Borderlands Digest

Reading, Writing and Photography about

Justice, the Environment, Chaos,

and Cooperation in North America.

February 12, 2022

Craig Rock, editor and photographer,

All images and writings copyrighted by the editor unless otherwise noted.

Use above email for permission to use material for non-commercial use.

What is Borderlands Digest?

Welcome to the online journal Borderlands Digest. This site is designed for teachers, journalists, community organizers, social justice groups and others who are focused on improving the quality of life in their communities. Stories, poems, and photographs center on the environment and people in the culturally diverse communities of North America. With a focus on the environment, criminal justice, and immigration, this digest/journal centers on three failures in modern day U.S.A.:

  • The failure of lawmakers to regulate businesses that pollute our air and water.

  • The failure of lawmakers to control gun violence including killings by criminals, the mentally ill, and the police.

  • the failure of our country to grant citizenship to the 800,000 young people who are temporarily protected from deportation by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Use the email that follows to subscribe to this free publication. Articles, poetry and photos are welcome. For consideration or for a free subscription to this newsletter, send me an email at

An Earth Justice Press Release February 2, 2022

Disaster at Fertilizer Plant

Endangers Many

The Biden administration and EPA must act now to prevent chemical disasters, a joint statement from Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for Progressive Reform, Coming Clean, Earthjustice, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A fire that erupted Monday night at a fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, NC continues to burn endangering thousands of people in the area who have had to evacuate or shelter-in-place. The threat of a deadly explosion remains as the fire continues to burn out of control, threatening the health and safety of the nearby communities. This tragic chemical disaster poses unacceptable risk to those who live, work, or go to school near facilities like this, yet they regularly happen all over the United States, despite being entirely preventable. Communities at the fenceline of the chemical industry in other communities live daily with similar harm and threat due to major gaps in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) federal rules on hazardous chemical storage, use, and industrial facility safety. It’s time for the EPA to prevent these harmful chemical disasters once and for all.

EPA must act now to strengthen the federal regulations and issue a strong new chemical disaster prevention rule so that no community will ever have to experience a tragedy like what is happening in Winston-Salem today.

As experts in worker health and safety, chemical disaster prevention, and advocates for environmental justice, we demand that EPA take action now to protect the public from this and other such environmental atrocities. No one, whether in Winston-Salem, or anywhere else, should be forced to live under the constant threat of disasters and explosions. That is a reality no one should have to face. The groups joining this statement hope that this incident does not become even graver and seek to offer support and concern for the community members who are sheltering in place today, and encourage the press to elevate their stories, photos, and tweets.


Over one hundred chemical disasters occur annually in the U.S., showing the serious problems with EPA’s existing Clean Air Act Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule, the federal regulations intended to prevent chemical disasters. Accidental explosions of ammonium nitrate fertilizers are among the most deadly industrial disasters in U.S. history. Nearly 600 residents were killed by a massive fertilizer explosion in Texas City, Texas, in 1947. In 2013, 15 first responders and workers were killed by the ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas. Less than two years ago, more than 200 people were killed and thousands more injured in Beirut, Lebanon by detonation of ammonium nitrate fertilizers.

Ammonium nitrate is not subject to the federal RMP rules, even though fenceline communities have called for EPA to regulate this chemical - and facilities that use this chemical like fertilizer plants — under this program for years.

At President Biden’s direction, the EPA is currently undertaking a review of the RMP rules and, last summer, held listening sessions and took public comments. Fenceline communities and environmental groups, scientists and health experts, workers, national security experts, the Blue Green Alliance, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and many members of the public called for the EPA to strengthen RMP regulations and to include ammonium nitrate facilities under an expanded coverage of the chemical disaster prevention program. A core objective of the comments EPA received is the need for EPA to focus on prevention of chemical disasters in the first place.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has also called for stronger regulation of ammonium nitrate and a preliminary report it issued after the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion recognized that the fertilizer industry has produced alternatives that practically eliminate the risk of accidental explosion posed by ammonium nitrate. The final report of the CSB highlights the devastation that the explosion caused to the surrounding community. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer products have also been used as homemade weapons against Americans, including by the domestic terrorists and perpetrators of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

In January 2022, over 70+ state and local elected officials sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, calling for stronger RMP and chemical disaster prevention rules.

Chemical disasters are all too common in the U.S. Just days before this incident, a chemical disaster occurred in Westlake, Louisiana. For information on this and other recent incidents, see the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters website (which includes incidents at both RMP covered and non-covered facilities).

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for Progressive Reform, Coming Clean, Earthjustice, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club are all members of the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, a group of experts and advocates working to advance the use of safer chemicals and processes that protect our communities from catastrophic chemical disasters.

For more information about the work of Earth Justice, click here to visit their website

For related documents about recent chemical disasters click here


A ProPublica Report, February 2, 2022

Reno Seeks Motels for

Affordable Housing

by Anjeanette Damon

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive our stories in your inbox every week.

