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November 06 2013


Webchat: Are the oceans in crisis?

Daryl Hannah and Johan Rockström answer your questions about the state of the seas

August 23 2012


US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

Sponsored post

August 10 2012


August 06 2012


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.

May 01 2012


Vessel Sets Sail in Search of Tsunami Debris

A group hopes to better understand where the detritus from the 2011 tsunami has or will make landfall.

February 28 2012


Climate Change, US Debt and Deficits: House Reps Urge Congressional Colleagues to Put a Price on Carbon

Fiscal 2013′s budget battle is now officially under way in Washington D.C., as President Obama submitted the administration’s proposed budget for the coming year. Budgetary debates and controversy were heated enough this past year, all but shutting down the federal government, and they’re sure to get even hotter given this year’s elections.

Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle in both houses can agree on an urgent need for prudent fiscal discipline at a time when significant financial system and economic risks persist. They differ wildly on the need for counter cyclical economic and fiscal policy, however, as well as how best to guide the US economy forward into the 21st century.

Perhaps nowhere is this political divide as wide or as apparent as it is regarding climate change, environmental and energy policy. Despite the weight of scientific and empirical evidence, Republicans have not only effectively squashed any serious attempt to enact proactive federal climate change and clean energy policies, they continue to push hard to maintain and expand US reliance on fossil fuels.

That’s not to say that proponents have given up on such efforts, however. In fact, climate change and clean energy are likely to be defining and distinguishing issues for Democrats and Republicans as 2012 progresses.

House Reps. Push For Carbon Price

As reported by The Hill, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) wrote an op-ed article published in the Washington Post asserting that the nation’s most pressing fiscal and environmental problems could be addressed by enacting a straightforward piece of legislation: the imposition of a price on carbon.

“The United States could raise $200 billion or more over 10 years and trillions of dollars by 2050 while cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050,” they wrote.

Speaking subsequently to Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein, Waxman acknowledged that getting Republican opponents to sign-off on such a policy isn’t any more likely than it has been to date. He pointed the alternatives are even more problematic, however, arguing that passing an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax was the best practical alternative, one that would result in significant deficit and debt reduction, while at the same time providing economic stimulus at a time when it is still very much needed.

“Will it be easier to slash Medicare benefits? Make deep cuts to defense? Raise income taxes? A climate policy is the easiest way to face these challenges,” Waxman told Klein, perhaps somewhat rhetorically.

“There’s an interesting similarity in the problems of the two issues. Cumulative debt and cumulative carbon emissions are both rising,” Waxman continued. “If you look at the debt problems they’re going up and up and up and the cumulative emissions of carbon are going up as well. One can have terrible consequences for the economy and the other for our planet. I don’t think people have realized the similarities of these two issues.”

Increasing Costs of Political Procrastination

Putting a price on carbon would establish a pathway for addressing these critical issues, both of which require consistent, long-term policy frameworks and action. Inaction will only raise the cost of addressing them, Waxman emphasized.

“If we could put in place a price on carbon and then use the sales of carbon allowances to raise revenues we could raise money and cut emissions at the same time, and we can have a transition that will be as orderly as possible. If we leave both to become much more severe then the answers will be more radical and painful,” he stated.

Political opponents who acknowledge the urgency of addressing climate change still assert that establishing a price on carbon would be foolhardy given the persistent fragility of the banking system and economic recovery. Waxman and supporters refute this, citing numerous studies that indicate that a well-crafted price on carbon could both cut pollution and stimulate the economy.

“Policies can be adopted to protect our energy intensive, trade exposed policies. Policies can be adopted to avoid spikes in electricity prices,” Waxman told Klein. “But I think this is exactly the time to act because we can have a number of benefits from these policies, none more important than the jobs that could be produced by giving clean-energy entrepreneurs certainty that they can begin to invest.”

Reports and studies spanning the scientific and economic communities have shown that extreme weather events are on the rise, and that often subtle, long-term climate change effects are increasingly being seen. Whether US government representatives are will to acknowledge and show leadership on a defining issue of the times remains to be seen.

February 13 2012


A Street View for Rivers

Two surfers embark on a five-year Internet project to document the state of the nation's rivers with a view from the waters. One aim is to show pollution levels.

February 10 2012


States Sue E.P.A. Over Delayed Soot Rules

Eleven states argue that drafting new rules in vital to public health. But the Obama administration faces pressure from Republican critics who say that tighter air pollution rules could hurt the economy.

