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August 05 2013

18:34

Enviro News Wrap: Young U.S. Voters Want Climate Action; Fossil Energy Divestment Takes Hold; Utilities vs. Rooftop Solar…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Young people in America know that global warming is real; as long as we can get them to vote we will never have another President that opposes a healthy environment. And, when did having a healthy environment become just a Democrat thing? Nixon passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Bush the First updated the Clean Air Act and created a market based solution to acid rain. Its weird days in the US when a powerful political party is actively trying to ruin the only land we have.
  • If you don’t want dirty energy companies affecting politics, then why invest in them? Divestment is becoming more popular and is a needed correction. You should vote the same way you buy products and invest your money. Don’t let your money speak louder than your vote.
  • Many utilities in the US are trying to kill the advance of solar. Instead they should embrace the movement of innovation in energy. Our current way of producing and delivering energy is antiquated and still, in the world’s richest nation most people lose power 1-7 days a year. We need new ideas about how to produce sustainable energy and overcome the inherent challenges of wind and solar, because it is true that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.
  • There are about 20 US states supportive of solar PV. If you live in one you should look into getting solar on your home. Solar energy is true energy independence.
  • Hybrid cars are selling well in America, 300,000 sold so far this year, but few all-electric cars (EV) have been sold. The electric car will have its time, but it is new to the mass market and needs to continue innovating. Batteries need to be smaller, cheaper, quicker to charge and have less of an environmental impact. The cool thing about electric vehicles is that they are as environmentally friendly as the fuel for the battery, so PV solar is a perfect companion for EVs.
  • The enormous Alberta Tar Sands operation has unintended consequences. Sometimes when drilling for oil a pipe just starts pulling up oil and spilling on the surface. This is happening in Canada and its awful. There is pressure in the EU to reclassify oil from the Tar Sands as a banned import.
  • Azerbaijan is going Green.
  • Laboratory meat has been achieved, its taste is described as “edible.” When we can grow authentic tasting steaks will it become the new standard? Without the land impact lab meat is the better option for the environment. Only problem is that lab meat could become cheap and abundant and encourage rich people to eat more of it and poor people to start eating it everyday (eating less local food). We would be increasing obesity, population growth and mechanizing and centralizing our food even further. Are we stuck in a cycle that we can not get out of?

 

The post Enviro News Wrap: Young U.S. Voters Want Climate Action; Fossil Energy Divestment Takes Hold; Utilities vs. Rooftop Solar… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 24 2012

18:18

Conquering Coal - A Tale of One City's Fight

This is guest post by Megan Pitz.

As another sweltering summer day over 100 degrees came to a close in the Washington, D.C. region, citizens of nearby Alexandria, Virginia witnessed the closure of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) coal-fired power plant also known as the 'Mirant Plant.' 

The closure was expected by the community – as much as anything can be that you fight for – but it didn’t happen overnight. It began in 2003 with citizen-activists Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertzel’s quest to learn the source of black soot-like residue coating the windowsills of homes and businesses in Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood.

Chimento and Hertzel’s first step involved pressuring city officials to clean up the power plant.  Efforts in this direction continued for several years until a Mirant Community Monitoring Group (MCMG) of citizen activists, civic groups, and City officials formed and began working alongside environmental groups to hold the plant’s owner and environmental agencies accountable for the power plant’s pollution. 

In 2008, after nearly six years, this led to a legal agreement between the City of Alexandria and plant owners that, along with recommendations from Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board, provided some of the pollution controls these citizens had been asking for, especially for the main public health concern of particulate matter.  

The decision to retire the plant arrived later but would never have happened without the active engagement of a dedicated community.

The Potomac River plant is one of the largest single sources of ozone-forming pollutants within the DC metro area of nonattainment, an area that does not meet federal clean air standards and includes Alexandria. 

Citizens and the City had for years pressured the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to determine whether its pollution posed a serious health threat to residents living in its midst but it was not until 2003, when ozone-forming NOx spewing from its stacks exceeded Clean Air Act (CAA) standards, that the VA DEQ confirmed the health impacts and gave the plant’s owner (then Mirant) an ultimatum to clean up or shut down. 

Mirant responded by shutting the plant down in the hope of proving it was needed for a reliable supply of local electricity.  This only served to galvanize the campaign by providing the DC Public Service Commission an opportunity to file a petition

The petition enabled the Secretary of Energy to look at the plant’s generation and, while ordering it to turn the plant back on, also order the utility to add pollution controls and build transmission lines that would make the plant unnecessary for reliability.

