Announcing the next phase of The New England Food System Resilience Fund. Learn More


January / 2016

Solar Power Proposed at Site of Shuttered Coal Plant

For the past five years, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, along with other JMF Clean Energy Program grantees Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center, have been working to close the Mount Tom Coal Plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and replace it with a clean energy alternative. In late 2014 GDF SUEZ, one of the world’s largest energy companies, announced it would be closing the plant. The plant owners recently agreed to requests from local advocates and the Holyoke community to replace the coal plant with a solar facility.

This tremendous success is a testament to the smart approach the coalition took from the start of their campaign. After witnessing the impacts of high asthma rates and other cardiovascular diseases in the Holyoke community – caused in part by the coal plant’s toxic emissions – Neighbor to Neighbor decided to embark on its first environmental campaign, but knew it would need help. Conservation Law Foundation helped Neighbor to Neighbor understand all of the legal tools at its disposal, while Toxics Action Center helped train the organization’s advocates. Together, this coalition understood that shutting the plant wasn’t enough – it needed to present a positive vision for the future of the site, help plant workers transition into new jobs and help fill the hole in local tax revenue that closing the plant would create.

That’s why from the beginning of the campaign, advocates pushed for a re-use study and just transition plan for plant workers. They coordinated with the labor union, the city and state politicians to build the political will at the right levels of government to close the plant and implement their alternative vision. Through this careful planning, Neighbor to Neighbor, Conservation Law Foundation, Toxics Action Center and their allies have put into place a textbook example of how to effectively run community-based environmental campaigns.

December / 2015

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

The SCHF coalition cumulatively represents over 11 million individuals dedicated to reforming chemicals policy at the national level.

Founded in 2009, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) is a national coalition with the goal of reducing the number of toxic chemicals present in everyday products. Today, it encompasses 450 organizations including environmental justice groups, state environmental health coalitions, parents’ organizations, the learning and developmental disabilities community, breast cancer activists, health care providers, reproductive health and rights groups, national environmental organizations and businesses. The SCHF coalition cumulatively represents over 11 million individuals dedicated to reforming chemicals policy at the national level.

The coalition integrates state and federal advocacy and market pressure to reduce the use of toxic chemicals. Most notably, they created Mind the Store, which pushed giant retailers including Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes and others to replace toxic chemicals in their products with safer, healthier alternatives.

SCHF’s persistent advocacy means that in 2016, we will likely see the first overhaul of the country’s chemicals regulations in 40 years. This new policy will be a major opportunity to put human health and the environment above corporate profits, a major goal of our Health and the Environment Program.

December / 2015

Toxics Action Center

Since 1987, the Toxics Action Center has organized over 800 communities across New England to reduce pollution and improve public health.

As a John Merck Fund grantee, the Toxics Action Center is a major force behind our ongoing effort to make New England the first coal-free region in the country. Closing coal plants across the region cannot succeed with a cookie-cutter approach. Campaigns must recognize the importance of local leadership and unique community conditions. That’s why the Toxics Action Center empowers and trains local advocates and helps them develop plans that rely on state and local laws and regulations.

Their strategy has been enormously successful – four of the region’s seven coal plants have been shut down. Three more coal plants show signs of yielding to pressure from changing clean energy markets and engaged citizens.

But it’s not enough to simply shut down coal plants. The Toxics Action Center campaigns put community redevelopment front and center as plants are decommissioned. They also push for clean energy alternatives, particularly as natural gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure rushes to fill the void left by closing coal plants. Toxics Action Center is not only directly supporting groups that oppose new gas plants and pipelines, but they are also continuing to train community groups to become more active and informed as clean energy advocates.

The Toxics Action Center is led by Executive Director Sylvia Broude and the coal and energy work is supported by Lead Community Organizer Claire Miller. Together, their decades of grassroots organizing experience helps activists all over the region take a driving role in a clean energy future.

The John Merck Fund would not be able to pursue its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, retiring coal-fired plants, and increasing use of clean energy in New England without the dedicated leadership of Sylvia, Claire and the team at  Toxics Action Center.

December / 2015

Sparkplug Award, 2015 Recipients

Andrew Falender served as President and CEO of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) from 1989-2012. The AMC is the Northeast’s leading conservation/recreation organization. While there, Andy updated governance, greatly expanded conservation and recreation programs, created an innovative 70,000-plus acre conservation/recreation corridor in Maine, maintained an unbroken record of balanced budgets, and presided over significant increases in endowment, membership and facilities. Andy also served as CEO of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1975 to 1988, in a number of management positions at the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1971 to 1974, and as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines from 1968 to 1970. In addition to serving on a number of boards, including the Trust for Public Land, the International Alliance of Conservation Volunteers, and the Environmental Federation of New England, Andy has received several awards for his contributions, including Honorary Doctorates from Plymouth State University and the New England Conservatory of Music, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the EPA, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s “Audubon Award.” Andy joined the Conservation Law Foundation of Trustees in March 2012, and resigned from the board temporarily in May 2014 to join CLF’s staff as a Volunteer/Chief Orienteering Officer.