February 01 2012


The Costa Concordia and the Destructive Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

The shipwrecked Costa Concordia serves as a stark reminder of the environmental impact of cruise shipsThe recent sinking of the Costa Concordia underscores the destructive environmental impact of cruise liners. The ship went down on January 13 with 4,200 passengers and crew on board. Seventeen people are confirmed dead and 15 people are still missing. Even if they manage to stay afloat, these massive ships have enormous footprints.

If the Costa Concordia’s fuel leaks, it will wreak havoc on the marine environment, and the ship’s proximity to the coast means a spill could also be very damaging to local shorelines. An oil spill will destroy the livelihoods of many local fishermen who fish for cod, lobster, scampi and swordfish.

A spill of the ship’s fuel could cause the most serious environmental disaster in Italy since the Amaco Milford Haven caught fire and sank in 1991. The Amaco contained 1 million barrels of crude oil and it contaminated the Mediterranean coast and shorelines for more than a decade.

The sinking of the Costa Concordia off Giglio Island imperils Europe’s largest marine park and threatens a huge variety of species. This park covers over 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of sea. Its natural beauty is home to 700 species of flora and fauna, which includes wildlife like the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal, the Audouin’s gull and some rare frogs. Other life forms found in the local waters include whales, dolphins, turtles, sea horses, red coral, and Poseidon sea grass.

After declaring a state of emergency, Italy’s Environment Minister Corrado Clini indicated the environmental risk is “very high.” The minister warned that if the tanks break, the fuel would block sunlight vital for marine life on the seabed. The spilled oil would kill sea grass, which would destroy the marine ecosystem. The grass produces oxygen and serves as a refuge for organisms to reproduce or hide from predators.

Areas at risk include the Laguna di Orbetello bird reserve and the Natural Park of Maremma. This park is the only Italian habitat for dune-dwelling plants; it is also a stopover point for migratory birds, and home to reintroduced osprey.

The Costa Concordia is full of environmentally harmful substances. The ship contains a total of a half-million gallons or 2400 tons of heavy fuel oil (bunker fuel), 200 tons of diesel oil and other environmentally hazardous materials like lubricants, cleaning products and chlorine. The fuel from the 950-foot long ship contains toxic compounds, which could prove lethal to animals that ingest them, or harm their ability to reproduce. The fuels can also coat animals, suffocating them and inducing hypothermia.

A slick has already started forming (most likely from engine parts) and there is concern that the ship may slide off the rock shelf it is on and sink into deeper water before salvage teams can recover the fuel. There is also a risk that if buffeted by high seas, the ship could break up like the Rena, the container ship that broke up off the coast of New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef in October.

If everything goes as planned, it will take 2 to 4 weeks to remove the fuel and 7 to 10 months to remove the wreckage of the ship. However, bad weather has already delayed salvage efforts. To recover the fuel, divers will drill holes in the ship’s hull in a procedure known as “hot tapping.”

Even if the fuel is contained and salvaged, environmentalists warn that the 114,000-ton hull resting on the sea floor has already damaged a variety of marine life, including endangered sea sponges, crustaceans and mollusks. The local corals at risk are already suffering due to warming waters induced by climate change.

Some members of the Italian government have joined environmental groups in asking whether such large ships should be allowed to go near protected areas. Others are questioning the environmental viability of cruise liners altogether.

Large ocean-going passenger vessels are responsible for staggering amounts of pollution including three times the CO2 of airplanes. The massive footprints of luxury cruise liners have led some to describe them as a floating environmental disaster.

According to EPA statistics, each day, cruise ships discharge an average of 21,000 gallons of sewage (which includes fecal matter and heavy metals); 170,000 gallons of greywater; 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water; one ton of waste (including batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals); and 8,500 bottles.

Perhaps the worst thing about cruise ships is the fact that they use thousands of tons of bunker fuel for each voyage. Bunker fuel is the worst type of petroleum known to man. It is a thick tar-like substance that produces airborne chemicals, including sulfur oxide, which have been linked with acid rain, asthma, and lung infections.

According to research conducted in 2009 by James Corbett of the University of Delaware, 64,000 residents of port cities die every year due to bunker fuel related ailments. Corbett predicted that in 2012, that number will rise to 87,000.

