Nel's New Day

May 28, 2016

Environmental Hope for Movement from the Right

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 10:03 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Is it possible that the political pendulum in the United States is swinging away from the ultra-right side back to the central? There are a few pieces of hope in the fight against ag-gag laws, Monsanto, and big corporations.

Thanks to conservative lawmakers and a ruling by U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, Idaho taxpayers are stuck with paying $250,000 in legal fees for its unconstitutional “ag-gag” law. The law’s intent was to prevent people from filming the inhumane animal abuse on big agricultural farms. Idaho was the most recent state in the trend to outlaw undercover investigations, and the first to suffer the overturn of its law because of the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. An appeal for the Idaho ruling would go to the usually liberal 9th Circuit of Appeals.

The far-right group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), created by the Koch brothers, drafted a model bill so that conservative lawmakers could take it back to their legislation. These laws maintained that photographing the animal abuse was not only illegal but those convicted were listed on a “terrorist registry.”

Twenty-six states introduced these bills, and seven of them passed it into law. Because Idaho’s law was overturned on federal constitutional grounds, the ruling will most likely set a strong precedent for legal ag-gag challenges throughout the nation.

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Wyoming’s law made it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. “Data collection” means “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.” Warned that the law might be unconstitutional, lawmakers amended it this spring to just private lands where anyone in Wyoming, whether resident or visitor, who takes a photo of a polluted stream to report it to any agency can get a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The law is now in the courts.

The worst state law may be in North Carolina: it covers not only agricultural business but also all other workplaces in the state. According to the law, people secretly taping abuses of people in nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, group homes, medical practices, charter and private schools, veterans’ facilities, etc. can be sued for bad publicity and required to pay a fine of $5,000 each day that the person gathers and/or records information without the business owners’ authorization. The law exempts people who directly report abuses to owners or state authorities, but the information cannot be legally disseminated to the public. The law is being challenged, perhaps successfully. The Idaho judge wrote that activists who pose as employees to gain access to farming operations  “actually advance core First Amendment values by exposing misconduct to the public eye and facilitating dialogue on issues of considerable public interest.”

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Animals are not the only ones abused in agribusiness. Poultry industry workers are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom” in corporate efforts to optimize the speed of production. According to a new study, people avoid drinking liquids for long periods of time and wear diapers at work so that they can “urinate and defecate while standing on the line.” and “wear diapers to work.” Processing companies include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, and Perdue. The industry is also trying to increase the regulation of 140 birds per minute by another 35 birds per minute. OSHA mandates employee access to bathrooms, but some of them are forced to wait for over an hour to be relieved or not have any relief at all.

In the world of chemical pollution, Monsanto has been assessed $46.5 million in damages by a St. Louis jury because of the company’s negligence in handling toxic and carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs. PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago, and Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. Even after Monsanto learned about the product’s dangers, long before it was banned in 1979, the company told the public that PCBs were safe and continued to sell the compounds.

Lawsuits are piling up against Monsanto, the most recent from Long Beach (CA), the eighth city to sue the biotech behemoth after Portland (OR), Seattle, Spokane, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland. These cases are pending. Long Beach’s federal lawsuit states that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs are “widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms” including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans.” The complaint also stated:

“PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff.”

GOP lawmakers are trying to protect Monsanto with the “Monsanto Rider” in the Toxic Substances Control Act reauthorization bill that would give the chemical giant permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs.

The conservative World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a report stating that glyphosate, an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans. After WHO’s announcement, California plans to add glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals. Other bad news for Monsanto came from a 2014 Sri Lankan study showing a possible link between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease that killed thousands of farm workers in Central America. Monsanto not only produces Roundup but also adds the herbicide to its genetically modified seeds that cover the United States. Latvia and Greece have joined other European countries to reject GMOs.

In March, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a House bill that would have prevented all states from having GMO labeling laws. Almost 90% of people in the U.S. want GMO food to be labeled, but the agrichemical industry returned to the Senate with its zombie bill to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act to nullify state labeling efforts. Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer, and ConAgra are among the top ten donors spending over $100 million to defeat GMO ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and California.

A year ago Monsanto agreed to pay $600,000 for its failures to report the release of severe toxic chemicals from its Idaho plant between the years 2006 and 2009. The cost won’t be a problem for Monsanto: the company reporter $1.5 billion in profit during just 2013.

Voters in tiny Hood County (OR), population 22,675, scored a huge victory over Nestle, another international corporation  worth over $247 billion. The battle started eight years ago when the gigantic company tried to buy water rights to Oxbow Springs in a state sometimes suffering from drought. Protesting environmental groups were joined by four Indian tribes by claiming treaty rights and raising concerns about future salmon populations. The ballot measure crafted by Nestle’s opposition banning commercial water operations in the county passed with 70 percent of the vote in the May 17, 2016 primary election.

Nestle’s lure was 50 jobs at $10 per hour with no benefits; the company spent $105,000 fighting the initiative. If Nestle had won, it would have paid less than residents for the water. Julia Degraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch, said, “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles. It really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.”

The town of Cascade Locks, population 1,148 and an unemployment of 19 percent, passed the measure by 58 percent. Nestle targets economically depressed areas to make billions of dollars in profit and leaves the area with environmental, infrastructure, and other costs.

May 13, 2016

Hopeful Environmental News

 

GOP presumptive heir has campaigned on the position that he will let his advisors tell him what to do, and his newest advisor in helping him draft energy policy is climate change skeptic and drilling advocate Rep. Kevin Cramer from North Dakota, a major oil drilling state. Cramer stated that his white paper will show the dangers of burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will present these ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck (ND) later this month. According to Cramer, the earth is cooling, not warming.

While Trump’s train chugs on, environmentalists have recently received good news.

Methane gas: The EPA announced new rules to significantly reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities as well as those undergoing modifications. It’s a first step in this area because the direction, finalized later this year, is only for these wells on federal lands and not for existing ones. The regulations will cover only 25 percent of the oil and gas equipment. Methane gas worsens smog, asthma iin children, and cardiovascular disease while increasing premature death.

Fracking: The industry has suffered a $4.2 million jury award over alleged groundwater contamination from fracking. Cabot Oil and Gas Co. is supposed to give the money to families in Dimock (PA). Popular support for fracking is also shrinking to 36 percent of people in the nation last March from 40 percent the prior March. Federal regulators are also working on new environmental rules for the industry that has experienced a long price slump. The oil and gas industry is under much greater scrutiny that at the beginning of its boom ten years ago.

