Free Your Voice Occupies MDE To Demand They Uphold Law

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7 Arrested for Demanding the Maryland Department of Environment Stop the Incinerator

Baltimore, MD - Yesterday was an intense and powerful display of commitment to our basic human rights. Nearly 200 people gathered at the Maryland Department of the Environment Headquarters to follow up on the 1000′s of Marylanders calling upon MDE to enforce the law regarding the trash burning incinerator’s expired permit. The plan was simple – we would form a single file line and one by one we all would drop off hand cut sunflower petitions and comments directly to MDE. 


What happened next was shocking. Instead of welcoming residents who have taken the time to participate and express their views on an issue of great concern – MDE locked us out with security posted at the front gate to “greet” us by telling us to go away. We did not go away. Instead we stood strong guided by what drives us – the call for justice. The world is watching Baltimore right now as structural injustices ranging from systemic environmental injustice to police brutality are exposed. And while community members are taking the lead and offering a path forward to these deep challenges – some of our officials, as we experienced yesterday, are digging in their heels and doing their best to ignore the cry for justice.

Yesterday that cry grew much louder. 7 members were allowed to enter MDE headquarters and speak directly with Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. The 7 included student leaders Charles Graham and Josh Acevedo as well as Doctor Gwen DuBois. Their demand was clear and has been announced since August to MDE – enforce the law and act on the facts uncovered by MDE regarding the trash burning incinerator’s expired permit. Instead, Secretary Grumbles described Energy Answers’ interest in continuing the project and was unwilling to make a decision. The 7 found this to be unacceptable and stated that they were prepared to stay until MDE enforced the law. The police were called and all 7 were arrested. 

Meanwhile, those locked out stood strong chanting “MDE enforce the law” and “stop the incinerator” as the hours went by. We stayed to support our friends who were willing to make a difficult choice – to sacrifice their freedom – in order to make it clear that we will not stop and that we are not going away until justice is done. 

 

As of now, here’s how things stand. All 7 of our friends remain in jail. We have been providing them with legal and jail support around the clock. We received this statement directly from the “incinerator 7″ “We’re staying strong, we continue to demand that MDE enforce the law and pull the permits on the Curtis Bay incinerator. Today was not about negotiation. It was about demanding our human right to clean air. We’ve been waiting long enough and we won’t be silent any longer. Our voices will be heard!”

We will keep everyone posted and will let you know how you can support asap! 

Our friends have also asked that we keep building the pressure on MDE – we know that they are likely to make a decision on whether or not to enforce the law soon. Many of you have been calling and writing emails directly to Secretary Grumbles already and now is the time to keep going. Everyone can reach out directly to Secretary of the Environment Benjamin H. Grumbles at: ben.grumbles@maryland.gov / (410) 537-3084. A quick email, phone call or voice message clearly stating our demand that MDE enforce the law and help community members stop the incinerator shows that Marylanders fully expect that our Department of the Environment live up to its mission to protect the health and environment for ALL Marylanders.

Finally, the media was there to cover everything that unfolded and shine a bright light on the decision that MDE must make. Here is excellent coverage from Fern Shen at the Baltimore Brew. You can also see a great video piece from the Real News.

MORE MEDIA:

Incinerator protesters arrested at MDE headquarters

Maryland Department of the Environment calls in scores of police officers in response to protesters against the Energy Answers project

 December 15, 2015 at 8:28 pm Story Link 2

Scores of police responded to a protest at the Montgomery Park headquarters of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Photo by Fern Shen.

Photo by Fern Shen.

Baltimore police tonight arrested seven people – including a high school student and a local physician – during a protest against a proposed South Baltimore trash incinerator held at Maryland Department of the Environment headquarters.

About 100 people had gathered in late afternoon outside the building at Montgomery Park to call on the state to extinguish the 2010 permit awarded to Energy Answers International to build a trash-to-energy plant near Curtis Bay.

“Arrest the polluters!” they chanted, waving to passing motorists. “Pull the permits!”

They had planned to go inside, single-file, and drop off petitions they had made on sunflower-designed fliers, but they were prevented by MDE staff from entering the building, according to Gregory Sawtell, an organizer with United Workers.

