janisse_ray_headshotJanisse Ray says, “Environmental destruction is intrinsically and logically connected to all forms of violence.”

The renowned writer, activist, farmer and Baxley native brought that message to the state this week for the 25th anniversary of the Georgia chapter of WAND – Women’s Action for New Directions – a group of activists united under the slogan: “Women. Power. Peace.”

“We’re willing in the name of supremacy and success to create a trail of victims behind us,” she explained, adding that the destruction falls disproportionately on communities of color.

“This is most evident in environmental justice issues … that’s why nuclear [Plant Hatch] is here. Forty percent of people never went to high school,” she says, referring to her home in Appling County.

The plant attracted some hotels and restaurants, she concedes.

“But for me, I look at surrounding towns who don’t have Plant Hatch and the quality of life appears equal to me,” she said. “We have no idea of the true ramifications of what the plant’s doing.”

At the least, she wants a serious study of cancer rates in the area to replace the anecdotal stories of plant workers dying young of cancer. And safety kits like the ones distributed around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant near her one-time home in the Green Mountain State – the kits included masks, gloves and pills to prevent the body from absorbing radiation in case of a meltdown.

Ray is not a WAND member, but she’s a natural fit for an organization that began life as women joined in protest of nuclear weapons and has since grown into a wider environmental protection action group.

ecologyofacrackerchildhoodjpgRay’s first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, won the National Book Award and was named a “book every Georgian should read” by the Georgia Center for the Book in 2002. The book is a tribute to and a passionate demand to protect the threatened longleaf pine ecosystem, where she was raised – in a poor home in a junkyard – in the 1960s and ’70s.

Some 300 friends of WAND – a crowd thick with veteran anti-nuclear protesters, vigorous pacifists and environmental activists – gathered at Agnes Scott College for Ray’s address this week.

While Ray drew a standing ovations, the mention of Plant Vogtle brought hisses and boos. Two new reactors are planned for the nuclear power plant near Augusta, pending approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

At the event, Atlanta attorney Larry Sanders accepted WAND’s first Ed Arnold Environmental Justice Award for heading up legal opposition to the Vogtle expansion.

“We’re arguing that there are two environmental issues,” he says. One is the impact on aquatic species, especially rare and threatened mussels, when the reactors take more water out of the Savannah River. The other potential disturbance is dredging the river. Georgia Power wants the Army Corps of Engineers to make the river navigable for barges carrying parts of the new plant to the construction site. In October last year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed that the dredge could cause significant damage that Georgia Power didn’t take into account in earlier studies.

Sanders expects the NRC to hand down an environmental ruling in June; passing that, final approval or rejection for the new reactors could come in the fall.

The environmental lawyer says it’s an illusion that nuclear power is cleaner than coal anyway.

“At best, it is a marginal reduction of the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions,” he says, referring to the gas responsible for global warming. “They’re not talking about closing coal plants … the dollars you put in nuclear are dollars you can’t put in renewables.”

Georgia WAND executive director Bobbie Paul’s vision for the next 25 years of her organization requires renewables.

In another quarter century, she’d like to be able to have “successfully convinced the southeast that a carbon and nuclear free energy system is doable, possible.”

“It’s already happening,” she adds.

But in the next few years, the prospect of a storage or reprocessing facility for nuclear waste at the Savannah River, she believes, is the biggest environmental fight looming over the state.

And on the national level, there’s still WAND’s mission to cut weapons spending.

She compares it to a household that spends a lot of its budget on kitchen gadgets because the people like to cook.

“If you put all of your money on missiles, weapons, you’re going to be focused on war.”

As for the state of Georgia, Ray says if she could be like a “kid in a candy store” allowed all the state laws she wanted, first she’d repeal this year’s law that allows Georgia Power to pre-collect money to finance the construction of the Vogtle expansion.

Next, “I think we’re going to have to address deforestation.” State numbers on forest cover look better than they actually are because pine plantations are counted as forest.

“Replacing forests with industrial landscapes is not serving us well now; it’s going to serve us less well in the future,” she said.

Editor’s note: This article was distributed by the Georgia Online News Service.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.