Renewable energy: Last Sunday morning Germany got 90 percent of its electricity demand from renewable power. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time: the country averages 30 percent of the country’s power from solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Yet that average is over 230 percent higher than in the United States that gets only 13 percent of its electricity from these energy sources. At the fourth-largest economy in the world, Germany’s $3.7 trillion GDP is higher than any European country or US state. As clean energy grew in Germany so did its economy. The country, with about as much sunshine as Alaska, outpaces the U.S. in solar although the U.S. has four times the population of Germany. German individuals drive the “energy transition” because the government opened the market to utilities, businesses, and homeowners. In contrast, the U.S. restricts clean energy through high taxes and fees on its installation and use, much of these restrictions from control on solar energy by fossil-fuel owning Koch brothers. Florida is just one example.

Coal terminals: A five-year struggle between coal and Native Americans has resulted in denial of federal permits for the biggest proposed coal terminal in North America at Cherry Point (WA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the project would violate the nation’s treaty obligations to protect Lummi fisheries and ancestral lands. The project would have overloaded the capacity of BNSF railways by adding 16 trains per day and increase the possibility of rail collisions by 22 percent through Cowlitz County and Washington. The increase in train activity would cause road delays at between four to six crossings. The company behind the project, Millennium Bulk Terminals, is still hoping to have a terminal at Longview (WA), but it had to pull its proposal when it was discovered that the company planned to ship 60 million tons of coal annual instead of the 5.7 million tons on the applications. Since Millennium applied for permits in 2012, Arch Coal, a minority shareholder, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

New clean electric generation in the United States: Last year, wind turbines and solar panels accounted for more than two-thirds of all new electric generation capacity added to the nation’s grid in 2015. The other third was natural gas fueled by natural gas. It was the second year that U.S. investment in renewable energy outpaced that of fossil fuels. The cost of emissions-free wind energy, the cheapest energy source, has dropped by two-thirds in the last six years. Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas—home states to GOP lawmakers fighting the curtailment of climate-warming carbon emissions—benefited the most from clean energy. In the past ten years, coal has dropped from providing half the nation’s electricity to one-third, and large banks will no longer finance new coal mines or coal-fired power plants. U.S. coal mines not employ only 56,700 people down from a peak of times that many employees; solar employs more than 210,000 workers, and wind energy has another 77,000 employees.

This week, the EPA issued a report that Monsanto’s Roundup, made with glyphosate, doesn’t cause cancer, but it pulled the report, marked FINAL, with the excuse that they weren’t finished. The question is whether they were being pressured by business because evidence is growing that the product is carcinogenic, as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the product.  Four Nebraska farmers agree with WHO and are suing Monsanto, claiming that its project gave them non-Hodkin’s lymphoma. Monsanto made $4.8 billion from Roundup sales last year, and more than 85 million pounds of glyphosate was applied to U.S. crops in 2007, more than double the 85 million pounds in 2001. Glyphosate is applied to “Roundup-ready” crops that are genetically modified to resist it and used on more than 100 varieties of crops in commercial agriculture. The complaint states:

 “Glyphosate is found in rivers, streams, and groundwater in agricultural areas where Roundup is used. It has been found in food, the urine of exposed persons, and in the urine of urban dwellers without direct contact with glyphosate.”

Last year California was the first state to label Roundup as a carcinogen, and Monsanto sued the state to fight this designation. Cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other blood cancers, including lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia, B-cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The farmers’ lawsuit isn’t the first: Monsanto faces at least 700 lawsuits against Monsanto or Monsanto-related entities regarding cancer caused by PCBs that the company manufactured until the late 1970s. California federal judge Vince Chhabria has also refused to dismiss a lawsuit about Monsanto’s causing cancer with Roundup.

More and more media sources no longer have journalists but instead rely on press releases from companies who benefit from lying about science. Even most existing journalists aren’t well enough trained in science to spot misinformation.  In an attempt to disseminate accurate scientific information, a group of scientists are now fact-checking scientific information in the media through a new project called Climate Feedback. They started on a small scale over a year ago and are now crowdfunding $30,000 to build the project’s capacity with new weekly feedbacks. Associate Editor Daniel Nethery said:

“Several aspects of the online media environment make it particularly conducive to the spread of misinformation. In the race to attract the most clicks, editorial standards may suffer, qualified journalists who carry out rigorous research may become cost-ineffective, and eye-catching headlines — ‘click bait’ — can trump more sober reporting of the facts.”

Nethery and co-founder Emmanuel Vincent plan to hire a dedicated editor and encourage accurate science writing through a Scientific Trust Tracker to guide readers sources with “journalists with integrity.” An example of their work can be found in their analysis of James Taylor’s article in Forbes, “2015 Was Not Even Close To Hottest Year On Record.”

Climate Feedback will need a lot more money in this election cycle!

April 23, 2016

Oregon Media Has No Comment about Radioactive Leaks

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 8:18 PM
Tags: ,

Hanford nuclear site, about half the size of Rhode Island, was built during World War II by DuPont as an experimental large-scale plutonium production reactor. GE took over after the war and then closed down most of the reactors within the next two decades. For almost 30 years, the U.S. government has tried to clean up the radioactive mess with little success. With two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume, the site remains the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation and has cost $2 billion a year for cleanup, one-third of fed’s national budget for this purpose in the entire country. Throughout the almost three decades of planned cleanup, the site continues to leak.

Hanford nuclear site_0

The most recent disaster was last Sunday when one of the 28 underground tanks holding radioactive materials leaked over eight inches of toxic waste between its inner and outer walls. That tank has been leaking for the past five years but never to that extent. Washington state’s Department of Ecology and the U.S. Department of Energy said that it wasn’t any problem, but former worker Mike Geffre, who first found that the tank was failing in 2011, disagrees.

“This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event ever to happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the savior of all saviors [to hold waste safely from people and the environment].”

The 2011 leak wasn’t acknowledged or announced for at least a year, and this time the government is saying that the rupture is “anticipated.” But the tank’s outer shell lacks an exhaust or filtration system to keep dangerous gases from polluting the air, and workers are ordered to wear full respiratory safety gear. The hazards “went up by a factor of 10,” according to Geffre, and employees weren’t warned that something like this might happen. Geffre said the government waited for a year to act on his warnings in 2011. Talking about the new leaks, he said, “It’s an example of a culture at Hanford of ‘We don’t have problems here. We’re doing just fine.’ Which is a total lie.”

No one knows if the three other double-shell tanks with the same design as the leaking tank are having the same problem with widening cracks—or if the government would reveal the problem because of the way that they hide the information five years ago. Columbia Riverkeepers, an Oregon-based advocacy organization, pointed out that the tanks, built almost 80 years ago weren’t made to hold waste for decades. The leaking tank is just one of 28 double-shell tanks. Hanford has a total of 177 underground tanks.

The original cracks in the compromised tank may have been enlarged by attempts to pump waste out of it. Pumping began three weeks ago after Washington state petitioned the federal government to do something about the damaged structure. Crews were removing waste from the tank because mixed radioactive and chemical waste had previously leaked into the secondary containment area. It’s possible that the pressure change has “blown out” the weakened wall, putting waste even closer to the nearby Columbia River.

