Category Archives: Green Light

This plastics company is trying to stop Black residents from visiting a slave burial site on Juneteenth

A group of Black residents from St. James Parish, Louisiana, got the green light on Thursday to hold an hour-long Juneteenth prayer service on a burial plot containing the remains of formerly enslaved people. The ceremony, planned for Friday, has been a point of contention — not due to fears over coronavirus, which has hit the community particularly hard, but because the site technically belongs to Taiwanese plastics manufacturer Formosa.

This decision is the latest incident in a long series of legal battles between the company and the community. When they found out about the remains last year, RISE St. James — a grassroots environmental justice group that has been trying to stop the plastics company from setting up shop since 2018 — had members pay visits to the site, which is part of a former sugarcane plantation, to pray, sing and place flowers. But that all changed in January when the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality approved permits for the company to construct a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex on the location.

Sharon Lavigne, president of RISE St. James, told Grist that the last time she visited the location, authorities told her that Formosa didn’t grant access permission to the site and that if she ever returned, she would be arrested.

Formosa told Grist that the company is still working to communicate with agencies to conduct research and learn more about the identities of the people buried on their property. Internal documents obtained by RISE St. James via a public records request, however, show Formosa’s own archeological findings concluded the site was indeed a slave burial ground. But in an email to Grist, Jim Harris, the company’s spokesperson, claimed “no archaeologist has been able to confirm the identity or ethnicity of the remains discovered on [Formosa] property.”

In accordance with state laws, the company said they are working to identify any descendants associated with the remains, and would eventually gather community input on the deceased’s identities. “Once this process is complete,” the company said it will “work with the state archaeologist and any identified relatives to have the remains respectfully re-interred in a proper cemetery.”

On Monday, RISE St. James received a letter from Formosa declining to give them access to the burial site on Juneteenth — a holiday that falls annually on June 19 and celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. But later that same day, a state judge granted the organization a temporary restraining order, allowing them to move forward with the prayer ceremony. Judge Emile R. St. Pierre wrote that Formosa won’t suffer any harm as a result of a peaceful prayer service, adding that holding the event was within the residents’ constitutional rights.

Formosa then submitted a motion to dismiss the restraining order which led to the trial, asking once for the judge to reconsider his decision and halt the Juneteenth prayer service due, at least in part, to the safety and liability concerns of construction evidently happening at the site. Lavigne contested that she has not seen any active construction happening on the site.

“[Formosa] recognizes the importance of acknowledging this historical and meaningful day,” Harris said. “However, once the judge has an opportunity to consider all factors in this matter, we believe he will determine that the safety and liability concerns of an active construction site are significant enough to restrict unauthorized access to the property.”

Tensions between St. James Parish’s Black residents and companies like Formosa are informed by the region’s long-standing legacy of industrial pollution. St. James Parish is part of Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” an 85-mile industrial corridor along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The area’s Black population has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many residents already have underlying health conditions from industry-linked pollution that put them at risk of contracting the virus. Research from the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic identified high levels of fine particulate matter concentrated in Louisiana’s southeast industrial corridor, which experts say could also impact the severity of COVID-19 cases.

On Thursday, the state judge reaffirmed RISE St. James ability to hold a Juneteenth Ceremony, but Formosa still marched to the state’s capital in Baton Rouge to file an appeal, which the court also rejected.

Regardless, Lavigne told Grist that she is determined Friday’s Juneteenth event will happen no matter what. “The judge already made his decision, I feel like victory is mine,” Lavigne said. “We’re going to beat them, and I can feel it in my spirit.”

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This plastics company is trying to stop Black residents from visiting a slave burial site on Juneteenth

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Infographic: Anatomy of a Green Home

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Have you ever found yourself spending way more on a product because it had an “eco-friendly” label? Greenwashing is a common marketing practice that allows businesses to charge a premium for their product, whether or not they’re actually good for the environment. As a result, there’s a widely held notion that living green is a privilege for the wealthy.

The idea that only the rich can afford to be sustainable couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the time, what’s truly good for our planet is reducing consumption, which is naturally more economical. When it comes to changes you can make around the house, you’ll find that there are opportunities everywhere to save money and help reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. The average household spends $7,068 on utilities and other household expenses each year. With a few sustainable changes, you can save over $1,000 on your energy bills annually.

