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I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Pramilla Malick

Local mom fights for clean air for her kids and yours

Sixteen years ago, Pramilla Malick and her family bought a house in Minisink so that on the weekends they could leave New York City behind and enjoy Hudson Valley’s great outdoors. They chose Minisink because it was in a protected agricultural district, insuring that they would always be able to enjoy fresh, clean air and not have to worry about being hemmed in by industrial development.

So it surprised her when, in 2011, she received a letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission informing her that the Millennium Pipeline Company would be building a natural gas compressor station right up the road from her.

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“I was really bewildered, because it was a complete violation of our local zoning laws,” she says. “So my initial assessment was that somebody had made a grave error. All we had to do was make them aware of the zoning laws and then this would be rejected. I did not realize that we were going up against a billion dollar company and the entire fracking enterprise – and that we were sitting at a historic intersection between geopolitical interests and energy policy.”

Standing ground

Because they were just weekenders, for Malick and her family – husband Ibrahim, a sales engineer for Cisco, and their four children who now range in age from 13 to 23 – the easy route would have been for them to simply put their house on the market and take off for greener pastures.

But Malick couldn’t help but think of the children in the community who wouldn’t be able to leave so easily.

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“When I became a mother, my primary focus became the health and safety of my children,” she says. “But that soon expanded to become the health and safety of all the children in this community. It was because of them that we decided not to leave, and to get involved.”

Malick founded an advocacy group called Stop The Minisink Compressor Station, and it wasn’t long until her children were involved as well. The kids made signs, went to rallies and protests, attended public hearings, submitted testimonies, and wrote songs. “They’re all musicians, and seeing them write and play music together is always one of my greatest joys,” she says.

The fight against the compressor station took its toll on Malick as a parent. For five years years, time that she’d spent on PTA meetings and helping her kids with their homework was now largely spent fighting the compressor station.

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But along the way, her children learned to take responsibility for the world in which they live. They also learned about how the political system works while undertaking citizen science projects, as well as how to fight for social justice.

“To be able to give their testimonies, and let their stories become part of the official record was very empowering to them,” she says.

Their involvement even led to larger life lessons. Before the compressor station, her children used to love riding All-Terrain Vehicles around the valley. But learning about the environmental impacts of the station led her children to become aware of the impacts they were making on the environment. “They realized that this fight wasn’t just about the station, it was about fighting for a more sustainable way of living,” says Malick. “So they stopped riding ATVs.”

Battling on

The community lost its fight in court and the station was built, despite all the zoning regulations. But the Malick continues to fight. Throughout the course of her advocacy, she discovered that the station was just one part of a larger infrastructure pipeline that leads to a massive proposed natural gas power plant outside of Middletown. If the power plant – which, Malick says, would emit 43 times as many harmful emissions as the compressor station – doesn’t get built, the compressor station will become obsolete. As a result, she’s helped to found a new group, Protect Orange County, to make sure the station never gets passed the planning stages.

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“There’s a public housing project literally right next to where they want to build it,” she says. “This is a threat to everyone in the region.”

Part of the fight is to protect Orange County’s pristine natural resources – the fabled “black dirt” agriculture – and its numerous vineyards.

“We can fight to preserve these things that are drawing so many people to the area or we can become an industrial wasteland,” she says.

Ultimately, the fight continues to be about preserving the Hudson Valley’s greatest resource: Its children.

“I can make sure my kids get good quality food and health care,” says Malick. “I can even make sure that my water is filtered. But I can’t control the air they breathe. That’s my biggest challenge.”

Brian PJ Cronin is a freelance writer whose work appears throughout the Hudson Valley.

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