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Despite growing awareness of the climate and health impacts from fossil fuel production, the petrochemical industry is expanding rapidly. One of the major regions in their crosshairs is the Ohio River Valley. The American Chemistry Council has identified $36 billion in potential petrochemical and plastic manufacturing investments there and corporations have already begun building ethane cracker plants, pipelines, storage facilities, and other dirty infrastructure.

These developments expose people in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to toxic emissions, sending health costs from just three proposed plants into the billions over the plants’ lifespan. And, of equal significance, they exacerbate climate change and make local economies vulnerable to an industry marked by its boom-bust cycles. At a time when fossil fuel assets are losing value, this is not the moment to build costly infrastructure that will prolong their extraction.

A myriad of local organizations and activists are working alongside national organizations to resist this toxic onslaught and enable sustainable economic alternatives. In 2019, they formed the People Over Petro Coalition to educate residents, and support and advocate for frontline communities.

Rachel’s Network is supporting the coalition’s efforts to increase civic engagement around this issue. Our funding will enable the coalition to send thousands of residents in the region outreach materials explaining the health and environmental impacts of existing or proposed facilities in their communities. The materials will also include a directory of critical government contacts and calls to action.

“We decided to fund this work because the negative impacts of using fossil fuels to produce more plastic, which itself is a tremendous scourge, are wide-ranging and long-term,” said Rachel’s Network Member Abigail Rome. “The industry is projecting that by 2050 nearly half of the growth in oil demand will be for petrochemical production. Resistance from communities on the frontlines can be incredibly effective in changing the minds of decision-makers.”

“People Over Petro was formed to not only prevent the environmental injustices that come with petrochemical development but also to build regional power in the fight for the sustainable, just communities that Appalachia has been without for so long,” said Center for Coalfield Justice Campaign Manager Sarah Martik, a member of the People Over Petro Coalition. “This funding is essential to our efforts to engage and organize impacted communities and to educate people throughout the region on the systemic failures that led us to this point.”

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Rachel’s Network, a nonprofit organization named in Rachel Carson’s honor, promotes women as impassioned leaders and agents of change dedicated to the stewardship of the earth. The Network builds productive alliances among members and offers services that empower them to lead.

The People Over Petro Coalition is a regional coalition of organizations and individuals in the Ohio River Valley with a mission to support people in our communities to create a world that puts peoples’ health and well-being over fossil-fueled corporate profits.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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