Environmental attorney John Britton used the Order to write a letter highlighting the plant’s history of exceeding air quality standards and the consequent threat to the health of residents.  Britton’s letter also noted a tradeoff that became a theme of campaign messaging: while Alexandria received no power from the plant, its residents bore its health and environmental impacts.

The MCMG continually countered Mirant’s untruthful publicity by distributing their own information while citizens wrote officials personal stories about their health problems attributable to the plant. Along with environmental groups, the MCMG organized marches and meetings, posted signs and handed out fact sheets about the plant, and actively participated in public hearings. 

Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GWIPL)’s Director Joelle Novey worked to mobilize congregations of many faiths in support of closing the plant.

A petition drop at a meeting of hard-to-reach audience GenOn shareholders created enough pressure to get the attention of key decision makers at GenOn. This resulted in a private meeting with their Executive VP, where citizen activists Dr. Ana Prados and Ernie Lehmann conveyed residents’ determination to retire the plant. 

Letters-to-the-Editor in local papers connecting the plant site to spills and events raising awareness about effects of the plant’s mercury were also effective in garnering additional public support to close the plant.  

However, even successful attention-grabbing tactics can be ignored when not coupled with a credible legal threat.  The Potomac River plant operates in violation of the Clean Water Act due to its failure to install cooling towers.  Addressing such violations in a 26-page letter, lawyers Joshua Stebbins and Zachary Fabish pressured GenOn by making key officials at EPA and NOAA aware and requesting they be remedied in the plant’s upcoming permit renewal.

Impact of the letter was magnified with sign-on of the entire coalition of groups formed for the ‘GenOff’ campaign, including Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club, GWILP, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. 

The City’s commitment to the 2008 legal agreement was a barrier to close the plant, but this quickly changed.

In the summer of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule to limit sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution.  The SO2 Rule set a one-hour standard for SO2 emissions at 75 parts per billion.  With the new rule, the plant’s emission levels of SO2 across VA, DC, and MD also became, by law,  “unhealthy.”
  
But the critical action in the story of the shutdown came from the City of Alexandria itself. The City’s commitment to the agreement it had signed with the plant owner also gave it some leverage. As a party on the other end of this binding agreement it was positioned to make GenOn an offer no one else could: if GenOn agreed to retire the plant, it could take the remaining funds set aside by the Agreement, some $30 million, and walk. 

Faced with the expense of cooling towers and SO2 controls, ongoing costs of less effective controls, political pressure as well as renewed pressure from residents and environmental groups backing the Sierra Club attorneys’ legal threat, the City’s offer turned out to be one GenOn could not refuse. 

When on October 1st, 2012, the Potomac River Generating Station emits the last of its smog-causing pollutants, many will truly breathe a sigh of relief.


Megan Pitz was a Fellow with Greenpeace USA's Coal Campaign, where she represented the organization in the coalition that pressured the Potomac River coal plant to retire.

Image credit:
Parys Ryszard | Shutterstock
  

August 06 2012

16:40

House Republicans Sacrifice Human Health For Alleged Job Creation

With July 2012 officially behind us, the U.S. jobs report for the month has economists and politicians concerned about the employment situation in America. And even though the economy added 163,000 jobs (economists had predicted only 100,000 jobs to be added for July,) the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate both crept slightly upwards. And with national elections coming up in three months, poor jobs numbers could be bad for our health.

If history is any indicator, Conservative politicians and think tanks will use last month’s poor jobs report in an attempt to provide massive giveaways to their friends in the dirty energy industry. They attempted the same thing after below-average job growth in May of this year, claiming that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be the job boon that Americans desperately need.

But Republicans in Washington didn’t wait for a bad jobs report before they started planning their dirty energy bonanza, but its likely they will use it as a catalyst to gain more support for their disastrous plans.

In mid June of this year, Republicans on the “House Energy Action Team” (HEAT) proposed a set of bills that would destroy many of the safeguards that are currently in place to protect our environment and our personal health in order to make things “easier” for businesses to create jobs without worrying about those pesky safety standards. What the package of legislation is really about is repaying HEAT members’ financiers from the dirty energy industry who stand to save a ton of cash by destroying regulations.

