V w UV U V
This weekend's Earth Festival explores not only the
dangers of toxic and solid waste, but also the social
changes necessary to effectively manage these problems.
By Steven Tuch
WHY SHOULD WE CARE THAT ANN ARBOR'S LAST SOLID
WASTE LANDFILL WILL BE FULL NEXT YEAR, AND THAT
MICHIGAN HAS THE THIRD WORST TOXIC WASTE PROBLEM IN
With our society full of so many other problems, why should we pay
attention to the fact that our we produce so much garbage that two tons of
refuse were removed from Michigan Stadium after last week's Washington
Is it even a problem?
For a variety of reasons, many are beginning to see an urgency in an issue
that surpasses virtually all other problems in today's American cities. More
pressing than urban decline, the homeless, crime, and poverty is the
growing dilemma of where our cities can afford to dispose of their waste
with the smallest degree of pollution.
"This is the major problem facing Ann Arbor and virtually every city in
the next decade," said Cindy Conklin, a solid waste consultant to a recently
established Ann Arbor City Council task force investigating where the
city's next landfill could be located. "Everyone seems to agree that burning
it is the last alternative, but no one wants such a landfill in their backyard."
More and more, people are realizing that our environment can only take
so much abuse.
This weekend's Earth Festival '87 will be the first time in over a decade
that activists, scholars, students, and citizens alike will converge on the
University's campus to take a hard look at such pressing environmental
issues as dumping and toxic waste. But the festival organizers hope to go
beyond the environmental movements of the '70s to address a larger scope
of societal issues - including racism, eco-feminism, nuclear disarmament,
and Native Americans interests.
"We're looking to form some sort of alternative culture," said Jeff
Gearhart, School of Natural Resources Representative.
Since last May representatives from the Michigan Student Assembly,
Greenpeace, SANE Against Nuclear Weapons, and the School of Natural
Resources, have worked to coordinate these various aspects of the ecology
movement into a weekend of events of local, regional, and national scopes.
"Earth Festival is for everyone," said Jackie Victor, MSA coordinator for
the festival. "Last spring at Spring Thaw, I asked myself how we could get
this many people to a rally, or to care about what things are going to be
like in this world tomorrow."
That is where the idea began for Victor and other members of MSA. And
after holding several preliminary meetings, the work of coordinating
speakers, issues, and events began in June.
Intended to be both a celebration of the earth's natural beauty and an
educational forum about how we can better appreciate the planet on which
we live, speakers assembled from organizations nationwide will "start
planting some important seeds in Ann Arbor," said Victor.
One of these seeds will be discussion about the possibility of 'Green
Networking,' the establishment of a local Green-party that will eventually
be connected with a national grass-roots network.
Primarily concerned with many of the progressive and environmental
issues to be addressed this weekend, the Green Party is a new movement in
America, which has been imported from West Germany after winning 27
seats in the German parliament in 1983.
The Greens in Germany established a reputation with their Four Pillars:
ecology, social responsibility, democracy, and non-violence. These have
been expanded in the United States to include an emphasis on
decentralization-bringing both political and economic decisions back to the
community level. Currently they are attempting to pick up momentum at
campuses across the nation.
"As part of creating an ecological society the Greens see the need to
eradicate racism, sexism, exploitation, and so on so we can have a social
ecological perspective. To really resolve the environmental crisis we've got
to reharmonize society, said Greens Activist Howard Hawkins.
Y et, on a more concrete level, toxic waste remains a serious problem for
Michigan inhabitants. Only New Jersey and California have more severe
toxic problems than Michigan.
Ben Gordon, Greenpeace's Midwest Toxics Coordinator, will help lead a
workshop at Earth Festival called 'The Consumer Society: Toxics Disposal
& Recycling'. In addition to speaking about direct action and how people
can get involved, Gordon will address the problem with toxic waste.
"You can't manage waste. It doesn't work. Landfills don't work; all
incinerators pollute; all deep well injection fields threaten ground water,"
"There is no disposal method that works; we have to recover the materials
and learn to use them again."
Under the mandate of 1982's Public Act 307, the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources (DNR) ranks sites that are contaminated or possibly
contaminated on a priority basis. These sites are then screened for funding of
possible cleanup action.
The final priority lists for 1987 identify 1,546 known sites in Michigan
that are environmentally contaminated or suspected of being contaminated.
