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Environmental Stewardship Award presented to Kutztown activist Karen Feridun

Kutztown Borough’s Environmental Advisory Commission presented its 2023 Environmental Stewardship Award to Karen Feridun in recognition of her continuing contribution to environmental issues arising in the borough and beyond.

“Over the years, she has grown into an experienced, talented, and tireless environmental advocate who has helped the Kutztown community be better informed and more direct in efforts to protect both natural resources and families,” the Kutztown EAC said in its announcement of the award.

The Kutztown EAC’s Environmental Stewardship Award recognizes individuals or groups who have made an outstanding commitment to preserving and promoting the environment of Kutztown.

“Karen’s affiliations and environmental activities continue to be wide-ranging,” the group’s statement said. “The common theme of her work is opposing dangers to the natural and human environment, support for clean and renewable energy and increasing awareness of climate change issues. All her efforts directly and indirectly impact Kutztown, Pennsylvania and beyond.  We thank Karen for her insightful and invaluable serve to us all.”

Kutztown EAC members Todd Underwood and Randall Wert presented the award to Feridun during the Aug. 15 Kutztown Borough Council meeting.

“I suppose people often say that they’re honored or humbled when they find out they are receiving awards, so it may sound like I’m giving a predictable response,” Feridun said in an email interview. “I really mean it when I say I felt both honored and humbled.”

“As I told Borough Council and the EAC members who presented me with the award, I have worked with many, many governmental bodies in the course of doing my work. I have never felt so supported as I have when I have worked with my own community’s government,” she continued. “To be recognized by people I appreciate and respect means a lot.”

“The fact that there is an award, that the borough takes the environment so seriously, says so much about Kutztown,” Feridun added.

Feridun believes it is critically important to ask for what you want, take a stand and stick to it.

“I think it’s too easy to strategize yourself into a corner,” she said. “It happens in both politics and advocacy all the time — going for what’s gettable, for instance. It’s cleaner and clearer and, ultimately, more successful to avoid all of that overthinking and just take a stand.”

Discussing some of the highlights of her environmental activism, Feridun said there have been many.

“It has been an amazing several years. Being in Paris for COP 21 (21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was amazing, but the highlight of the experience for me was when we protested in the street with the Arc de Triomphe ahead of us,” she said.

“Certainly the victories have been amazing, but the most meaningful was when we got Gov. (Tom) Wolf to order the studies on fracking health impacts that just made the news because the results were just released.”

Another highlight was when she did a TV interview dressed as a leprechaun.

“Several of us had dressed as mythical characters to attend a hearing whose only testifier was a climate denier,” Feridun explained.

Their message was: “We’re myths. Climate change isn’t.”

Her hope for the future?

“I want to be part of the team that succeeds in pushing our government to get serious about climate change,” said Feridun.

In a message to the community, she said: “There is so much work to be done. To anyone who has been thinking about getting involved in protecting the environment, please do! Check out what the EAC is doing. Check out what organizations like mine and so many others are doing.”

Kutztown Environmental Advocacy

“Her affiliations and environmental activism touch the borough in direct and indirect ways,” the Kutztown EAC said.

A longtime borough resident who graduated from Kutztown University with a bachelor of science in political science and a master’s in library science, Feridun’s activities and community involvement have been varied and include coordinated collaboration between the Kutztown Planning Commission and the Environmental Advisory Commission — she was a member of both groups — in drafting an Alternative Energy Plan for the borough that was approved in 2011. She was the principal editor of the borough’s current Comprehensive Plan in 2012.

In 2012 she helped to set up a rain barrel workshop as part of Earth Day activities. Participants were trained in the proper setup and usage for collecting rainwater and received a pre-drilled 55-gallon, food-grade barrel with hardware for their own use. In addition, there was a screening of a documentary about a controversial offshore wind farm, “Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle.”

In 2016, Feridun organized a petition drive pressuring the Department of Environmental Protection to hold a public meeting regarding Kutztown Quarry’s request to revise its dewatering permit for the local aquifer from 5,000 to 8,000 gallons per minute. The meeting with DEP was held with attendees from local municipalities, scientist professors from KU, and state officials speaking against the revised permit. DEP approved the revised permit.

Feridun also has been very active lobbying against SB597, the Water Accountability Act introduced in 2021, to help protect Kutztown’s water supply as well as resources in other small municipalities.

The Kutztown EAC’s concerns are that this bill is really about water privatization, which ultimately would take water management out of the hands of small municipalities, like Kutztown, and put into a private organization resulting in increased water rates and loss of local oversight of water quality.

Feridun organized a campaign to stop the bill, gathering more than 1,300 signatures from individuals, organizations, and municipal government representatives. The bill was rewritten to return authority to DEP in order to pass the Senate.

The EAC noted that thanks to Feridun’s continued pressure, the bill did not pass the House. It died in committee and has yet to be reintroduced.

One of her main environmental efforts over the last few years has been opposition to hydraulic fracking in Pennsylvania. The process injects water, sand, and/or chemicals into a well to break up underground bedrock to free up oil or gas reserves.

The Kutztown EAC explained in its statement that the fracking process produces wastewater that can contain massive amounts of brine (salts), toxic metals, and radioactivity. This wastewater brine can be used as a dust suppressant for roads, fields and unpaved surfaces during the winter.

The EAC is concerned that this wastewater dust suppressant would eventually find its way into waterways, aquifers and local wells.

“Karen’s work alerted the residents to the public health dangers and exposed the governmental loopholes that allowed the natural gas companies to avoid the 2018 moratorium on spreading their waste on roads as a dust suppressant,” the Kutztown EAC said. “Her persistent watchdog approach has helped to make sure that the moratorium is observed and enforced. Thanks to Karen’s work in this area, she brought awareness to the borough about the dangers of fracking and using the brine as a dust suppressant and winter road treatment.”

Kutztown banned the use of this material to treat roadways and suppress dust in 2022.

Berks and Beyond

In 2010, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth, a grassroots community organization fighting to ban fracking and all shale gas infrastructure.

In 2018, she co-founded and currently leads the Better Path Coalition, a statewide group forging a better path to a clean renewable energy future and a government that is responsive to its people.

In 2019, she worked with representatives of Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Center for Coalfield Justice which resulted in Wolf ordering the first studies done by the state on the health impacts of fracking and its link to cancer.

Most recently, in 2021, she created and served as lead organizer of the Pennsylvania Climate Convergence, a network of more than 80 organizations fighting for climate action.

Feridun served on the boards of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association and the Berks Solid Waste Authority. She co-founded the United Sludge Free Alliance, a Berks County organization fighting the application of sewage sludge.

She has served as president of the Kutztown Democratic Club and represented Kutztown’s 2nd precinct on the Berks County Democratic Committee.

Source: Berkshire mont

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