Western Herald – Students, public face restrictions getting involved with oil spill cleanup
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Students, public face restrictions getting involved with oil spill cleanup

By Garret Schuelke
Western Herald

So far, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent $5 million in response to the Kalamazoo River oil spill, according to an article on MLive.com, published Aug. 1.

That money has, in part, employed more than 700 people to work on the river, testing the waters and cleaning up the oil.

Unless one wears a biohazard suit, has specific hazardous material training and permission by the EPA, they will not be allowed to have direct contact with the oil spill.

Joseph Szuszwalak, a Western Michigan University student majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science, learned this after he attended the first open meeting about the oil spill put on by the EPA.

Szuszwalak, who is a member of WMU’s chapter of Students for a Sustainable Earth, said in an email that, despite the red tape that prevents the public from direct contact with the oil spill, there are still ways that people, students in particular, can make a change.

This includes getting involved with environmental and wildlife groups, such as the Circle D Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Vicksburg, Mich., and donating items and funds.

Szuszwalak also sees that students have the most potential to change the course of our country’s environmental policies.

“Our age group has the most potential to stop these disasters from occurring in the future,” Szuszwalak said, citing a recent poll from Pew Research Center that says 93 percent of 18 to 29 year olds favor requiring utilities to generate more of their power from renewable sources.

“Within the next few years, our generation will be the largest voting block.”

“As long as this up-and-coming generation continues to be informed on the issues, vote, and call out representatives, a government free from dirty energy money will become tangible,” Szuszwalak said. “Our generation has a choice to continue the current trend of dirty energy politics or create our own clean energy future and a suitable world for our own children.”

Jeff Spoelstre is the coordinator of the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council, a local group that advocates for water resource planning, protection, and restoration actions who, according to Spoelstre, has 400 people subscribed to their mailing list. Spoelstre is also the co-organizer of the Kalamazoo Water Festival, which took place Saturday, Aug. 14 at Kalamazoo’s Arcadia Creek Festival Site.

Like Szuszwalak, Spoelstre also said that students best chances for assisting in cleaning up the oil spill is to get involved with local groups and organizations, such as the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition and the Kalamazoo Environmental Council, both of which were among the sponsors of the Kalamazoo Water Festival.

Spoelstre also calls for political action among students, such as voting for candidates who pursue green-related goals and causes.

“If they want to think big, students should think about fossil fuels, and how we should eliminate them from our daily lives,” Spoelstre said. “Do you choose fossil fuels or do you be a concerned consumer and choose something different?”

“You do not have to be a huge consumer in order to have a good life,” Spoelstre said.

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