeley Arts and Letters event at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, California.
NK: We need to reckon with the weight of our historical moment. Really feel what it means to be alive and breathing in 2019. When we were told last year by the Intergovernmental on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the body that was formed by the United Nations to advise governments a conservative body they can’t produce reports without sourcing thousands of scientific studies coming to a consensus getting approval from all of the governments. Then they released the report and a year ago they said if we want to keep warming below one point five degrees Celsius we’ve warmed the planet by 1 degrees Celsius and we see what is the unraveling that is already upon us. If we want to keep it below one point five which is the best that we can do at this point, they said that we need to cut global emissions in half in 12 years and that’s 11 years now. Right. And by the time we have a new administration one hopes it’ll be just ten years. Just ten years to slash global emissions in half.
So that is the moment that we are in and if every ounce of our energy was focused on the transformation it would be the hardest thing we’ve ever done. The IPCC said it would require fundamental transformation of every aspect of society. Scientists have learned to speak more directly to us.
But we’re not able to put everything into it because what is actually happening in this most fateful moment is that in country after country the men rising to the highest offices of their respective lands are actually planetary arsonists who seem determined to torch this planet with glee.
Um yeah. I’m talking about Donald Trump. But I’m not just talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
So Jair Bolsonaro as we know wants to raze the Amazon clear it for cattle farming and soy farming. He wants to accelerate all forms of extraction
So we’ve got him we’ve got Modi.
So we have Duterte and on and on. Mateo Salvini in Italy. And there is a formula that we’re seeing from these strong men figures around the world. This is a global phenomenon.
Every case is different but they are all sharing strategies around this war on truth, right. The way they are using social media to forward to advance their misinformation campaigns the way they have these very sharply defined insider groups right. The real Americans and the real Indians or the real Israelis. They are in groups right. And then they’re out groups of the out groups within their national borders and in particular outside of their borders. And they all have their own supremacist logics. In this country it is white supremacy in India it’s Hindu supremacy in Israel it’s Jewish supremacy it is playing out around the world There is a formula here that is emerging and it divides nations against each other and distracts us so that they are able to move forward with the real business at hand which is pillaging the last wilderness on our planet for profit.
And so we find ourselves, and this is why I called the book on fire because we are facing these two fires. The climate fires raging around the world. Never mind the storms. Yet another summer of record breaking storms because our oceans are so much warmer. Our planet is on fire and we also face these fires of hate that are also burning out of control. And these two fires are fueling each other and it’s not a coincidence that they are raging at the same time. What these strong men are tapping into I think is this knowledge that we all have that our planet is unraveling we feel unsafe.
And they’re tapping into that feeling of scarcity and they’re saying, let’s look after our own. Let’s fortress ourselves, build walls around our “in” groups.
These two fires are not the only fires. There is a third fire and that is our fire. The fire of these movements that are rising up at a scale that I have never seen before. And we saw it when four million people marched and participated in the global climate strike the largest [Applause]
Give yourself some applause.
These are the fires of our movements. And they are fierce. And they are international and internationalist. Ours are the fires of the climate justice movement that has worked for so many years in frontline communities and majority black and brown communities and indigenous communities to create the intellectual framework for what is now called the Green New Deal.
And almost every candidate that wants to lead the Democratic Party is having to swear their allegiance to this thing that nobody was talking about just a few months ago. And CNN spent seven hours, seven hours debating these climate plans of the various candidates. And that is because this movement is on fire. So.
That is why I called the book on fire.
We can’t be sort of in favor of beating these planetary arsonists these people who are waging war on the future itself and on the web of life.
I met a young organizer from Sunrise the other night at one of my events and the first thing she asked me was, Do you think I can have kids? I cannot tell you how many young people are asking me this question. They don’t believe they have a future. We have to fight for that future.
So we need this fire to burn bright enough to clear away the debris of the deniers, of the distractors who are trying to get us to focus on pretty much anything other than the fact that the world is on fire. When I was interviewing Greta the other night she was saying you know I keep saying like the world’s on fire and people and they are going look at what you’re wearing. We also have to burn away the debris of the doomers. You know those doomer dudes who write for The New Yorker and tell us it’s all too late and it’s human nature not to care about the future and just to care about ourselves and just to want to go shopping. We need to clear that away too. We also need to clear…
We need to clear away the debris, most of all, of the dividers turning us against one another when we need to be more united more powerful more focused than we have ever been before. [Applause]
ML: Thatll do it for this episode. If you like our shows on the environment, check out our friends at bioneers.org slash radio. Thats Bioneers with a B. For the rest of Making Contact team, Im Monica Lopez. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.