Author: Christopher Cocca

Christopher Cocca is a Pennsylvania-based writer and community organizer. His fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in Brevity, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Geez Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Generate, and elsewhere. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School in 2005 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing (fiction) from The New School in 2011. He helps lead the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley - Berks and is the Associate for Urban Mission at FPC Allentown. Opinions expressed on-line are solely his. Quotation does not equal endorsement, except for when it does.

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The Delta Thermo Energy Deal in Allentown is No More, But We Must Stay Tuned In Case the Other Shoe, When It Drops, Is Dropped into Another Ill-Conceived Incinerator

The City of Allentown is pulling out of the contract with Delta Thermo Energy.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-delta-thermo-termination-contract-20140930-story.html

This news surely spells the death of the experimental trash and sewage sludge incinerator that threatens Allentown.

HOWEVER, the company’s air and waste permits are still out there.  The air permit could be sold to other companies who want to develop that site.  Their waste permit could be used by anyone here or elsewhere in the state, if not challenged.

We also have an ongoing lawsuit to get the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance on the ballot, so that voters can adopt a law protecting the city against incinerator pollution from any company in the future.  It’s also critical, since the case will affect whether local governments anywhere in the state can adopt their own clean air laws.

Allentown can breathe easy for now, but let’s not go to sleep.  This isn’t over yet. See Allentown Residents for Clean Air or www.stoptheburn.org for more.

This victory couldn’t have happened without massive organizing and legal support from me, Traci and others at Energy Justice Network. It cost us close to $20K and three years of work (and some of the legal work will still continue).

If you can help give back, your donations are much needed and appreciated, and will help ensure that this victory is final and that other communities also get the support they need.
http://stoptheburn.org/donate

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance

Allentown Residents for Clean Air

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6/6/2014

CONTACT:
Rich Fegley 610-509-8996

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance 

ALLENTOWN – Members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA) filed a motion in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas to bring a clean air ordinance to the Allentown voters.  Last year, ARCA members collected nearly 3,500 signatures, exceeding the 2,000 signature requirement for Allentown voters to put an initiative on the ballot.  The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative would require any company building a new incinerator in the city to continuously monitor about 20 air pollutants, release the emissions data to a website real-time, and to cap emissions for four of those pollutants.

Only one company currently aims to build an incinerator in Allentown: Delta Thermo Energy A, LLC.  They hope to find adequate investors to start building their proposed facility soon, which would burn 150 tons per day of processed trash and sewage sludge.  Delta Thermo Energy was recently awarded air pollution and waste permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The air permit requires only five pollutants to be monitored on a continuous basis, plus the darkness of the smoke and the global warming pollutant, CO2 — far short of what the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance would require.

Last October, the court refused to compel the county Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the ballot, siding with the county and Delta Thermo Energy’s claims that the ordinance is not legal because it requires approval from the state DEP.  That decision was not technically final, however, and could not be appealed for that reason.  The motion for summary judgment filed with the court seeks a final decision from the court.

ARCA members, including Rich Fegley, argue in a detailed 53-page brief that state law grants local governments the power to adopt their own stricter air pollution laws without needing DEP approval, and that such laws are needed in Allentown because the city is 14th worst in the nation for sooty-air and is the nation’s 11th worst asthma capital.

This motion introduces new arguments from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case decided in late December, in which the state’s highest court struck down major parts of Act 13, a 2012 law that the court said went too far in supporting the oil and gas industry.  The law, designed to support hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, overrode local governments’ rights to adopt any sort of ordinance to restrict gas industry development.  For the first time, the court found that the rights to clean air and pure water in the Pennsylvania constitution can be enforced to protect the rights of the people.  It also found that the Commonwealth (including local governments) has a duty to protect these rights.

“If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can find that our constitutional rights to clean air and water make it illegal for the state to take actions that interfere with those rights, then surely the constitution backs up the clear language in our state law that gives Allentown the authority to adopt its own clean air ordinance. The highest court in the state has clarified that municipalities are obligated to protect the health and welfare of citizens, and that environmental rights are guarantees that have to be protected at every level of government.” says Breena Holland, political science professor at Lehigh University.

The motion also argues that Delta Thermo Energy and Lehigh County misrepresented election law to the county court.  These parties convinced the court last year that Boards of Election are empowered to keep an ordinance off of the ballot if they think it’s not legal.  However, ARCA members’ motion argues that these cases say the opposite.  “Pennsylvania’s law is clear on this,” says Diane Teti, one of the plaintiffs.  “Boards of Elections are empowered to make sure that signatures and notarizations are valid and sufficient, but that’s it.  There is no dispute that we met those requirements, and the Board of Elections is required to put it on the ballot.  Legality of ordinances is for the courts to decide.”

And decide they will.  The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas has given Delta Thermo Energy and the Board of Elections until July 1st to respond, after which the court will make a final decision.

“This fight is not over,” says Fegley.  “No incinerator will be built in Allentown, and if we have to appeal this all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to bring our right to clean air to the Allentown voters, we will.”

###


Sources:

Motion for Summary Judgment Brief:
http://stoptheburn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-06-01-ARCA-final-brief.pdf

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling on Act 13:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-127A-D-2012oajc.pdf

Asthma ranking: “Asthma Capitals 2013,” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.asthmacapitals.com ;http://www.aafa.org/pdfs/2013_AC_FinalPublicList1.pdf

Strength (and proof) in Numbers: Housing First Works, is Cheaper than Alternatives to Ending Homelessness

Being Queer is a Choice

Christopher Cocca:

A lot of important considerations here. I choose to be queer. I think God does, too. Sure, I’m straight. That’s not what I mean.

Originally posted on A Node in the Network:

A lot’s been made of whether or not being gay is a choice. Whatever the precise ratio of heritable to environmental factors leading to our physically attraction to some people and not others, it’s safe to say that few spend their pre-pubescent years consciously cultivating proclivities and predilections.  Because we are social beings bound up in the contingency of our relationships to one another, biological creatures regulated by neurochemicals, participants in particular political and economic systems constrained by our access to power and capital, and a million other these-kinds-of-beings in those-kinds-of-structures, any facile treatment of choice should be met with suspicion, especially when it comes to a freighted issue like human sexuality.

I think a sufficient number of philosophers, academics, pop psychologists, neurobiologists, and internet pontificators have undertaken analyses of the nature of free will and choice, so that’s not really where I’m headed here.  For my purposes, same-sex attraction…

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Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.

 

“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/16/pf/tent-city/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.

 

Thinking About Chicago

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.