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Citizens Class: Your Environment

How should economic and environmental needs be balanced?

(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)

Backgrounder: Your Environment
Environment-watchers worry that in the past six years have witnessed many attempts to rollback key environmental legislation. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Roadless Rule protecting wilderness area from development -- all faced challenges in court, Congress and changing federal policy priorities. In addition, the nation has seemed out of step with the international community as the Kyoto Protocol went into effect without U.S. participation in 2005. In August 2006 California took it upon itself to buck the system and tackle global warming on its own. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger crossed party lines to sign into law the nation's first bill to cap man-made greenhouse gas emissions ... [more]

Class Is in Session...
Many individuals might throw up their hands when confronted with a problem as massive as global warming - that's not the case with the ecological challenges they face in their backyard. The environment is an intensely local issue. "Is God Green?" explores environment and community in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia -- where mountaintop coal mining has local residents bringing their faith to bear in their effort to stop widespread pollution and environmental damage. The program explores the real-world consequences of mountaintop mining and its toxic byproducts by profiling residents forced to live with drinking water allegedly contaiminated by a local subsidiary of the region's largest coal company, Massey Energy. Today, after 12 years, the local government is building the infrastructure that eventually will bring clean water to the effected communities. (More on mountaintop mining)

Watch the video

"I first want to apologize as a Christian for the unfaithfulness of the churches and Christians who have oftentimes - too often - been complicit in the destruction that we see upon the land," says Allen Johnson, who co-founded the advocacy group Christians for the Mountains. "In the Book of Revelation, there's a scripture that says that God will destroy those who destroy the Earth. We're breaking a covenant with God." Allen's group is working to recruit local churches to explore the pollution problem as a theological and Biblical issue, and to join their fight.

Watch the video: Ken Cook

Knowledge is a powerful tool in safeguarding health and the environment. Several years ago Bill Moyers became a guinea pig in study on how toxins in the environment make it into the human blood stream. Researchers at two major laboratories tested for 210 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, including Bill Moyers. Scientists refer to this contamination as a person's body burden. The resulting report, documented in TRADE SECRETS, found that Bill Moyers has 85 industrial chemicals in his blood stream. Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group talked with Bill Moyers about environmental toxins on NOW in 2003. (More on health and the environment)

Watch the video: The Earth Conservation Corps

Of course there are federal agencies charged with the responsibility to monitor environmental conditions — and cleaning up problems. But, as experience shows — it's often local initiative that makes a difference in environmental quality. NOW WITH BILL MOYERS documented a unique group in one of the country's most environmentally and economically challenged areas. The Earth Conservation Corps takes local kids and turns them into local stewards of their environment. The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) was founded in 1989 and takes as its mission "providing hands-on environmental education, job training and community service programs for people of all ages from diverse backgrounds, with an emphasis on serving at-risk youth from the inner-city neighborhoods."

Tell us about your community. And check on local environmental conditions.


  • Where does federal responsibility end for environmental protection? What should be left to states? Local community governments?

  • Consider the mountain top coal mining story in the documentary. Coal mining and its environmental effects have been part of that region for generations, why do you think the local churches have stayed out of the discussion for so long, and why do you think they are involved now?

  • How should economic and environmental needs be balanced?

  • Do you feel that you know enough about your environment?

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JUDY BONDS: There are three million pounds of explosives used a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off these mountains. Three million pounds a day. ….to knock fly rock everywhere, to send silica and coal dust and rock dust and fly rock in our homes. I'm kinda thinking-- I wonder-- now which one of these mountains do you think God will come down here and blow up? Which one of these hollers do you think Jesus would store waste in? That's a simple question. That's all you have to ask.

BILL MOYERS: Judy Bonds' Family has been in these mountains for ten generations. She is a winner of one of the world's most prestigious environmental awards - The Goldman Prize.

JUDY BONDS: …As of last year, there was 400,000 acres of the world's most diverse forest completely destroyed forever then there's 1200 miles of stream have been affected. Seven hundred miles have been buried by mountaintop removal, which has selenium discharges in it. There's brackish water comin' out of it. Nothing can live in this type of water

PREACHER: Do you remember the first time you fell in love with Jesus?

BILL MOYERS: Bonds was a raised a Christian, then strayed from the church. This fight, she says, has brought her back to God.

