Environmental Justice Award 2013

Patty Martin

Quincy, Washington, is a largely Hispanic farming community located near the Concert Amphitheater on the Columbia River Gorge.  Cheap power from Columbia River dams, cheap land, and cheap water — plus tax loopholes created by the Legislature — have have caused a stampede by Microsoft, Dell, Yahoo, and other companies to locate massive data centers in this vulnerable, rural community of color.

Of major concern for public health are diesel particulates from the many back-up diesel engines. There is also growing concerns about the data centers' hit on the Columbia River hydropower system, and demands on groundwaters for cooling the facilities.

Patty Martin has led the effort to challenge Washington State's Department of Ecology, Microsoft, and others in her effort to protect her community from harmful effects of the data centers and diesel particulates.

To honor her work in protecting public health for a vulnerable eastern Washington community, the Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group is giving Patty Martin our first Environmental Justice Award.

Links -

  1.   Patty Martin interview, Protecting public health

  2.   New York Times, The Cloud Factories

  3.   Sierra Club, Quincy Data Centers

Awards Ceremony

(Award presented by Rusty Nelson, a life-long advocate for justice)

You may wonder how someone gets a plum assignment like presenting the Upper Columbia Group’s first Environmental Justice award. I thought about that, too, but I can probably talk longer and more loudly about justice than anybody else around here. That must be why I’m here, and I’d better get started in case some of you need to leave by midnight.


Actually, I do want to say something about Environmental Justice, and I want to congratulate you for recognizing Patty Martin as a hero, a role model, a catalyst, and an agent for Environmental Justice. Americans no longer have the luxury of thinking of justice, as some of us were taught, in terms of our law enforcement and court systems. Limiting our vision of justice has cost us opportunities, freedoms, and natural resources. And taking justice into our hands has become rationalization for further injustices and actual crimes against our neighbors who have always been the most vulnerable against us. I hope you will consider all justice to be related and connected to the things we care most about. Social justice is required for progress in human relationships and community. Economic justice is what has moved us away from oligarchy and serfdom. And environmental justice is our only hope for saving a planet to preserve a quality of life for our descendants.

You would think that a woman who stands up for families and individuals whose health and wholesome way of life are threatened by a conspiracy of the state and powerful corporations would have the gratitude and support of a grateful community. You would think that because you’re a bunch of granola-eating tree-huggers, wearing rose-colored glasses. Well, some of us do eat granola and hug trees, but we have the Sierra Club and people like Patty to keep us in touch with reality. Many of you know the story. Patty, as mayor of Quincy, exposed and stood up to corporations that were padding bottom lines and putting her community at risk by putting hazardous wastes into commercially prepared fertilizer. The state jumped in on the side of the polluters, changing laws we had to protect our food and our children. So, Patty was accused of being anti-business, and even an environmentalist and defeated in her bid for re-election.


[Looking around tonight, though, I see at least two former Spokane mayors who will agree that getting re-elected is pretty tough without those kinds of labels.]


Some of you longtime advocates of Environmental Justice aren’t particularly amazed that Patty didn’t leave town, didn’t take a job with a big corporation, and didn’t dig herself a hidey hole in the fertile soil. She founded an organization called Safe Food and Fertilizer, and she runs it, today, as a project of the Earth Island Institute, because it’s something we need - a conscience for the state and a gadfly for big business. You are also not surprised that she found still more ways to get into trouble with the fine upstanding business people who kept finding state laws that interfered with building up the economy by trashing the environment.


The next big threat to environmental justice in Quincy was well-dressed in sheep’s clothing. Some of the most innovative and successful companies in the world brought tons of money and light, fluffy clouds holding the cyber-knowledge of the virtual universe. In the time it took to notice some farms and orchards were gone, Microsoft, Yahoo, Dell, Sabey, and Intuit had built gigantic buildings to house some of the largest data centers in the world. It was a miraculous infusion of money and jobs because Quincy is a great place to harness good, clean, cheap hydropower. But, what’s with all the diesel generators? It turns out these high-tech, clean companies use mind-boggling amounts of diesel fuel to maintain huge, old-fashioned, air-polluting generators to maintain primitive back-up systems, even while they’re gobbling enough electricity to power half a million family residences and raising power costs and degrading small-town life for everyone in Quincy.


Beyond her work on food and fertilizer, Patty exposed the dirty part of the cloud and created herself another thankless job. ‘Microsoft, Yes. Toxic Air Pollution, No’ was born. It is a big challenge in a state that tends to deify Microsoft, and in a town that expects to be spared much of the austerity being tossed around in the rest of the country. State officials are unsympathetic because they live in air that’s already spoiled or they envy Patty for living only 600 yards from a Microsoft facility. The high-tech companies are accustomed to getting their way and feel entitled to hoard electricity and ignore pleas for remedial equipment one company, Vantage, has already installed, although that equipment reduces the air pollution by 90 percent.


Meanwhile, we who love the outdoors and value a robust environment are hearing the call and learning that it’s going to be up to us to get some back up generated for Patty Martin and her allies if we are to save our state from the greed manifest in Environmental Injustice, everywhere.


It’s my privilege to present this award to Patty Martin of Quincy, Washington.