The legislation package would remove many current existing safeguards for environmental and public health until the unemployment rate drops below 6%, a rate that hasn’t been seen since July 2008, when it was 5.8%. Since that month four years ago, the rate has stayed consistently above 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


When I wrote about the legislative package back in June, I focused mainly on the ties to industry of the bills’ sponsors. Recently, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards put together an analysis of the safeguards and regulations that the bills would removed if passed:
  

The House of Representatives will soon consider a radical bill proposed by Republican members: ‘‘Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act’’ (H.R. 4078). This bill is made up of provisions H.R. 4078, H.R. 4607, H.R. 3862, H.R. 373, H.R. 4377, H.R. 2308, and H.R. 1840 which would, in an unprecedented move halt all regulatory action on national safeguards that protect the health and safety of Americans and bolster the nation’s economy.

Combined, these provisions would halt or delay virtually ALL regulations and do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy or new job opportunities. They would shut down crucial safeguards that give Americans confidence in the products at the grocery store, the safety of their workplaces, the cleanliness of the water system, the soundness of our financial system, and the safety of vital infrastructure…

Public Health and Clean Air – These bills would continue to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing standards defining power plants, industrial boilers, process heaters and cement plants compliance with the Clean Air Act. Those structures are the largest emitters of mercury and toxic air pollutants. Compliance would curb their harmful impact on the respiratory health of millions of Americans.

Food Safety – Each year, 1.2 million people get sick, 7,125 are hospitalized, and 134 die from foodborne illnesses contracted from contaminated produce. Illnesses and food recalls also hurt the U.S. agriculture and food industries. The Food Safety Modernization Act, passed with support from both industry and consumer groups, calls for new regulations on produce handling on large farms and an inspection system for foreign farms to be in place by 2013. Its implementation depends on rulemaking that would be blocked by the proposed bills.

Workplace Safety – Beryllium, a toxic substance (lung cancer and other fatal and chronic diseases) exposed to workers in the electronics, nuclear, and metalwork industries. Current1950s-based standards allow workers to continue to be exposed to levels higher than ruled safe for nuclear power plant workers. The three proposed bills would stop the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from updating exposure standards to protect all workers.

Energy and Environment – The proposed bills would block the U.S. Department of Energy from implementing the Energy Security and Independence Act, delaying for five years updates of energy efficiency standards for a wide range of products. The estimated lost savings for the U.S. economy would be $48 to $105 billion. The bills also would halt the Federal Trade Commission’s rulemaking for energy efficiency labeling designed to protect consumers from misleading and deceptive claims about product energy savings.
 

In addition to these measures, some of the bills in the package would reduce benefits for our veterans, and loosen the already lenient rules regarding the approval of medical devices in America.

If passed, these laws would sacrifice the lives and well being of American citizens based solely on the hope that companies will create more jobs. To the House Republicans who proposed this legislation, their faith in corporations to “do the right thing” is greater than their belief that every life is sacred and worth protecting.

But the most important thing to remember about their proposals is that they won’t work. As I have pointed out over the years, regulations are not destroying jobs, nor are they hindering job creation. In fact, tightening safeguards would actually lead to greater job creation than destroying regulations.

Talking points aside, House Republicans are also overlooking the fact that destroying safeguards will also have a devastating effect on the fragile U.S. economy. Studies tell us that for every dollar spent on safeguards and regulations, an economic benefit of between four and eight dollars ripples throughout the economy. To put it simply, every dollar spent on regulations has a minimum return of 400% for the U.S. economy. Any investor could see that this would be a wise decision.

In addition to the lost investments, we have to look at the jobs that would be lost by doing away with regulations. Delaying implementation, or doing away with completely, the Clean Air Act standards could cost our economy an estimated 1.5 million jobs.

And those numbers are just the ones on the surface. We would also have to factor in the economic impact of health and environmental degradation that would be placed on the economy if these safeguards were removed. It is a fact that U.S. taxpayers already pay for healthcare costs related to air pollution, estimated to be about $50 billion a year. Environmental costs shifted to taxpayers also total in the billions a year, as seen with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Exxon Valdez spill (every disaster has costs that are shifted to taxpayers, those are just two of the largest examples.)

And again, all of these costs and dangers that will be imposed on the American public are only in the HOPE that corporate America will create more jobs. After analyzing all of the available information about regulations and job creation, its clear that repealing these safeguards will do little, if anything at all, to spur job growth in America. On the other hand, tightening these safeguards and fully implementing ones that have been delayed would provide an enormous benefit to both our health and our economy. But the dirty energy industry only thinks about their profits, not what happens in the world around them.