Alessandra Motola Molfino, president of Italy’s national conservation group, told Reuters, “These monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with their very presence and the rivers, seas and cities where they stop with the refuse that they produce. The disaster of the Costa Concordia unfortunately proves the insubstantiality of the type of tourism that exploits and tramples on Italy’s beauty and cultural heritage and does not produce any growth or wellbeing.”

With 16 million passengers in 2011, the cruise ship industry is a significant source of GHGs and other pollutants. It is unconscionable that they are largely unregulated in the open ocean.

More regulations and more stringent laws are long overdue. We need legislation to protect the environment from cruise ships. The International Maritime Organization could start by regulating and restricting the use of bunker fuel.


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.

January 17 2012


December 21 2011


December 20 2011


December 10 2011


House Republicans Working On Huge Polluter Giveaways

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is playing hardball with President Obama’s proposal to extend a payroll tax cut extension, and now they’ve found a way to use the extension as a means to grant their polluter friends everything on their holiday wish list.

According to Reuters, Republicans in the House added the approval of the recently-killed (albeit temporarily) Keystone XL Pipeline to the payroll tax cut extension bill, granting the project immediate approval if the rider stays connected to the bill. From Reuters, via Raw Story:

House of Representatives will include approval of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline in a payroll tax cut bill, House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, raising the political stakes on the issue.

The move by House Republicans marked a challenge to President Barack Obama, who has warned he would veto any bill that linked quick approval of TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline to extending a tax cut for American workers that is due to expire on December 31.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) quickly denounced the House GOP effort, making clear that it will not survive the Senate

The ill-fated measure was sponsored by Republican Lee Terry of Nebraska, who has taken in more than $273,000 from electric utilities and $225,000 from the oil and gas industries over the course of his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Terry claims that he did this in order to help create the estimated “20,000 new jobs” that the pipeline would bring to America.

If Terry was so concerned about creating jobs, then he would pressure his fellow Republican House members to back off their attempts to strip the EPA of their ability to regulate air pollution, which would create more than 1.5 million U.S. jobs.

And speaking of enforcing air pollution standards, the Republicans decided to go all out and add that restriction to their new bill, as well. They also included a rider that would prevent the EPA from being able to enforce air pollution standards on boiler emissions. The Republican-controlled House has worked on that breath-defying measure for quite a while.

The likelihood of these provisions clearing the Democrat-controlled Senate are slim to none, but it could still happen - anything is possible in the U.S. Congress in these whacky times. And with the President emphasizing the dire need to pass the tax cut extension, these common sense environmental and public health protections might become a casualty in the ongoing party war taking place in America.

On a related note, don't miss Bill McKibben's piece over at Politico: "The (bogus) number that won't die," all about the sham of the Keystone XL proponents' "20,000 jobs" statistic. Hint: It's a total fabrication.

For some Friday fun, watch Bill McKibben on the Colbert Report last month, when Stephen Colbert mocks the insane jobs figures tossed around by polluter pundits.

November 11 2011


November 07 2011


On Our Radar: $135 Million for Exxon Spill Cleanup

The oil company is removing damaged pipeline from the Yellowstone River to try to determine the cause of the rupture, which spilled 42,000 gallons of crude.

October 19 2011


From the Washer to the Sea: Plastic Pollution

Scientists examining waste water from washing machines find tiny plastic fibers that are just like the microplastic debris along shorelines.

August 03 2011


Federal Government Asks Judge To Dismiss New York State Fracking Lawsuit

The U.S. government is asking a federal judge in New York to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state of New York against the government that was seeking to demand a complete review of the environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The federal government claims that New York state does not have the grounds to file a suit as they have “no evidence” of injury and they do not have the authority to sue the federal government.

Sandra Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote to District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, telling him that the suit was barred because the federal government has “sovereign immunity,” and therefore, federal agencies cannot be sued by states.

From a previous DeSmogBlog post detailing the specifics of the lawsuit:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.

In his original complaint, Schneiderman pointed out that hundreds of clean water violations have been reported as a result of the more than 2,000 gas wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania, and that the state of New York has spent a staggering $1.5 billion to help protect their own water supply from fracking pollution.

The federal government’s request is a horrible blow to American citizens and to the environment, and will set a dangerous precedent for any fracking lawsuits that arise in the future.

July 29 2011


On Hudson Pollution, Back to Routine Worries

Now that a sewage discharge caused by a fire has passed, officials call their attention to a perennial cause of contamination: storm water that overwhelms the treatment system.