In the same statement that the DOE released about “no indications that waste has reached the environment and … no threat to the public at this time,” the agency admitted that the tank is “too dangerous” to send workers to inspect the full scope of the damage. Further doubt may be generated by the lawsuit that workers filed earlier against the government to seek protection for workers at the Hanford site “from exposure to toxic vapors released from Hanford’s high-level nuclear waste tanks.” The lawsuit states poor management has caused some employees to suffer brain damage, nervous system disorders, and lung diseases resulting from the poor management of the facility. Problems continue, according to the lawsuit because “[officials] don’t have the monitoring equipment in place, they don’t have enough people to do the monitoring, and worst of all, Hanford officials have made it repeatedly clear that they don’t think there is a problem.”

Nuclear engineer Walter Tamasaitis worked for URS Corp for 44 years but was reassigned to a basement office in 2009 after he warned people about the safety design issues at Hanford. Federal investigators supported his concerns, but he was fired in 2013. It was a warning to anyone else who might complain about how the cleanup at Hanford was operated. Hanford has 8,000 workers.

The government had planned a waste treatment plant at Hanford by 2022, but late last year, they pushed its startup to 2039. The plan was to change 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge into solid glass. In 2014, a review showed that the partially built plant had 362 “significant design vulnerabilities,” including seals that could melt and ventilation systems that might not be able to contain radioactive gases. The original plan was to turn out six metric tons of vitrified high-level waste and 30 tons of vitrified low-level waste. At that rate, the job would be finished by 2059. Revised plans pushed the completion date to nearly the end of the 21st century. DOE proposed removing waste from single-shell tanks through 2024 and building new double-wall tanks—that are now failing.

The DOE may have expected the disaster, but removal work is on hold until the situation is evaluated and a plan created to recover the leaked material. The Hanford site, located on the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon, is only 230 miles for Portland (OR), but the media has reported nothing about the leaks. The Portland area has a population of almost 2.4 million people, almost 60 percent of Oregon’s population of 3.97 million.

The Oregonian, once the largest newspaper in the state of Oregon, has nothing to say about the current dangers at Hanford.

April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016 – Keep What We Have, Make It Better

[Once again, thanks to Ann Hubard for the photographs, showing the benefits of Oregonians because we still have public land.]

Multinomah FallsEarth Day turned 46 today, and I went looking for some good news. These five items from Julia Whittey:

The huge drop of toxic PCBs and related contaminants in polar bears on the island of Svalbard shows that international agreements to ban PCBs are showing some success. As polar bears go, there go humans.

Wildlife preserves in Russia and China for highly rare Amur leopards show that the countries are working together to save endangered species.

Fog in WallowasForty individual projects and nine larger projects received almost one-half billion dollars since last November—the greatest amount of funding that it has provided. One is a proposal to protect at least 5 percent of Brazil’s ocean territory through marine protected areas, and another is a project to investigate the potential of creating ‘blue forest’ preserves in the ocean for the storage of carbon by mangrove and coral ecosystems.

Southern right whales, extinct from ancestral calving grounds off New Zealand for over a century, are finding their way home. Before the whaling industry, 30,000 whales lived in that area.

The  Arabian Oryx, thought to be extinct in the wild since 1973, has moved up to “vulnerable” since captive breeding efforts through Operation Oryx.

Ortho, a gigantic pesticide manufacturer, is stopping the use of neonicotinoids, known for killing honey bees. Europe banned these pesticides in 2013, and Ontario was the first North American region to ban them last year.

For the first time in a half century, greenhouse gas emissions are staying static while the economy grows.

For the first time in U.S. history, solar power increased more in generating capacity than natural gas. Over 29 percent of all new power capacity came from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in 2015, a 17 percent increase over 2014.

 

Mountain in WAArch Coal, one of the biggest in the U.S., will abandoned plans to build the biggest new coal mine in the U.S.,  the proposed Otter Creek coal mine, after Indigenous activists, ranchers, and landowners asked for prevention of permits. In Reno, no one showed up to bid at the federal oil and gas auctions. And in Oregon, the federal government denied an application for the proposed Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas terminal at Coos Bay. FERC said that there was no need for the project that takes fracked gas from Canada through a proposed pipeline before it is shipped out of the country.

Today’s Earth Day will also be known as the anniversary for the 170 world leaders who gathered at the UN to sign the Paris Agreement, bringing the nations together to tackle climate change. Countries have already been building programs to increase clean energy and stop the pollution. To take effect, 55 percent of the countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must ratify the deal. Both the U.S. and China, together representing 40 percent of global emissions, signed today.

An extra one: The earth’s protected areas cover eight million square miles of land and sea, over twice the size of Canada. Maps and charts since 1872 here.

Tom McCall PreserveUnfortunately, that number may shrink if the Republicans get their way. After the Bundy tribe threatened federal officials in Nevada a few years ago and occupied a bird sanctuary in Oregon last winter, more GOP legislators are talking about privatizing public land. If they don’t want to go that far, they want to log, drill, mine, bulldoze, and develop that lands available for everyone.

Federal land is used for camping, hiking, climbing, fishing, bird watching, rafting, bicycling, and just plain enjoying with over 600 million visits a year. In just 2011, federal lands provided two million jobs and $385 billion in economic development. National forests provide water—generally clean and pure—to 60 million people. Public land cuts down on pollution because it lacks industry and produces oxygen while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. I live next to the most beautiful beaches in the United States because they are not privately owned. Anyone can walk or run along the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, unlike in California which sells its beaches.

The land in the West has never been “private” land. The federal government took it from Native Americans, not the ranchers who claim that they should “take it back.” The Homestead Act gave away some of this land, but much of it was set aside as national forests and parks.

It’s not “we the people” who think that the public lands should be put into private hands; it’s the corporations and industries such as the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobile—the companies that own the GOP lawmakers. In their attempt to take over private lands, the Koch brothers directly funded the group that occupied an Oregon bird sanctuary earlier this year.

BeachThe move toward privatizing comes from federal government haters in Congress trying to turn federal lands over to the states because they would supposedly be the best to manage them. Of course, they would have to pay for the management, including paying for jobs, firefighting, roads, etc. Complaints about not having access to public land would vastly increase if these were managed by the states instead of the federal government. Many Western states don’t consider state lands to be “public” and thus make them off limits to recreation, trapping, and firewood cutting. Ranchers and farmers would lose grazing rights and federal water.

