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My West Valley Demonstration Project SEIS Comments

I (Laura) took the above photo on the morning of April 22, 2018, from the road that you can take to drive right by the West Valley Demonstration Project in Cattaraugus County, New York. Those tanks are holding radioactive liquid nuclear waste in place while the state and federal governments decide what to do with them (not to mention the buried nuclear waste that also exists in places on the site). There are no waste facilities that have the capacity to accept this waste anywhere in the U.S., and transportation is dangerous anyway. Cleaning up this nuclear waste is an expensive, challenging problem that must be solved. The last public comment period on how to clean up the site ends on May 25, 2018.

So I decided to submit public comments on behalf of myself as a Citizen of the United States of America. Here they are:

 

May 22, 2018

Mr. Martin Krentz
West Valley Demonstration Project
U.S. Department of Energy
10282 Rock Springs Rd. AC-DOE
West Valley, NY 14171-9799
[email protected]

Re: Public Comment on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the West Valley Site

Dear Mr. Krentz:

I am a 33-year-old female environmental attorney living in the City of Buffalo, New York. I grew up in Eden, New York; moved to Hamburg, New York in middle school; studied Natural Resources (with a concentration in policy) at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; moved to Austin, Texas after graduation to be an AmeriCorps kindergarten literacy tutor for one year; studied at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin for three years; and practiced environmental law in Austin for four years. In 2015, I moved back to Western New York for family reasons, rented an apartment in the City of Buffalo, and earned a living through remote environmental consulting work (i.e. writing National Environmental Policy Act documents for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in Norfolk, Virginia; the Willamette River Valley, Oregon; and Coos Bay, Oregon). I currently work as the Grant Writer for People United for Sustainable Housing, Inc. (PUSH Buffalo). I am making these comments on behalf of myself as a Citizen of the United States of America.

Although the paragraph above summarizes my professional experience, in my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, learning, and talking to people about the intersection of environmental justice, economic justice, and social justice, as well as educating people about the slightly obscure environmental law, policy, and science realm that I have been inhabiting for the past 14 years. I produce and host The Keeping Things Alive Podcast, which features my conversations with activists, business owners, healers, and anyone I cross paths with who is “keeping things alive in work and play” (here is a link to the episodes streaming online).

Last winter, I did a four-part collection of interviews on nuclear waste, with a particular focus on Western New York. As I learned more by listening to my guests, the West Valley Nuclear Facility quickly surfaced in my mind as the critical water quality, public health, and economic issue for the Western New York Region, as well as the entire Great Lakes Watershed/Bioregion, to get right. Here is a link to an article that links to all four Keeping Things Alive Podcast nuclear waste interviews.

I request that the following three Keeping Things Alive Podcast interviews get entered into the 2018 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the West Valley Site Administrative Record because they provide relevant information to the cleanup decisions that are currently being considered by the U.S. Department of Energy and N.Y.S. Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA):

  1. Lynda Schneekloth
  2. Diane D’Arrigo
  3. Joanne Hameister

My comments are not going to be long or law-heavy because this issue is straightforward: a nuclear waste dumpsite sits on unstable ground adjacent to tributaries that flow into Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the world’s available freshwater. If we want the City of Buffalo and upstate New York to remain resilient and come back from losing half of our population between 1950 and 2010 while industry left a toxic mess for someone else to deal with, the West Valley Nuclear Demonstration Project must be cleaned up in full.

As many other comments have stated (and are backed up with scientific studies), the West Valley site sits on unstable shale formations, which shift and collapse and move around, especially in response to large precipitation events. Precipitation events are becoming more intense and frequent as time marches on, and scientists predict that this trend will continue (check out the latest scientific reports on climate change impacts in upstate New York). An accident anywhere on the West Valley site has the potential to contaminate a tributary that flows into Lake Erie, right next to Erie County’s water supply intake. No one in the Lake Erie watershed (both in the United States and Canada) can afford a large-scale nuclear waste disaster on Lake Erie. Water is life.