July 11 2011


Expert Warns That TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline Assessments Are Misleading

An independent analysis performed by University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury, an environmental engineer, claims that TransCanada's safety assessments for their proposed Keystone XL pipeline are misleading and based on faulty information. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas, crossing numerous states in the U.S.

TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline, was required under the Clean Water Act to conduct a complete review and present their data on worst-case-scenario oil spills from their proposed pipeline. According to his new report titled “Keystone XL Worst-Case Spills Study,” Dr. Stansbury’s analysis of TransCanada’s government reports found that their methodology for determining the safety of their pipeline was inherently flawed because the company deliberately relied on information that was known to be false.
Among the major findings from Dr. Stanbury’s report:

While TransCanada estimates that the Keystone XL will have 11 significant spills (more than 50 barrels of crude oil) over 50 years, a more realistic assessment is 91 significant spills over the pipeline’s operational lifetime.

TransCanada arbitrarily and improperly adjusted spill factors to produce an estimate of one major spill on the 1,673 miles of pipeline about every five years, but federal data on the actual incidence of spills on comparable pipelines indicate a more likely average of almost two major spills per year. (The existing Keystone I pipeline has had one major spill and 11 smaller spills in its first year of operation.)

Analysis of the time needed to shut down the pipeline shows that response to a leak at a river crossing could conservatively take more than ten times longer than the 11 minutes and 30 seconds that TransCanada assumes. (After the June 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, an Enbridge tar sands pipeline – a 30 inch pipe compared to the 36-inch Keystone XL – was not completely shut down for 12 hours.)

Realistic calculations yield worst-case spill estimates of more than 180,000 barrels (about 7.9 million gallons) in the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogallala Aquifer, more than 160,000 barrels (about 6.9 million gallons) of crude oil at the Yellowstone River crossings, more than 140,000 barrels (about 5.9 million gallons) at the Platte River crossing and more than 120,000 barrels (about 5.2 million gallons) at the Missouri River crossing.

One of the main categories that Stansbury says TransCanada left out of their computations was the “other causes” category for oil spills. “Other causes” are identified as spills with no apparent cause – pipeline erosion, busted pipes, explosions – and account for as much as 23% of all pipeline spills. By not factoring these potential causes into their analyses, TransCanada was able to downplay the likelihood of a major spill. 

During a media briefing on Monday morning, Dr. Stansbury said that when these factors are calculated, we can expect no fewer than 2 major spills per state during the 50-year projected lifetime of the pipeline.  These spills could release as much as 5 - 7 million barrels of oil each.

Another factor that led to TransCanada's low spill estimate is that they relied on technological improvements to help protect the Keystone XL pipeline. However, as Stansbury tells us, they are only calculating enhanced computer monitoring technology, not enhanced pipeline construction, which will only alert the company to a leak, not help to prevent one. This is a very significant point, because as we reported in June, TransCanada has freely admitted that their oversight of the pipeline is going to be scarce. By their own admission, TransCanada will have very few foot patrols along the pipeline, and most of the monitoring will be done by bi-weekly flyovers which will not be able to identify an underground leak.

Additionally, their proposed computer systems will not be able to identify pinhole leaks, which could potentially lead to thousands of gallons of oil escaping the pipeline for months before the company notices. TransCanada’s own documents, as detailed by Stansbury, show that the company acknowledges that pinhole leaks could take as long as 90 days to detect.

One of the main concerns for the pipeline itself, and one that makes the possibility of spills even more likely, is that the pipeline will be delivering what is known as diluted bitumen (DilBit.) This form of crude oil is much more corrosive than traditional crude oils, meaning that the pipeline will suffer wear and tear at a significantly increased rate.

Stansbury’s report also outlines the dangers of a potential oil spill. Because the pipeline will travel through numerous states, each with their own unique environment and wildlife, it is nearly impossible to fully predict what sort of impact a spill would have. The report says the following about the impacts of a spill near an aquifer:

The primary constituents of concern in surface water are: benzene, PAHs, hydrogen sul- fide, and bulk crude oil. The amounts of these constituents in the surface water are affected by several factors including: the concentration of the constituent in the crude oil, the solubility of the constituent, and the turbulence and velocity of the water. Constituents of special concern are benzene and certain PAHs because they are carcinogenic.

