July 14, 2013
St. Ignace, MI — On Sunday hundreds gathered at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace for Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes. Folks came from across the midwest and arrived by bus, car, and bike to amplify our voices as a part of the collective citizenry concerned about the dangers of dirty energy and tar sands in North America. The focus of the rally was to come together to challenge the threat that two 60 year old pipelines carrying dirty tar sands oil through the Straits of Mackinaw poses for our Great Lakes, the greatest source of fresh water on this planet.
The event was spiritually grounded and started with a traditional ceremony and words of wisdom by the first peoples of Sault Tribe and the Chippewa Indians. Speakers at the event also included Bill McKibben, co-founder and president of 350.org, folks from the Michigan Land Institute, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, National Wildlife Federation, Traverse City 350, and the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands.
Over a million gallons of toxic tar sands were spilled in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 from a pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge Energy. This spill was the largest on-land domestic oil spill in U.S. history. It devastated communities and destroyed a 40 mile stretch of the river that is still being cleaned up today. Enbridge has had over 800 spills since 1999 and is the same company that owns and operates the pipeline (Line 5) that transports tar sands under the Straits of Mackinaw. They plan to increase capacity in these pipelines this fall unless we the people peacefully rise and demand otherwise. Their profit margin cannot come at the expense of the people and this planet.
Tar sands demand a global call to action. The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS) is joining First Nations’ tribes and activists all over North America resisting the expansion and construction of tar sands pipelines snaking throughout the continent as we speak. According to Mariah Urueta, who was tabling on behalf of MI CATS, “to avoid exceeding the two degree threshold that nearly every major country agreed was paramount to protect against catastrophic climate change, we must find a way to keep 80% of the current proven fossil fuel reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground by the year 2050. We really do have the whole world in our hands.”
Tar sands affect communities across the globe, from where boreal forests are ripped apart in Alberta to get to this dirty fuel, to how it’s transported, resulting in catastrophic spills that threaten air and water. The refining process has horrible implications for communities forced to live nearby. Tar sands are unethical, destructive, and represent so much that is wrong with our dirty energy and economics system. The fact that tar sands are being pursued reflects the fact that we live governed by a system that places profit before human health, biodiversity, and the future.
A major health and civil rights issue in Detroit is the pollution caused by the Marathon tar sands refinery and the way in which they dispose of their waste. One waste that is piling up on the Detroit River is petcoke, which is a by-product from refining tar sands. Petcoke is then sold to energy plants in Michigan and globally by the Koch Brothers as a cheap and dirty fuel substitute to coal. Jarret Schlaff, who lives less than a mile from the Petcoke piles spoke on behalf of himself and highlighted the work carried out by communities and supported by the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS) to challenge the daily illegal dumping and storage of petcoke piles three stories high on the Detroit River. “This is a threat to the health and safety of our communities and global family. The fugitive dust from the petcoke is filled with cancer causing agents including lead, nickel, and chromium. This dust blows from the piles and into people’s homes and the Detroit River. To make matters worse, it’s also 56.3% more carbon intensive than coal so it is a global threat because of its carbon contribution and thus, it’s influence on climate change,” Schlaff said. DCATS is just joining the fight for clean air and water that has been raging for decades in communities in southwest Detroit. By demanding breathable air and clean public water, communities are forced to challenge the greed of corporations like Marathon who place profit before people and the planet. Schlaff went on to say, “Their business model has been a major factor in making communities of color in 48217 surrounding the Marathon Tar Sands Refinery the third most polluted zip code in the country. This is environmental classism and racism; it’s a people issue. This is why we must peacefully rise.”
And rise we are. There is a free action camp being hosted by MI CATS this weekend to build the movement against dirty energy in the Midwest by sharing our creative capacities, skills, ideas, strategy and tactics, and with one another to take back and share with our respective communities. As the temperature and tides rise, we the people must rise. As the corporate influence trumps democracy, we the people must rise. We are rising to our potential, rising to find our individual and collective voice, rising for future generations, rising for communities who did the least to cause the collective challenges we face yet bear the highest burden from catastrophic climate change, rising to move the petcoke not the people, rising to protect our Great Lakes, rising in solidarity with First Nations everywhere who have been fighting since 1498, and rising for our future.
We rise. We rise. We rise. Rise with us!