Whether you’re building or remodeling your home, or just looking to make some small changes in each room of your house, this animated infographic from Esurance offers 24 tips on how to start living your best green life.

One note: Although we think the running water animation in kitchen and bathroom sections below is really cool, please remember to shut off the tap to reduce water consumption!

Animated graphic courtesy of Esurance

Feature image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Infographic: Anatomy of a Green Home

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Trump’s EPA just gave a controversial pesticide the green light

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Trump’s EPA just gave a controversial pesticide the green light

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Trump’s ‘Salute to America’ will cost the National Parks Service $2.5 million

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Trump’s ‘Salute to America’ will cost the National Parks Service $2.5 million

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Fight over Puerto Rico funds puts Senate disaster aid package on hold

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Because it’s a day that ends with y, the government is still balking at providing much-needed disaster aid to Puerto Rico. Two bipartisan disaster aid bills failed to make it out of the Senate this week over disputes about how much relief to give the U.S. territory, which is still recovering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.

On Monday, senators took test votes on two competing measures. The Republican-led faction of the Senate pushed for a $13.45 billion legislation package, which included $600 million for the island’s Nutritional Assistance Program a.k.a food stamps. (Puerto Ricans living on the Caribbean island are four times more likely to be considered food insecure than people stateside.) Democrats thought the bill didn’t go far enough, instead opting to support a House-passed relief bill, which gives hundreds of millions of dollars more for Puerto Rico than the GOP version.

Each bill would have been a massive disaster aid package for victims of flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes across the country, not just aid for Puerto Rico. The Democratic version does not include funding for the historic flooding that swept through the Midwest in mid-March, as the measure was completed and passed in January before the spring storms, but Dems say they are open to adding it.

But neither piece of legislation got the green light to advance to a full floor vote, meaning disaster victims across the country are stuck waiting for much-needed aid. Delays have already led to Puerto Rico’s food stamp program being cut by 25 percent.

“It is the responsibility of the federal government to stand with all American communities in crisis, and we must do so now,” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told NPR. “The needs are pressing. The people are waiting.”

President “[I’m] the best thing to happen to Puerto Rico” is not helping the situation. He took to Twitter on Tuesday to blast (and grossly exaggerate) the amount of aid the federal government has already given to the island and (falsely) claim that Puerto Rico has received more disaster relief than many U.S. states.

The rant was very on-brand for the insult-hurling, paper towel-throwing president. Back in January, Trump reportedly told members of his staff that he doesn’t want “another single dollar” going to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

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Fight over Puerto Rico funds puts Senate disaster aid package on hold

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Shine On: 5 Green Lighting Tips

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Shine On: 5 Green Lighting Tips

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Keystone XL construction to begin next year, but indigenous activists vow to keep fighting

Construction on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is set to rev up next year. The project received a green light from the State Department late last week — the latest salvo in a contentious decade-long battle between indigenous communities and TransCanada, the pipeline’s developer.

On Friday, the State Department issued a 338-page supplemental environmental impact statement for an alternate route through Nebraska. The agency has determined that major environmental damage stemming from the $8 billion, 1,180-mile project would be “negligible to moderate.” According to the report, there will be safeguards in place that would prevent a leak from contaminating ground or surface water.

“Keystone XL has undergone years of extensive environmental review by federal and state regulators,” TransCanada spokesperson Matthew John said. “All of these evaluations show that Keystone XL can be built safely and with minimal impact to the environment.”

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The review comes a little more than a month after a Montana court required the State Department to conduct a separate analysis — not part of the pipeline’s 2014 environmental impact study — of the updated route under the National Environmental Policy Act. The new route will be longer than TransCanada’s preferred route.

Following the release of the environmental assessment, TransCanada lawyers filed a response on Friday to address concerns by environmental and indigenous groups that are challenging the pipeline’s permit to cross into the U.S. from Canada in the Montana court.

But as TransCanada moves ahead with plans to construct the pipeline — which would carry up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska — tribal communities living in its path remain steadfast in challenging the review’s conclusions.