March 27 2012

19:12

Breaking News: EPA Issues First Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Power Plants


The EPA proposes its first rule limiting GHG emissions from power plants. The rule could effectively end new construction of coal-fired plants in the USIn a move that could effectively end construction of any new conventional coal-fired power generation in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today has proposed the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

“Today we’re taking a common sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies–in the health and economic threats of a changing climate continued to grow.”

The average US coal plant today emits about 2249 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced. The new EPA rules will limit those emissions to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour or at about the level of a modern natural gas plant.

“This is an important common sense step towards tackling the ongoing threat of climate change,” said Jackson. “We build on where the industry is going and lock that trend in, which we believe is an important signal for investors.”

The initial impact of the emissions rule on utilities is expected to initially be negligible; with natural gas prices at 10 year lows most utilities are shutting down coal plants, not building new ones. By the end of 2011 the share of electrical power generation from coal-fired plants dropped below 40 percent, the lowest share since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.

Jackson said that the EPA has no plans to set rules on existing plants, and the new limit will apply only to the construction of new power plants. Fifteen plants with pending instruction permits are exempt from the proposed rule.

Joe Mendelson, climate policy director for the National Wildlife Federation characterized the new EPA rule as a “milestone in the fight to rein in climate change. The EPA is taking a big step toward protecting the world our children will inherit.”

Additional sources and reading:
Washington Post
Bloomberg

January 13 2012

19:44

December 19 2011

20:28

Enviro News Wrap: Rushing the Tar Sands Pipeline; Raining Mercury; Spilling Oil; Melting Ice, and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

 

 

 

 

 

November 17 2011

15:03

On Our Radar: Arguments Fly at Hearing on Fracking

Environmental groups and other opponents of hydraulic fracturing protested outside the session in Dansville, N.Y., singing anti-drilling songs and waving signs.

September 07 2011

18:49

Obama Can Regulate the Environment and Create Green Jobs


President Obama should focus on creating green jobs and supporting environmental regulation. Jobs and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusiveAs U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to unveil his jobs and economic plan, his popularity is at an all-time low. Support from the President’s base has been eroded by the two week long protest against the Keystone XL pipeline and profound disappointment about the abandonment of stricter ozone regulations.

From the end of August to the beginning of September, a total of 1,252 protesters were arrested in front of the White House for opposing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Those arrested included 350.org’s Bill McKibben and NASA climate scientist James Hansen. The tar sands pipeline could galvanize U.S. action on climate because many believe we should be working to reduce the demand for oil rather than increase the supply.

The Obama administration decision to abandon stricter ozone pollution standards pleased Republicans and business groups who say environmental regulations kill jobs. However, the research shows that regulations are not killing small business.

Previous regulations, like amendments to the Clean Air Act, have resulted in far lower costs and job losses than indicated by industry and the GOP. When the EPA first proposed amendments to the Clean Air Act aimed at reducing acid rain caused by power plant emissions, the electric utility industry warned that it would cost $7.5 billion and tens of thousands of jobs. But as reported in the New York Times, Dallas Burtraw, an economist at Resources for the Future, indicated that the cost has been closer to $1 billion. The EPA cited studies showing that the law had been a modest net creator of jobs through industry spending on compliance technology.The costs of regulation should be factored alongside reduced mortality and morbidity. The New York Times reports that clean air regulations have reduced infant mortality and increased housing prices according to research by Greenstone.

The Sierra Club indicates that half of U.S. families live in communities where the air is unsafe to breathe. According to the Sierra Club, the new standard for smog would have prevented up to 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 heart attacks and tens of thousands of asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses each year. These protections from smog would have saved billions of dollars in health costs.

Countries around the world are investing in cleaner air and a healthier environment. According to ENN, the 2011 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) show that expert practitioners in the green economy rank Germany as the top overall national green performer while a new index places New Zealand on top. The UK has also announced its national sustainability agenda.

Many other countries are getting very serious about their focus on sustainability. Bolivia forwarded a piece of legislation called la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra (the Law of Mother Earth), which encourages a radical shift in conservation, enforces new control measures on industry, and reduces environmental destruction.

Bolivia’s law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

Ecuador has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution, other nations have also shown interest in this approach including Nicaragua, Venezuela, Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the summer of 2011, politicians in Turkey sought a constitution that would afford rights to the Earth. Even the African nation of Nigeria is working hard to protect their environment. To help with this task, Nigeria created the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) which was created to help enforce environmental laws, standards and regulations in the country.

