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Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Full Scale Assault on the Environment
By Connie Peterson

 

Connie Peterson

Imagine my sense of irony and outrage when, on the same day the front page of the Fresno Bee decried the toxicity of our Valley, the League of Conservation Voters detailed our local congressional “representatives” votes on policy riders to HR1.  Ostensibly a measure to fund the Federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, this budget bill became “a disgrace of epic proportions for the environment and public health.”

Nunes and Denham’s votes, though despicable, could have been predicted; however I am deeply offended by votes cast by Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa to preserve the profits of polluting industries.  In amendments to HR1, all of which passed the House, Costa and Cardoza voted to:

  • Bar the EPA from setting common sense standards to limit global warning pollution by major emitters like coal and oil refineries;
  • Prevent the EPA from regulating the cement production industry that dumps mercury and other hazardous air pollution into the air we breathe and water we drink;
  • Cut $8.5 million from EPA’s Environmental and Management Allocation to eliminate funding for that agency’s gas registry that tracks how much carbon pollution is spewing from large power plans and refineries;
  • Block the EPA from updating health standards for particulate matter pollution—particles that penetrate deeply into our lungs, aggravate respiratory illnesses like asthma and emphysema. Take note that our “toxic” Valley has the highest rates of childhood asthma in the nation;
  • Create a loophole in the Clean Air Act, prohibiting the Environmental Appeals Board from considering air pollution impacts of any drilling projects off the Alaskan coast;
  • Continue $53 billion in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies operating off shore for free in publically owned resources;
  • Prohibit the EPA from finalizing safeguards to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash which contains hazardous chemicals like arsenic and lead;
  • Prevent  EPA from using its authority under the Clean Air Act to restrict permits that have “unacceptable adverse effects on water, fish or wildlife”–an authority used only 13 times in 39 years;
  • Block the EPA from implementing new water quality standards for Florida’s lakes and halt public education to help protect that State’s waters from excess pollution from sewages and fertilizers;
  • Cut by 90% the already minimal allocation for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is actually funded by oil royalties and helps fund local projects like parks. The LWC has also provided critical funding for cherished places like Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks (Cardoza did not support this action; Costa did);
  • Halt implementation of off road vehicle management plans on our national forests—a problem the Forest Service has named one of the four greatest threats to forests and grasslands;
  • Reject capping agricultural subsidies at $250,000—that go primarily to factory farms;
  • Block implementation of the Equal Access to Justice Act, signed into law by Ronald Regan, which gave American’s the right to recover attorney’s fees if they prevail in Court, curtailing citizen efforts to hold federal agencies accountable when they violate environmental, health and safety laws;
  • Not support an effort to increase funding by $20 million for the Department of Energy’s innovative Advanced Research Projects-Energy and decrease funding for fossil energy research and development in the same amount.

Only 7other Democrats in the House of Representatives (and none from California) cast votes that so blatantly attacked the environment.

In addition to the amendments detailed above, Nunes and Denham also supported successful amendments to HR1 to:

  • Prohibit the United States from contributing funds to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change;
  • Prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from establishing a Climate Service that would combine data and analysis to facilitate better long-term decisions;
  • Eliminate President’s ability to retain advisors (known as czar’s) to coordinate policy across executive branch agencies  and eliminate funding for the State Department’s Special Envoy for Climate Change –the principal negotiators in international agreements to reduce carbon pollution;
  • Block  EPA policies designed to ensure mountaintop removal coal mining does not pollute streams with mining waste;
  • Bar the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement from proposing rules to protect streams from surface coal mining;  and
  • Cut $70 million from the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewal Energy programs which create jobs and increase energy security.

And if this national legislation is not alarming enough,  the LA Times reported  in March that State Republicans sought  sweeping changes to the California Environmental Quality Act as their bargaining chip to allow a budget initiative on the June ballot—even after  CA voters soundly defeated Propositions 16 and 23 in 2010.  Watch the actions of our legislators closely. This battle is far from over.

###

Connie Peterson is member of Volunteers for Change and a community activist.

Where’s the Attention to Education?
By Miriam Hernandez

Education is the key to our future. Yet the many issues that students face at school rarely come to mind. Most people are too caught up in politics, what new gadget is out or what team won a football game. Transitioning from elementary, middle and high school, I have experienced and witnessed the issues that students face at school on a daily basis. Being a student, what affects another student also affects me.

Some students see their counselor only once a year. A few are notified of available opportunities but are not aware of scholarships until their senior year.

The environment in some classes makes students uncomfortable. Students see no point in attending class if support isn’t shown from their teacher and if the student is going to be sent out of class, causing the student to miss out on his/her learning time.

I’ve personally taken note that not all discipline and dress code policies are addressed equally in every school. Some schools worry more about no red allowed on campus, no electronics or making sure ripped jeans are not being worn.

