CRESSON – Standing up at a June 2016 Department of Environmental Protection hearing in Vinco, Etta Albright objected to the proposed CPV Fairview natural gas-powered generation plant in Jackson Township.
“There is no such thing as clean fossil fuel,” Albright told company and state officials, reminding the audience of damage from past coal mining practices.
“We all know where that leads us: Polluted air; polluted water; polluted land.”
Albright was the only speaker in opposition to the plant, which opened last month off Route 271 near Vinco.
Albright says she often feels like the voice in the wilderness. The 75-year-old Cresson resident is a well-known activist with a variety of causes – especially climate change.
“I feel very alone,” she said at her home.
In the first years following the United States invasion of Iraq, Albright was among a handful of Citizens for Social Responsibility who regularly demonstrated along Theatre Drive in Richland Township. She also was part of a small group opposing Cambria County’s implementation of touch-screen voting.
Albright has heard the criticism trying to fight for national and international issues from a house on Powell Avenue in the small town of Cresson.
“It begins on the home front,” Albright said, wearing a shirt with the words, “Climate action starts here.”
“If (changes) are not happening here, what makes you think they are happening anywhere else?” she continued.
“These communities produce the people who fight the wars. These communities produce the doctors. These communities produce the lawyers.”
In preparing to tell her story, Albright arranged personal artifacts and symbols on her kitchen table, partially shielded by an umbrella.
“Think of it as an artwork to understand that, first of all, we are under the influence of a lot of different things,” she said, using the umbrella as an illustration. She then removed the umbrella to signify her goal of moving beyond the realm of outside influences.
Her passion for change and for questioning authority began at an early age. A native of Pittsburgh, Albright’s parents moved the family to Cambria County when she was 4.
At age 6, she was enrolled in the one-room Burns School in the former Prince Gallitzin School District.
Girls were not allowed to wear slacks, so she was in the playground in a dress and tried some cartwheels.
Albright was called into the school and disciplined by the teacher.
“She beat me with a paddle,” Albright recalled. “I learned a serious lesson about authority figures. It was a real awakening to the reality of people being cruel who are supposed to be nice.”
She met her husband, Patrick Albright, while still in high school in Patton. She went on to nursing school and a career at the former Cresson State School and Hospital. He went on to teach science in the Penn Cambria School District for 36 years, and is now a member of the school board.
The couple has three adult children, Patrick Albright, Adam Albright and Carrie Bodnar. They also have four grandchildren.
Patrick Albright shares his wife’s concerns about climate change, but prefers to avoid the public forums. He faced his share of controversy as president of the Penn Cambria Education Association during several strikes in the 1970s.
“I’ve been teaching about global warming for probably 40 years,” Patrick Albright said, recalling a seminar he attended at Bloomsburg University.
He used the concept of planet Earth to reach his students about the damage.
“If you were on a spaceship and somebody lit up a big cigar, or pooped in the water tank, you wouldn’t be very happy,” he said. “And yet, there are industries doing just that. It gives you a right to be outraged.”
Etta Albright says she is inspired by her husband and fights for change for the future generations.
“I feel an urgency about this climate change,” Etta Albright said. “It’s about our grandchildren. I want people to be able to understand within their own capacity and take some responsibility instead of just ignoring it.”