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Season 3, Episode 11
Maya K. van Rossum has served as the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network since 1994. A veteran environmental activist and attorney, her first book The Green Amendment: Securing our Right to a Healthy Environment was published in November 2017. In 2014 Maya started the national Green Amendment movement which has now been transformed into a new national nonprofit called Green Amendments For The Generations. The goal of Green Amendments For the Generations is to inspire, support and secure Green Amendments (environmental rights amendments) in every state constitution across the nation and ultimately at the federal level.
Kate Stauffer is a resident in a community impacted by a contaminated Bishop Tube site in Pennsylvania. She is a teacher with 35 years of experience teaching age groups from pre-school to college level and is an advocate for the Green Amendments for the Generations. Kate’s daughter, Liz, has survived three brain tumors and so Kate understands well the connection between the environment and human health. She has been working to help her community use the Pennsylvania Green Amendment in addressing critical local environmental issues.
Pennsylvania’s Bill of Rights has included an Environmental Rights Amendment since 1971, but it went long-ignored and unknown until the landmark Robinson Township, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et. al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania case in which Maya van Rossum was a lead petitioner. In 2013, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court affirmed Pennsylvanians’ right to clean air, pure water, and a healthy environment.
This case highlights what Maya has to inform people across the country: we don’t have a right to clean air and water, a stable climate, and a healthy environment unless it is in our state or federal Bill of Rights.
Kate Stauffer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, found out that her neighborhood had a contaminated site on it: Bishop Tube, a former precious metals processing site. With the support of Maya and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Kate and her community are fighting for a “clean and green” Bishop Tube.
In this conversation, Kate and Maya discuss the importance of Green Amendments and how the Delaware Riverkeeper Network supports the work of a dedicated community that has risen up to fight for their right to a healthy environment.
Many Americans assume that we have the right to clean air and water and are shocked to find out that it’s not protected by the federal constitution nor by most state constitutions. out that your state’s constitution does protect your right to a healthy environment, and yet the amendment is ignored, overlooked, and forgotten. Maya asks Kate about that anger and frustration and Kate talks about turning it into productivity. Maya’s work helps communities like Kate’s fight for a right they didn’t know they had and helps other communities fight for a right they thought they had.
Maya and Kate end their conversation talking about the importance of personal stories when it comes to inspiring a movement. Specifically, they discuss Kate and her daughter Liz’s story and experience with brain tumors and the impact a personal story makes on others.
The right to a healthy environment
- 00:00 – Cold open: Maya talks about how people believe that they have a right to clean air, clean water, a stable climate, and a healthy environment; but we don’t.
- 00:38 – Sandy introduces Maya van Rossum and Kate Stauffer.
- 02:16 – Maya and Kate met when Kate found out that her neighborhood was home to a toxic property, finds out they live next to toxic property. Maya introduces herself as the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and founder of the Green Amendments for the Generations movement.
- 03:16 – Power and importance of constitutional and environmental rights: we don’t have a right unless it’s included in our Bill of Rights.
- 04:18 – Kate didn’t know her state had a Green Amendment, guaranteeing her right to clear air, water, and environment until Maya:
“Our community here, we have no way of putting this in action … and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network was there to support us”
- 05:20 – Kate discusses the importance of the Green Amendment for her own community and in general.
- 06:11 – The importance of community involvement and showing up to learn and support—it starts with deep grassroots efforts.
- 08:44 – Maya talks about Kate’s community and their persistent passion, so much so that the most difficult thing is having everyone focus on just a single issue, rather than everything.
- 10:29 – “We’re not gonna be here in 40 years, but in 40 years [our] grandchildren are going to be here.”
“I just want to hold them accountable”
- 11:01 – There is mourning in the mission: deaths and illnesses connected to the Bishop Tube site and the effect on the wildlife.
- 11:51 – A community effort: There are also successes of working with the township and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network helps Kate and her community feel like they’re making a difference and gives them the motivation to keep going.
- 13:27 – The Green Amendment was on the books for decades but went ignored. Maya asks: “How does it make you feel to know that you had that right but that the courts and the legislators and the regulators were allowed to ignore it?”
- 14:47 – Kate says there is anger: “If they took care of that, then maybe we wouldn’t have to deal with brain tumors. If they took care of that, my neighbors wouldn’t be dying.”
- 15:28 – Turning that anger into something productive, like suing the DEP: “I just want to hold them accountable. You were supposed to do something, you didn’t do it.”
- 16:26 – No one knew that the Green Amendment was one of Pennsylvanian’s rights to have. If no one knows about it, it can’t be upheld and protected.
- 17:22 – People believe that they have a right to clean air, clean water, stable climate, and a healthy environment, but we don’t have that right without a Green Amendment. People are surprised, shocked, and angry. It’s confusing and surprising.
“This is what we have, so what are you going to do with it?”
- 20:17 – Maya uses stories like the Bishop Tube story and Kate and Liz’s story to talk about the Green Amendment movement and inspire her listeners. She asks Kate how she and Liz feel about Maya using their story.
- 21:41 – “It has to have some meaning, there has to be a reason for it”: Kate talks about what they can do with their experience to help and inspire others.
- 23:07 – What if after all this work you’ve done, you don’t succeed and you’re disappointed? Kate says “I’ll be more devastated if I didn’t do anything.”
- 24:03 – Personal stories really do help for the movement, because people hear it, it strikes them in their hearts because they know it’s real.
- 25:06 – Whatever happens with the Bishop Tube, Kate’s community has found a new passion for how to fight for the environment. Whatever happens, it’s having an impact across the country. These stories are a really important part for the delivery of this message.
- 26:25 – Wrap up, it’s been an honor
- 26:53 – Outro: get CPR training certification, register to vote, and check out Season 1 and 2 episodes on your next long drive.
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