“This is a public building, a place where people go to do business with a government agency, and we can’t go there?” Sawtell said.

After two members of the group were allowed inside to speak with Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles – and emerged eventually to report that Grumbles planned to take no action – seven others went inside, Sawtell said.

“They decided to do a civil action and refused to leave” until the agency agreed to cancel the permit for the project, Sawtell said.

Cuffed and Placed in Police Van

By early evening, the seven were texting Sawtell and United Workers organizer Luis Larin to say that they were going to be arrested.

About a half dozen vans, a dozen police cruisers and more than 50 police officers (including some with riot shields in their vehicles) responded to the scene.

 

“I don’t like seeing those vans,” one of the protesters said. “They give me a bad feeling. I hope they have seatbelts.”

(This was a reference to the case of Freddie Gray, who died last April, prosecutors say, of injuries suffered in a police van in which he had not been secured with a seatbelt.)

Some of the people inside emailed photos of themselves being placed in handcuffs, before their cellphones were taken away and they were driven off, presumably to Central Booking.

“They said to them, ‘You cannot leave, so now you will be arrested,’” Larin said.

Baltimore police standing by as detainees are driven off and protesters chant, “We’ll be back.” (Photo by Fern Shen)

Sawtell said those charged were: Josh Acevedo, Rachel Kutler, Crystal Hall, Todd Cherkis, Amanda DeStefano, Charles Graham and Gwen DuBois, of Cheaspeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.

An internist at Sinai Hospital, DuBois recently had an op-ed published in which she describes the health effects of polluting emissions from incinerators. She called for the scrapping of the Energy Answers plant, proposed to be built less than a mile from a city school.

Baltimore police standing by as detainees are driven off and protesters chant, “We’ll be back.” (Photo by Fern Shen)

Baltimore police standing by as detainees are driven off and protesters chant, “We’ll be back.” (Photo by Fern Shen)

What Grumbles Said

Free Your Voice organizer Destiny Watford said Grumbles listened to her concerns when she spoke with him, but told her he was giving the company until January to respond.

Previously, MDE officials had given Energy Answers until December 7 to submit documentation showing why its permit remains valid.

“He said Energy Answers is asking them to wait to take action until January,” said Watford. “It wasn’t the answer we wanted. It wasn’t the answer we deserve.”


 

Free Your Voice, United Workers, teh Environmental Integrity Project and other community and environmental groups have argued that by allowing more than 18 months to pass without doing any substantial work onsite, the company had let its “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” lapse.

By their reckoning, opponents say, the company needed to resume construction before May 1, 2015, to remain in compliance with the permit. (“We were simply following up on the letters and petitions we submitted in August,” Sawtell said.)

According to Father Ty Hullinger, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, St. Dominic and Most Precious Blood Churches, Grumbles seemed to understand that the permit is expired.

“Everything about his language suggested he got it,” said Hullinger, who accompanied Watford inside. “But when I asked him directly, ‘Is this permit expired?’ he didn’t answer.”

MDE officials could not be reached tonight to comment on the matter, and police could not be reached to say what charges were filed against the people they took away from the scene in handcuffs.

We will update this story.

Police leave the scene after arresting seven people at MDE offices in Southwest Baltimore. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Police leave the scene after arresting seven people at MDE offices in Southwest Baltimore. (Photo by Fern Shen)

UPDATE:

THIS COMMENT JUST IN FROM MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT SPOKESMAN JAY APPERSON

The Department is currently reviewing the most recent information submitted by the company. The Department will provide a further update after the information submitted is reviewed. We are hoping to make a decision soon. Secretary Grumbles met this afternoon with nine opponents of the project.

Regarding arrests — the Department of the Environment has no involvement. The Department is a tenant at Montgomery Park, so the arrests are a matter involving the building management and the police.

Here is a statement from Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles: “The Department of the Environment deeply appreciates knowing the views of citizens and advocacy groups on this project. We are committed to following applicable laws and regulations and to ensuring permit conditions are respected and enforced. The Department will provide an update after we complete our review of the most recent information submitted by the company.”


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