Goldman Prize Goes to Activist For Work on Weapons Disposal

April 28th, 2006 - by admin

Jim Carlton / Wall Street Journal Online – 2006-04-28 22:49:49

SAN FRANCISCO (April 24, 2006) — A Vietnam War veteran who helped pressure the Pentagon into cleaning up its method of disposing chemical weapons is among this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the environmental world’s equivalent of an Oscar.

Craig Williams, 58 years old, is being honored at a Goldman awards ceremony here today for his work in getting the Pentagon to set aside plans to incinerate chemical weapons at four of the eight storage facilities in the US where almost 30,000 tons of nerve gases and mustard blister agents have been stockpiled since the end of the Cold War.

For much of the past 20 years, Mr. Williams has led grass-roots efforts in the US opposing the incineration plans as harmful to nearby communities and the environment. Those efforts, which included lawsuits and public demonstrations, helped persuade Congress in 1996 to order the Defense Department to consider alternatives. As a result, the Pentagon has dropped incineration plans at four of the sites, while using the technique at four others.

“We went up against the biggest bureaucracy on the planet, the Pentagon, and had them actually change their minds,” said Mr. Williams, from Berea, Ky., who formed the grass-roots Chemical Weapons Working Group in 1991.

The Goldmans being presented to Mr. Williams and others are sponsored by a foundation headed by San Francisco philanthropist Richard Goldman, who started the awards in 1990 along with his wife, Rhoda, as a way to honor grassroots environmental activists around the world. Each award has a $125,000 cash value.

Other Goldman winners this year are being recognized for their work in getting local governments to take action on environmental problems. In Brazil, for example, activist Tarcisio Feitosa, 35, led a campaign against rampant logging in the Amazon that resulted in his government establishing a rain-forest protection zone larger than Minnesota. Mr. Feitosa, who organized peasants whose lands were affected by the logging, said he worked closely with Dorothy Stang, a 74-year-old American nun who Brazilian authorities say was murdered last year while conducting a similar campaign in the Amazon.

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Olya Melen of Ukraine used her training as a lawyer to file suits that forced her government to scale back a large canal project, which she and other environmental activists warned would have imperiled protected wetlands. And Yu Xiaogang, 55, of China used his reports on the damage caused by the country’s new dams to villages and the countryside to persuade government officials to try to reduce the impact of future projects.

The other two winners are Silas Siakor, 36, of Liberia, whose documentation showing how logging was being used to help fund the country’s 14-year civil war led the United Nations Security Council to ban the export of Liberian timber; and 32-year-old Anne Kajir of Papua New Guinea, a lawyer who got a court to order logging companies to pay peasant landowners for damages to their property.

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