Wendy Lynne Lee: Activist, Professor and Now a Fiction Story Teller
Wendy Lynne Lee is as entertaining as it gets. I recently had the opportunity to listen to her read a paper full of assertions about the natural gas industry. Called “The Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club: The Pseudo-Patriotic and Pervasively Patriarchal Culture of Hydraulic Fracturing (Why Breast Cancer Is the Canary in the Fracking Coal Mine” the paper is about what you’d expect from a piece so titled.
Susquehanna University recently allowed Professor Wendy Lynne Lee of Bloomsburg University to give a presentation titled “Where Environmental Integrity Meets Social Justice: Clean Water, Economic Vulnerability, and Big Gas (The What and the Who of ‘The Frack’).” I had the opportunity to sit in on Lee’s presentation where she read (yes, read) a paper she has been working on highlighting the negative aspects of hydraulic fracturing, the events at the Riverdale Mobile Home Park and the role women play as the public relations face of the shale industry. It has a title, as you’ll note from the introduction, almost as long as the paper. Lee offered her draft paper to anyone who wanted to read it further and, college being a place for the free exchange of ideas, I received a copy from an attendee.
Who is Wendy Lynne Lee?
Lee is a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University who spends her apparently considerable free time as an activist in a number of causes and also commenting on this blog site. This is how she described herself in one of a series of rants, in a comment on one our blog posts:
“Marxist, Atheist, feminist, vegetarian, union activist, queer, animal welfare theorist – and one of the most reliable, hard-working, publishing professors BU has. Want to discuss my commitment to my university with my university president? Call him: 570-389-4674.” – Wendy Lynne Lee
Lee has participated in several environmental protests in Pennsylvania and across the state line in New York, including the Schlumberger protest we chronicled earlier (see more here and here). She says she teaches her Bloomsburg University students civil disobedience is a worthwhile activity. Not only does she profess this lifestyle, but she also claims to live it (see video below).
(Talking about her group’s “occupation” of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park)
This is the police raid when we occupied Riverdale. This is one of the most phenomenal events I’ve ever been involved in and I have a long history of political activism across states. (39.26)
Like many of you, no doubt, I remember thinking it was cool to stand up to the “man” in high school and then I grew up. I also recall from my school days that civil disobedience was supposed to involve a serious commitment to pay the price required for the disobedience. It’s not something that’s supposed to be enjoyed.
Let’s examine some of what Wendy Lynne Lee says, starting with the Riverdale Mobile Home Park and then her observations about my colleagues, Nicole Jacobs and Rachael Colley.
I did my own research on the Riverdale trailer park and here is my take on the situation. Skip Leonard, owner of the park, had the property up for sale for a number of years, which was no secret to the people inhabiting the mobile home park or anyone else. PVR/Aqua America purchased the property for a water withdrawal facility to supply the gas industry with water for hydraulic fracturing. When they did so, they gave residents a month and $2,500 to move, which was more than fair, especially given the long period during which the property was for sale.
Further research indicates the Riverdale Mobile Home Park was also located in a flood plain – just about the worst place imaginable to place mobile homes – so bad, in fact, FEMA often insists on removing them following a flood. Let me ask what might have happened to those residents should another major storm on the order of Sandy hit this particular area like it hit Staten Island?
Let’s be candid. Wendy Lynne Lee’s problem with this situation was nothing more than the fact a company supporting the natural gas industry bought the park. Does anyone believe she or others would have been at the park with arms linked if someone had bought the park evicted the tenants to turn it into an organic farm, a recreational river access or a university athletic field? Does anyone believe any of those replacement uses would have produced $2,500 moving allowances for residents, something extra that PVR/ Aqua America provided? All this appears to be irrelevant to Lee, who is focused on stopping natural gas development at any cost. If she truly cared about the people in that park, she wouldn’t be trying to insist they stay in the flood plain, would she?
None of that apparently matters to Lee, who is enthralled with the idea her 13 days of “Democracy in Riverdale” somehow made a difference and took her up into the stratosphere of social consciousness.
One of the great things that came out of Riverdale and I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention it, is that over that 13 days we lived democracy. We lived collective decision making, we built ovens, we’re all living on the ground outside or in these stripped mobile homes and we engaged in considerable tasks to improve the living conditions of everyone in the park. We didn’t have plumbing for example we didn’t have much for electricity, but we figured out ways to get it and we figured out ways to make decisions in such that we were all eating, we were all cooking and we were all doing the labor required in the park. (42:36)
Lee described her time of “democracy” in Riverdale with joy and a sense of accomplishment, kind of the same way I described my camping trip down the Delaware River this past past summer. The only difference is this; I was allowed to camp on the river and was not disobeying laws in doing so. As I listened to Lee speak about her camping experience, I tried to imagine a life like that 24/7, one without fossil fuels. I don’t mind doing that once in a while as I do enjoy camping and “roughing it” but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.