Students also lose focus when year after year they are accustomed to the same material being taught. Don’t we live in a diverse country? Why not learn more from different cultures and see where we all come from?

All these issues contribute to the Fresno Unified School District’s (FUSD) dropout rate, which is close to 40% (according to America’s Promise).

The necessity to decrease the dropout rate is important for me to do something about because it’s what is happening right now. Education is our way to try and better this world and our communities. I want to hear my siblings happy and ready to learn, rushing in the morning to school. Every student deserves to be treated equally.

Why make assumptions of a student? Why even push a student out of school? Is pushing the future away really what is needed? Students are humans. We shouldn’t be left on the side like change in your pocket.

Seeing and knowing how many students drop out after the first semester leaves me devastated. Who knows, maybe those students could have been the next to run our country, teachers, businesspeople, and or perhaps could have made positive changes.

Every student should be graduating and given the same opportunities to succeed in their future career. Forget the new gadget that only helps you for a period of time. This is an issue of students in your community. More of us coming together will inspire others of what can be done. We need to keep our future from falling.

Currently, community organizations such as Californians for Justice (CFJ), students (like myself) and the community are finding ways to prevent students from being pushed out. For the past two years, CFJ has had a local campaign to decrease the dropout rate. In that time, students have talked to various school board members, put together rallies and workshops and identified the following proposal areas:

  • Fair and consistent discipline policies. Students should be given a clearer picture of the policies and their rights.
  • Improvement in teacher expectations and relationships. Students should feel welcomed and comfortable with their teachers, knowing that if they questions, the teachers can be approached.
  • Culturally relevant material.

Learning more about each other is real eye-opener for students and keeps them engaged in what they are being taught.

It’s time to see 100% of students graduate. Why sit and watch one another fail?

*****

Miriam Hernandez is a junior at Roosevelt School of the Arts High School. Her interests are folklorico, ballet and being involved with community organizations such as Californians for Justice. She believes that the more you are involved with your own community, the closer you are to finding solutions to a healthy community. She is also working to become a news reporter and an organizer.

A Tribute to Teachers
By Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch
Ruth Gadebusch

With teachers being asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources and the public focusing more on the failures than the successes of our public school system, we need to take a page from our neighbor to the south. Mexico celebrates May 15 as the Day of the Teacher. No matter all the other necessary parts of the system, it is the classroom teacher who makes the difference.

No one has said it better than Patti Rich, a teacher representative on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in that long ago era when I served.

  • I am a teacher.
  • I love. I give. I receive. I love. I learn.
  • I demonstrate.
  • From my demonstration others learn and so do I.
  • I teach what I need to learn.
  • I am cheerful. I laugh. I cry. I forgive.
  • I discipline. I support. I encourage. I model.
  • I assess. I diagnose. I prescribe. I plan. I implement. I evaluate. I begin again.
  • I witness pain. I ache. I see affliction. I see destruction. I see anger. I have hope.
  • I hear harshness. I hear weeping. I hear hatred. I hear spite. I hear trouble. I hear turmoil. I have hope.
  • I am aware how easily the spirit is broken. I reprove. I hope for goodness.
  • I seek knowledge. I pursue Wisdom. I delight in understanding.
  • I take pleasure in observing:
  • Eyes that gleam when a new concept is grasped
  • Confidence gleaned
  • Pride in learning
  • Achievement
  • Respect
  • Fun
  • Laughter
  • Joy in learning.
  • I am humbled in joyful awe by creativity and brilliance.
  • The characteristics I strive to attain are
  • Truest
  • Honesty
  • Gentleness
  • Joy
  • Defenselessness
  • Generosity
  • Patience
  • Faithfulness
  • Open mindedness.
  • I am a teacher. I account. I write. I Read. I Learn. I receive the Gift of Teaching and I am honored.
  • Our students are the Morning Star.

All of us have had teachers beginning with our parents, followed by the more formal experience in the school system. Some parents and teachers have been more successful than others, just as some of us have used our opportunities better than others. Some of us have even managed to learn from bad experiences. Let us not forget there is that bit called luck.

We are long past the time when teachers were lauded members of the community who could do no wrong. Still, we need to remember that no teacher ever set out to do harm. Nor did they go into the profession expecting to get rich. In today’s society, theirs is a challenge faced by few others. Let us give them the respect their efforts deserve.

When we think their unions are getting out of hand, which they sometimes do, let us take a look at history and realize how and why they came to be. After all is said and done, are they truly any different than the other professional organizations? Aren’t they too fighting for recognition and respect?

As Patti Rich makes clear, teaching is so much more than staying one page ahead of the students while breaking up an occasional fight. Let us join our Mexico neighbors and show gratitude to teachers. With all its faults, the American Public School System is still the one institution designed to develop commonality in a diverse society. Our responsibility is to make it ever better. We need it and teachers need our respect and thanks. For at least on May 15, pause and thank a teacher.

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.


  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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