“What are you planting?” she asked.  This was fifteen years ago in a quiet South Bend suburb, where lawns stretched nearly seamlessly between houses.  Between the begonias and perennials, I explained to my inquisitive neighbor, were tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.  At the center stood an elegant, wrought-iron obelisk supporting cucumber and morning glory vines. “Vegetables?” she snorted, “that’s kind of hillbilly, isn’t it?”  Later that season, when I shared with her family my strawberries and cherry tomatoes, she acknowledged my vegetable/flower garden was pretty.   However, her earlier comment often made me wonder why there was derision for growing food-bearing plants.

I was reminded of this incident while researching urban chicken ordinances.  City dwellers in South Bend once commonly grew their own produce and kept livestock for draft work and food.    James Oliver, owner of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works, offered a $50 gold coin to the employee with the highest-yielding vegetable garden.   Some older homes in South Bend still sport backyard henhouses and locals recall grandparents who kept little flocks of laying hens.   When did “self-sufficiency” become “hillbilly”?

In the mid-twentieth century, affluence and the extraction of fossil fuels allowed wealthier urban dwellers to buy, rather than grow food.  People who continued to raise and grow their own food tended to have limited financial resources.  These families were effectively marginalized by ostracizing neighbors and the criminalization of livestock within city limits.  Framing the enactment of across-the board livestock bans as a “public sanitation” issue cloaked the truth of class discrimination against the poor.  If public sanitation and disturbance were truly the concerns, why did city officials forbid ownership of livestock and not of dogs?   The answer, it seems, is that dogs, though carriers of disease and capable of egregious aggression and nuisance behaviors, were and still are owned by the haves and have-nots.  

Of the bans on livestock within the city, surely the hardest blow for the poor was the prohibition against laying hens.  Without this important source of protein from eggs and meat as well as fertilizer for vegetable gardens, these South Bend residents must have suffered greatly.   Furthermore, attempting to grow vegetables on their city lots likely met with resistance from neighbors who, like mine, scoffed at this “uncultured” activity.  This left few options for poorer folks, who, with the loss of urban gardening, bore the brunt of the fragmentation of communities.  No longer would the widow whose hens had an abundance of eggs connect with her neighbor who had a bumper crop of green beans.

Today, almost everyone works a job to buy food from faceless mega-corporations; food our predecessors raised themselves on fertile soil now languishing beneath sterile box stores and parking lots.  As we awaken to the problems caused by our crippling reliance on fossil fuels for food production and delivery, vegetable gardens are spreading across our city again.  Neighbors are connecting in beautiful ways as they re-discover the miracle of growing food.  I support these gardens as well as efforts to allow city residents to keep a small number of laying hens.  People who grow their own food should not be viewed negatively but should be supported as part of the solution towards independence and self-sufficiency.

 

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As I walked the halls of the offices of our US Senators, I admired the sturdy woodwork, marble floors, ornate railings and lovely light fixtures of the Russell Senate Building.  The workings of a democracy should be housed in a beautiful setting, I thought.  Suddenly I was struck by the large bronze plaques posted at the entrance of  every office, each bearing the name of the Senator to whom the office “belonged”.   

“Those plaques look awfully permanent for a democracy,” I mused.

Someone else in my party asked, “did I pay for those?”

“Those names should be written in chalk;” noted another, “as in ‘Today’s Senator is…”

I was in DC this week on behalf of two national organizations to try to generate support from my Senators for climate change legislation.  The mission was to demonstrate to the Senators my and my organizations’ concern over the devastating impact global climate change is having on people, particularly poor women and children all over the world, including the US.  I believed so strongly in this mission, I took two days leave without pay to make the trip.  The appointments with the Senators’ offices were made by the organizations I represented, although I would be speaking to the Senators as their constituent.   For some reason, however, neither of my Senators nor most of the Senators of the other women who’d come from across the country on the same mission were able to meet face-to-face with their Senators.  I can understand why it is difficult to meet with a US Senator when they are visiting the state they represent.  But how far in advance does one need to make arrangements to meet her Senator in DC?  What difference does it make to meet with a Senator’s staff in DC versus the Senator’s staff back home? 