The West Valley Demonstration Site must be fully cleaned up for economic and societal reasons as well. Although full cleanup is the most expensive option currently on the table, the cost of cleaning up a nuclear waste disaster in Lake Erie would be astronomical (not to mention difficult, emotional, and politically terrible). Food markets would be negatively affected. Agriculture would suffer. Tourism (boating, fishing, kayaking, concerts by the water, beaches, historical tours, etc.) would close down. Real estate development along the waterfront (or possibly the entire City of Buffalo) would come to a halt. All of the progressive social justice work being done by local nonprofits and foundations would be wiped out. People would get sick and die and be displaced because of radioactive water, land, and even air contamination. The West Valley Demonstration Site must be fully cleaned up.

Lastly, I want tell a story about my friend from high school – she and her fiancée want to buy a large piece of land in the New York Southerntier so they can live off of it as homesteaders. But she has decided not to purchase land anywhere near or downstream of the West Valley Demonstration Project because as she has become more educated on the site history and current risks, she does not accept the risks of growing and consuming radioactive plants, not to mention the constant threat of being on the front lines of a large-scale nuclear waste disaster. Cattaraugus County has lost a potential tax-paying landowner because of the West Valley Demonstration Project and its current risks.

In sum, I request that the U.S. Department of Energy and NYSERDA work together and pull together as many resources as possible to efficiently and comprehensively clean up the West Valley Nuclear Demonstration Project Site so it is no longer a threat to the inhabitants of the Great Lakes Watershed.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,
Laura M. Evans

 

 

If you read through my comments and want to submit your own by May 25, 2018, here is a link with all of the instructions.

 

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The Animals of Animalia

My podcast begins by saying that I interview people who are “keeping things alive in work and play,” but I more-or-less never bring up the play part.

So this is a fun post that lists out the animals depicted on each letter page of Animalia by Graeme Base. Well, not all the animals, only the ones that are obvious and “real” (not a painting, photo, or statue in the illustration). And I didn’t look any of them up (if I am missing any, which I am, please let me know!).

Continue reading “The Animals of Animalia”

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Accessory Navicular Surgery

Life has shifted for me once again, and this time I find myself living and sleeping in the “my-parents’-dining-room-turned-my-bedroom” while I recover from my first of four foot surgeries (two on each foot). I’ll get the cheesy puns out of the way now: I have a long road ahead of me, which I must travel one step at a time.

I think it’s worth explaining what type of surgery I had (removal of my accessory navicular with the Kidner procedure), because it’s possible that someone else is staring down this type of procedure and would like to hear from someone else who has gone through it.

So I’m 32, I’ve been rolling my ankles every couple of months since I was about 16, I’ve always hated to run, and I’ve always had a strong preference for supportive, non-heeled shoes. I would tell myself that I roll my ankles because I have bad balance and am clumsier than most other people. I would tell myself that I hate to run because I’m not a well-rounded athlete (swimming is my sport!). And I would tell myself that I prefer ugly, orthopedic shoes because I’m kind to my body and not willing to suffer physically to look a certain way.

But there was another factor at play that I was completely unaware of this entire time – I have (had) an extra bone in my foot! This extra bone, called an accessory navicular, was going about its unstable business completely under my radar, until I sprained my foot at that exact location last July and it never healed. I iced it, rested it, ignored it, went through six weeks of physical therapy, and ignored it some more, but the pain never went away, and so I decided to go see a foot specialist and take additional steps to stablize my feet.

The first surgery happened four days ago, and all is going well so far. I’m in a super heavy bandage/splint for the first week, and then I get a cast for the three weeks after that. I took prescription pain meds the first couple of days (which are a blur), but now I’m just taking Motrin.

The most painful and unexpected thing that happened to me is that my throat got really irritated and sore from the tube that they put down my throat during the procedure. I could not eat anything remotely spicy or acidic for the first two days (including bananas and yogurt), and it took a full four days for my throat to really get back to normal.

I’ve never gone through a “real” surgery before (wisdom teeth only) and it feels strange and scary to be so vulnerable and wounded (I can’t run away, my go-to defense!). I’m so grateful for my family and friends, who are keeping me company and taking care of me. If I did not have them in my life, I would have to pay someone to help me because there is no way I could do this by myself.