Jay Healy: First as a state representative from Charlemont, Massachusetts, then as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture under Governor Weld, and finally as State Director for USDA Rural Development in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Jay gave his time and considerable talents to working on projects and policies designed to help strengthen rural working landscapes by helping farmers become more financially viable and environmentally sound. During his long and successful career, Jay worked on such innovative projects as food hub development and other new aggregation, processing, and distribution models, expanding farm-to-institution initiatives, expanding and enhancing agricultural technical assistance services to improve farm and food business viability, supporting new ways of communicating and networking about developments in the food system across the New England region, and creating durable public-private funding partnerships. Perhaps the most durable and impressive public-private funding collaborative with Jay’s imprimatur on it is the USDA-JMF partnership that helped launch Farm to Institution New England, now in its fifth year and proving of great value to farmers, food producers and institutional customers across the region. As is clear from the impressive roster of speakers, plenaries and workshops, and the nearly 200 people already signed up to attend the inaugural New England Farm to Institution Summit at UMass-Amherst in April 2015, with FINE Jay helped to spark some new and important pathways to viability for New England farmers and food producers.

November / 2015

Study: New England Gas Pipelines Not Needed

A recent study commissioned by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and supported by The John Merck Fund demonstrates that building new natural gas pipelines is not the most effective way of reducing energy costs for the state. Instead, the study suggested that building the pipelines would cost $13 million more than simply investing in energy efficiency and rewarding customers for conserving energy during periods of high demand.

The four natural pipelines proposed in New England, including the controversial Kinder Morgan and Algonquin extension will increase the use of natural gas and contribute to worsening climate change. This study clearly presents a better route forward – one that both saves money and reduces the region’s carbon footprint.

Read more of the Boston Globe’s coverage of this study here.

October / 2015

Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Will Shut Down

In March 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused a power outage at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. As a result, four reactors exploded, melting down three nuclear cores and releasing radiation from a fourth.

This disaster prompted former John Merck Fund Program Officer Anna Baker to investigate the Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She discovered that the reactors were the same model – and had the same flaws – as those in Japan. During the Fukushima disaster, Japanese authorities evacuated a 50-mile radius around the plant. That same radius around the Pilgrim Plant is home to nearly 5 million people.

Anna, her neighbors and local advocacy organizations quickly banded together to highlight safety issues plaguing the Pilgrim plant, hoping to prevent a similar disaster in their backyards. This week, Pilgrim’s parent company, Entergy Corp, announced it would close the plant, citing in part the costs of complying with safety, public health and environmental regulations.

The nuclear reactors in question – manufactured by General Electric in the 1970s – have had safety issues since they were first produced. Three engineers even quit the company in protest of safety shortcomings on this specific model. The Pilgrim plant also has had numerous safety issues, including power outages and problems with a safety valve that prompted the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to downgrade the safety rating of the reactor, naming it one of the three least safe reactors in the country.

Anna and her neighbors created a coalition of 27 groups and more than 600 members to respond to these safety concerns. They gave cover to whistleblowers within the plant, organized opposition in local government, and monitored activities at the facility to ensure elected officials and regulators knew of ongoing violations at the plant. Without these dedicated individuals, it is hard to say if or when regulators would have confronted Pilgrim’s ongoing problems.

The coalition’s work isn’t over. The plant could potentially operate through June 2019, and decommissioning the plant and handling nuclear waste will present ongoing challenges to the community. Still, The John Merck Fund applauds the coalition for its role in decommissioning the Pilgrim plant, and we have confidence it will be an effective watchdog as this process continues.

September / 2015

JMF “Sparkplug” Gary Cohen Named MacArthur Foundation Fellow

Gary Cohen, who was the second recipient of JMF’s Sparkplug Award in 2007, was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, a distinction accompanied by a $625,000 grant paid out over five years.  The John Merck Fund congratulates him on this accomplishment.

Gary is a social entrepreneur and activist spurring environmental responsibility in health care both in the United States and abroad. In 1996, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), initially a grassroots cooperative, to bring attention to the fact that American hospitals had been major contributors to environmental pollution and had been largely ignoring the damage to local communities and environments caused by extensive use of harmful chemicals in medical devices, toxic cleaning agents, reliance on fossil fuels, and disposal of waste via incineration. Gary has led a paradigm shift in the perceived responsibility of health care providers, from a narrow, patient-centered duty of service regarding individual health to a broader obligation to also “do no harm” to surrounding communities, their residents and the global environment.

