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Alex Lotorto

Tony Mazzocchi Lives: Blue-Green Organizer Takes Up ‘Just Transition’ Mantle

By Mark Hand - CounterPunch, October 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Union and environmental activist Alex Lotorto believes environmentalists should be working more closely with organized labor and following the advice of some of labor’s more enlightened leaders.

When Lotorto speaks with his friends and neighbors who work in the shale gas fields of northeast Pennsylvania, they generally do not have favorable things to say about environmental groups. And when he meets with his fellow environmental activists, solidarity with workers is often missing.

“Hardly anywhere in the conversation do you hear the question, ‘How do we bring the workforce into the picture and how do we make sure that the communities that are losing these well-paying, family-sustaining jobs have something in the end?'” Lotorto, who lives in Scranton, Pa., said in an interview.

There have been attempts in recent years to bridge the gap. For example, the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle featured “Turtles and Teamsters” coming together to oppose corporate-managed globalization. The BlueGreen Alliance was created in 2006 to unite large labor unions and Big Green groups in a more lasting manner, with the goal of addressing environmental challenges while maintaining quality jobs.

And yet, the ties forged between labor unions and environmental groups remain fragile. Lotorto sympathizes with extractive industry employees, including coal miners in the bituminous coal fields of southern West Virginia, many of whom blame federal regulators for their worsening job prospects. “There is a war on coal. And it’s been led by Beltway, nongovernmental organizations,” Lotorto emphasized, referring to the Big Green groups who have made shutting down coal-fired power plants a top priority. “We’ve missed the fact that removing coal from the picture in Appalachia is devastating.”

The federal government is offering some help to the hardest-hit communities in coal country. The Obama administration on Oct. 15 announced the federal government will be giving $14.5 million to 36 programs designed to help coal country communities cope with the economic hardships from the coal industry’s decline. The grants will be used to spur economic development and workforce training to move coal communities away from coal reliance.

Lotorto views these efforts as an attempt by he Obama administration to throw a “bone to labor and a bone to Appalachia.”

Gaswork, the Fight for CJ's Law

By Josh Fox; Introduction by Alex Lotorto - Vimeo, October 6, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This is a tremendous film by Josh Fox about worker safety issues in the oil and gas industry and CJ's Law, part of a concept of worker organizing that I've been talking about for years.

There was a retired steelworker who once told me in 2010 that the only way he foresaw worker organizing in the shalefields would be to run an issue-campaign for a Workers' Bill of Rights that enrolls workers and environmentalists into the same general membership union. In addition to safety, it would strengthen pay theft penalties, provide outplacement or re-training for workers who are laid off during downturns, paid time off, sick leave, personal days, etc.

That union, if it grew to scale, could then leverage themselves against various drilling and supply contractors, and eventually against industry associations like the union trades have done with the pipeline industry association project labor agreements (PLAs). It would take a chunk of change to hire the staff to support a campaign like that and open offices in the shalefields, which is the most difficult piece of the puzzle.

Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

By Alex Lotorto - Energy Justice Network, September 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company.

The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.

Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents.

The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.

The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.

Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.

A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.

Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.

Statement on the Milford Compressor Station Fire by Alex Lotorto, Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network, Local Resident

By x362102 - Energy Justice Network, August 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Late last night (August 8), an explosion and fire occurred at the Milford Compressor Station construction site. We at Energy Justice Network are very glad that no one was hurt or injured.

Columbia’s security personnel told concerned residents on Fire Tower Rd that the fire was the result of a contractor leaving an arc welder on or plugged in inside a building. We hope investigators will pursue that lead before concluding it was an arson attack.

We believe a worker negligence scenario should be fully investigated by both the company and state police, especially because work continues at the compressor station daily. There may be a need to re-train or review safety procedures with pipeline contractor employees. This is important for the safety of workers, residents, and first responders.

