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sacrifice zones

Progressives Demand Buttigieg Act on Rail Safety Amid Toxic Ohio Disaster

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, February 14, 2023

The transportation secretary's refusal to fortify freight train regulations and crack down on Norfolk Southern "only signals to the railroads that this type of incident will be tolerated," said one watchdog.

Progressives are demanding that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg improve rail safety regulations in response to the unfolding public health disaster in East Palestine, Ohio—the site of a recent fiery train crash and subsequent "controlled release" of toxic fumes that critics say was entirely avoidable.

"The Obama administration attempted to prevent dangerous derailments like the one in East Palestine by mandating better brake systems on freight trains," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said Tuesday in a statement. "But this effort was watered down thanks to corporate pressure, first by writing in many exemptions to the proposed rules and then, under [former President Donald] Trump, by repealing the requirement altogether."

Recent reporting from The Lever revealed that Buttigieg's Department of Transportation (DOT) "has no intention of reinstating or strengthening the brake rule rescinded under Trump," said Hauser. "Additionally, The Leverreports that the train was not being regulated as a high-hazard flammable train, despite it clearly being both high-hazard and flammable. These types of failures to protect the public are invited by perpetual lax enforcement and laziness toward even getting back to the too-low regulatory standards under Obama."

"Now, all eyes are on Secretary Buttigieg," he continued. "For too long he has been content to continue the legacy of his deregulatory predecessor, Elaine Chao, rather than immediately moving to reverse her legacy upon becoming secretary."

"Norfolk Southern's environmental disaster is the latest in a long string of corporate malfeasance committed right under the secretary's nose," Hauser observed, referring to the company that owns the derailed train. "As I've warned before, corporations do not respect Buttigieg as a regulator."

Launch of the Ecosocial Energy Manifesto from the Peoples of the South

‘Transition is inevitable, but justice is not.’ A challenge to social movements in the rich countries

By staff - People and Nature, February 13, 2023

“Clean energy transitions” by rich countries of the global north are producing “a new phase of environmental despoliation of the Global South”, states a manifesto published last week by an alliance of social and environmental organisations.

“This decarbonisation of the rich, which is market-based and export-oriented, depends on a new phase of environmental despoliation of the Global South, which affects the lives of millions of women, men and children, not to mention non-human life”, the Manifesto for an Ecosocial Energy Transition says.

Women, especially from agrarian societies, are among the most impacted. In this way, “the Global South has once again become a zone of sacrifice, a basket of purportedly inexhaustible resources for the countries of the North.”

As the rich countries secure supply chains for these “clean” transitions, the web of debt and trade agreements in which countries outside the rich world are caught is tightened.

I hope that social movements and the labour movement in the rich countries will not only sign the manifesto (which you can do here), but also – probably more to the point – think about and discuss what it means for us.

Why You Can't Ignore This Far-Right Trend

“There Will Be More Derailments”

By Julia Rock and Rebecca Burns - The Lever, February 10, 2023

Pete Buttigieg’s Transportation Department has not moved to revive an Obama-era safety rule that could help prevent future train accidents and derailments.

In the aftermath of a fiery Ohio train derailment, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s department has not moved to reinstate an Obama-era rail safety rule aimed at expanding the use of better braking technology, even though a former federal safety official recently warned Congress that without the better brakes, “there will be more derailments [and] more releases of hazardous materials.”

Instead, transportation regulators have been considering a rail-industry-backed proposal that could weaken existing brake safety rules.

Most of the nation’s freight trains — including the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio — continue to rely on a Civil War-era braking system. Norfolk Southern belongs to a lobby group that successfully pressed President Donald Trump to repeal a 2015 rule requiring newer, safer electronic braking systems in some trains transporting hazardous materials, The Lever reported Wednesday.

The Department of Transportation's most recent regulatory agenda — which lists all planned, proposed, and final rules — does not include an ECP brake rule.

When asked if the better braking technology would have reduced the severity of the Ohio accident, Steven Ditmeyer, a former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said, “Yes.”

Manifesto for an Ecosocial Energy Transition from the Peoples of the South

By Peoples of the Global South - Foreign Policy in Practice, February 9, 2023

An appeal to leaders, institutions, and our brothers and sisters

More than two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic—and now alongside the catastrophic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—a “new normal” has emerged. This new global status quo reflects a worsening of various crises: social, economic, political, ecological, bio-medical, and geopolitical.

Environmental collapse approaches. Everyday life has become ever more militarized. Access to good food, clean water, and affordable health care has become even more restricted. More governments have turned autocratic. The wealthy have become wealthier, the powerful more powerful, and unregulated technology has only accelerated these trends.

The engines of this unjust status quo—capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, and various fundamentalisms—are making a bad situation worse. Therefore, we must urgently debate and implement new visions of ecosocial transition and transformation that are gender-just, regenerative, and popular, that are at once local and international.

In this Manifesto for an Ecosocial Energy Transition from the Peoples of the South, we hold that the problems of the Global – geopolitical – South are different from those of the Global North and rising powers such as China. An imbalance of power between these two realms not only persists because of a colonial legacy but has deepened because of a neocolonial energy model. In the context of climate change, ever rising energy needs, and biodiversity loss, the capitalist centers have stepped up the pressure to extract natural wealth and rely on cheap labor from the countries on the periphery. Not only is the well-known extractive paradigm still in place but the North’s ecological debt to the South is rising.

