Last Friday Governor Brian Kemp took the unprecedented step of declaring a statewide public health emergency as the number of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases began to increase on national and state levels. The Georgia General Assembly suspended its calendar last Thursday and returned for on Monday for a special session called by the Governor to approve his actions. Yesterday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed 197 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths. The number of reported cases are updated daily at noon.
Whether the changes we are adopting come from business, civic, or elected leaders, the chorus in this choir is to avoid being closer than six feet from other people. I prefer the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need our social connections now more than ever, just not the close physical ones.
Last weekend I was supposed to be with about 12 other Life Is A Verb Campers for a house party filled with making art, cooking Pi Day themed meals, walking, yoga, and sharing stories. Instead of being together physically, we gathered at 11:00 in the morning via Zoom for coffee and everyone’s choice of pie. I made a roasted mushroom and asparagus quiche. It wasn’t the same as being in a room together, but it was good to see much-loved faces and talk.
Having done that on Saturday, the next morning I did a quick FaceBook search of five large churches in rural Washington County to see how they were adapting to the six foot wingspan way of living now. All five opened their doors to congregation members. One of the five churches was St James Christian Fellowship. This congregation is led by Georgia State House Representative Mack Jackson. He did not reply to my email with questions about opening the church last week.
Last Thursday Jackson worked with other state representatives to suspend their work and return home out of an abundance of caution due to Covid-19. On Friday some members stood closer than six feet to Kemp while he announce the public health emergency. Despite the cautions taken by the state, Jackson and other faith leaders invited people to gather together, perhaps more than once, last Sunday.
Everyone in those churches knows that the local hospital, like those in other rural counties, is not equipped to handle a large number of Covid-19 patients. The capacity just isn’t there, no matter how caring and well=trained the health providers are. With all of the free and easy-to-use technology available for streaming a service, why any church leaders thought that unlocking the doors last Sunday was a good idea, is enough to test one’s faith.
For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.
Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.
I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.
I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.
That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”
From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.
David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.
In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.
Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.
So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves. We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.
I hope Rep Sharon Cooper didn’t hurt herself while attempting that 180 on her statement last week about rural hospitals when she said, “There are some of those rural hospitals that need to close.”
Yesterday Cooper attempted to dial back her comments by telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution that closing rural hospitals “would have serious consequences on the affected community, hurting it economically and limiting access to acute care for Georgians.”
Cooper went on to say, as reported by Jim Galloway today,“If we don’t act to make real, substantive changes, we very well could be faced with the hard reality of hospital closures in rural parts of this state, no matter how many short gap measures we take, leaving many communities without the economic engine and access to care people depend on.”
Nurse Cooper and many of the urban based legislators under the Gold Dome suffer from a chronic disease that rural residents can identify in just seconds. I don’t know what the Latin derivation is, but it translates to, “I’m from Atlanta and I know what is best for ‘you people’ who don’t use GA 400 every day.”
Cooper and others in her camp have refused Medicaid Expansion dollars, and in doing so have made it harder for rural hospitals to cover their costs, let alone recruit providers or make even modest capital improvements to aging facilities. No one is advocating for perpetual “short gap” measures as solutions for rural hospitals.
The problems of improving the health status of rural communities are complex. What won’t begin to solve them is a lot of pontificating by metro legislators who think their zip code makes them experts on all things rural.
The EPA held two public listening sessions in Atlanta yesterday concerning carbon pollution (greenhouse gas) and regulations which will be announced for existing coal power plants next year. At the last minute I wasn’t able to go to Atlanta to share mine in person. My three minutes of comments are below, which I will submit to the EPA by email.
I want to thank you for holding a public listening session in Atlanta, just miles from the country’s largest carbon emitting power plant, Plant Scherer. I live in rural Washington County, in Middle Georgia, about 2.5 hours southeast of Atlanta. My family and community are downwind about 60 miles from Scherer, and 30 miles from another coal plant, Plant Branch. After almost six years since it was announced, my community remains opposed to Plant Washington, an 850 MW coal plant that would be about eight miles from my front door in the eastern part of my county.
As a rural resident who relies on a well as our only source of water, we already know and live with the impact of uncontrolled carbon pollution in our country. Years of drought affect our ability to do basic things like run two loads of laundry in one day, even with a high-efficiency washing machine. Last summer, in 2012, my husband, who loves planting and taking care of his small garden, had to let his garden go. We had no captured rainwater to use and had to decide between having household water and fresh vegetables picked just minutes before dinner.
This past summer we had the other extreme. Our gardens drowned and our creeks and rivers overflowed.
At the end of the summer a year ago, I sadly realized I had not had nearly enough fresh locally grown tomatoes. There just weren’t any to be had. This past summer drug on with the rain gauge overflowing and the tomatoes suffering from root rot or bursting on the vines from too much water.
There is a very real connection between Plant Scherer, Plant Branch, the proposed Plant Washington, and carbon pollution. Kids missed out on spitting watermelon seeds in the backyard. And it is a crime for parents to not be able to say, “Eat those tomatoes and quit picking at your green beans. I grew them and you have to eat them.”
The damage done by unregulated carbon pollution in our country is here and we can see it at our dinner tables every night.
I urge the EPA to adopt strict carbon emission limits for existing power plants, and to require even stricter limits for Plant Washington, Plant Holcomb, and Plant Wolverine.