JUDY BONDS: It was the unjustness that I saw that was being heaped upon the people that -- the blasting and -- and children suffering from the -- from the coal dust. And the elderly suffering from the coal dust. And the flooding. And I began to pray for help. For guidance.

PREACHER: I'll do whatever it takes to fight for my country. To protect the ocean, to protect our environment…

BILL MOYERS: Now Bonds is bringing her faith to her fight for the mountains, part of a growing movement in West Virginia in which concern for the earth is guided by the Bible.

JUDY BONDS: Never doubt that this is a battle between good and evil! And now is not a time to be silent. Now is a time to stand up and be counted for. The earth is God's body!

ALLEN JOHNSON: I first want to apologize as a Christian for the unfaithfulness of the churches and Christians who have oftentimes - too often - been complicit in the destruction that we see upon the land!

BILL MOYERS: Allen Johnson is part of the same campaign. He co-founded an advocacy Group…christians for the Mountains.

ALLEN JOHNSON: In the Book of Revelation-- there's a scripture that says that God will destroy those who destroy the Earth." We're breaking a covenant with God. We're breaking a covenant with-- with Creation and with other people and with future generations. It is-- is sin. Sin's not a word that-- is popular today-- or its-- but it-- but that's what it is. S-I-N.

THE JOHNSONS: Give us, Lord, our daily bread.

BILL MOYERS: Johnson is a librarian. He and his wife have home-schooled their four children. They live off their land, growing their own vegetables, raising animals for food. On Sundays, he sings and plays in the church band.

In a region where many depend on coal for their livelihoods, Allen Johnson and Judy Bonds are speaking out, against mountaintop removal…and for the people who consider themselves its collateral damage.



BILL MOYERS: Look at this headline, quote, "Government Report Says Wood Play Sets Pose A Cancer Risk." The story goes on to report that scientists now know that children playing in millions of outdoor wood playground sets face an increased risk of bladder and lung cancer from arsenic exposure. But chemicals are showing up in everyone's bodies, not just kids'. And that's how I became a guinea pig. I volunteered for a test to discover my body burden. That's the term scientists use to describe the chemicals accumulating in our bodies simply by living in our world. I was one of the first participants in the study. Here's a clip.

MOYERS: In this arm?

NURSE: Preferably, if that's where your vein is good at.

MOYERS: For the purpose of this broadcast, I volunteered to take part in their study. A much larger project is underway at the US Centers for Disease Control.

MOYERS: And you're looking for chemicals?

McCALLY: Not the body's normal chemicals. We're looking for industrial chemicals, things that weren't around 100 years ago, that your grandfather didn't have in his blood or fat. We're looking for those chemicals that have been put into the environment, and through environmental exposures — things we eat, things we breathe, water we drink — are now incorporated in our bodies that just weren't there.

MOYERS: You really think you will find chemicals in my body?

McCALLY: Oh, no question. No question.
[End excerpt]

MOYERS: I'll be back in a moment to tell you the results of that study, but right now we'll introduce you to Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. Mr. Cook's organization commissioned that study, along with the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine here in New York and Commonweal, a nonprofit health and environmental research institute based in California. Welcome to NOW.

COOK: Thanks.

MOYERS: Why did you do that study?

COOK: We did that study for a couple of reasons. One, every time you eat fruit, every time you breathe air, every time you put gas in your tank or paint your room, there's an opportunity for some of these toxic chemicals to find their way into you. We wanted to document that. And oddly enough, it hadn't really been documented before.

The study that you were a part of, is nine individuals, was the group of people who've been most extensively tested for a wide range of chemicals ever. And, in some cases, the levels we found in people were very high. And these weren't incinerator workers or factory workers, they're folks like you, maybe sitting behind a typewriter all day or making phone calls. Not out in a place where you'd expect a high chemical exposure. Just living.

MOYERS: Just living?

COOK: Just living.

MOYERS: Well, at the end of that documentary, I came back to find out what they had found out. So look at this.

McCALLY: We tested for 150 different industrial chemicals, and you have 84 of those 150.

MOYERS: Wow. Eighty-four.