What’s new about this current moment are the “clean energy transitions” of the North that have put even more pressure on the Global South to yield up cobalt and lithium for the production of high-tech batteries, balsa wood for wind turbines, land for large solar arrays, and new infrastructure for hydrogen megaprojects. This decarbonization of the rich, which is market-based and export-oriented, depends on a new phase of environmental despoliation of the Global South, which affects the lives of millions of women, men, and children, not to mention non-human life. Women, especially from agrarian societies, are amongst the most impacted. In this way, the Global South has once again become a zone of sacrifice, a basket of purportedly inexhaustible resources for the countries of the North.

'Huge Win': Railway Unions Strike Deal on Sick Leave With Industry Giant CSX

By Bret Wilkins - Common Dreams, February 8, 2023

"Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America," said Sen. Bernie Sanders in response.

After sustained pressure from organized workers and their allies, freight rail giant CSX Transportation agreed Tuesday to provide 5,000 employees in two unions with four days of paid sick leave each year—an industry-first move progressive said should serve as an example for other companies to follow.

The agreement reached between Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX and two unions—the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—will provide four days of fully paid sick leave each year, while allowing union members to take up to three personal leave days annually. Additionally, employees can apply their unused paid sick days to their 401K retirement accounts or take payouts.

"We are extremely proud that BRC is one of the very first unions to reach this type of an agreement," said Don Grissom, president of the BRC—which represents mechanical workers—in a statement. "This agreement is a significant accomplishment and provides a very important benefit for our members working at CSXT. The other carriers should take note and come to the bargaining table in a similar manner."

‘Workers Know the Truth’ About the Derailment Disaster - Why Are They Being Ignored?

By Bob Hennelly - Work-Bites, February 8, 2023

Throughout the recent hazardous chemical freight train derailment in Ohio and the four-day ordeal that followed while the flaming wreck was stabilized, the one perspective that was consistently missing from the reporting was that of the union railroad workers. It didn’t matter if it was the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Associated Press , the reporting relied on interviews with local, state and federal officials as well as statements from the Norfolk Southern, the rail carrier but not the perspective of their union workers.

It was as if robots and AI were already driving the train. The entire narrative of the cataclysm was framed by officials and the corporation whose malfunctioning train was now putting workers and the community in life-threatening jeopardy. The derailment played out in the rural borderland of Ohio and Pennsylvania requiring both states to activate an emergency evacuation response.

On Friday evening, the tranquility of East Palestine, Ohio, with a population of 4,761 people, was upended when a Norfolk Southern train with 150 cars in tow, derailed sparking a conflagration that inundated the area with toxic smoke. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 20 of the cars in train were carrying hazardous materials. 

The U.S. EPA had to start monitoring the air for carbon monoxide, oxygen hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, and hydrogen chloride. Throughout the weekend, firefighters did their best to keep the disabled tanker cars cool as some of the hazardous cargo burned off. The local fire chief told reporters he was concerned about the presence of vinyl chloride, a colorless, toxic, and flammable gas.

“If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death,” Pennsylvania’s Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) warned. “If you are within the orange area on this map, you risk permanent lung damage within a matter of hours or days.”

In initial comments, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] posited that the derailment of the 150-car train was most likely caused by a problem with one of the axles on one of the freight or tanker cars. The catastrophic derailment, with significant public health and environmental implications, comes a few months after President Biden and Congress imposed a contract on the nation’s rail unions that their rank and file rejected in part because it lacked paid sick days.

Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment

By David Sirota, Julia Rock, Rebecca Burns, and Matthew Cunningham-Cook - The Lever, February 8, 2023

Norfolk Southern helped convince government officials to repeal brake rules — and corporate lobbyists watered down hazmat safety regs.

Before this weekend’s fiery Norfolk Southern train derailment prompted emergency evacuations in Ohio, the company helped kill a federal safety rule aimed at upgrading the rail industry’s Civil War-era braking systems, according to documents reviewed by The Lever.

Though the company’s 150-car train in Ohio reportedly burst into 100-foot flames upon derailing — and was transporting materials that triggered a fireball when they were released and incinerated — it was not being regulated as a “high-hazard flammable train,” federal officials told The Lever.

Documents show that when current transportation safety rules were first created, a federal agency sided with industry lobbyists and limited regulations governing the transport of hazardous compounds. The decision effectively exempted many trains hauling dangerous materials — including the one in Ohio — from the “high-hazard” classification and its more stringent safety requirements.

Amid the lobbying blitz against stronger transportation safety regulations, Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks — all while the company shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing is intensifying safety risks. Norfolk Southern officials also fought off a shareholder initiative that could have required company executives to “assess, review, and mitigate risks of hazardous material transportation.”

Victory Against Polluter Points Way to Clean, Green, and Fully Funded Schools

By Lauren Bianchi - Labor Notes, January 31, 2023

For two years, teachers and staff in my workplace, George Washington High School, helped lead a community campaign to stop a hazardous industrial metal shredder, General Iron, from moving a few blocks from our school.

Repeating a historic pattern, city officials facilitated General Iron’s planned move from the wealthy and white Lincoln Park neighborhood where it had operated for decades to the working-class, majority Latino Southeast Side.

Our campaign won a major victory when we pressured Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health into denying the final operating permit for General Iron. It took years of mobilizing, street protest, and a month-long hunger strike to force the mayor to do the right thing.

The experience of Chicago Teachers Union members in the #StopGeneralIron campaign highlights the power of union members when we stand shoulder to shoulder with environmental justice activists to demand safe living and working conditions.

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