Businesswoman Melissa Chipman (case number 13030034.01), Farm Owner Michael Dineen (case number 13030032.01), and Author, Biologist, and Heinz Award Recipient Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D (case number 13030033.01), refused to pay their fines on ethical grounds and were sentenced to fifteen days in jail by Reading Court Justice, Raymond H. Berry. Steingraber is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and a Prominent Critic of Fracking and Its Related Infrastructure. The three Peaceful Protesters were arrested as part of a civil disobedience blockade of Inergyâ€™s salt cavern gas storage facility in Reading, NY, just a few miles north of Watkins Glen. The charge was trespassing.
More than 150 people from surrounding communities filled the Town of Reading (NY) Court Room and Court House, spilling out onto the sidewalk, parking lot, and lawn on Wednesday, April 17 as a show of support for the three defendants who had previously pled guilty. Justice Raymond Berry fined each of the three $375 and when they refused to pay he imposed the maximum possible sentence of fifteen days.
â€śWhatâ€™s legal and what is ethical are often at odds. These people of conscience took the high ground in defense of our community and our way of lifeâ€ť â€”resident Susan Walker
Hundreds of supporters waited outside for nearly an hour until the three were lead from the courthouse in hand cuffs and transported to the Schuyler County Jail. The two women were further processed and transported to the Chemung County Jail, as Schuyler County has no facilities to hold female prisoners.
â€śI believe it is wrong for corporations and people with lots of money/power to harm the earth and the beings living on it! The government has done nothing to protect the earth and the people they are supposed to represent, even though we have written letters, given them scientific evidence and held peaceful protests. They are not hearing us; therefore, I committed civil disobedience as a last resort to stop them from destroying my environment. And furthermore, I would rather eat bread and water now than have no bread and toxic water later! â€”Melissa Chipman courtroom statement
On March 18, Steingraber (Finger Lakes CleanWaters Initiativeâ€™s Scientific Advisor) and 10 fellow residents of the Finger Lakes region, in a peaceful act of civil disobedience, linked arms and blockaded a gas compressor station site run by Missouri-based Inergy, LLP, on Seneca Lake. They did so to demonstrate their opposition to the planned heavy industrialization of the Finger Lakes region, renowned for its natural beauty, vineyards, and tourism- and agriculture-based economy. The protesters focus is to educate the community about the hazards of Inergyâ€™s gas storage and transportation project, which threatens the drinking water supply for 100,000 people.
â€śIn my field of environmental health, the word trespass has meaning. Toxic trespass refers to involuntary human exposure to a chemical or other pollutant. It is a contamination without consent. It is my belief, as a biologist, that Inergy is guilty of toxic trespass. Inergy has been out of compliance with EPA regulations every quarter for the past three years. In spite of this, Inergy applied for, and has received, from the state of New York a permit to discharge, every day, an additional 44,000 pounds of chloride into Seneca Lake. Thatâ€™s 22 tons a day. Thatâ€™s 8000 tons a year. Seneca Lake is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. Those industrial discharges trespass into the bodies of those who drink it.â€ťâ€”Dr. Sandra Steingraber Ph.D courtroom statement
Of special note: Important questions have been raised about the structural stability of Inergyâ€™s salt caverns, at least one of which is located below a rock formation weakened by faults. An "Open File Report" authored by Pohn and Podwysocki evaluating geophysical data that was published in 1982, found the caverns unsuitable for storing spent nuclear fuel rods.
Salt caverns in the United States have a troubled safety history when used to store volatile gases. A 2004 analysis by industry insider John Hopper found them to be far more prone to catastrophic accidents than other more common underground storage options. Salt caverns represented only 7 percent of the nationâ€™s 407 underground storage sites for gas in 2002, but they were responsible for all 10 of the catastrophic accidents involving gas storage between 1972 and 2004, industry investigator John Hopper found in a 2004 analysis. (DC Bureau)
The recent collapse of Texas Brineâ€™s salt cavern in Bayou Corne, LA and the damage to the interlocking Grand Bayou underscores this issue.
â€śI just want you to know that I do not take this step lightly. Iâ€™m 64 years old, my wife and I have a small farm in Seneca County. We grow organic grains and maintain a large garden we use to feed our daughters families and ours. Our garden is irrigated with lake water. I believe the Inergy gas storage complex will, at best, damage the community, and has the potential to do catastrophic damage. Important information has been kept from the public with the DECâ€™s cooperation. I did this to attempt to protect the community when all other means have failed.â€ťâ€” Michael Dineen courtroom statement.
Sandra Steingraber will be featured starting April 19 on Moyers and Company, Sandra Steingraber on Taking Action, check local listings.