David Korfhage, 52, holds a sign that reads ‘Don’t Dump Out Future’ outside the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Scranton, Pennsylvania (COURTESY DAVID KORFHAGE)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

This story has been updated to reflect details of an infrastructure deal the Biden administration and Republicans cut on June 24, hours after this story was initially published.

Montclair resident, teacher and environmental activist David Korfhage is among about 20 people walking or otherwise traveling 141 miles from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware this week, hoping to pressure the Biden administration to take stronger action on climate change.

Korfhage, who is also the founder of Montclair Climate Action and the Montclair chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, is part of the 2021 Walk for Our Grandchildren and Mother Earth. The walk previously took place in 2013, from Camp David, Maryland to Washington, D.C., hoping to influence then-President Barack Obama’s policies.

“I have two sons, and that’s highly motivating because you read about what’s going to happen in terms of bad scenarios for climate change and the world could become a rough place,” Korfhage, 52, said. “I want to make sure I am leaving a world for them that will be livable.”

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The event began Sunday, and is expected to conclude Monday, June 28. Participants are walking, riding or bicycling some or all of the journey. The event’s website notes Scranton, in addition to being the president’s birthplace, is “one of the first anthracite coal regions, and borders on the Marcellus Shale region of large-scale hydro-fracking operations.” Along the way, participants are taking part in several rallies and demonstrations, including protests of pipelines and polluters.

Korfhage has been involved in climate change demonstrations since the 1990s. He learned about the group 350.org, an international movement working to end fossil fuel and transition to renewable energy, in 2013. He learned about the walk from fellow 350.org members.

“I think we’re all motivated by the same thing, which is to bring awareness and put pressure on President Joe Biden to do the right thing,” Korfhage said. “And really regulate our climate change and get them to take action.”

But the administration on June 24 cut a deal with Republican lawmakers for a scaled-back $1 trillion version of the plan that removes many measures intended to fight climate change, including a reduction in fossil fuel subsidies, a federal clean energy standard and tax credits and federal investments for clean energy. 

Climate measures have been pushed to a different bill that Senate Democrats hope to approve through a process known as reconciliation, which lets them pass matters related to budgets with a simple majority. 

Event organizers had said on their site that Biden’s original proposals, “while important, are inadequate to address the climate emergency. By walking in the summer of 2021, we want to remind the Biden administration and others that our love for our families and their futures requires a rapid, uncompromising transition away from the unhealthy, unsafe extraction and burning of fossil fuels while embracing renewable energy, especially solar and wind power.”

The organizers say they support stronger measures in the Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, or the developing Red, Black, and Green New Deal promoted by the Movement for Black Lives.

On Monday, the marchers joined grassroots group Friends of Lackawanna (unrelated to the Lackawanna Plaza and former rail terminal in Montclair) to protest plans to expand the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. That state’s Department of Environmental Protection approved the expansion, to add about 200 billion pounds of waste through 2060, in early June.

“They take a lot of waste from fracking. … So, there’s a lot of community opposition, but they haven’t been able to stop it.” Korfhage said.” 

On Thursday, the march will reach Philadelphia. Friday, marchers will take part in a rally against fossil fuel and natural gas processing facilities outside the city. 

“They’re trying to build a port to export and liquified natural gas that we’re trying to stop,” Korfhage said. 

The march will reach its final destination on Sunday, and on Monday, on the last day of the march, there will be a rally to put pressure on Chase Bank to stop funding fossil fuel facilities. 

“Chase Bank is probably one of the biggest financiers of fossil fuels in the country,” Korfhage said. “We would like them to stop funding them because they are funding pollution and funding the destruction of the planet. So, we want to put pressure on them and raise awareness about their role.” 

Korfhage urges people to take action while there is time to reverse the effects of climate change. With reports of the recent wildfires in the western part of the country, record-shattering heat waves in Montana, Arizona and Texas, and signs of extreme drought in the west, Korfhage said, the time to act is now.

“The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get,” Korfhage said. “The more people we get involved, the more our leaders will hear from us. We need to pressure our leaders to do the right thing. Unless we make our voices heard, our leaders are not going to take action. They have to hear from us. We have to make them do the right thing.”