The staffers I met were prompt, mostly cordial and one of the three I met with actually took notes. But the staffers gave me the impression neither of our Senators wants to take a leadership role and do the right thing in the face of this global crisis. Neither of them at this time seems willing to explain to the people back home it is time to pay the piper for our disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gases and that Hoosiers can counteract incremental increases in our energy bills by using less electricity and fuel.  Instead, the staffers told me calls to the Senators run heavily against climate change legislation, which makes the current legislation untenable for the Senators.  This seems a convenient screen when one considers the current state of campaign finance in this country; there’s surely a lot of money flowing from the carbon-burning companies to help sway powerful decision makers as well as an ill-informed public.  Furthermore, today’s story on fake letters from respected organizations being produced by anti-climate change lobbyists gives me pause to question the validity and source of the anti-climate change calls the Senators’ staffers are purportedly fielding.

This, then, it seems, is the system that provides for the name of a senator to be cast in a large, permanent-looking bronze plaque just outside their office door.  The question is, does protecting the plaque’s position impede real leadership?

In 1900 the American BGS company produced a vehicle that set a distance record of 180 miles on a single charge.  Detroit’s GM offered the all-electric EV1 in 1996, which could go at least 80 mph with a range of about 55 miles.  Despite rave reviews by EV1’s lease-holders and growing waiting lists for the car, GM repossessed the entire fleet of EV1’s and summarily had them destroyed.   Soon afterwards, US car industry chiefs and the Bush administration, with billions of taxpayer dollars, opted to chase after hydrogen fuel cell technology, a costly fuel source still many years away from feasibility and affordability.  This begs the question, why would the Bush administration deliberately waste taxpayer money on unproven technology when clean, efficient electric technology was readily available for at least 100 years?  Would chasing after hydrogen fuel cell technology feed Americans’ addiction to our gasoline-burning, carbon-spewing internal combustion habit while ensuring continued profits for all the players in a fossil-fuel-based economy for a few more years? 

Worse, our “representatives” in Congress approved billions in “bailout” money for auto industrialists who keep offering Americans their re-treaded, who-knows-where-the-oil-it-burns-comes-from, lame-mpg cars, even though they could, if they wanted to, make an environmentally friendly electric car.

When I’m not able to walk, ride my bike or take the bus, I drive a rusted 18-year-old Isuzu, holding out for an all-electric car I can plug into the solar panels on the roof of my garage.  Ideally I’d like that car to be made by autoworkers treated decently and paid a fair wage for their labors.  That would mean my electric car would most likely have been made in a democracy, like the US, Canada, the UK or the European Union.  Unfortunately, the only electric cars on the market fitting these criterion and available to me in the middle US top 25 mph with a range of 30 miles.  The carmakers are going backwards with their electric car technology!

Enter a Chinese company that makes most of the world’s laptop and cell phone batteries that recently released the F3 DM, an electric car whose ferrous battery technology powers a sedan that goes 80 mph for about 60 miles.  But this car is made in a single-party communist country with apparently non-existent environmental regulations and a dismal human-rights record.  If the F3 DM is released in the US, what’s an environmentally and socially conscious person supposed to do if she needs a car to visit her parents who live 50 miles away? 

Urging President Obama to Take the Lead on Global Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC — Green Party leaders today said that Obama has the chance, when he becomes President, to take the lead on curbing global warming.

In May, 2008, the Green Party’s Eco-Action Committee announced a set of recommendations for environmental actions for the first 100 days as a guide for Green presidential candidates.

Greens are now promoting the “First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy” as a plan for the Obama Administration.

“This is the Green Party’s holiday gift to the new administration — a set of policies and actions that would place the US in the lead among nations fighting the advance of catastrophic climate change,” said Wes Rolley, co-chair of the EcoAction Committee. “After the inconclusive results of the Poznan talks, President Obama has the opportunity to put the US at the forefront by the time nations meet again in Copenhagen next year.”

“Evidence presented by climate experts in Poznan that alternative energy may not be sufficient to solve the crisis. The emphasis must shift more towards conservation, lowered consumption, and drastic reduction in car traffic. The steps taken against global warming and to repair the current economic meltdown must include all three,” said Mr. Rolley.

