NBASGA Gets Press in Irving TJ

19 04 2014
TJ  APR 19
Protest Alliance of 22 community groups working to stop drilling
ADAM HURAS LEGISLATURE BUREAU
NBASGA

TAYMOUTH • New Brunswick’s pristine beauty drew him to the province – and has now led him into a fight to protect it.

 

Jim Emberger leader of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, a new coalition of community groups and labour unions. Photo: AdAm hurAs/LegisLAture BureAu

Jim Emberger is the lead voice of the recently formed New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance representing 22 community groups across the province opposing shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing.
He’s also a non-native New Brunswick-er – just recently becoming a Canadian citizen – who moved with his wife to the province for its untouched and forested landscape with plans of a quiet retirement.
Instead, Emberger’s environmental background and a history as an activist have pushed him into leading one side of a polarized and provincial debate.

 

“One of the reasons I’m in it and stay so passionate about it is that I’ve always had trouble with bullies,”Emberger said.    “I really feel this is a case of bullying. … The public is not being asked, they have been told, ‘This is the way it’s going, accept it.’”He added: “The public interest is not being served, people don’t even know enough to have an opinion. … Well, we have to combat that.”

Emberger soon heads back out onto the road with the anti-shale gas campaign called,the Voice of the People tour, with information events scheduled almost every night next week – the church basements and public libraries of Riverview, Dieppe, Miramichi, Sackville and Moncton serving as the group’s next targets.

Emberger, 65, is from Baltimore, Md.

He moved with his wife Marcella – an adjunct professor at the University of New Brunswick – eight years ago to Tay-mouth, a short drive north of Fredericton, seeking a spot away from city lights near a rural community.

“We were in the city our whole adult lives, but we love the outdoors,” Emberger said.

“We would always vacation in the country somewhere, and we always said that when we get to the point where we don’t have to be tied down to the city anymore, we’re going to move to the country.”

But their favourite getaways in the United States weren’t there anymore.

“From Massachusetts to Florida it’s like one big suburb now,” Emberger said.“There are places in West Virginia that use to be rural country and are developed now.”

The couple also frequently vacationed in Canada, including New Brunswick.

With grown children on the eastern seaboard, the Maritime province provided the perfect fit of rural charm and proximity to family south of the border.

“It was the kind of place we were looking for,” he said. “Lots of untarnished land”

Emberger has since sought citizenship, officially becoming a Canadian just two months ago.

He has a history of immersing himself in energy and environmental causes.

In the 1970s, Emberger was a regulatory officer for the Federal Energy Administration, a government organization created to address the 1973 oil crisis when eastern oil producers proclaimed an oil embargo that caused prices to skyrocket in the United States.

The energy administration later merged with the new United States Department of Energy.

“I have a familiarity with the oil and gas industry,”Emberger said.

“I’ve investigated them, I’ve been in courts, I’ve written subpoenas, I’ve fined them, I’m familiar with that adversarial relationship.”

More recently,newspaper articles from the Baltimore Chronicle detail Emberger’s struggle as a board member of the Woodberry Land Trust, a land conservation organization protecting a 100-acre forest – one of the last large, undeveloped stretches of public land in Baltimore – from development.

An article from 2003 describes a well-organized group of residents and environmentalists up against Baltimore City Council, opposing the purchase of 71 acres of the Woodberry forest and a landfill area for a new college stadium.

“It was a multi-year fight to save a big chunk of urban forest,”Emberger said.

A retired computer software developer by trade, Emberger had also returned to school in the United States to receive a certificate in environmental studies from Johns Hopkins University.    Later, he joined with several professors from that school, including its dean, to form BioTrek Naturalists Inc. – a unique environmental non-profit that provided adult classes in courses such as wetlands management and ecology.

Emberger was the executive director of BioTrek for five years, which has closed down since his departure to north of the border.

He had no plans of championing any environmental cause in Canada,describing the Woodberry forest battled as both a draining and heartbreaking fight with government.“When we moved up here it was actually very relaxing,”he said.“Well, for the first three or four years, it was.”

Emberger got involved with the local Taymouth community centre to aid in sustainability projects, such as a community greenhouse and small scale alternative energy projects.

“And then shale gas hit. … We had to put our resources into this fight,”Emberger said.

“I didn’t seek out any kind of a leadership role,but you find out in any of these organizations that while a lot of people are passionate and dedicated, a lot of people are uncomfortable with speaking in front of people or don’t feel qualified because they are not scientists or engineers to speak out.”

Emberger’s career experience, his environmentalism and history as an activist saw others push him to first lead Tay-mouth Environmental Action and then the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance.

He said that separately, the small community and environmental groups were “like herding cats” when attempting to push forward a strong and united message. Together, streamlined meetings have led to widely broadcast positions.

The new coalition that includes the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, the Council of Canadians,Unifor and the Fredericton District Labour Council has led to a province-wide campaign to provide “public education about shale gas, clean jobs, and clean energy.”

The coalition is also supported in the initiative by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, the National Farmers Union, provincial Green Party Leader David Coon and the province’s conservation council.

Emberger said the crowds to date on the provincial tour are made of those “already in the choir” of the anti-shale gas movement, but also a large portion of New Brunswickers that simply just doesn’t know enough about the industry.

The public stops highlight studies that raise concerns about water quality and environmental sustainability, but also speak to a lack of scientific knowledge on the long-term impacts of shale gas development, Emberger said.

The tour also warns of a “boomtown effect,”through which a rapid change in population, industrialization and economic prosperity could lead to social ills that impact community health, such as increased rates of crime, drug and alcohol abuse, an increased cost of living and further strain on health-care services.

“Every study I use in this,the oldest one is likely a year old,most of them are from the last four or five months,”he said.“It’s the latest science. “To have others say, ‘It’s all passion, those people watch Gas-land and that’s all they do,’it’s frustrating….We are educating the public,while government simply hasn’t.”

 

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