The Hoch Cunningham Environmental Lecture Series hosted a discussion with David Bond on October 27th entitled ‘Environmental Justice in Turbulent Times’. The discussion explored how certain refineries dumped their pollution onto unsuspecting communities during periods of reduced government oversight due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bond is a cultural anthropologist and professor at Bennington College, teaching environmental and public affairs. She also serves as Deputy Director of Bennington’s Center for Public Relations.
At the event, co-hosted by the Environmental Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology, Bond spoke about the inspiration behind his new book, Negative Ecology: Fossil Fuels and the Environment’s Discovery.
“A lot of environmental monitoring has been withdrawn during COVID, not on purpose, but because people were told to stay home,” Bond said. “A lot of people watching [and] Regulation was stuck in the office. ”
As a result, some companies have committed “gross moral injustices,” Bond said, which he worked to bring to light.
Considering how individuals are affected by environmental injustices, Bond wanted to enact a major environmental policy reform.
“Speaking the state language helps if you’re demanding change on environmental issues,” Bond said. “At the same time, the language presupposes an erasure of the scale on which people themselves have experienced these problems. It is almost anti-nationalist. It erases the history of beneficial destruction that has been created.”
Bond introduced some of the major arguments in his book, such as that environmental science is primarily passive rather than proactive.
“A lot of what we know about the environment comes from how we’ve messed it up,” said Bond. …If environmental science and policy are always responding to disasters, that means we are not proactive enough to prevent them.”
Bond focused on two recent examples of environmental fraud. First, Bond discovered that an incinerator in upstate New York, run by Norlite, was burning hazardous waste right next to a public housing complex without residents’ knowledge.
Bond and his students collected samples from upwind and downwind of the incinerator and tested them for levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
“Levels of PFAS compounds increased downwind of the incinerator and decreased with increasing distance from the incinerator, [PFAS were] We detected high levels in our downwind neighborhood,” Bond said.
After testing samples, Bond’s team predicted that the incinerator was spreading PFAS chemicals throughout the community.
“Far from destroying PFAS, the Norlite factory appears to be raining down a witch’s brew of PFAS compounds on the poor, working-class neighborhoods of Cohorse,” Bond said, repeating a quote he previously shared with The Intercept. increase.
Bond went on to explain how the new COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get media attention to the issue, providing journalists with information about the environment and helping journalists write articles to the public’s attention. can be written.
The second case that Bond covered in his talk was an American oil refinery on the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency previously investigated the refinery and found that the plant was leaking toxic substances into the environment.
But the EPA under President Trump rushed to fund the reopening of refineries before President Biden took office. In other words, the regulations that normally accompany the reopening of refineries were ignored.
“People started calling me in December 2020 and early 2021 with reports of a petrochemical cloud hovering across the island,” Bond said.
Bond ran an article in the Washington Post to get President Biden’s attention and eventually asked the EPA to investigate the refinery. The EPA later found that conditions at the refinery “indicated the imminent risk of the release of highly hazardous substances.”
Despite the investigation, Bond believes the EPA’s actions to date have been inadequate, and the EPA has not called for corrective action or set up enforcement mechanisms to hold plants accountable. It points out that no
“what [the EPA does] Do they send a very polite letter to the new owner [of the plant] I asked if we could schedule a time to get together and discuss these concerns,” said Bond. “This is totally unacceptable.”