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Shut down Smith Foundry: Climate Justice Committee stages foundry replica at home of MPCA commissioner

By Laci Gagliano

Protest at the home of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Katrina Kessler demands "Shut down Smith Foundry." | Fight Back! News/staff

Minneapolis, MN – The Climate Justice Committee (CJC) recently brought a taste of guerrilla theater to a local bureaucrat’s front lawn, March 3, to drive home a simple point: her wealthy, white neighborhood would never allow a major polluter like Smith Foundry to move in and disrupt their way of life.

And, as shown by the neighbors’ peeved reactions to our noisy presence and miniature factory replica on a quiet Sunday morning in pseudo-suburbia, their obsession with maintaining the status quo single-handedly proved the point.

As commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Katrina Kessler has gone out of her way to dodge accountability for her agency’s failure to do its job protecting the residents who live just ten minutes across town from her. Unlike in her idyllic corner of Southwest Minneapolis, residents of the East Phillips neighborhood have been forced to breathe air polluted by Smith Foundry and other nearby industrial operations for decades.

The century-old foundry has a track record of being an especially terrible neighbor, in particular as the leading source of lead pollution in Hennepin County. It’s a textbook case of environmental racism, as Smith Foundry sits in the center of a neighborhood with many low-income families and people of oppressed nationalities struggling against abnormally high rates of asthma and heart issues.

So, the CJC decided it was time to bring a homemade replica of the foundry sidewalk – complete with a working smokestack – to Kessler’s front to demonstrate exactly how the commissioner, her family and their white, wealthy neighbors would react to a factory popping up in their neighborhood fortress.

A pre-built model was quickly assembled on the sidewalk, dry ice and hot water were poured into the stack, and chants of “Kessler, Kessler, shame on you, East Phillips has rights too!” began surging through the megaphone. As the loud chants carried through the air and pretend “emissions” billowed from the factory, people began emerging from their homes.

What first seemed like curiosity quickly turned to mild confrontation. “We live here,” one man seethed. Another person was upset about the “contaminants” being put into the air via the smokestack (for the record, dry ice is 100% safer than what comes out of a real foundry smokestack). All in all, folks seemed most upset about the “noise pollution” from the chants disrupting their morning.

The irony of this reaction is almost poetic, as residents of East Phillips are forced to breathe air polluted by fine particulates and other toxins all day, every day.

For the past few months, residents and allied organizers in the East Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis have ramped up demands to shut down Smith Foundry, which simply doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood. Last year, the factory was found by a surprise EPA inspection to be in violation of multiple pollution regulations, including the Clean Air Act. It is also a major source of lead pollution, a fact that Commissioner Kessler has outrageously denied in the media.

East Phillips is home to the Little Earth native community, along with many neighbors from oppressed nationalities and low-income families. With elders and young children alike breathing the polluted air around the clock, the neighborhood also has the highest rates of asthma in the entire state.

In a city with a sordid history of redlining, the struggle for justice against environmental racism is very much alive and continues today as an extension of the fallout from redlining. Until there is justice for East Phillips, and Smith Foundry leaves the neighborhood for good, the miniature foundry and its megaphone counterpart will keep making appearances at the homes of the upper-class bureaucrats who are standing in the way.

#MinneapolisMN #Environment #CJC #SmithFoundry #EnvironmentalJustice