In the U.S., the preoccupation with jobs overshadows any interest in the environment. When President Obama addressed a crowd of more than 10,000 people in Detroit on Labor Day, they were heard chanting “More good jobs.” During the speech, the President intimated what he’ll be saying in his major jobs address to the joint session of Congress.

“We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding,” Obama said. “I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.”

A move toward stricter governmental regulation would help green industries to grow and provide jobs. Despite the prevailing public mood, job creation is intimately connected with environmental protection. But it is hard to imagine that Republicans will work with the President to pass any legislation, particularly environmental legislation. According to the Presidential Climate Action Project, there is a great deal the President can do without congressional input. In 2010 they provided a report (pdf) that lists a large number of actions that can be implemented with executive orders.

“What we’re saying is Congress has decided not to act, but [Obama] can do so,” former Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat and a co-chairman of the group, said.

It’s not as if Obama has failed to make progress on climate issues. In October 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. This EO calls on Federal agencies to set and meet specific sustainability related targets throughout their operations. As part of this undertaking, GSA is leveraging its purchasing power to promote sustainable procurement. More recently, the Obama administration developed landmark fuel efficiency standards for vehicles by regulating cars and light trucks as well as trucks and buses.

Despite the lack of legislative progress on the environment, the Obama administration has done more to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any previous government. However, Obama’s efforts have been impeded by the unrelenting multi-front manipulation of powerful interests associated with the old energy economy, including the oil industry. Further, the Republican controlled House is working hard to dismantle the EPA.

It comes down to the choice between temporary jobs of the past which are ruining the environment or permanent jobs of the future that protect the planet.

Republicans and ill-informed members of the business community are indicating that now is not the time for environmental regulations or investment in sustainability. In 2008, some feared that a recession would undermine the growth of sustainability, but current events appear to indicate otherwise. Difficult economic times auger greater efficiency, and a weak economy is also the reason why economists argue that massive green infrastructure investments may be the best way to strengthen the economy and create jobs.

A President’s popularity is a function of jobs and the best way to create jobs is to enact regulations and invest in the green economy.
——————–
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Austin Post and Take Part

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August 10 2011

22:44

Court Asked to Order Deadline for Action on Smog Standards

Lives and health of millions at stake, groups say August 8, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Earthjustice today is asking a federal appeals court to set an immediate deadline for the Obama Administration to decide whether to strengthen clean air standards for ozone, the main component of urban smog. The request—made on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental [...]

August 02 2011

17:30

EPA Proposes First-Ever Federal Fracking Rules

The U.S. EPA is poised to enact the first ever rules on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a proposal that would allow the agency to regulate the practice under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air route was chosen by the agency, as the U.S. Congress prohibited their attempts to regulate the practice of fracking under the Clean Water Act in 2005.

From Raw Story:

The new EPA proposal would limit emissions released during many stages of natural gas production and development, but explicitly targets the volatile organic compounds released in large quantities when wells are fracked. Drillers would have to use equipment that captures these gases, reducing emissions by nearly 95 percent, the EPA said.

The EPA contends that the measure would actually be a moneymaker for drilling companies. Though it might compel them to invest in new equipment, this equipment would allow them to capture methane gas currently lost in the drilling process, which they could then sell.

The EPA proposal is the result of a successful 2009 lawsuit brought against the agency by WildEarth Guardians and another advocacy group alleging that the agency had not updated air-quality rules as required. The EPA is supposed to review such rules at least every eight years, but in some cases had not done so for 10 years or more.


Despite the EPA’s claims that the tighter standards would actually increase the income of gas drillers, the industry was quick to speak out against the proposed rule changes. The Marcellus Shale Coalition issued the following response on their website:

While we understand that EPA is required by law to periodically evaluate current standards, this sweeping set of potentially unworkable regulations represents an overreach that could, ironically, undercut the production of American natural gas, an abundant energy resource that is critical to strengthening our nation’s air quality.

According to the EPA, the new rules would result in the following emission reductions every year:


Volatile Organic Compounds: 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25 percent.

Methane – 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), a reduction of about 26 percent.

Air Toxics –38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.


Once the EPA sets a date for implementation, the gas industry will have 60 days to submit any complaints or input on the new rules. While the date is not currently set, the American Petroleum Institute has already asked the EPA to delay implementation until at least August 2012.