It is plausible, at the end of the workday Saturday, in a hurry or a lapse of judgment, the workers did not shut the equipment down properly. Workers at that site have been working from dawn to dusk most days since the wintertime and it is possible exhaustion has numbed their awareness of workplace safety. If it is determined that exhaustion contributed to this incident, Columbia and its contractors should, at the very least, offer workers more paid time off.

This incident also highlights the urgent need for an emergency management plan for the compressor and the three interconnected transmission pipelines at that location. Residents living along Fire Tower Rd should never again have to hear an explosion, see emergency vehicles rushing to the location, and wonder whether they should shelter in their homes or evacuate. Phone calls to Columbia's emergency line either went unanswered, or were not helpful.

An emergency management plan is one of the four remedies that have been presented to Columbia during residents' ongoing Environmental Hearing Board appeal's technical settlement negotiations, although no formal agreement has been reached. We hope the company's deficient emergency response to this incident will inform the settlement discussions in a productive way.

Stand with Dimock families as they take their water contamination case to federal jury trial

By Alex Lotorto - Energy Justice: Shale Initiative, April 3, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

UPDATE: Dimock PA families with water contamination will finally have their day in court against Cabot Oil & Gas, but only with your help. The federal jury trial will start on November 30, 2015 in the Scranton Federal Courthouse and will be the highest-profile court case related to shale gas development in history. Donations accepted here.

Picketers protest gas compressor expansion in Milford

By Jessica Cohen - Pocono Record, February 4, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

MILFORD — Accusing Columbia Pipeline Group of flagrant disregard for clean air and local laws, about 40 people braved temperatures in the teens Saturday to picket on Broad Street and at CPG’s gas compressor construction site on Fire Tower Road.

Construction workers began showing up in January, within a day or two of successive federal and state approvals, to clear trees and demolish the old compressor station. They work seven days a week, often from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., according to a neighbor of the site.

Last Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of a new compressor, much bigger than the one that had been on the site.

Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network organizer, who put together Saturday's demonstrations, said Columbia Pipeline Group has refused to comply with local law requiring a township conditional use hearing.

“In December of 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that townships have both the right and responsibility to protect the environmental rights of their residents,” he said.

An electric compressor would largely eliminate toxic emissions, but would cost CPG several million dollars more than a gas compressor, said Milford township supervisor Gary Clark, who has requested that concession. However, Clark said he and the other township supervisors fear an expensive lawsuit if they legally enforce demands that CPG submit to a conditional use hearing.

David Wallace, an attorney in Montague, N.J., who has litigated against gas companies, questioned that decision.

“When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down Article 13 (legislation that would have given gas companies more local power), it put the Constitutional responsibility for resources and safety back in the preeminent position where it belonged,” he said. “Townships have a basic responsibility, and they don't really have a good excuse to avoid it.”

One picketer, Justin Snyder, who lives next door to the compressor site, said that since the recent pipeline expansion, gas fumes have been frequent and nauseating, but his complaints have drawn little action.

Meet the Insurgents on the Front Line of America’s Fracking War

Compiled by Peter Rugh - Vice, January 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made headlines at the end of last year when he announced a ban on hydraulic fracking in his state. That was unquestionably a victory for environmentalists, but in neighboring Pennsylvania, however, fracking is still underway. This summer, I visited the northeastern region of the Keystone State to see what the the front lines of America's shale gas boom looks like.

Far off the radar of Google Maps, I found Craig Stevens mowing the front lawn on his 115-acre property in Susquehanna County. Craig, a former National Rifle Association recruiter, hasn't had a drink from his faucet in about a year and a half, and for good reason.

"Blood started shooting out of my face," he told me at his home, licking the sweat off of his gray mustache. "The water started tasting like metal. Slightly at first, then it got stronger. I had spontaneous nosebleeds. Eight of them over two weeks. I couldn't figure out what it was, but the day I stopped drinking the water is the day the nosebleeds stopped." Craig had the water tested. "Barium and strontium levels are through the roof," he said.

