(Cleanup) in Retrograde
members of the New York Public Interest Research Group statewide
gathered at the University at Albany on Sunday to rally for
the immediate reduction of dangerous levels of mercury throughout
New York state’s waterways, including Albany’s only remaining
above-ground creek, Patroon Creek.
Those gathered do not accept the current “inadequate, unacceptable,
and appalling laws on mercury” that continue to plague the
state’s bodies of water, announced Clean the Air Director
Angela Ledford. They criticized the Environmental Protection
Agency for paring back a 2001 goal to reduce mercury emissions
from power plants by 90 percent by 2008. A new EPA proposal,
which will be ruled on this year, lowers that goal to only
a 70-percent emissions reduction—and not until 2018.
Dr. Ward Stone, state wildlife pathologist, explained how
coal-burning plants and other industrial sources release mercury,
which is washed into our lakes and creeks. Mercury is a potent
neurotoxin, and eating fish from mercury-contaminated waters
has been linked with poor vision, motor functions and memory,
several NYPIRG speakers stressed. Mercury is especially toxic
One by one, students from all over New York, from Long Island
to Buffalo, shared what amounted to hundreds of letters demanding
immediate action from the EPA. A middle-aged man named Bill
Cooke, a self-proclaimed Republican, took the floor while
holding his little boy tightly to his chest. “This is not
about me,” he said firmly. “This is about this little boy.
This is about my family. This is about the Environmental Protection
Agency, not the Everything is Pollutable Agency.”
Other speakers demanded that existing mercury pollution be
cleaned up. Patroon Creek runs across Arbor Hill, Guilderland
and Colonie and is one of the waterways targeted by NYPIRG
for a necessary cleanup. Approximately 100,000 people live
within a three-mile radius of a former mercury refining site
near the creek, which is used for recreation and as a drinking-water
supply, according to a fact sheet from the EPA’s Web site.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
put the EPA in charge of cleaning these waterways in 1999.
According to its Web site, in 2002, the EPA found that “although
groundwater is contaminated . . . it is unlikely that people
would be directly exposed to groundwater contaminants,” and
moved on to other projects. As a result, New York waters still
contain a dangerous level of mercury. The EPA suggests that
pregnant women not eat fish from contaminated areas, and that
others should limit their intake of fish from contaminated
waters to one a month.
NYPIRG’s position is that the EPA needs to take immediate
action to clean New York’s waterways as well as protect them
from further pollution by implementing higher standards for
big industry. Jason Babbie, environmental policy analyst for
NYPIRG, listed several long-range solutions ranging from the
implementation of new hydrogen fuel to better corporate accountability.
Acknowledging the additional economic cost involved in reducing
the harmful mercury levels, he said simply, “We are going
to pay. Should we pay after it becomes a deadly problem or
and Justice for All
(March 16) is Freedom of Information Day, a celebration of
the principles of access to government and use of the Freedom
of Information Act. The day is marked on James Madison’s birthday
because as principle architect of the Constitution he was
an outspoken proponent of open government. He would have been
253 this year.
The American Library Association will present its 15th James
Madison Award this year to some lucky freedom-of- information
fighter at an annual conference held by the Freedom Forum’s
First Amendment Center. According to ALA’s Patrice McDermott,
the conference will focus on the timely issues of “the impact
of secrecy on scholarship and government accountability.”
New York State Assembly has passed a bill to increase New
York’s minimum wage rate to $7.10 by 2006, the latest of its
many attempts to do so over the past few years.
Currently the minimum wage is $5.15, which adds up to $10,712
a year for full-time work, $4,000 under the federal poverty
level. The state last raised minimum wage in 1997, after the
feds did. Many state Republicans, including Gov. Pataki and
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, think states with higher
minimum wages than the federal level could prove less attractive
for doing business, and the New York Farm Bureau and the Business
Council of New York State agree.
In late January a Web-based petition to support a minimum
wage raise was launched at www.515isnotenough.org. It had
4,425 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
The Capital District Labor Federation and the Catholic Conference
support the bill, as does the Working Families Party. WFP
lead organizer Keri Kresler said the party had been visiting
senators to discuss the bill and that they “might have enough
votes [in the Senate] if it ever comes to the floor, but then
the question is, Will it come to the floor?” Sen. David Paterson
(D-Harlem) plans to bring it there on April 1.