Former GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s top energy priority was to “work with Congress to ensure that states and tribes—and not the federal government—have the primary role in oversight of energy development within their borders.” He meant selling, transferring, or privatizing U.S. private lands and energy resources—and waive environmental protections. The RNC has officially endorsed efforts to force U.S. public lands to state ownership, and last year the Senate passed a budget proposal that would do just that. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has a group of House members, the Federal Land Action Group, with the goal of determining “the best congressional action needed to return these [federal] lands back to the rightful owners.”  The Koch brothers’ conservative network is lobbying Western state legislatures to demand state ownership of national forests and other public lands. Their supporters are anti-government activists, white supremacists, militias, and other extremist groups whose ideas are dribbling into the Tea Party that some people consider “mainstream” instead of fringe groups.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is aligned with Cliven Bundy and the land grab movement. No longer a presidential candidate, he’ll still be in the U.S. Senate and will surely continue to push legislation for the loss of federal lands. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), proud of his connection with the conservative ALEC, is right up there with Paul and will remain as senator or be president. As Ohio governor, John Kasich opened state parks to oil and gas drilling before reversing his position three years later because the state lacked “the policies in place yet to properly do it.” In a little over a century, the GOP has changed from the conservation party of Teddy Roosevelt to the takeover party that gives only to corporations and the wealthy.

Then states will sell the land that the federal government “gives” them. New Mexico has sold over one-third of its original 13 million acres, Nevada has just 3,000 acres left from its 2.7 million, Idaho sold 1.2 million acres, and Colorado and Arizona each sold off 1.7 million acres.

Earth Day is a time to appreciate what we have and fight for keeping it—and making it better!

February 2, 2016

Good News Despite Iowa Caucus

The Iowa caucus yesterday was a disaster for country that claims to be a democracy. Want to vote for a presidential candidate? Go to a corner and get counted. Want to decide on a delegate? Toss a coin. Want to have somebody run a caucus? Pick somebody who just showed up to vote and is clueless about structure and responsibilities?  Then there’s the winner. Marco Rubio came out first to declare himself a victor because he got third place for the Republicans—something accurately predicted by polls.

Then there’s the super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Every donor is white. Of the $417,250 received in donations, $400,000 came from Robert Mercer, hedge-fund sugar daddy for Ted Cruz. The sole beneficiary of the super PAC is Raynard Jackson, a GOP black political consultant based in Washington, D.C. The money is  for events encouraging blacks to join the Republican party.

While the Iowa caucus controlled media content, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) admitted that he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), current chair of the Benghazi investigation, created the attack on Hillary Clinton to keep a Democrat from being elected president. They hope that the committee’s persecution and pushing Clinton’s emails can cause her to lose to “a devout socialist who wants to nationalize almost everything in America,” according to Issa. That can be the rationale for concentrating on her emails and overlooking other high-profile leaders  who use private servers for their government emails.

While House members constantly attack Clinton and repeal health care, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) protects his party members by doing nothing for the next nine months. No decision about ISIS, no criminal justice reform legislation, and probably no trade deals. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) claim that the Senate doesn’t even need to pass a budget, despite the GOP complaints about the Dems in the same position. McConnell plans to string out the 12 annual appropriation bills to appear that he’s doing something.  Of the 34 seats up for re-election in the Senate, 24 are held by Republicans including Johnson and Portman. Losing five of those seats turns the majority in the Senate back to the Democrats.

People of the United States did experience a victory last Friday. For a few months, the United States won’t be giving out any new permits to frack for oil or gas off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where Exxon Mobil and other oil companies operate platforms. The settlement from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles also requires the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the deadline of May 28, 2016, the public has at least 30 days to review and comment on the assessment.

Over 200 cases of fracking in state and federal waters off California have rubber-stamped permits from federal regulators, and the oil industry dumps over 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean off the California coast every year. At least ten fracking chemicals routinely used offshore kills marine life, including otters and fish. Some of the many fish species that could be harmed by fracking pollution include white seabass, sand and kelp (calico) bass, lingcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, sculpin, yellow croaker, barred surfperch and dozens of species of rockfish.

The settlement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking, including that in the Gulf of Mexico which has never had any environmental review. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 could protect these species, but it has never been fully implemented and enforced, with no protection for ocean pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture, and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

A state panel to determine so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California between 2009 and 2012 was led by a oil industry lobbyist. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force as her industry fracked the waters with little or no government oversight. State officials promised to review the “marine protected areas” every five years but changed to 10-year reviews.

Conservatives angry about protecting the ocean are also going to be furious about Facebook’s announcement that it will ban users from selling guns on both its main site and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Licensed gun dealers can still post with the requirement that they do not conduct purchases on the site, but it applies to the private gun sales not requiring background checks in most states.

Facebook rules cover gun parts and ammunition as well as guns. Federal laws don’t cover guns if they are 80 percent or less complete, like an “unfinished lower receiver.” In this way, people can buy “incomplete” guns without serial numbers or background checks, and people can buy these parts and put them together for an untraceable gun. Some websites even sell the machines to complete receivers with the promise that buyers can build unserialized firearms legally in your own home. The federal government can’t block this, but Facebook can decide what it doesn’t want to sell—such as marijuana, pharmaceuticals, or other potentially illegal objects.

With one debate before next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, media will be consumed by presidential candidates. At least that state uses real ballots. Both parties debate next week—Dems on February 11 and GOP on February 13—before decisions on a Democratic candidate in Nevada and the GOP candidate in South Carolina on February 20. The two parties can’t even vote on the same day in those states: Democrats wait another week to vote in South Carolina and the GOP won’t caucus in Nevada until February 23. Four weeks from today is Super Tuesday with a solid dozen states. Maybe that will produce a decision—or not.

Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee on the GOP side have both dropped out. Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008, said, “The voters are sick of me.” In the 2012 Iowa caucus, the first winner was Mitt Romney. After Iowa GOP decided they made a mistake, they selected Rick Santorum and then went on to declare Ron Paul the real winner. The next dropout may be John Kasich who said that he’ll be gone if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire. No one knows what Donald Trump will decide.

Ted Cruz’s campaign has outdone Trump’s outrageousness by spreading the news during the Iowa caucus that Ben Carson was planning to drop out of the race. Later Cruz apologized, calling it a “mistake” but said that it was “fair game” to update his “grassroot leaders” that “Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.” Twenty minutes after the caucuses began in Iowa, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the Cruz campaign’s national co-chair, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

Cruz had already gained the ire of Iowa’s secretary of state after Cruz sent mailers that misrepresented state election law. A warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page was followed by that statement that people were receiving notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area.” The flier continued, “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” After that were a list of names, letter grades, and percentage scores.

sandersclintondebate

The highlight of my week will be the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday, February 4–if it happens. Moderator Rachel Maddow will moderate, and Fox can watch to see how debates should be run. It’s still up in the air because Bernie Sanders first said he wanted the debate, but now he says he won’t debate unless Hillary Clinton agrees to his conditions on future debates.

And the joke that the U.S. calls democracy continues.