“It’s a total disregard for the land, and the animals, and the people that reside on it and have for generations,” Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and a vocal opponent of major oil-pipeline projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline, told Grist. “I think the thing to remember is that the people who are building this pipeline — they don’t care because they don’t have to live here. But it’s not going to stop me from fighting back.”

Pipeline-opponents on the front lines like Spotted Eagle are gearing up for what comes next, pledging to fight until the pipeline project is halted for good. Earlier this month, the Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota sued the Trump administration after it granted the pipeline a permit which they claimed didn’t assess how it’s construction “would impact their water and sacred lands.”

Indigenous groups aren’t the only ones voicing their discontent — the Sierra Club called the new State Department report a “sham review.” “We’ve held off construction of this pipeline for 10 years, and regardless of this administration’s attempts to force this dirty tar sands pipeline on the American people,” said Kelly Martin, director of the group’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “That fight will continue until Keystone XL is stopped once and for all.”

Members of the public have 45 days to comment on the State Department’s review, but Spotted Eagle is skeptical that the powers that be will even bother to consult with indigenous people residing in the pipeline’s route. “There is no regard to nation-to-nation relationships with tribes,” she says.

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Keystone XL construction to begin next year, but indigenous activists vow to keep fighting

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Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Public Utility Commission gave the green light to Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 — a new Canadian tar-sands pipeline that would replace a deteriorating pipeline that’s currently running at half capacity. It’s the most recent development in an ongoing dispute over the Canadian energy company’s plan.

The decision isn’t totally final, according to the state’s governor. But it allows Enbridge to now apply for 29 other permits it needs to build the pipeline, which would run from Superior, Wisconsin, to Alberta, Canada.

Despite Minnesota’s decision, pipeline resisters say they’ll keep fighting.

In the early ’90s, a pipeline spilled 1.7 million gallons of oil in northern Minnesota. Activists worry that a major spill could happen again, potentially affecting river health and indigenous practices. Although the proposed route doesn’t go through reservations, it would cut through places where indigenous groups harvest wild rice and hunt.

Environmental and indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke has been fighting the Line 3 project for five years. She tells Grist she’s disappointed in the public utility commission’s decision. But she’s still optimistic that the new line won’t happen: LaDuke called the project “Enbridge’s most expensive pipeline that will never be built.”

Margaret Breen of Youth Climate Intervenors — a group of young activists who have been working to oppose the pipeline — says that her organization remains motivated to stop the project, too.

There’s also the possibility of legal action. Cathy Collentine of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign says that the Sierra Club is exploring options to halt the pipeline’s progress, such as petitioning for a reconsideration of the decision.

LaDuke says her group, Honor the Earth, has a legal team that plans to take action. The group is inviting water protectors to come to Minnesota.

LaDuke expects more resisters to join in the wake of the most recent decision. “We think water protector tourism should be at an all time high,” she says, and warns that a Standing Rock-like protest may be on the way.

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Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.

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Opponents mount protests after major natural gas pipeline moves forward.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the PennEast Pipeline its certificate of public convenience and necessity on Friday, which also allows the company to acquire land through eminent domain.

The proposed $1 billion pipeline would run nearly 120 miles from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Its opponents say it would threaten the health and safety of nearby communities and endanger natural and historic resources. Proponents maintain that the pipeline is an economic boon that will lower energy costs for residents.

After getting the OK from FERC, the company moved up its estimated in-service date to 2019, with construction to begin this year. But it won’t necessarily be an easy road ahead. The pipeline still needs permits from the State of New Jersey, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Delaware River Basin Commission. And while Chris Christie was a big fan of the pipeline, newly elected Governor Phil Murphy ran a campaign promising a green agenda and has already voiced opposition.

Pipeline opponents are demonstrating this afternoon and taking the developers to court. “It’s just the beginning. New Jersey doesn’t need or want this damaging pipeline, and has the power to stop it when it faces a more stringent state review,” Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said in a statement.


Opponents mount protests after major natural gas pipeline moves forward.

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Business interests are winning out over science under Trump.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.

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Business interests are winning out over science under Trump.

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