For more than five years, the mayor of Reno, Nevada, has supported the demolition of dozens of dilapidated motels that provided shelter for thousands of residents squeezed by the city’s housing crisis, rather than rehabilitate the buildings to provide affordable housing. Now she’s changing course.

Mayor Hillary Schieve is proposing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire and rehabilitate motels in downtown through the Reno Housing Authority. In fact, the agency has already moved quietly to buy two shuttered buildings. Last week, the agency submitted an offer to buy the Bonanza Inn, a closed 58-unit motel with a history of code violations that is now part of an estate sale. It also submitted a letter of intent to make an offer on a much larger property — the 19-story former Sundowner casino-hotel.

Details of the offers — the prices, contingencies and financing — are not public. The RHA’s board of commissioners discussed the offers last month in a series of closed-door meetings allowed under an exemption in the state’s open meeting law. An RHA spokesperson said the agency has enough funds to purchase the Bonanza Inn but would need to secure financing for the Sundowner purchase. An early estimate by the RHA indicated it would cost $22 million to buy both properties and up to $50 million to rehab the buildings.

The purchases would be the beginning of a broader effort to increase affordable housing in the region, Schieve said. She supports using part of the city’s share of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act and would like to see the state, the county and the neighboring city of Sparks chip in money, as they do for other regional projects such as Reno’s homeless shelter. Schieve also wants to explore whether the housing authority can use its existing housing stock as collateral for bonds to help finance more affordable housing. She’d like to borrow at least $200 million. She didn’t provide details on her plans for the additional funding.

“We have a real opportunity when it comes to workforce and affordable housing,” Schieve said.

The city’s about-face follows a ProPublica investigation that found Reno did little to deter the demolition of similar motels that housed some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. Nor did the city provide any incentives for landowners to replace that housing. One developer, casino-owner Jeff Jacobs, has been responsible for most of the motel demolitions, razing nearly 600 housing units since 2017. Schieve and other council members posed for photos during some of those demolitions, celebrating the elimination of what they said were blighted properties to make way for a proposed entertainment district.

After widespread criticism of the demolitions, Jacobs recently announced he would be willing to donate up to $15 million in land for an affordable housing and public parking project. The donation would be contingent on the housing authority financing the project and the city acquiring additional land, he said.

Jacobs has been assembling more than 100 parcels in downtown Reno for what he describes as a $1.8 billion entertainment district that would include hotels, restaurants and an amphitheater. He said the motels he demolished were slums that couldn’t be remodeled and said he provided relocation assistance to most of the people who lived in them.

The property sought by the Reno Housing Authority sits within Jacobs’ proposed district, directly across from his signature casino, the Sands Regency. In fact, the agency’s letter of intent on the Sundowner includes a vacant parcel on a block primarily owned by Jacobs.

The Sundowner has been vacant since 2003. The Bonanza Inn, however, was only recently listed for sale following the death of its owner. Her son told the Reno Gazette Journal that the estate was forced to sell the motel, which had been vacant for more than a year, following aggressive code enforcement efforts by the city. His family couldn’t afford to make the required repairs, he told the newspaper. The property had been cited multiple times for code violations since 2012, according to public records.

In an interview with ProPublica, Schieve reiterated that she doesn’t think “slumlords should be landlords,” but also said she doesn’t favor wholesale demolition of the hotels.

“If you can rehab something, then that’s great, obviously, and if it makes sense to,” Schieve said. “I honestly believe in saving everything you can.”

She added, “I’m not like, ‘Let’s demolish everything.’ That’s not who I am.” Rather, she said, she doesn’t believe people should be forced to live in terrible conditions.

This is the city’s first attempt, however, at preserving such buildings. In addition to supporting Jacobs’ razing of mostly squalid motels, the city used its blight fund in 2016 to finance the demolition of two vacant motels despite pleas from the community to preserve them as housing.

Schieve said the city hasn’t had the financial resources to buy and rehab motels for housing. Federal stimulus money has now made it possible to pursue such acquisitions, she said.

“It’s tough to build it. It’s expensive,” she said. “With the ARPA funds, it really gives us a foot in the door.”

To support the work of ProPublica, click here

From the Editor

This month's edition will be short as I begin a second 6-month tour of the American West with stops in California's Gold Country, Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and British Columbia in Canada.

I know my last edition mentioned the value of people sticking around their communities to preserve valuable local traditions and instigate change when necessary in towns and cities around the country. But at 75 years old, my audience is limited and life is short, so off I go hopefully picking up new ideas and experiences along the way.

Air Quality Articles Featured

Articles on air quality are included on this one-page edition. The Earth Justice press release to the left covers a recent fire at a fertilizer plant in North Carolina. The article includes background information on chemical explosions and the dangers to nearby residents and first responders.