 

January 25, 2016

Aerial Herbicides Seriously Damage Humans, Animals

The poisonous water in Flint (MI) has been widely publicized—at least in more progressive publications—but lead is not the only danger to water in the United States. Much closer to my home is the practice of spraying herbicides in Oregon’s forests where the poison moves far beyond the intended destination. Each year, helicopters spray herbicides on more than 165 square miles of Oregon timberland, an area larger than the city of Portland, under the West Coast’s weakest regulations.

As endocrine disruptors, herbicides are banned in many countries because of their carcinogenic properties. Exposure results in rashes, nausea, headaches, seizures, and convulsions, and even death. Some herbicides cause nervous system disorders, such as peripheral neuropathy, which begins with numbness and tingling in toes and fingers that spreads to hands and feet as well as pain, muscle weakness, and sensitivity to touch. Long-term exposure to chemicals used in aerial spraying can injure the liver and kidneys.

State foresters and private timber companies use helicopters to kill vegetation on recently logged land through herbicide spraying. Washington, Idaho, and California are aware of dangers and attempt to protect their residents from indiscriminate spraying. Oregon officials with the Oregon Department of Forestry, however, have permitted pesticide sprayers to continue even after they have lost their license. Although complaints against Applebee Aviation found several violations, owner Michael Applebee told his employees to keep flying—which they did on 16 more parcels of forest, two of them public lands.

Applebee employee Darryl Ivy, recorded over 200 videos, showing how helicopters sprayed the toxic poison on workers, drivers moved leaky trucks covered in weed killers past homes and rivers, and one man who dipped a bucket with a chemical polluting water into a stream. One of the weed killers, Velossa, can cause irreversible eye damage; another, 2,4-D, causes skin irritation. Just breathing vapors can cause dizziness. Ivy wasn’t told that they were supposed to wash their skin for 15 minutes if chemicals land on his clothes.

In one video, Ivy inquired about complaining neighbors, and a driver answers, “Pansies.” Asked about deer in the way, a forester says, “They all get sprayed.” After a few days on the crew, Ivy started coughing blood in hacking fits. Red welts still dotted his arms and neck after two weeks. At the emergency room at Roseberg’s Mercy Medical Center, hospital staff immediately put him in a decontamination shower, sealed his clothes in a bucket and kept him in an isolation room, equipped with a special ventilation system used when treating highly infectious patients. A doctor diagnosed him with “acute chemical exposure” and “acute contact dermatitis.”

In 2010, an Applebee pilot covered a Hillsboro cyclist with herbicide, but neither the pilot nor the company was fined. In 2014, another Applebee pilot allowed weed killers to drift 400 feet into a neighbor’s front yard, sickening several people. The pilot and the company were each penalized $407, less than driving 36 mph in a 25 mph zone.

In October 2013, a logging operation sprayed chemicals on over 40 people in Curry County’s Cedar Valley as an independent pilot repeatedly flew over homes between two clearcuts, misting people below. His license was suspended for a year, and both he and the business were fined $10,000. No one has been punished, however, because the case is on hold while Steven Owen, the pilot, is contesting the judgment.

Last fall, a parent saw the aerial spray of chemicals drifting toward Triangle Lake Charter School from two miles away. A new law prevents spraying within 60 feet of school buildings but not the playgrounds or other outdoor areas. Weyerhaeuser had filed a spray notice on August 12, 2015 that they would be spraying between September 2 and December 31; the spray was September 8 and 9, the first two days of school. There were at least ten sprays the first day. The school was not notified because it was not on the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s list.

The 30-minute documentary Behind the Emerald Curtain by the Oregon-based conservation group Pacific Rivers  shows testimony from the damaging herbicide spraying, including near schools, healthcare facilities, and schools.  As in other communities depending on watersheds for water, Rockaway Beach suffers from degraded water quality and sickened forestry workers because of herbicide spraying.

Last year, the Oregon legislature failed to pass SB 613 to protect Oregonians against exposure to herbicides. The bill proposed to:

  • Provide as much protection to people, livestock, and crops as to fish.
  • Ensure that people know that herbicides will be sprayed nearby.
  • Allow people to know what chemicals are being sprayed near their homes and drinking water supplies.

Although Oregon’s Forest Practices Act requires helicopters to keep chemicals away from a 60-foot buffer zone along fish-bearing streams, residences and agricultural lands have no buffer zone. Washington state has a 200-foot buffer around residences, and Idaho bans spraying within one-half mile of agricultural lands.

Oregonians must each pay $25 for advance notification. Otherwise, Rockaway Beach resident Nancy Webster said, “You just listen for the helicopters.”  Information about chemicals in herbicides is difficult or impossible to find.

Up to 40 percent of herbicides sprayed from the air is lost to drift that travels four or more miles. Oregon law does not prevent pilots from spraying in windy and rainy conditions, allowing chemicals on private property and homes.

Opponents of SB613 claim that people get sick because pilots violate existing laws and fear that spraying forest herbicides will be completely banned as it is on federal lands.

Oregon law permits clearcutting on slopes of any steepness within 20 feet of most waterways but with no buffer for small streams without fish. Toxins can be sprayed directly on small streams that flow into larger streams. This practice causes a temperature rise greater than in areas with wider buffers. Last year, Oregon was the first state to have its regulatory program disapproved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and NOAA Fisheries, partly because it did not control the aerial application of pesticides.

Conservationists say that there is an alternative to spraying clearcuts to destroy plants competing with new fir saplings. According to Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, trees will grow with killing off understory vegetation but take longer.

Economist Ernie Niemi points out that the practices are as bad for the economy as for the environment. The exporting of most cut trees eliminates local jobs and income. The film also features private forest owner Peter Hayes, whose family timber company Hyla Woods cuts its trees in ways that maintain as much forest diversity as possible in order to preserve ecosystem health.

Like other rural areas of the state, the abuse of aerial pesticide spraying in Lincoln County (OR) has gone back decades. When a county commissioner protested the EPA ban of herbicide 2,4,5-T in 1979, claiming that any health problems came from smoking marijuana, 22-year-old Melyce Connelly decided to fight back. She had just learned that the EPA found dioxin in a neighbor’s water supply; the neighbor had had two miscarriages and one child with multiple birth defects. The Forest Service announced that it would substitute 2,4-D for that year, spraying the headwaters of Ryan Creek, Melyce’s watershed for her farm.

Melyce and her neighbors met with the district ranger who promised that their water sources would not be sprayed. Three days later, a helicopter sprayed their water source. Within a few days, all the young chicks and ducklings on Melyce’s farm died, and her six-month-old son developed persistent, bloody diarrhea. Over the next month, every pregnant women in her first trimester who lived in the surrounding valley miscarried, and several children were hospitalized with near-fatal cases of spinal meningitis. Melyce carefully preserved the dead chicks and ducklings in her freezer, hoping to get them analyzed.

