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Local environmental advocates urge public to 'Save the EPA'

Local environmental advocates say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s attentiveness to the Buffalo Niagara region over the last decade has been critical to its environmental health.

It’s why they rallied in Buffalo’s First Ward Tuesday for citizens to stand up and call on their congressional representatives to “Save the EPA” from proposed federal cuts.

“We need to stop the attacks on the environment and our health, and we need to ‘Save the EPA,’” said Brian Smith, associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Clean air and clean water are not partisan issues.”

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s Jill Jedlicka pointed out that 51 years ago this week President Lyndon Johnson came to Buffalo, where her uncle, Stanley P. Spisiak, decried the putrid condition of the Buffalo River.

'Lake Erie must be saved': Lyndon B. Johnson visits Buffalo in 1966

That helped spark early environmental cleanup efforts that have only gained momentum since.

“I don’t want to go back to 1966,” Jedlicka said. “I don’t think anybody wants to go back to 1966, but unfortunately that’s the trajectory we’re on now.”

Besides facilitating the cleanup of the Buffalo River, other recent local EPA interventions included acting against benzene pollution from Tonawanda Coke, aiding Lewiston citizens over a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed radiological site and adding Eighteen Mile Creek to its Superfund in Niagara County.

“From India to Australia, Portugal to Brazil, people know the story of the Buffalo River,” Jedlicka said. “It’s because of what this community did. None of this that you see here throughout Ohio Street or in the Inner Harbor would be here today if it wasn’t for the partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Joseph Gardella Jr., a University at Buffalo chemistry professor involved in exposing the hazards of Lewiston’s Lake Ontario Ordinance Works – a radiological legacy site from the Manhattan Project – said it was EPA officials who bolstered citizens in pushing the Corps of Engineers to find a permanent storage solution for radiological material interred there.

Gardella said the radium stored there has a half-life of 1,600 years.

“It’s not something you can just leave in the ground and wait it out,” Gardella said.

Toxic legacy’s time bomb

Jackie James Creedon, director of Citizen Science Community Resources, said the EPA helped citizens like her break open and expose Tonawanda Coke’s pollution.

That culminated in the federal criminal prosecution against the company and its officials as well as $24 million in fines against Tonawanda Coke, James Creedon said.

She added that without a strong EPA, “our shield, our defense, is greatly diminished.”

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