Staring down the barrel of these surgeries is really hard, but I can’t help appreciating the timing of it all. I have a job where I work remotely, I want to put more time into this website and my podcast, I am not in school, and my parents are available to help me. I catch myself saying “why didn’t you investigate your unstable ankles when you were in high school/college/law school/two years ago?” But the truth is, it would not have been a good time. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

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Paris Shame and Motivation

Yesterday the President of the United States announced his decision to withdraw from the international Paris Climate Agreement. I knew it was coming and really, all of his actions on climate and the environment indicate that he has been withdrawing from the Agreement since he took office in January.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I was deeply upset and ashamed of my country when the news officially broke yesterday at 3:00pm. The United States is supposed to be a world leader of innovation and responding to the difficulties of the times, but instead, our government has been hijacked by the fossil fuel industry and pure greed. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is devastating for human rights and international diplomacy.

President Macron of France has made a tempting offer for Americans who care about climate action to come to France and work with them to “make the planet great again.” I would love to do that in theory, but I still want to try to help in the U.S., which remains the largest emitter of carbon pollution in the world. I’m also encouraged that state governments are stepping up to the plate and deciding to remain in the Paris Agreement within their borders. I’m grateful that New York, my home state, is one of them.

Although I did do some grieving yesterday and spent a fair amount of time angry and ashamed, this is ultimately one more action from the current U.S. Administration (and the greedy fossil fuel industry) that motivates me to work even harder on my passion for “keeping things alive.”

I’ll leave this post with my favorite song, “Disparate Youth” by Santigold, which keeps me going when the world seems too difficult:

 

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Focus

One of my favorite websites is Brain Pickings, and today the creator, Maria Popova, showcased a beautiful poster by Wendy MacNaughton and Courtney E. Martin that resonates with me during these chaotic political times. As I struggle to figure out what role I play in the international progressive movement that is building and changing every day, I keep coming back to writing, interviewing, and creating whatever needs to be created at the moment (a meal, garden, email, gift, etc.).  I’ll let the poster speak for itself:

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Modified Gardening

This is the fourth year that I’ve had a square-foot garden.  It’s a four-foot-by-six-foot raised bed vegetable and herb garden that provides me with fresh food from May through November. The great part about square-foot gardening is that you can grown a lot of food in a concentrated area, so there is less weeding, less watering, and more production.  I also happen to think that it looks beautiful.

My mom occasionally reminds me that as a child being forced to weed her garden, I swore that when I grew up, I would “never own a single plant.”  I’ve changed 🙂

A number of the herbs that I planted last year (regular chive, garlic chive, oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, and lemon balm) survived the winter and are currently producing.  It’s incredible how much these plants keep giving, without requiring much attention on my part.  Free delicious food!

There is empty space in my garden to plant new sources of food for this year, and I have to decide what I want.  The problem is that I’m currently in a boot and not very mobile.  In light of my physical limitations, I’ve decided to go with greens.  They require a bit less water (than say tomatoes) and I had a lot of luck with them last year.  So about two weeks ago, my mom and I planted tiny seeds of lettuce, spinach, and an “Asian greens mix.”  Unfortunately I don’t remember where I planted what (pro tip: draw a map or add labels as you plant seeds), so it’s going to be a surprise!

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April Reflections

I didn’t write any new posts this month, although I did update my “Keeping Things Alive Podcast” post a number of times because I finally shared the first six episodes that I have been dreaming up and putting together for a long time now.  It’s amazing to me that I thought of the phrase “keeping things alive” and knew it was the website for me all the way back in Fall 2013.  So much has happened in my life since then, and yet “keeping things alive” continues to be the best way to describe my greatest passion and what I want to do with my life’s work.

Being able to share the Keeping Things Alive Podcast with the world (that has an Internet connection) is exciting and scary.  I’m proud of the interviews and hope that they inspire others to take personal responsibility for making their corner of the world a better place.  Although the interviews showcase incredibly different backgrounds and perspectives, everyone wants to move in the same direction — towards a healthier and better future for all.  I want people to keep listening to the podcast, but even if they don’t, the entire project has been worth it because I learned how to create a podcast, how to be a better interviewer, how to correct a few odd speech habits, and most important, I deepened relationships with people who are doing work that I care about.