Melyce 2Hearing the commissioner’s claim about marijuana, she took some of the dead chicks and ducklings and dumped them on his desk along with her baby’s bloody, soiled diaper. The commissioner apologized, and from that time on, Commissioner Andy Zedwick campaigned against the aerial spraying of herbicides. Later Melyce gave researchers the dead chicks and ducklings for analysis only to find out that the results had been “mixed up” with Dow Chemical samples from Midland (MI).

In the next five years, dioxin levels increased four-fold in sediments upstream from Melyce’s home. There was no attempt to collect further samples in the valley, and the EPA announced that the levels presented no “immediate” health risk. Ten years after Ryan Creek was sprayed with 2,4-D, Melyce Connelly died on July 4, 1989 of brain, lung, and breast cancer. She was 32 years old. If she had lived, she would have celebrated her 60th birthday this year.

Not until 1993 did EPA admit that 2,4-D was contaminated with the most toxic form of dioxin, 2,3,7,8-TCDD although they had known this since the early 1970s. The use of 2,4-D in forestry and on residential lawns, roadsides, golf courses, and school grounds continues to this day, with EPA approval.

October 17, 2015

Fracking May Destroy the Country

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM
Tags: , ,

Michael Steele’s war cry of “Drill, baby, drill” became the mantra during Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign after the former RNC chair delivered it at the 2008 GOP convention. The slogan changed to “Spill, baby, spill” after the gigantic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and dumped almost 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson at 13 percent as well as failing to bring in donations, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may move to a slogan of “Frack, baby, frack!” In Ohio he called for reversing EPA regulations on fracking and greenhouse emissions, allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, nullifying President Obama’s international climate change accord, and immediately allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be finished.

Rubio’s wish list would dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules, speed up approval of natural-gas export terminals,  and stop environmental groups from suing the government. Solar and wind energy would disappear. In returning to total dependence on fossil fuels, he called opponent Hillary Clinton “an outdated leader” whose policies are a misguided attempt at “changing the weather.”

Like changing his views on immigration, Rubio has “evolved,” or perhaps a better term is “regressed” in his positions on fossil fuels. Florida state legislature Speaker Marco Rubio listed clean energy as a priority in 2007. He predicted that greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable and called on Florida to become “an international model of energy efficiency and independence” and the “Silicon Valley” of clean energy. He modified this approach in his party’s rebuttal to the president’s 2013 State of the Union speech by retaining interest in solar and wind energy with a focus on extracting fossil fuels. Now he has entirely dropped clean energy.

More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states, and over 10 million people live within one mile of a fracking site that damages health, water, land, and air. The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking includes over 100 studies showing why areas such as the state of New York were right to ban fracking.

 

  • People living near fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than in other areas (Study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011)
  • Cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells.
  • Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
  • Prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may interrupt hormonal functioning including lower male fertility in adulthood with low sperm count and enlarged testicles.
  • Premature births are 40 percent higher among women in areas of intense drilling, and women’s pregnancies are 30 percent more likely to be “high-risk.” Premature births are linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision impairments, neurological disabilities, and infant deaths. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
  • People living near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions. (Yale University)
  • Higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals are in drinking water near fracking sites. (Texas researchers)

In an effort to stop studies in Oklahoma, billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm tried to persuade the University of Oklahoma to fire scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquake frequency and threatened to get the Oklahoma Geological Survey moved from the school. Hamm served as an adviser on energy policy on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Rubio may not understand the dangers of fracking to life if he follows only publications from the oil and gas industry. Although a new set of research shows that Texas methane emissions are 50 percent higher than estimated, Energy in Depth from the fossil fuel industry said that rising emissions are falling because of the paltry voluntary efforts. Texas claims that it needs to regulations to remedy the problem, but that state is failing while Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming are taking steps toward leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations.

Even the patent holder on a device that measures methane emissions thinks that it could be faulty by underrecording leakage rages. The sampler must be frequently recalibrated as methane levels rise above the capacity of the first sensor on the device.

Perhaps Rubio will agree with the EPA’s study concluding that found no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Data for the poorly designed study came from the oil and gas industry that blocked direct monitoring of fracking operations. No baseline water testing was allowed before the final tests. One study of southwestern Pennsylvania fracking wells last year found that the wells released methane at rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates by the EPA. Methane concentration of residential water wells at Pennsylvania homes one mile from fracking wells was six times higher than in homes located farther away from wells.

Maryland has banned fracking for 30 months while it determines regulations for the practice, but Oklahoma has banned bans on fracking after Texas told cities and towns that they were forced to permit fracking. Campaign donations trump fracking problems in Oklahoma as in Norman where hundreds of thousands of people have potentially tainted drinking water after careless disposal of fracking wastewater. The new law also prevents any city policies to ensure the water is safe.

No one may be protected from unsafe drinking water because of the Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Named after then-Vice-president Dick Cheney’s corporation, the provision exempts fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allows the oil and gas industry to conceal the ways that they pollute on a grand scale. The same law also made the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) able to rubber-stamp federal, state, and local decisions about fossil fuels from accountability to Congress and the White House.

Despite Oklahoma’s bans on bans, the state Supreme Court has determined that people subjected to earthquakes caused by oil and gas operations can sue the company for damages. The industry wanted cases resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) instead of the courts. Oklahoma has a seriously growing problem with fracking earthquakes with an unprecedented average of ten a day. Before fracking started in 2009, the state annually averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude.

Less than a month after the OCC ordered companies to shut down or decrease usage of five saltwater disposal wells near Cushing, an earthquake of 4.5 hit the area a week ago. The day before, an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit just 80 miles away. Thus far, regulators have issued rules for only 23 of the state’s 3,500 wells.

One-fifth of the U.S. commercial crude oil storage capacity is located near this earthquake site, and the 87 million-barrel capacity is almost full because low oil prices are causing the energy industry to hoard the crude. Steve Agee, an economist and Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, said that the supply of crude has outpaced worldwide demand, drastically bringing down oil prices that hover around $50 a barrel up from $37.75 in August. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said that the national inventory of 457.9 million barrels is the highest in almost 80 years.

Oklahoma isn’t alone in earthquake problems: Kansas joined Oklahoma to have 42 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude in one week—17 percent of the earthquakes in the world—up from 1.5 of these quakes each year. The water, sand, and toxic chemicals shot into the bedrock at extremely high pressures destabilizes the bedrock, reactivates long-dormant fault lines, and causes man-made earthquakes. The Oklahoma/Kansas area of Woodford shale sits above the mid-continent rift, a billion-year old fault line buried more than a mile below the surface. As the number of earthquakes grows, the area of occurrence increases, going as far as Oklahoma City which has no main fracking wells. The earthquakes are also becoming more powerful with the potential to provide significant local damage—such as blowing up the 87 million barrels of oil at Cushing.