On December 10, the Green Party published six recommendations for economic recovery that included environmentally based public works, expanded public transportation, and other conservation-based measures .

*First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy: summary of major recommendations*

 -No new coal fired-power plants; no new nuclear power plants; reduce by 90% the mercury emissions of coal-fired power plants by 2012; protect human health and the environment in the disposal of coal-fired power plant wastes

 -Ban mountaintop coal removal; ban the dumping of mountaintop removal wastes in stream beds and valleys

 -Reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions by 80% by 2020

 -Provide incentives for industry and citizens to reduce energy use through conservation and generate more renewable energy sources; enact a mandatory 25% renewable energy mix in the national grid by 2015; encourage all states to do the same (using oil and nuclear subsidy funds); encouraging local energy generation

 -Increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 60 mpg for cars and 45 mpg for light trucks by 2012

 -Set a national phosphorus standard for all US waters that will protect steams from nutrient growth; strengthen bacteria standards to protect human health

 -Require labeling of imported foods, foods with growth hormones, and foods produced by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

 -Stop export of any technology abroad for projects that involve fossil fuel or deforestation

 -Require that all federal agencies continue their policy of direct negotiation with Indian tribes on a government to government basis

 -Protect the rights of Environmental Justice communities to be free from new proposals for permits that would potentially increase their burden of toxic contamination, and prioritize these communities for cleanup.

 

In addition, this writer would have liked to see inclusion of an electric car as an objective for this “wish list”.  BGS Corporation developed the first electric car in this country in 1900, which set a distance record of 180 miles on a single charge.  GM had an electic car in 1996, the EV1, which they leased out in a limited number.  Despite their popularity with those who drove them and growing waiting lists for other interested car drivers to obtain one, GM inexplicably re-possessed all of their leased fleet of EV1’s and had them summarily destroyed.

 

 

Below is my response to Beth Barrett’s email seeking an update on South Bend’s hydroelectric project:

 

Dear Beth,

Thank you for your interest in the progress of the hydroelectric power/educational tourist project on the dam at Century Center.

To refresh your memory, in February, I wrote to Congressman Joe Donnelly asking him about federal grants for which South Bend may apply to offset construction costs of a clean-energy project such as hydroelectric power.  In response, Congressman Donnelly informed me Congress had passed and President Bush had signed the Energy Security and Independence Act (PL 110-140) last December.  Although a grant program such as this would be just the kind of federal assistance South Bend could tap into, Congress has yet, nearly one year later failed to fund this important legislation.    Congressman Donnelly suggested I contact you, his Grants Director, at his South Bend office to research other grant options available for South Bend.  In April, you informed me there are currently no grants available for South Bend to access to build a hydroelectric generator that would help the city create green energy jobs, reduce its carbon footprint, diminish its reliance on coal-generated power and lower its electricity bill.

South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke has publicly supported this hydroelectric project.  Gary Gilot, Director of the Department of Public Works would also very much like to see this project happen and has done much legwork towards this end.  Letters have also been sent to members of the South Bend Common Council, seeking their support for this project; Councilman Derek Dieter personally told me he supports this project.

On September 15th, I organized a meeting between Gary Gilot; Mike Keen, IUSB’s Director of the Center for a Sustainable Future; James Mazurek, ND’s Director of Sustainability; Steve Francis, Executive Officer of the Indiana Sierra Club; Kerry Temple, Editor of ND Magazine and myself.   The purpose of the meeting was to disseminate information and to determine what funding avenues have been explored.  Jim Mazurek noted he would like to propose that ND partner with the city on this hydro project; certainly, if South Bend could secure federal grants for this project, this would go a long way in helping the city find corporate co-sponsors to offset construction costs.

On October 17th, I received a call from Hodge Patel, who also works in Congressman Joe Donnelly’s office.  He was unaware of the legwork that’s been done on this project thus far and was also unfamiliar with the Energy Security and Independence Act.  I gave Hodge a verbal summary of the work I’ve done on this project and sent him a link to my blog site, which gives a chronology of this project from my perspective.