I’ve been in a boot and on crutches this entire month because I found out I have an extra bone in my foot (an “accessory navicular” — sounds so fashionable), which has prevented an old ankle sprain from healing.  Being immobile has been incredibly challenging because I walk for exercise and sanity, I live alone with my dog in a second floor apartment, and I’ve discovered that it’s really difficult for me to ask for help.  This month of immobility has been a lesson in asking for help.  I’m grateful that I read Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, a few months ago because it helped me value the connection that comes from asking and receiving help from others.  I’m still struggling with asking my neighbor to walk my dog, my friend to buy me groceries, and my mom to do my laundry, but it’s getting easier and my relationships are stronger and better for it.

April is my favorite month because it’s Earth Day, my birthday, and the start of real spring weather (Buffalonians coming out of hibernation is real!).  April 2017 was particularly full of “environmental energy” because of the Trump Administration’s dangerous disregard for our global reality and the resulting protest marches.  The March for Science happened on Earth Day, while the Peoples’ Climate March happened yesterday.  I had been planning on going to the Climate March for months, but my ankle kept me from making the bus trip to DC.  Missing this march was definitely disappointing, but probably for the best.  After all, I completed so much more website and podcast work than I would have otherwise.

I have a suspicion that my ankle injury is a blessing in disguise.

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Trump is Working to Eliminate Clean Water Rule

This just came out: Trump is rolling back protections under the Clean Water Rule, which I summarized here at FedGreen.

It makes sense for the Trump Business(es) to want to get rid of the Clean Water Rule – requiring federal permits for construction around smaller bodies of water makes development more expensive because the developer must pay for permitting and consultants and maybe even lawyers to make sure they are complying with the law. 

And Trump is, among other things, a developer.

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Science, Religion, & Law

I’ve been reading a very interesting (but terrifying) book off-and-on since I received it as a gift for Christmas. It’s called Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age by Mary Christina Wood.  The point is that modern environmental law is broken and is hurting us, so we need a new way of regulating natural resources that protects life on Earth (her idea is to switch back to to the Public Trust Doctrine).

I flipped to a page and landed on this quote regarding the latest partnership between science, religion, and law:

A striking environmental partnership has formed between scientists and the religious community . . . . [Furthermore] religion and law can find powerful synergy on behalf of ecological protection when secular leaders voice a legal mandate recognized also as a spiritual command by all major religions.  Remarkably, the world’s major religions appear to observe a sacred trusteeship that, in faith terms, mirrors the legal iteration of the public trust.  Perhaps this commonality should not be surprising, given that the public trust traces back to natural law that remains deeply infused with religious, spiritual, and moral tradition springing from the basic intuition of humankind.

I am excited to see a faith-based coalition for climate action form in my hometown of Buffalo, New York.  The Climate Justice Coalition has an Interfaith Climate Group where many different religions meet to talk about what actions they can take in the age of climate change.  When they were first starting the coalition, various faith representatives presented their views on humankind’s responsibility to take care of the Earth, and now the group is working on specific action steps to walk on that path: (1) using less resources at their places of worship, (2) living more simple lives, (3) lobbying for their values, and (4) investing/divesting.  It’s a great initiative and I believe that their efforts can and should be replicated elsewhere.

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Taking Action Outside of Government

The news of Trump rolling back environmental protections is hard for me to take in, although I knew it was all coming from the moment I heard the election results. Despite my anger and grief that hits me in occasional waves, I see the current political landscape as an opportunity for people to wake up and realize that if they want something done, it will happen faster if they organize and do it themselves. It’s time to take real, concrete action outside of government.

Yesterday I found a perfect example of action outside of government being put into practice: this past weekend, 300 union plumbers installed water filters in the faucets of Flint, Michigan residents. Members of Plumbers Union International donated the supplies and organized the volunteer effort. Here is the media alert.

It would have been great for Federal, state, and local governments to use their money and power to fix the Flint lead crisis by now (it started in 2014!), but here we are. So thank you Plumbers Union International for using your skills to help others on a Saturday. I plan to follow your example of taking action outside of government as often as possible.