At the same time, air pollution travels hundreds of miles into states with little or no fracking. Ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Washington, D.C. Maybe Marco Rubio is not as safe as he thinks he is.

May 22, 2015

California’s Oil Spill, Drought–A Predictor

As California suffers from the fifth year of the worst drought in 1200 years, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency after a faulty oil pipeline spilled a minimum of 105,000 gallons of the crude on a pristine beach north of Santa Barbara. The black sludge was pouring through the pipeline at 84,000 gallons an hour before the 24-inch pipeline diverted the oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours.

The disaster, barely a week after the Obama Administration gave conditional approval for drilling the Arctic Ocean, caused closure of local fisheries and local beaches as well as killing wildlife before moving out into the ocean. There, the oil badly damages vulnerable creatures such as mussels, barnacles and other shellfish that cannot leave the area because they are connected to the seafloor and rocks. The oil seeking into the sediment, reefs, and beaches will smother organisms in a formerly pristine eco-system and can never be cleaned out.

The owner has been issued 176 safety and maintenance infractions for the Plains All American Pipeline in the past nine years, more than three times the national average. County officials require that all pipelines have an automatic shutdown valve, but a 1988 court ruling allowed the pipeline’s former owners to not use one because it could trigger false alarms. The company’s infractions of pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion, and operator error has spilled more than 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquid and caused over $32 million in property damage. Corrosion was determined the cause in roughly 90 of those accidents, and failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 80 times.

Offshore oil production is prohibited in California waters since 1969, but the state waters end at three nautical miles offshore. Beyond that boundary, oil drilling is extensive as shown by the green boxes on the map.

ExxonMobileLasFlores-638x477 With almost 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states, the Plains reported $43 billion in revenue last year and $878 million in profit last year. Of the over 1,700 pipeline operators, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains Pipeline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Plains in 2010 over a series of 10 oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Accused of spilling 273,420 gallons of crude oil, some of it into rivers. the company firm agreed to $3.25 million in fines and $41 million to upgrade its pipelines. Last year, a Plains pipeline sprayed about 10,000 gallons of oil over businesses in Atwater Village, an L.A. neighborhood.

Because the pipeline lacked any automatic shutdown valve, the disaster wasn’t discovered until a woman walking on the beach reported the smell of oil. No one knew how long the pipeline had been leaking, and the pipeline wasn’t shut down for another three hours. Santa Barbara is the site of the third-worst U.S. oil spills in January 1969 that led to then-President Richard Nixon signing the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969. He established the Environmental Protection Agency the next year and oversaw the passage of the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. It was the 1969 oil disaster that led to Earth Day.

citizens cleaningAlthough most photos of the cleanup show workers in protective gear, people living nearby started the process because of the delay in sending anyone to clean up the beach.  Photos of the damage are available here. Warning: they will literally sicken you.

Last year, Louisiana GOP Reps. Vance McAllister and John Fleming recommended repairing oil pipelines with plastic garbage sacks and duct tape. In a House Subcommittee hearing, McAllister, who had worked in the oil industry, described the repair as “innovative.” He praised the person for using “Glad, not those crappy off-brand garbage bags.”  McAllister was not long for the House of Representatives because he was caught having an affair with a staffer, the wife of his friend. Fleming is still in the House, most recently voting to prevent abortions for fetuses who will not have a planet in adulthood.

While oil destroys life near Santa Barbara, other part of the fossil fuel industry is taking and contaminating the little water left in the drought-ridden state of California. Although the water-intensive fracking process doesn’t use as much water as agriculture, which uses 80 percent of the state’s supply, the highly-toxic wastewater from fracking may be leaching into the state’s aquifers and destroying the little drinking water remaining.

Chevron is making money off this wastewater by selling the toxic fluid back to farmers, putting industrial solvents and other chemicals into the crops. California now has a law mandating water testing for fracking chemicals, but the corporations have oversight. Independent testing of recycled irrigation water has uncovered large quantities of acetone and methylene chloride, both toxic to humans. Spilling these chemicals into the water would shut down gas stations, but corporations have no penalties. Chemicals in the water also permanently damages the soil. Rain water would filter out the salts, but the drought may get worse.

With two emergency situations—the drought and now the oil spill—California is facing a third. The increased number of fires thus far this year will only grow by June, and August will see even more severe conflagrations. Rains before April were short and limited, and the rains stop in April. Dry plants such as chaparral and eucalyptus literally explode, and the state suppression of fires has made conditions worse from the buildup of tinder. Heavy population in the state forces California to fight fires rather than let them burn their natural course.

The one GOP presidential candidate in the current race, Carly Fiorina, blames the environmentalists for the drought for “failing to create any new canals or waterways in decades.” Conservatives refuse to recognize the consequences of climate change, the loss of underground aquifers, and the destructive results of the greedy oil industry corporations.

Anyone who thinks that the problems of water and oil are only California issues are wrong. Forty million people depend on the Colorado River for drinking water. Untold millions more will see the price of food increase as water for agriculture disappears in an area that provides two-thirds of the U.S. winter vegetable production. Climate change has meant less snowmelt in the Rockies, and a 14-year drought in the Southwest cut down on the Colorado River’s flow. Reservoirs are at less than half their capacities. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since it was created in the 1930s, down from near capacity in 2000. Lake Powell is in the same condition. Between 2004 and 2013, people tapped underground water equivalent to 1.5 full Lake Meads. In just nine years, an essentially nonrenewable resource was badly depleted.

In the early 21st century, at last 14 percent of the people in the United States are food insecure. With the current conservative philosophy promoting income inequality, that percentage will only increase. And with the conservative indifference regarding water use, this century will see the same number of people being water insecure, going to bed thirsty as well as hungry. California is simply the canary in the coal mine.

May 19, 2015

David v. Goliath; Or Shell No!

No U.S. laws will change because of the TPP. That’s President Obama’s claim through his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate, however, has two companion trade bills. One will allow any president to negotiate trade agreements within the next six years with no amendments of filibusters in Congress. The second bill is a trade adjustment assistance (TAA) bill that provides federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. This help includes from job training, placement services, relocation expenses, income support, and health insurance subsidies.

TAA gets part of its funding from $700 million in Medicare cuts. Although sequestration (except for “defense”) expires in 2024, the TAA bill expands it while the other $2.2 billion comes from customs user fees. Compared to billions, $700 million isn’t much, but it’s another chip in social services, a reduction while the pet “defense” budget increases. The bill continues Congress’s philosophy that treats Medicare as its own piggy bank. Also the $700 million shows how little help the tens of thousands of people losing jobs will receive. The falsehood that TPP changes no U.S. laws just adds to the misrepresentations of a “trade agreement.”

The U.S. fight to prevent TPP is reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Congressional legislators and the president forge ahead in the face of telephone calls to them showing an opposition of 25 to 1. You can add your voice here.