Contaminants from a release at the Missouri or Yellowstone River crossing would enter Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota where they would adversely affect drinking water intakes, aquatic wildlife, and recreation. Contaminants from a spill at the Platte River crossing would travel downstream un- abated into the Missouri River for several hundred miles affecting drinking water intakes for hundreds of thousands of people (e.g., Lincoln, NE; Omaha, NE; Nebraska City, NE; St. Joseph, MO; Kansas City, MO) as well as aquatic habitats and recreational activities. In addition, other constituents from the spill would pose serious risks to humans and to aquatic species in the river.

The worst-case site for such a spill is in the Sandhills region of Nebraska. The Sandhills are an- cient sand dunes that have been stabilized by grasses. Because of their very permeable geology, nearly 100 percent of the annual rainfall infiltrates to a very shallow aquifer, often less than 20 feet below the surface. This aquifer is the well-known Ogallala Aquifer that is one of the most productive and impor- tant aquifers in the world.

Stansbury provided the following maps to illustrate the most vulnerable areas, as well as the main chemicals that would be released into the air, water, and terrestrial environment from a spill:




In the wake of ExxonMobil’s recent Yellowstone River oil spill, the severity and inevitability of oil spills are fresh on the minds of the American public. But as time ticks on, TransCanada continues to inch closer and closer to getting their Keystone XL pipeline approved by the Obama administration. The political odds are in their favor, as the Checks and Balances Project blog points out the political ties that TransCanada has to the current administration:

TransCanada’s main Washington, DC lobbyist is Paul Elliot, who served as the Secretary of State’s national deputy director for her failed presidential run in 2008. This cozy relationship has resulted in several organization filing requests to see the discussions between Clinton and Elliot throughout this process. Currently, the Secretary of State’s office is in the review stages of the approval process for the pipeline, which if given the go-ahead would allow for 900,000 barrels of crude to be pumped into the United States every day.

If the EPA allows TransCanada’s flawed spill report to pass the test, Americans and Canadians alike could see construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the near future. Dr. Stansbury’s report raises serious questions about the consequences of approving this unsafe pipeline, which is essentially guaranteed to leak oil into the waterways and properties of nearby communities. Why would the Obama administration approve such a disaster in the making?

June 21 2011


State of the Oceans Report: Sending Out An SOS

State of the Oceans report sends stark warning for health of marine ecosystemsA preliminary report released today by an international panel of interdisciplinary marine scientists on behalf of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans gives a stark warning that unless the combined threats facing the world’s ocean are not curbed soon, a marine mass extinction could occur on a scale unprecedented in human history.

“The findings are shocking,” said IPSO Scientific Director Alex Rogers. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications become far worse that we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

The conclusions of the report are the product of a first-ever workshop bringing together marine experts and scientist from various disciplines to assess the latest ocean stresses and impacts, and to determine the effects of those multiple stresses on current and future ocean health. The workshop enabled these experts and scientists to engage a comprehensive, global view of the cumulative threats facing the ocean, and how they impact the future viability of ocean ecosystems.

From the report:

“This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater tha thte sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than expected”

The preliminary report posits seven key points to “drive a common sense rethink”:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the ocean and are now causing increased hypoxia (low oxygen)
    Studies of the Earth’s past indicate these three symptoms (warming, acidification, hypoxia) indicate “disturbances of the carbon cycle” associated with all five previous mass extinctions on Earth. The rate of carbon absorption by the ocean is already far greater than what it was at the time of the last globally significant marine mass extinction when up to half of some marine deep-sea species where wiped out.
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from the IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating
  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
  • Timelines for action are shrinking
    The longer we take to get serious about reducing carbon emissions, the more it will cost and the harder it will be to effectively make meaningful reductions. In the meantime, environmental damage will accrue causing greater socioeconomic impacts. The problem isn’t going away.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution, and habitat destruction
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors
    Among those stressors are chemical pollutants, overfishing, agricultural runoff, and sediment loads.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing

The report cites a wholly inadequate approach to management of marine resources and activities that impact the ocean, all of which have led to “intense multiple stressors acting together in many marine ecosystems.” These impacted ecosystems lack the resilience to withstand increased pressures from expanding human populations and increasing rates of CO2 emissions.

A spate of other research supports the findings of the IPSO study, all showing an ocean under severe threat, including disappearing coral reefs, rapidly increasing acidification, and growing incidences of marine life extinctions.

The IPSO report urges a change of human interaction with the ocean and adoption of a “holistic approach to sustainable management of all activities that impinge marine ecosystems.”

“This has to be part of a wider re-evaluation of the core values of human society and its relationship to the natural world and the resources on which we all rely.”

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