Back in 2007, representatives of Chesapeake Energy visited Craig's now deceased 95-year-old grandmother in a nursing home. For $50 an acre, they convinced her to sell the mineral rights to the property, which has been in Craig's family for six generations. Craig and his siblings later negotiated the fee up to $8,000 an acre and a 20 percent cut of everything that is extracted, but he's still pissed that Chesapeake had the gall to hustle his grandma. And he's bitter now that his water has gone bad.

"They won't do anything about it, because they won't admit they did anything wrong," he said.

EcoUnionist News #15

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

From Shock to Victory: The Planet’s “Immune System” at Work

By Jan Baty, Newark Residents Against the Power Plant - Energy Justice Network, December 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As I saw Alex Lotorto (campus and community organizer for Energy Justice Network) step out of his car, unloading materials for the meeting he was to lead at my house, I had a flash back to how I had discovered the Energy Justice Network. In Newark Delaware, residents had taken on the enormous task of stopping a project the University of Delaware was considering, a data center power plant, proposed by The Data Centers, LLC (TDC), to be built in the heart of this college town and the university, at a former Chrysler plant site. The plans for the power plant had now grown to 279 megawatts —at least two times larger than any other on-site power generation facility at data centers in the US.

News of this proposal had been kept tightly under wraps for over a year by City of Newark staff, TDC, the State of DE and the University of DE until June 2013, when the CEO of TDC approached the local Sierra Club chapter seeking an endorsement for this project as being “green.” The alarm was raised by the directors, Stephanie Herron and Amy Rowe.

An official resident’s group was formed, Newark Residents Against the Power Plant (NRAPP), which by now had hundreds of members and dozens of working groups and neighborhood groups across Newark. Much effort was going into persuading city council to withdraw their support of this proposal. City council meetings were filled with passionate statements by citizens, including revelations of results from FOIA requests, and uncovered information about TDC’s plans. There was a continuous stream of letters to the editor of the Wilmington News Journal.  Knowing how long it often takes for governments to respond, some of us were eager to pour our energy into educating university faculty, and students about this —since most knew nothing about it!  We realized that if given enough pressure the University could certainly stop this project.

REPORT: Pennsylvania Shale Gas Operators Cited for 337 Well Casing Violations

By Alex Lotorto and Adam Hasz - Frack University, October 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Link to the report

Shale gas operators have been cited for a total of 337 well casing violations in Pennsylvania out of an estimated 8,473 wells drilled.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s compliance and well count data, there has been one well casing violation for every twenty-five wells drilled in the decade since unconventional shale gas development began.

Well casing violations are cited when the structural integrity of a shale gas well is lost. Improperly casing the borehole may result in contamination entering groundwater resources such as springs and aquifers. Well casing violations fall under seven categories, some of those categories include; improperly or insufficiently installed cement, failure to report insufficient or improper cement within a twenty-four hour period; and failure to case and cement to prevent migrations into fresh groundwater.

Two companies with the greatest number of casing violations include Chesapeake Energy, with fifty-four violations and Talisman Energy Inc with forty-one violations, each accounting for about six percent of their total well casing violations. Operators with ten or more wells who had the greatest percentage of well casing violations were Chief Oil and Gas and Exxon Mobil, both having approximately 11.5 percent of wells drilled with well casing violations.

The data review was completed by a partnership of environmental groups including Energy Justice Network and SustainUs.  Researchers sourced well count data from the PA DEP Spud Report and the well casing violations were counted using the online PA DEP Compliance Report, both available on the department’s website.

Energy Justice Network mission is to support communities threatened by polluting energy and waste technologies. Taking direction from a grassroots base and the Principles of Environmental Justice, EJN advocates a clean energy, zero-emission, zero-waste future for all.

SustainUS’ mission is “to empower young people to advance sustainable development. Through proactive education, research and advocacy at the policy-making level and at the grassroots, we are building a future in which all people recognize the inherent equality and interdependence of social, economic, and environmental sustainability. We strive to reflect our values through the diversity of members and projects, our ongoing commitment to educating ourselves and others, and the way we live our lives.”

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