A second article about air quality is on the dangers of abandoned mines on public lands especially for Indigenous people who live near mining operations, past and present. Mining companies were given a blank check to tear up a good portion of public land under an 1872 law that has never been changed, in large part, because of influence of the mining lobby on Congress. In my January issue, two Democratic Senators (Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.) are noted, and how they were instrumental in killing a key reform bill sent to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water by its counterpart in the House. The bill would have established federal royalties on mining profits at a rate between 4 and 8 percent. These funds could have offset some of our tax money used to fund Super Fund sites and other mining clean-up operations. It's a severe problem in the West when you consider that federal lands, for example, cover 96% of Alaska, 88% of Nevada, 75% of Utah, and 70% of Idaho.

The dollar costs for these clean-up operations is now in the billions with little or no contributions from the mining companies many of which are bankrupt. The HCN article goes on, "There are at least 140,000 abandoned hardrock mine features — such as the tunnels or toxic waste piles associated with mining — on federal lands. And that’s only what’s cataloged; federal officials estimate there may be more than 390,000 additional abandoned mine features on public lands that have yet to be identified." The above photo is part of a mining display at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, currently closed. Links are provided below for both articles from High Country News (HCN).

Bad air inside these deserted mines has a personal meaning to me. When I was teacher in Virginia City, Nevada in 1996, our music teacher, John Montgomery and Jonathan Reece, a long time friend, set out to explore a deserted mining tunnel nearby. A few weeks before I was having a beer with John and he was describing the excitement of exploring abandoned mines. It's my understanding that once they were inside the tunnel, their movement caused poisonous air to mix with the cleaner air that allowed initial entry into the mine. Both men died each leaving behind wives and children. (Virginia City has 400 miles of old tunnels underneath the town.)

Of course, there are many other reasons that government entities have to regulate air quality. For example, many homes that are available for rentals and purchase to low income residents are located near heavy freeway traffic. Many studies have addressed the effects of air pollution and noise on local populations. This and other air quality challenges will be addressed in the future issues.

Other Articles, Links, YouTubes...

Also included in this February issue, is a YouTube feature on food production (below). Also featured is an article on Reno's new program on using deserted motels for affordable housing sites. Links include another article on the effects of wildfire smoke comparing the number of weeks of smoke on U.S. communities nationwide.

January's issue of this digest is available at the top of the page. Thanks for your interest in this publication. Let me know if you have questions, ideas, or wish to unsubscribe. Please share with friends.


High Country News Link January 28, 2022

The dizzying scope of abandoned mine hazards on public lands

As many as 500,000 abandoned mine features litter federal land, many posing environmental or physical safety hazards that especially threaten Native communities. When two Democratic senators killed reforms to the General Mining Law of 1872 this fall, one of the casualties was a fee that would have helped pay for reclaiming abandoned hardrock mines. The proposed charge of 7 cents per ton of material would have raised about $200 million over the next decade — a paltry amount, considering that the cost of simply taking an inventory of the abandoned mines on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands is estimated at more than $650 million, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Click here to read the full article

Click here to read last month's article


Meet the People Getting Paid

to Kill Our Planet

From the New York Times - an Opinion Piece

Watch the Above Video on

Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

Video by Kirk Semple, Adam Westbrook and Jonah M. Kessel

Mr. Semple is a reporter and producer with Opinion Video, where Mr. Westbrook is a producer and editor, and Mr. Kessel is the deputy director. “We’re Cooked” is an Opinion Video series about our broken food system and the three chances you get to help fix it — and save the planet — every day. The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever. It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet. The system — a vast web of industries and processes that stretches from seed to pasture to packaging to supermarket to trash dump — produces at least a third of all human-caused greenhouse gases

Another View From the Fence Post, February 8, 2022

Bonnie denounces Video on

People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

“Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet,” Bonnie said, “I thought it was a horrible video. I think farmers, ranchers, forest owners are all great stewards of the land. I think they all depend on the productivity of the land, which comes from stewardship. Agriculture has the opportunity to be a critically important partner – in fact, it is already – stepping out in climate, water quality, wildlife and other ways. I was very disappointed with the video.”

Robert Bonnie, Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation

Click here to read more

Photo by Craig Rock

Photo by Craig Rock

Effects of Wildfire Smoke

NPR California, September 28, Sacramento, CA

Dangerous Air: We Mapped

The Rise in Wildfire Smoke Across America

Here's How Did it

By Alison Saldanha

NPR’s California Newsroom partnered with Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab to map the increasing prevalence of wildfire smoke across the United States. The months long analysis, based on more than 10 years of data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reveals a startling increase in the number of days residents are breathing smoke at the ZIP code level — across California and the Pacific Northwest to Denver and Salt Lake City in the Rocky Mountains and rural Kentucky and West Virginia in Appalachia.

Click here to read the rest of the article

and enter your zip code for a local report