You ask in your most recent email what Congressman Joe Donnelly’s office can do for me.  For the citizens of South Bend you can:

1)    Impress upon Congressman Joe Donnelly to work towards funding of the Energy Security and Independence Act so South Bend can apply for assistance to construct the proposed hydroelectric generator/educational tourist facility on the Dam at Century Center,

2)  Continue to search for other federal grant options for a project such as this and

3)    Coordinate efforts with Hodge Patel and other staff within Congressman Donnelly’s office to urge the Congressman to support renewable, emission-free energy sources such as hydroelectric, solar and wind power for the health of our community and our neighbors and the security of future generations.

 

Thank you for your interest in this project. Please click on this link  for more details on the work I’ve done thus far to move this project along.  I hope the next time you contact me, you will have good news about what Congressman Donnelly has done to support funding of grants for projects such as this.

Today I received an email from Beth Barrett, Grants Director at Congressman Joe Donnelly’s South Bend office as a follow-up to the hydro-electric generator project on the Dam at Century Center:

I am following up on some previous contacts.  Have you made any progress with the hydroelectric power project?  I believe last spring I told you I had spoken with several local officials about the idea and most were in favor of using the river’s power potential.  Of course, there are several entities that must be involved-the city, county and the power company-to make this a viable plan.  Any federal funding would need to be sought by the local government and a solid plan, with partnership among the involved parties, would need to be in place for funding to be considered.

It seems the recent energy crisis has made people (belatedly) aware of the need for clean power that doesn’t deplete natural resources.  Maybe the day has come for hydroelectric power?

Let me know if there is anything Joe’s office can do for you in the future.

Beth Barrett

Grants Director

Congressman Joe Donnelly”

Anyone who has watched this blog site knows I am already aware of the coordination of entities that must be involved to make this project a “viable plan”.  The city has a viable plan and is very much interested in seeking federal funding for assistance with this project.   It’s my understanding, however, that there is currently no federal funding available for a project such as this. Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Energy Security and Independence Act last December, which South Bend could apply for, however, Congress, of which Donnelly is a member, has yet to fund this legislation.  Why was it so easy to “find” money to bailout reckless Wall Street investors to the tune of over $700 billion but funding grants for clean energy projects that generate clean energy jobs seems less urgent?

see this post for my response to Ms. Barrett

 

Today I received a call from Hodge, a staffer at Congressman Joe Donnelly’s office.  He told me he was returning a call I’d made to Congressman Donnelly about hydroelectric power in South Bend.  My records suggest the last time I spoke with anyone in Donnelly’s office was in April 2008, when I spoke with Beth Barrett, Congressman Donnelly’s Grants Director.  At the time, Donnelly had directed me to speak with Beth about possible federal grants South Bend may be able to tap to fund a hydroelectric generator on the dam at Century Center.  Although Congressman Donnelly had informed me he’d supported the Energy Security and Independence Act  (PL 110-140), which President Bush signed into law in December 2007, Congress has yet to fund this important piece of legislation.  Beth told me at that time there were no federal grants available for projects such as this.  (Apparently finding $700 billion to bail out careless Wall Street risk-takers is easier than making money from taxes available to cities for green energy projects that create jobs, reduce our carbon footprint and, in the case of the South Bend project’s proposed viewing chamber, promotes tourism and education)

Hodge wanted to let me know he’d spoken to AEP about hydroelectric energy on the St Joe river and that, although AEP has several hydro generators on the river, they have no current plans in place to add South Bend to the list, (despite the fact that South Bend already has a permit and design for the project.  My emphasis). 

I told Hodge I was already aware of the information he was giving me, so I brought him up to speed on what I’ve done on this project up to the recent meeting I’d arranged with Gary Gilot, South Bend’s Director of Public Works and other local leaders interested in issues of sustainability.  Hodge was interested in the Energy Independence and Security Act and asked me to send him what information I had about the legislation.  I also offered to send him a link to this blog’s page on the chronology of the hydro project. 

Maybe PL 110-140 will get funded in time for the election.  Stay tuned.