June 29 2011

02:55

Groups Challenge EPA Decision to Exempt California Power Plant From Pollution Laws

EarthJustice.org Clean air advocates petition over agency’s free pass for Avenal facility June 28, 2011 Oakland, CA  — Environmental groups are challenging a recent decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to exempt a proposed power plant in central California from pollution laws that protect clean air and human health. The EPA announced May 27 [...]

June 25 2011

23:17

Industry Challenge To Air Pollution Standard Is Rejected

EarthJustice.org Health protections remain in effect June 24, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Today, the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected an industry challenge to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that cuts toxic air pollution from medical waste incinerators. In addition to the potent neurotoxicant mercury, medical waste incinerators release dioxin, which in even small [...]

June 21 2011

02:47

Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Power To Reduce Climate Change Pollution

EarthJustice.org Justices deny lawsuit against power plants by holding that EPA has authority to set limits June 20, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Today, in rejecting a climate change pollution lawsuit, the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to curb climate change pollution under the Clean Air Act, as first [...]

June 16 2011

22:15

The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking: Food and Water Watch Report

 

Last month, DeSmogBlog released Fracking the Future, an in-depth report on the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling and the efforts of the gas industry to limit state and federal oversight of the process. A review of independent scientific research showed that under no conditions can unconventional gas drilling be considered safe, nor can the oil and gas industry’s army of PR front groups and apolgists be trusted to give an accurate portrayal of the true risks associated with the fracked gas boom.

The report concluded that current state oversight is inadequate to hold the rapidly growing gas industry accountable and, given the dangers associated with unconventional gas production, an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is necessary and overdue.

In its new report, the nonprofit Food and Water Watch renewed these claims, calling for a reinstatement of federal statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling and, more forcefully, calling for a nationwide fracking ban. 

Entitled The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking, the new report details the rapid growth of the risky unconventional gas fracking frenzy gaining momentum across the U.S. In the four-year span from 2004 to 2008, gas wells in America increased by 41 percent, to over 52,000. This steady increase of drilling across the country is accompanied by an unsettling encroachment of gas wells into residential areas. The report cites Pennsylvania as an example, where over 3000 unconventional wells and future well sites sit within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals. <!--break-->

The report finds that despite industry suggestions to the contrary, fracking is inherently dangerous. The opportunity for irreparable damage to drinking water supplies, air quality and human health presents itself at nearly every stage of the process. 

Food and Water Watch catalogues numerous well-documented instances of air pollution, water contamination and negative effects on human health due to fracking operations. Some of the worst dangers are associated with the heavy chemicals used throughout the process and toxic wastewater, which post-fracking is laced with additional toxic contaminants from the underlying rock. The report details how nearly no water treatment facilities can cope with the billions of gallons of wastes produced in the process.

Compounding the hazards associated with fracking are the underfunded, overextended and often industry-friendly state enforcement agencies. Even where existing laws were updated to more effectively reflect the risks associated with unconventional drilling, there is little to indicate that state regulators are prepared to monitor and enforce these laws adequately. 

States stand to profit too much by maintaining the current backslapping culture of industry appeasement. The report draws on the connection between state revenue and insufficient regulation. In Pennsylvania, for example, where $1.1 billion in gas drilling related revenue accrued between 2006 and 2011, officials are twice as likely to issue warnings than impose fines. Officials often have the conflicted responsibility of both fostering and moderating the industry.

Beyond the state level, there is significant pressure to limit federal oversight. Although a growing consensus is rallying for the restoration of federal environmental statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling, little progress has been made on this issue. The report outlines how industry lobbying has steadily increased, combatting measures to protect public health and safety. The fracking moratorium in New York, for example, has caused a surge of lobbying activity, over $1.2 million dollars worth in 2010 alone.

Despite the reticence of lawmakers on the issue, Food and Water Watch lists ten studies and investigations from the last 18 months, each of which point to the dangers associated with fracking, especially to human health, and the inability of officials to capably monitor the process. While officials levied several injunctions against drilling companies, the report notes that because of weak oversight, nearby communities remain vulnerable.

The rush to produce unconventional gas is putting the public at an unacceptable risk, the report concludes. A nationwide ban on fracking is the only measure that can truly secure public air and water against industry contamination.

