The Cincinnati Enquirer has selected longtime Sierra Club leader Marilyn Wall for its 2023 Woman of the Year Award (https://www.enquirerwoy.com/). Marilyn will be one of 10 women honored at a special luncheon October 19. You can follow the link above to register for the luncheon.
Marilyn is a past member of the national Sierra Club Board of Directors, Ohio Chapter Chair and Miami Group Chair. She currently serves on the Miami Group Executive Committee and is an active member of the group’s Conservation Committee and Transportation Committee, but she and her long-time partner Mike Fremont still take time to enjoy and explore the natural world running and paddling.
Less is definitely more when talking about Marilyn’s dedication to protecting the safety and health of all citizens from the dangers of pollution and unchecked development. She is tire-LESS, fear-LESS, and ego-LESS. Despite frequently serving as a key caregiver for elderly family members and her husband, Marilyn simply never stops looking for new ways to protect the community. She has never backed down in the face of opposition from corporations, government agencies, or other power-brokers. It is amazing that in her 43 years of service, she has never sought out individual recognition, publicity or awards.
Who else would spend years poring over documents to find less expensive and better ways to remodel Greater Cincinnati’s sewer system to avoid the sewage backups and overflows associated with the antiquated combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in our region? Her advocacy and legal battles resulted in over $1 billion in improvements to the sewer system, and she pores over every proposal to make sure ratepayer and taxpayer dollars are invested wisely. When engineers wanted to build a giant tunnel to hold stormwater runoff, Marilyn worked with neighbors in the affected communities to develop novel and innovative methods such as “daylighting” Lick Run to reduce runoff while also building a greenway for the community.
On an individual level, Marilyn helped advocate for residents affected by sewage backups. A very problematic example is in Northside where MSD’s solution failed catastrophically, inundating their homes with the overflow. Sierra Club under Marilyn’s leadership leafleted the area letting people know about their rights under the consent decree, talked to residents, and assisted them in getting legal representation to force MSD to pay their claims. And to this day, Marilyn leads the charge for a rate structure that is fair and equitable to the region’s underrepresented and underserved residents on low and fixed incomes.
“I remember in 2002 Marilyn Wall told me she could no longer sit back while the regulators and her local governments wrapped up their 10th year of talking about fixing Cincinnati’s sewers. I saw her arm herself with years of research and take concrete steps to compel action,” wrote attorney David Altman in a letter supporting Marilyn’s nomination. “Over the years, I have spoken with countless overflow victims from throughout Cincinnati at Hamilton County. They tell me of Marilyn’s work with their families and how she helped entire neighborhoods deal with this problem public health problem.”
The MSD story is only one example of Marilyn’s steadfast activism on behalf of environmental justice. Fighting for cleaner air, Marilyn:
- Worked to get a clean air ordinance in Cincinnati.
- Challenged USEPA ozone designation resulting in pollution reductions.
- Helped lead a group that got major air pollution reductions from greater Cincinnati facilities (Cincinnati Specialties, Rohm and Haas, Willard Industries).
- Supported the Hamilton County transit levy and organized volunteers to support the levy.
- Pressed for inclusion of environmental justice criteria for project selection by the regional planning agency OKI.
- Achieved significant reductions in air, water and toxic waste pollution from AK Steel in early 2000.
- Continues work on toxic waste and air pollution issues currently at AK Steel (now Cleveland Cliffs).
- Community-engaged research to monitor air toxics (https://miamigroup.org/air-pollution-monitoring-by-community-members/).
Fighting for cleaner water, Marilyn has:
- Worked to stop channelization of Mill Creek.
- Secured the nation’s first program under a consent decree to provide cleanups, prevent backups and pay claims for those harmed by sewer backups.
- Worked to protect Little Miami National Wild and Scenic River from harmful development including the proposed Eastern Corridor Highway project.
- Serves on an Ohio EPA stakeholder group on brownfields.
Marilyn’s goal is to build a healthy, welcoming and sustainable community that celebrates people from all walks of life. She frequently works with low-income and minority communities who are oftentimes the victims of environmental injustice. In the Cincinnati area, she worked with impacted communities and collaborated with multiple groups on the following projects:
- Preventing expansion of a waste dump in Whitewater Township.
- Preventing a new gas pipeline from affecting residents.
- Calling for a stop to plastic pollution.
- Raising awareness of forever chemicals like PFOA and PFAS.
- Providing information about clean energy and promote energy efficiency.
- Protecting parks and arrange outings for youth in the outdoors.
“Marilyn has long collaborated with OCA, including helping to pioneer the Good Neighbor Campaigns that resulted in over $400 million of investment in some of Ohio’s worst polluting facilities,” said Melissa English, Development Officer with Ohio Citizen Action.
“Marilyn Wall is driven to defend that which cannot defend itself. Indeed, she speaks for the trees and for our region’s rivers and the hillsides and wildlife,” wrote Susan Brown-Knight, another Cincinnati-area activist. “Her career as a volunteer with the Sierra Club spans decades and her success has been borne in those quiet moments when no one is paying attention. It is those moments, when most of us are taking a stroll, binging on the latest show or relaxing over a glass of wine that Marilyn is working, pouring over documents, making the needed calls or writing comments on a new environmental rule or regulation. She is relentless. She is fearless. And, she never, ever gives up.”