I suspect Lee wouldn’t either. Following that 13 day lark in stripped down trailer park with no plumbing and not much for electricity, I’m fairly confident she felt good going back to to teach in the comfort of Bloomsburg University’s steam heated halls – steam heated by a plant retrofitted to “have the flexibility to burn wood chips, natural gas, and coal, with the latter being significantly reduced.” Then again, maybe she’s out protesting forest destruction by wood-chip manufacturers. Who knows?
“The Women of The Frack”
We do know she’s out protesting women who disagree with her. She titled one section of the draft report she read as “The Women of the Frack: Some are Extorted, and Some are Excuseless.” Interestingly enough, it starts out with the approving citation of remarks by Karl Marx. Wendy then proceeds to go after Rachael, Nicole and other women advocating for natural gas development. She even used a picture of Rachael in her presentation. Here it is, followed by what she had to say about Rachael:
This is Rachael Colley from energy in depth, one of the folks I was talking about in the last section of the paper, where I argue that I find it incredible that the fracking industry itself goes to great lengths and effort to employ women to be their promotional agents… I find it remarkable the use of women to promote fracking as safe, as if women wouldn’t sell us out on mother nature. (51:17)
Not only does Lee have a problem with natural gas development, but she clearly has a problem with women who work within the industry as what she describes as natural gas “cheerleaders.” Her problem with them, however, seems to stem more from the fact they don’t agree with her and little, if anything, else. Rachael is not a Marxist, but she is a vegetarian, by the way, so it would seem Wendy ought to give her some respect, but it wasn’t to be the other night. Nevertheless, Rachael can take comfort in who else gets bashed by the Bloomsburg professor.
Wendy is also, for example, harshly critical of charity organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation for partnering with Chesapeake. She says “The fact is that Chesapeake uses non-profits like Susan B. Komen to genderize and greenwash its image in the face of the fact that it contributes to breast cancer.” Well, that’s quite an accusation – backed up by not a single fact, of course.
Passion apparently substitutes for facts in Lee’s world. She says this about us, for example.
Energy in Depth is a pro-industry group funded by the American Petroleum Institute, as well as a number of extraction corporations.
A short visit to our the Energy In Depth “What’s EID?” web page reveals we are funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, not API. No doubt she dismisses this as a distinction without a difference, but it’s revealing as to how little she cares about details compared to the message she’s intent on delivering.
Here’s some more from her draft paper:
Chesapeake uses events like this bike race to promote itself as a compassionate enterprise interested in human welfare, women’s health and environmental integrity. But, the truth is that its drilling process involves benzene and that its spokespersons actively lobby elected representatives to pass legislation to keep its chemical cocktails proprietary.
It’s interesting that Lee brings up benzene. According to the American Cancer Society (emphasis added):
Sources of benzene in the environment include gasoline, automobile exhaust fumes, emissions from some factories,waste water from certain industries. While benzene is commonly found in air in both urban and rural areas, the levels are usually very low. However, exposures can be substantial to people in enclosed spaces with unventilated fumes from gasoline, glues, solvents, paints, and art supplies. Areas of heavy traffic, gas stations, and areas near industrial sources may also have higher air levels.
Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke are important sources of exposure to benzene. Cigarette smoke accounts for about half of the US national exposure to benzene. Benzene levels in rooms contaminated by tobacco smoke may be many times higher than normal.
Perhaps Wendy should look to her fellow protestors first if she wants to address benzene problems. Here is one of her friends from the Schlumberger protest:
Lee, of course, has little interest in such explanations. Instead, she repeats the following piece of fiction from one of Josh Fox’s tall tale videos as Energy In Depth noted here:
In the six counties in Texas which have seen the most concentrated gas drilling, breast cancer rates have risen, while over the same period the rates for this kind of cancer have declined elsewhere in the state. The average of the six counties rates has risen from 58.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 to about 60.7 per 100,000 in 2008.
The Associated Press investigated this claim and found it bogus. Here’s what they found:
Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland,” a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called “The Sky is Pink.”
But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area, said David Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.
And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.
I guess we now know why Wendy Lynne Lee doesn’t like the Komen group, don’t we? They apparently deal in facts, not fiction, unlike Lee. Wendy Lynne Lee is peddling theories, of course, and facts that don’t match the theories don’t seem to count with her. Lee is, in that regard, the prototypical anti-gas activist, isn’t she?