Read the full report, The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking

 

June 14 2011

00:49

Interior Dept Okays Thousands Of New Unconventional Gas Wells In Utah

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fast-tracking unconventional gas drilling permits in Utah’s Uintah Basin. The federal agencies will approve up to 3,675 new wells for the Greater Natural Buttes Area Gas Development Project, first proposed in 2006 by Kerr-McGee Oil & Gas Onshore LP, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

The Greater Natural Buttes project was delayed for many years in part because it will emit large quantities of hazardous air pollution. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft environmental impact statement discussing how oil and gas wells in the Uintah Basin region are the primary cause of ozone pollution, which exceeded acceptable levels for 23 days during January and February 2011, including five “very unhealthy” days.

The Interior Secretary is hailing unconventional gas as “clean” despite the fact that the EPA and a recent Cornell study suggest that unconventional gas drilling releases huge amounts of climate-altering pollution. Now it appears that air pollution will no longer hold up gas development with the inclusion of an air quality supplement helping to speed up the project’s draft environmental impact statement.

Salazar described the agreement between the federal agencies and drillers as representing a “sea change” for streamlining air and environmental monitoring, and for approving (future) fossil fuel projects.

Of the sea change, he stated:


“I am encouraged that the BLM, EPA, and the company found a collaborative path forward that would put sensible air pollution control technologies to work as the field is explored and developed. We are going to work to institutionalize this type of collaboration between the BLM and EPA to ensure that future proposals receive prompt and thorough reviews and are not delayed by unnecessary bureaucracy.”


The Salazar announcement follows on the heels of a memo [pdf] he sent earlier this month to BLM Director Bob Abbey. The order stressed not to designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as "Wild Lands."
 
By not placing lands off-limits for oil and gas drilling, and with federal agencies now geared towards quickly approving projects, oil and gas drillers stand poised to drill whenever and wherever they wish, with inadequate scrutiny into the climate and health impacts of their actions.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oil and gas companies have used waivers under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act to inject toxic chemicals into some 120,000 wells drilled in the Western U.S. since 2000, mainly for unconventional gas, and around 270,000 wells since 1980.

The health, air and water pollution risks tied to unconventional gas drilling, and in particular the much-maligned and destructive hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) method, are increasingly well-known. Just last month, a former Bush-era EPA official publicly stated (again) that the safety of unconventional gas fracking was exaggerated.

To respond to the specific dangers to groundwater from fracking for unconventional gas, the EPA is in the midst of an initial assessment of the drilling process.

The study, however, is not due out until late 2012 (with the final report expected in 2014), offering little solace for public concern around gas fracking.

The Utah gas drilling approvals arose from the increased pressure Republicans are putting on the Obama Administration to cut funding for Wild Lands preservation.

Due to the politically-motivated rejection of scientific concerns on fracking, the Obama administration seems ready to roll over on its land conservation pledges. Former Clinton-era Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt recently called on the President to assert himself against those politicians who have “…simply declared war on our land, water and natural resources.”

Babbitt added that:


“It is imperative that President Obama take up the mantle of land and water conservation — something that he has not yet done in a significant way…”

“We’re three years into this administration and we haven’t heard a strong conservation voice…”

“This silence is going to yield some very bitter fruit if it continues.”


The President’s disappointing stance on protecting land is echoed in his recent pro-drilling slant. In May, Obama named a panel to study the fracking process and to make recommendations within six months. As EWG has pointed out, the panel is dominated by representatives from the oil and gas industry.

EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt described the panel and its mandate by saying:


“It looks as if the Obama Administration has already reached the conclusion that fracking is safe.”

“The new administration panel appears to be an effort to undercut the EPA’s study by assigning an elitist group of industry insiders to take a cursory look at fracking…”


Access the Department of the Interior Air Quality Supplement Notice published in the Federal Register  June 10, 2010, which is available for public review for 45 days.

May 29 2011

21:12

Conservation Group Pressures EPA to Get The Lead Out of Aviation Fuel

EarthJustice.org Lead emissions from fuel continue to endanger public health May 26, 2011 New York, NY — Friends of the Earth, a leading advocate for a healthier environment, sent a notice of intent to sue today to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its failure to respond to a 2006 petition asking for the regulation of [...]

May 24 2011

22:11

Upton’s Efforts To Scuttle Climate Change Action Not As Popular As He Thought

A recent survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP), commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund (NRDC), finds that a majority of voters in House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton’s (R-MI) home district do not support his attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and its use of the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming pollution.