McCALLY: Eighty-four. In the PCB case, you had 31 different PCBs of this whole family of similar chemicals. They are all over the place. And it's probably a function of where you live. You lived in some locale where PCBs were in the environment, and you got them into you through the air you breathed. Some of them get down in groundwater. Some of them get coated on food. You didn't get them sort of in one afternoon because you ate a poisoned apple.
[End of excerpt]

MOYERS: I may have eaten a poison apple, but I'm not sure. Now, I'm almost 70 years old, so clearly those PCBs haven't killed me.

COOK: Yeah.

MOYERS: Or any of the other stuff that I've been taking in during my lifetime.

COOK: No, I think the real issue becomes, you know, what does it to your risk in the case of PCBs, of cancer and in the case of PCBs also, nervous system disorders. You've lived a long time, and I hope you live a lot longer. The real issue here is, do we know enough at this stage to be allowing this wide range of chemicals to get into our bodies without fully understanding their effects? And the answer is we don't know that, they're not well studied.

MOYERS: You tested for what? 210 chemicals?

COOK: Yeah something like that.

MOYERS: And I brought these figures in. One year alone, I think this was '98, American companies manufactured 6.5 trillion pounds of 9,000 different chemicals. And the major companies alone — this does not include the small chemical companies — dumped 7.1 billion pounds of 650 chemicals into our air and water.

COOK: Right.

MOYERS: So we don't know what most of these chemicals are doing.

COOK: No, we don't. Most people are surprised to find out that it's legal to dump so much chemical into the environment. Toxic chemical. Most people are surprised to find out that when they go to the grocery store or a pharmacy or a hardware store, that a lot of the chemicals that are in those products, the federal government does not stand behind them with safety testing. There are no safety tests required in many cases.

MOYERS: I don't want people to be alarmed unnecessarily, to think that — you don't either — to think that, well, just because we had these chemicals, they're going to cause cancer or they're going to cause leukemia or whatever. So what's the balance we have to strike here?

COOK: Well, I think the first balance that we should strike is a more rigorous testing system before we allow the chemicals on the market. Some chemicals are tested more rigorously. For example, pesticides are required to have 120 tests conducted on them. Now, we have quibbles ourselves with the kinds of tests that are done and how they're interpreted. But the fact remains, before you can bring a new pesticide on the market, you have to do that testing because it's going to be in food.



ZWERDLING: Darius Phillips would be the first to tell you that he was the kind of man you should be afraid of. People on the streets here in Washington DC used to call him "the Big Hurt."

PHILLIPS: And you could say something about, say something to me, you didn't even have to say anything, you could look at me a different way, and I'm down your neck, just like that.

ZWERDLING: Phillips sold crack. He stole cars. He robbed taxi drivers. He's 22 years old.

PHILLIPS: My whole philosophy at that particular time was never leave the house with less than $5,000 on you. You know, that's like, that was my quota for the day. I gotta put ten in the bank every day, and I always gotta walk around with five in my pocket, every day.

ZWERDLING: Lashauntya Moore is a 24-year-old welfare mother. Her brother's in prison for double homicide. She started having babies when she was in high school.

MOORE: I had that fantasy that the guy, he loved me and we were gonna get married and we were gonna have a big house and take care of our baby. We were gonna have a good life and we were gonna be happy. So, that was my plan. And I told that to my father. And he was like, "You're living in a dream world."

ZWERDLING: There's not much reason to expect that these young people would ever make it out of this world. But now they're trying to transform their lives and they're doing it partly by transforming the area where they live.

SMITH: We're gonna focus on this area - cleanup on the exterior of the gate.

ZWERDLING: A few months ago, they joined a non-profit program called the Earth Conservation Corps. The basic idea sounds simple: you recruit a few dozen young men and women from the community, even if they have criminal records or if they're drop-outs, and you hire them to clean up and restore their neighborhood.

But nothing is simple in this part of the nation's capital.

Because we're not talking about this Washington, on the banks of the shining Potomac River, we're talking about this Washington, on the banks of the other river. They call the river and the neighborhood Anacostia.

Most call this whole area 'southeast.' It's only a few blocks from the U.S. capitol, but it's one of the worst neighborhoods in America.

NIXON: When we came here, you couldn't see the river standing here. There were trash heaps 100 feet high.

ZWERDLING: Bob Nixon used to be a Hollywood producer. He came to Washington in the early 1990s, to shoot a film about the environment. Nixon stayed and he set up the Earth Conservation Corps, because he felt he had to do something about this environment.