According to the DNR, the numbers are increasing.
The DNR estimates the cost of cleaning up 900 of the sites to be $4.1
billion. Yet, the state allocates less than $12 million annually for cleanup.
"At the rate we're going, it will take 1000 years to clean up the sites on
the list-and that doesn't consider the 300 or so new sites we discover every
year," said Kathy Doyle, PIRGIM Research Coordinator.
"The Greens would say is those two problems (toxic and nuclear waste)
are symptoms of a much bigger problem," Howard Hawkins, Greens activist
said. "And stated in its most general forms, the misuse and abuse of nature
is rooted in the misuse and abuse of people, i.e. each other."
Since Michigan's 307 program was first funded in mid-1984, the state has
spent $46.7 million to locate, evaluate and take action on approximately
269 environmental contamination sites.
This summer, Governor James Blanchard announced a 10-year, 250-site
clean-up program for the state's top priority sites. Blanchard has instructed
the state's Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Response
Division to come forward with a plan of action for the state's 250 worst
Approximately $4 billion is needed to implement the recommended
program, raising the question of who will pay the bills.
"The problem with the way it is currently funded is that it relies too much
on tax dollars," said Andrew Buchsbaum, project director of PIRGIM and a
307 critic. "The polluters - the people responsible for the environmental
contamination in the first place - should pay more."
Based in Ann Arbor the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan
(PIRGIM) researches the problem of toxic waste and is currently lobbying
in Lansing to change the current toxic waste legislation.
The use of tax dollars is not the only objection Buchsbaum and PIRGIM
have with the 307 program. They also allege that the DNR does not have
the proper mechanisms to act on environmentally contaminated sites.
Last month a committee made up of state legislators, DNR officials,
environmentalists, and some business and industry representatives came
together to suggest proposals for amending environmental legislation such
as Act 307.
The committee, set up by the DNR, is a last ditch effort to reach a
consensus between members of the community before the DNR makes its
final recommendations to the state legislators.
"Most of the laws are set up pretty well. The problem is that there is just
one or two things wrong with each of them that prevents them from being
enforced," said Buchsbaum.
"It doesn't make any sense to pass new laws if the old ones can't be
The main opposition to a revision of the bills is being voiced by the state
Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Petroleum Industries of Michigan,
and the Michigan Chemical Council.
According to PIRGIM, if the revision is eventually approved it would
serve a three part purpose. "The legislation would speed the investigation
and cleanup of existing sites by giving trained local public health officials
the authority to enter and investigate possible sites; raise revenue for
cleanup and evaluation by imposing strict, joint...liability on dumpers to
force the parties responsible for contamination to pay for the cleanup; and
deter and reduce unlawful dumping by empowering the DNR to assess
administrative fines on parties who violate the anti-pollution laws."
After this step is taken Buchsbaum thinks the next step will be getting
more cleanup money, reducing the amount of toxics being generated, and
establishing better disposal technology.
In addition to Gordon's workshop, 'Direct Action & Environmental
Justice' and 'The Radioactive Waste Crisis in the Great Lakes' are among
several Earth Festival programs that deal with toxic wastes.
"We feel we can make an impact here," said Mike Phillips, one of the
weekend's head organizers and a member of MSA's Student Rights
10* *0 *.
9 , . .
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Each pin on this PIRGIM map represents a toxic waste sight.
Coordinafrs are hopeful that this weekend's
festival can tap a potential for ecological awareness
and increased involvement that they seas in Ann
Arbor. "There is a certain amount of activism in the
area that we can work on," said Jeff Farrah, another
organizer and a member of SANE. "I see more people
getting involved, but alot more are still needed."
Many people feel today's activism differs from the
past not in intensity but in terms of the subjects
covered, In addition to anti-racism and anti-war issues,
many people are currently involved in an increasing
amount of ecological and women's issues.
"Students on this campus have sustained a period of
passivism (which) lasted for about eight years," said
James Boggs, one of this weekend's workshop
speakers and an activist
"However, over the h
has been changing. I
political questions, ofter
Gordon has a differ<
activism today. "I thin
diminished," said Gre
changed to a point when
are working on local iss
"Today you have to b
piece suit but also be
shirt," said Phillips.
Tuch is a Daily staff m
WEEKEND/SEPTEMBER 25, 1987
WEEKEND/SEPTEMBER 25, 1987.