President Obama has created another David & Goliath story in the Northwest. A week ago, the Obama administration opened the door to drilling in the Arctic when it granted approval to Shell for exploration in this area “subject to rigorous safety standards,” according to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Shell plans to drill up to six wells about 70 miles offshore of the northwest coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea this summer between July 1 and the end of September. The plan is open to comment for another week.

If Shell were to develop the area, the leases would result in eight offshore platforms, 400 to 457 production wells, 80 to 92 service wells, 380 to 420 miles of offshore pipelines, 600 to 640 miles of onshore pipelines, a shorebase, a processing facility, and a waste facility. The agency approving Shell’s plan reported that there was a “75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring in the area over the next 77 years. During development, about 800 oil spills of less than 1,000 barrels apiece are “considered likely to occur,” some even at the exploration-only stage. It can be expected that at least two large spills greater than 1,000 barrels of oil will occur. Such occurrences would devastate both ecosystems and the people who rely on these for their living. 

This remote area is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill for oil. Rescue and cleanup is almost nonexistent with the closest Coast Guard station for this purpose over 1,000 miles away. Three years ago, Shell left the Arctic after a number of disasters, including the Kulluk oil rig that had to be towed to safety in late 2012 and sold for junk after it ran aground because of the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks,” according to a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard. The catastrophe left 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid along a formerly pristine coastline. The next year, the Interior Department stated that Shell failed to meet safety mandates and ordered the corporation to stop drilling.

For years, Shell has been talking about the problems of climate change and how the increase in temperature—double former projections—will cause devastating rising of oceans. Shell remains a member of the far-right legislative-writing organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and then states that climate change regulations are the purview of policymakers. Then the company argues that the opposition of global warming cannot distract from the growing energy demand from the growing population and people living in poverty. As Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, said, “The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”

Obviously, Shell finds its moral obligation in “energy access for all.” Restricting global temperatures makes U.S. Arctic oil extraction economically unviable. The more the ice melts, the greater chance Shell has of finding oil in the area. Despite van Beurden’s call for an informed debate surrounding climate change, Shell continues to partner with ALEC. As executive chair of Google, Eric Schmidt, said last year when the company pulled out of ALEC, “They are just literally lying [about climate change.]”

Despite Shell’s claims to have a “thoroughly responsible plan,” the company refuses to test essential oil spill equipment in Arctic conditions. After the company tested the containment dome in 2012 when it “crushed like a beer can” in safety testing, it has been tested only in waters off Washington State. Shell has also retained Noble Drilling after it had to pay $12 million after pleading guilty to eight crimination offenses working for Shell in 2012. These included the falsification of records, unauthorized alterations to essential equipment, and “willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.”

Shell has even failed to obtain necessary permits from the City of Seattle, where it leased mooring near a dense residential area at a container terminal not intended as a home port. The city has claimed that Shell violates the terminal’s use and demanded an additional use permit from Seattle. A lawsuit claims that the port failed to comply with public processes, zoning regulations, and environmental regimes and calls for a new environmental review. Mike O’Brien, a city council member, talked about concerns that the drilling fleet could “discharge oil and other toxic pollutants” in the Puget Sound and damaging a fragile ecosystem that the area has worked for decades to clean up.

An alternative to Seattle for Shell’s moorage is Dutch Harbor (AK), but comes at a higher cost with rougher weather. Shell also wants to avoid Alaska’s fossil fuel tax. The Noble was trying to escape that fuel tax when it managed to ground the drilling rig on the coastline because of bad weather. The owners of both vessels that Shell wants to leave in Seattle when they aren’t operating in the Arctic have both been cited for safety dangers and pollution discharge. The Noble Discover’s pollution-control system, which broke in 2012, also failed last month in near Hawaii. The owner of the other, Transocean, paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killing 11 workers and blowing five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The first permit that Shell received is conditional, based on the requirement that the company obtain another seven state and federal permits including incidental harassment authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service, letters of authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and wastewater discharge approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency. Growing noise levels and vessel traffic from Shell’s endeavors threaten the whales in the Arctic: gray whales are there year-round, bowhead whales migrate through the area, and Beluga whales raise their young there. Other species in the area are Pacific walruses, polar bears, seals, and various seabird populations.

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest.  Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle's Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans.  Photo by Greenpeace

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest. Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle’s Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Photo by Greenpeace

Seattle residents aren’t accepting the drilling rigs. Hundreds of activists are blocking road traffic—including port workers—to the port. Another 500 “kayaktivists” surrounded the Polar Pioneer drilling rig that arrived last Thursday despite the dangers. Kayakers too close to the propwash, the propeller stream, can get sucked into the frigid water, and kayakers in the way of the ship’s momentum can drown. Their plan is to make sure that the semi-submersible drilling unit with a 170-foot-tall derrick doesn’t leave to destroy the Arctic. Shell’s other drilling rig is already avoiding the inhospitality by mooring farther north at Everett (WA).

ARCTIC_DRILLING_43917475As the kayakers’ sign read, “The people vs. Shell.” I’m rooting for the people. Maybe David will win again.

April 22, 2015

Earth Day 2015 – ‘It’s Our Turn to Lead’

Filed under: Environment,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:03 PM
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Twenty million people took to the streets on April 22, 1970, for the first Earth Day. The biggest public demonstration in U.S. history, it turned environmentalism into a mass social movement. The public outcry about smog, trash, and water pollution added to concern about high profile environmental disasters such as the 1969 explosion at an oil rig off  Santa Barbara that spilled millions of gallons of crude into the ocean and washed up on California’s beaches. The Cuyahoga River caught fire from the fouling oil and pollution. Breathing the air in parts of L.A. was the same as smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes each day.

Walter Reuther, United Auto Workers president, was a strong ally who declared, “The auto industry is one of the worst culprits and it has failed to meet its public responsibility.” He proposed a partnership between industry and government to develop the best mass-transit system in the world and wrote a check to the Earth Day organizing committee. Weeks after the first Earth Day, Reuther died in a plane crash.

The momentum of the Ford and Carter administrations stopped with Reagan’s brick wall. The defensive position has lasted through the current Earth Day. After years of climate denial by conservative leaders in the country, another series of disasters—the BP oil spill, Superstorm Sandy, and the California drought, for example—are moving people back to environmental consciousness. Over 400,000 people went onto the streets of New York City last September for the People’s Climate March. Student organizing are leading the fossil fuel divestment campaign on college campuses.

These photographs from Sue Hardesty and Ann Hubard show some of the beauties that we have today that we need to protect.

cannon beach

mt. hood

Reflections most recent

Rody pink dark distant

poppy

Sunrise4

murres

Eagle verticalBlowing seed left vertical

 

Rhody Pink Closeup

 

waterfalls

gorge

Rocks

 

sunrise 1

 

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