NIXON: They didn't just dump trash here, they dumped people here. There are, you know, 90 percent of the public housing communities in Washington are, you know, within a mile and a half of this dump right here.

ZWERDLING: Every city has a place like southeast. This is where they put the projects, this is where they put the factories and the freeways. This is where everybody puts their pollution.

But the killings along these streets give Washington its horrendous distinction: it has the highest murder rate of any major city in the country.

KEITH: Every day, every day, you know, "such and such died." You know, "such and such died."

LONG: Two friends of mine were killed. And my uncle was shot up at the same time. He was shot in the stomach with an A-K.

KEITH: My senior year of high school I had to go to 11 funerals. My senior year of high school.

ZWERDLING: These young people say. When they first heard about the Earth Conservation Corps. The last thing the cared about was cleaning up the environment. They were looking for a way to survive.

The Corps pays roughly minimum wage. Plus they get health insurance and a $5000 scholarship if they go back to school.

But something clicks when they get out on the Anacostia, they go about a mile upstream, and they see their community in a new way.

PHILLIPS: Basically like five, ten minutes away, I live from here. And this is, this is not all I know, but this is where, this is a part of me. This is my heritage. And to be a part of something so beautiful, it's overwhelming when you look at it around here, and you can say that I'm a part of something so beautiful.

ZWERDLING: Phillips and the other corps members take videos wherever they go, so they can document their heritage and show how they're trying to save it.

GLOVER: I'm at the mouth of beaver dam right now, ready to take three more water samples.

ZWERDLING: The problem is, this river has become one of most polluted in America. You can't tell by looking at it, but health officials estimate that more than a billion gallons of raw sewage end up in the Anacostia, every year.

Today, the Corps is going out on one of its regular patrols. They've heard that raw sewage might be pouring into a tributary, illegally, and they're investigating.

When they find suspect dumping, they report it.

GLOVER: My name is Jerome Glover of the Earth Conservation Corps. This is the first day of our testing of the water quality…

PHILLIPS: What do you think this is?

GLOVER: I have no idea what it is. It hasn't rained in like, four or five days. In 24 hours, we'll know.

ZWERDLING: And the next morning, the results confirm what they suspected.

GLOVER: These big glops right here, it shows that the Anacostia is contaminated with fecal coliforms.

ZWERDLING: Fecal what?

GLOVER: Coliform. It's, it's like human crap, for real. So, yeah. And there it is right there.

ZWERDLING: Bob Nixon says these Corps members are doing some of the work their government should be doing.

NIXON: This is, in a lot of sense Ground Zero for a lot of issues that are facing our whole country. They're fighting environmental jus… people call it "environmental justice," I think it's "environmental injustice." All sorts of sort of injustices piled one on top of the other that they're trying to untangle.

ZWERDLING: When you talk to Corps members, they all give different reasons why they're caught up in this work.

PHILLIPS: I love the research, because it's fun. It's like being a detective. You get to find out who's actually doing what, and we can write letters and get things to happen.

ZWERDLING: Another Corps member, Jerome Scott, says he wants to protect wildlife along this river.

SCOTT: I want to be a zoologist, a marine biologist, anything that has to do with animals. I love it.

ZWERDLING: Actually, he's already teaching a bit of science. Just about every morning, members of the Earth Conservation Corps and another nonprofit group take students from local schools out on the river. They're teaching the next generation about the environment. David Smith helps run the Corps. He's picked Jerome Scott to be one of the guides.

SMITH: Right now, he has an extensive knowledge on trees, greater than mine. An extensive knowledge on invasive and exotic species of plants, trees, and animals. He's done… man, I could go on for about 15 more minutes about just some of the accomplishments that he made last year.

ZWERDLING: Smith says, picture Jerome Scott through the eyes of these kids from the inner city.

SMITH: You never see a black guy on a boat teaching environmental sciences. So, by seeing a black guy from D.C. on a boat, teaching you about pollution and environmental, aquatic vegetation, that sort of thing, it makes it more of a reality that you can achieve it yourself.

SCOTT: The kids think that the river's so dirty, you know, that there could be no way fish could be living in it. But we show there is fish living in it. They are some strong fish, you know? And I love the way they… their intensity, their fight, you know, to stay in this river.

ZWERDLING: So you love the fact that they're survivors?

JEROME: They're survivors. They're, they're surviving fish. Exactly.


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