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Sandra Steingraber Issues Statement Before Being Led to Jail: "Act of Civil Disobedience Is a Last Resort for Me"

Steingraber and two others faced a judge yesterday after protesting the industrialization by oil and gas companies of the pristine Finger Lakes region.

Photo Credit: Sarah Kelsen


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In an act of civil disobedience which she called a “last resort” after having taken “every legal avenue to raise serious health, economic, and environmental concerns,” along with two others, the distinguished biologist, scholar, author and activist Sandra Steingraber, PhD was arrested and imprisoned just days after her appearance on Bill Moyers. On the Moyers show, she discussed the sense of responsibility, the scientific knowledge and the concerns she feels as a mother of two‑—all of which underlie her activism.

Steingraber, who used a grant she received from the Heinz Foundation to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of fractivist grass roots groups, which was instrumental in urging the New State Department of Environmental Conservation to delay the decision to issue licenses to frack New York State, resides with her family in the Seneca Lake area of New York.

Steingraber and others oppose the industrialization of the pristine Finger Lakes region, a magnet for tourism, known for its beauty, serenity, vineyards, lakes, and farms. Missouri-based Inergy, LLP, has built a compressor station, (a gas storage and transportation project) located in the Town of Reading. The facility is on Seneca Lake, which supplies water to 100,000 people. On March 18th, Steingraber and 11 others who became known as the “Seneca Lake 12” blockaded access to the Inergy compressor station site and were arrested.

Steingraber pled guilty to the charge on April 17 and Reading Town Judge Raymond Berry imposed a fine of $375. When Steingraber and several of her co-defendants declined to pay the fine, the judge sentenced them to spend 15 days in jail. Steingraber was handcuffed and taken off to jail.

In the following statement, Steingraber speaks of the concerns that drove her to these actions:

My name is Sandra Steingraber. I’m a biologist and a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College.  I’m 53 years old and the mother of an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.  I’m married to an art teacher, and we all live in the village of Trumansburg, which is about 15 miles to the northeast, as the crow flies.

On March 18, 2013, together with 11 other local residents, I stood in the driveway of this site, which is owned by the Kansas City-based energy company called Inergy and located on the west bank of Seneca Lake.  In so doing, I broke the law and am charged with trespassing. Before my arrest, I and the others with whom I linked arms, temporarily blocked a truck carrying a drill head from going where it wanted to go.  This is my first experience with civil disobedience. Here is an explanation of my actions.

First, and most importantly, this act of civil disobedience is a last resort for me.  Prior to this, I and other community members have taken every legal avenue to raise the serious health, economic, and environmental concerns associated with the Inergy plant.  However, time and again, we’ve been deterred from participating in the decision-making process. For example, Inergy has declared the geological history of the salt caverns to be proprietary business information, so that much of the basic science on the structural integrity of the salt caverns is hidden from view. How can we offer informed public comments and raise scientific objection when we are denied this fundamental information?

Inergy has asked for fast-track FERC approval and that we fear that authorities are poised to rubber stamp these applications before the public has had a chance to review all the relevant information and the full impacts of these combined projects have been considered.

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