In February, the American Lung Association released the results of a bipartisan national survey showing that 68% of Americans think that “Congress should not stop the EPA from updating Clean Air Act standards,” while 69% “think the EPA should update Clean Air Act standards with stricter limits on air pollution.”

In Rep. Fred Upton’s 6th District, where he easily won 62% of the vote in 2010, 59% of his constituents feel that Congress should “let EPA do its job,” and 53% favor the EPA setting tougher controls for air pollution.<!--break-->
Particularly, this latest poll asked constituents if they support Upton’s plan to block EPA action on climate change:

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton is promoting a proposal that would block the EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution. Some, like the National Association of Manufacturers, say Congress should block the EPA because “EPA’s overregulation threatens manufacturers, businesses and jobs throughout America. Its actions will increase manufacturers’ energy costs and make it more difficult to compete.” Others, like the American Lung Association, say Congress should not block the EPA because doing so “would strip away Clean Air Act protections that safeguard Americans and their families from air pollution that puts their lives at risk.” Knowing these two points of view, would you support or oppose Congress blocking the EPA, or are you not sure?

More than half, 54%, opposed, with less than a third (32%) supporting.

It is clear that Upton’s climate skepticism and his fight to overturn clean air protections that save thousands of lives and deliver a twenty-fold return on investment [pdf], runs against the wishes of Michigan voters.

Upton’s rogue attacks on EPA and the planet are now putting his chances of re-election next year at risk. In fact, 51% of his constituents said that they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Clean Air Act, and 49% of respondents said they are less likely to re-elect Upton because of his destructive clean air stance (with only 29% more likely to vote for him).

The NDRC Action Fund polling results are consistent with the findings of another new poll commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). CFA’s survey indicates that as gas prices soar to almost $4 a gallon, 75% Americans want to see improved fuel-efficiency standards. Furthermore, 62% of Americans support nearly doubling fuel-efficiency standards for automakers by 2025 (already, light cars and trucks must meet a 35.5 mpg standard by 2016, inspired by California’s rules.)

The Obama administration is in the process of preparing new fuel efficiency standards, expected in September. These new poll results demonstrate that the public expects Washington to get the job done to protect air quality and the global climate.

For Fred Upton, this should serve as a wake-up call. The same voters who put him in office could very well replace him in the next election with someone who represents their strong desires for climate action and efficiency standards to ween the U.S. off dirty oil.

May 11 2011

02:39

350.org Launches Crowd-Funded Ad Campaign To Hold Polluter-Friendly Politicians Accountable

350.org and CREDO Mobile are testing a new tactic to turn up the heat on polluter-friendly politicians who receive large campaign contributions from dirty energy interests and then turn around and vote against public health and the environment. Kinda like the Senators who recently voted to gut the Clean Air Act, like Scott Brown (R-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), for example.

Making phone calls and signing petitions to Congress are tried and true grassroots organizing tactics, but there are other tools that might have an even greater impact. That's why 350 and CREDO are experimenting with crowd-sourcing - asking a few Senators' constituents to crowd-fund ads connecting the dots between their Senator's vote to gut the Clean Air Act and their campaign contributions from polluters.<!--break-->
The first ad push is seeking to bring a bipartisan smackdown to two dirty-moneyed Senators named Brown - Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio. The Browns are both big takers of dirty polluter money - Scott to the tune of $1,907,988 and Sherrod a whopping $3,464,689.

350 and CREDO are trying to raise $12,000 in the next week to put up the ads in both Ohio and Massachusetts. The groups are a little iffy about the plan, noting the weak economy and the ease of "clicktivism" which might discourage people to participate in an effort that actually requires forking over a few bucks.

350's Jamie Henn says:"We hope to show them that corporations aren't the only ones who can team up and buy some ads. With the right tools and a bit of motivation, citizens can make an impact too."

What do you think? Does this tactic stand a chance of success? Let's see some clicktivists weigh in below in the comments section.

May 05 2011

17:03

Declare Your Right to Breathe

EarthJustice.org Join the “Blow a Bubble for Clean Air” campaign on Facebook May 3, 2011 Washington, D.C. — Earthjustice launched a Facebook campaign today encouraging Americans to declare their right to breathe clean air by blowing a bubblegum bubble and posting that image as their profile picture. The Facebook action is part of Earthjustice’s “Right [...]

March 25 2011

21:53
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