He has since expanded HCWH’s mission to engage environmental scientists, medical professionals and institutional leadership around the broader challenges of sustainability, climate change and community health. To that end, he has also founded or co-founded other organizations, including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a data-driven platform that guides hospitals in purchasing safer chemicals and healthy food and implementing energy efficient technologies, and Practice Greenhealth, a US­-based membership organization for hospital systems to share best practices, information and tools for environmentally responsible patient safety and care. In these ongoing strategic collaborations, Gary is repositioning environmentally conscious health care as prudent, cost-effective and easily within reach.

April / 2015

JMF Trustee Dr. Frederica Perera Receives $250,000 Heinz Award

Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, Founder and Director of the Columbia (University) Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health, was named a recipient of a prestigious Heinz Award for the Environment, which includes an unrestricted cash award of $250,000. Dr. Perera is being recognized for pioneering the field of molecular epidemiology and for her decades-long research to illuminate the health consequences children suffer from prenatal and childhood exposures to hazardous chemicals, for the benefit of parents, health professionals and policymakers.

December / 2014

Sparkplug Award, 2014 Recipient

Brad Schlaggar, MD, PhD, is a professor of neurology and the newly appointed director of the Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis).  He also treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where he was recently named neurologist-in-chief.

Brad was awarded the $50,000 Frank Hatch “Sparkplug” Award for Enlightened Public Service by The John Merck Fund for 2014. Dr. Schlaggar is the eighth recipient of the prize that the foundation presents annually to a grantee whose work embodies extraordinary creativity, dedication and foresight.

“Brad’s contributions and commitment to the fields of child neurology and psychiatry demonstrate the reasons for awarding him this year’s Sparkplug Award,” said Olivia Farr, chair of the JMF board, in presenting the award. “Brad has become a leader in research into the developing brains of children, using innovative neuroimaging techniques. At the same time, he has pushed to ensure that brain researchers target problems faced by the developmentally disabled.”

Dr. Schlaggar said, “I feel privileged and humbled to be recognized by The John Merck Fund with an award that is named for Mr. Frank Hatch, a man whose vision and leadership has had such an enormous impact on the lives of so many people, especially those with developmental disabilities. I share strongly the values and priorities of the John Merck Fund, making this recognition especially gratifying.”

“Brad’s attitude and respect for the interface between brain and mind, and his ability to incorporate that perspective into his clinical and scientific work, has driven his groundbreaking research.  He is an inspiration to students, colleagues and the entire scientific community,” said Ms. Farr.

Originally from Chicago, Brad received his Honors ScB magna cum laude in Neural Science from Brown University in 1986, and his MD and PhD degrees from Washington University School of Medicine in 1994.  He completed residency training in Pediatric Medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and in Adult Neurology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, before completing his Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1999.

Brad has been the recipient of many awards, including most recently, the E. Mead Johnson Award for Pediatric Research, given by the Society for Pediatric Research for outstanding research achievements in pediatrics.  He was chosen for this award for his contributions to basic and translational research using brain imaging, such as functional MRI, to understand the development of human cognition.  He has been listed annually in the “Best Doctors in America” since 2005 for Child Neurology.  Brad’s current research efforts are directed at brain activation studies in development and plasticity of human cognition and language using functional MRI.  His clinical responsibilities include pediatric movement disorders, pediatric stroke, and hemiplegic cerebral palsy.

Brad received a John Merck Scholars Award in 2002, served on the John Merck Scholars Program Panel from 2008 to 2010, and is currently serving on the Translational Research Program’s Scientific Advisory Board.

December / 2013

Sparkplug Award, 2013 Recipient

Pete Myers is founder, CEO and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences. He holds a doctorate in the biological sciences from UC Berkeley and a BA from Reed College. For a dozen years beginning in 1990, Pete served as director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia. Along with co-authors Dr. Theo Colborn and Dianne Dumanoski, Myers wrote Our Stolen Future, a book that explores the scientific basis of concern for how contamination threatens fetal development.

Pete is now actively involved in primary research on the impacts of endocrine disruption on human health. He has chaired the board of the Science Communication Network since its founding in 2003. He has served on the board of the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment since 2007 and in May 2012 became board chair. He also serves on the board of the Jenifer Altman Foundation. Until its merger with Pew Charitable Trust in late 2007, he was board chair of the National Environmental Trust. He has also served as board president of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, an association of 40+ foundations supporting work on biodiversity, climate, energy and environmental health.

When the temperature is above 50 F and it’s not raining, Myers regularly publishes and from a platform in the woods near his house. Turkeys, foxes, turtles, deer and other creatures meander by. In spring the trees above are full of migrating warblers.