Activists’ Diary: April Was the Month We Suffered No Fossil Fools!

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Activists Diary

Activists’ Diary is a new space in the Co-op Voice for local activists to share their experiences and insights. Honest Weight Food Co-op members are involved and concerned participants not only in co-op, food safety and nutrition matters, but also in significant issues of concern in the wider community. The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and are not intended to reflect the views of the Co-op Voice team or HWFC.

This month we hear two member-owners describe their passionate interest in health and justice issues affecting the Capitol District. Grace Nichols describes some of the issues surrounding the Sheridan Ave. steam station and how the Capitol District should be generating its power. This month, we also hear from Jessica Rae who sheds light on sex trafficking [click here to read it!]. Please send us your thoughts on the Activists’ Diary and on the work of these committed member-owners.


I was lucky enough to attend a Teach-In by the Black Caucus of PEF (Public Employees Federation) on April 16th at the Albany Public Library about the two new fracked gas turbines planned for the Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant. The new turbines were originally hailed as a good change for the Sheridan Hollow community, where the Sheridan Ave. plants are located and for the Empire State Plaza, as they are designed to power on in case the main electric grid is down. However, they are now widely considered to be one more environmental injustice planned for the Sheridan Hollow community.

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor

Sheridan Hollow is named for its location down a ravine that’s across the street from the State Capitol, centered along Sheridan Avenue. It also has a history of being Albany’s home for residential energy production, having first hosted energy produced by the burning of coal at the 79 Sheridan Avenue Plant in 1911.

Thus began Mert Simpson (an Albany County Legislator), giving a history and context for the proposed turbines, which would be online constantly and burn more fuel than is currently burned there. It turns out that in its century-long history, this site has burned coal, oil, natural gas, garbage (incineration) and fracked gas for steam. It has already been the subject of successful lawsuits to try to compensate the community for outbreaks of asthma, COPD, cancer, and other environmentally-linked conditions. Mert Simpson describes Sheridan Hollow’s history as a testament to “energy segregation” in Albany between those who produce energy those who demand it.

Keith Schue, a technical advisor to SHARE (Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy) and a seasoned mechanical engineer, gave the technical details of the plant. George Benson of the NAACP gave a good talk about the position of the African-American community with respect to environmental crime. Jay Egg (who trains US Dept of Energy Staff) joined us remotely to give us a vision of geothermal energy or “earth heat” replacing dirty energy production.

With geothermal heating and cooling pumps, the ground beneath or alongside of the Empire State Plaza could host the technology needed to fulfill both its electricity and heating/cooling needs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City drilled underneath their church in order to go geothermal. Five Rivers Environmental Education Center dug under their environmental education building for this purpose. The College of St. Rose drilled below their campus to make their chapel geothermal. In fact, there are cities around the world going geothermal to demonstrate its utility and cost-effectiveness, as institutions using geothermal heat and cooling cease having to pay directly for heating fuel. Wouldn’t it be magnificent if the State government buildings would go 100 percent renewable as a commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels?

Finally, Mark Dunlea of the Green Legal and Education Fund educated workers and the community about divestiture from fossil fuels, announcing that trillions of dollars have been removed from the fossil fuel economy during his five years of work on the issue.

It is unlikely that the residents of Sheridan Hollow, the residents of surrounding areas of the city who also breathe those emissions – and the thousands of state workers who spend their days next to Sheridan Hollow – really want to find out through direct experience if the new fracked gas turbines will meaningfully raise their risk of cardiac death, cancer, and respiratory disease. The healthiest and most just outcome for all would be to see the Sheridan Ave steam station retired from energy production and its site, which has been contaminated repeatedly over the decades, remediated.

Marchers Respect Mother Earth

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor
Photo Credit: Erik McGregor

While there were too many wonderful Earth Day events to count, the day after Earth Day (Monday, April 23rd) was especially moving. Two thousand marchers from all over the state gathered at the Sheridan Hollow Plant and marched to the Capital, chanting “The Sun is Setting on Fossil Fuels; the Sun is Rising on Renewables.” Governor Cuomo was beseeched to come up with a plan to transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible. Citizens from across the state demanded that Cuomo stop subjecting Sheridan Hollow, Wawayanda (the location of a giant new power plant) and Dover (home to the Cricket Valley Energy Center) to fracked gas infrastructure. The people are united in wanting the State of New York to stop burning the very fuel it will not permit to be mined in New York State because of the hazards it presents.

At the end of that glorious display of unity, with busloads of support coming in from Rochester, Buffalo, New York City, and beyond, all committed to ending environmental injustice, there was a soulful action in which 55 people were arrested for blocking the hallway outside Cuomo’s office. While local press gave little news coverage to this amazing display of good organizing, choreographed action, theater, and unity, the international community took notice. The Peace Poets ministered to the activists with wonderful, heartening lyrics, while the State Police slowly removed people, issuing tickets for them to appear in court. Howie Hawkins, the former Green Party Presidential candidate, was among the arrestees, as were: Mark Dunlea, of the Green Legal and Education Fund; James Cromwell, actor in the movies Babe and Still Mine; Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project; Wes Cunningham of Catskill Mountainkeeper, and many other brave hearts.

As the Peace Poets say, “It’s bigger than a pipeline! It’s bigger than a job! If you don’t respect our Mama, We won’t [empty beat] respect your law!” The time has come to affirm natural law and stop the legacy of dirty fossil fuels, which has for so long controlled New York State Government.

For more information regarding Climate Justice and how you can help, please visit http://sharealbany.org/

Photo Credit: Meg Breen

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Grace Nichols has been a member of the Honest Weight Food Co-op since 2002. She has been a staff member, member-owner and a consumer at different times throughout the years. She is looking forward to seeing Co-op members continue to come together to protect Earth – from which all our precious food originates.