Nel's New Day

April 20, 2017

Join the March for Science

The GOP War on Science is not new, but it gained massive traction with the election of a Republican president and Congress with the possibility of a totally Republican Supreme Court. The idea that science is vital to protecting humanity through effective decision-making is now passé among federal government leaders with the mighty dollar—or billions of them—leading the way. Draconian budget cuts to the EPA, National Institutes of Health, NOAA, NASA, and BLM aren’t enough to satisfy these people; all that funding is going to nuclear weapons and the military. In addition, leadership is muzzling people, attacking evidence, and erasing information about climate change from websites.

This coming Saturday is the 47th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. Instead of sitting by and letting conservatives destroy the planet, scientists are coming out of their labs and research areas for the March for Science. The main one is in the U.S. capital, but 200 organizations are planning another 500 marches around the world—all kicking off a week of action culminating in the People’s Climate March on April 29. According to the March for Science website, organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

The March’s Facebook page is 850,000 strong with information about people, posters, slogans, science and “misinformation” that the anti-science Heartland Institute sends to schools and science teachers. The March’s participants vary from a neuroscientist marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to SF fans marching “because you can’t have science fiction without science!”

One segment of the marchers is protesting the current policy regarding drug use in the United States overturning gains in the last eight years for an evidence-based drug policy. Throughout the nation’s history, drug laws have criminalized minorities: opium laws in the 1800s targeting Chinese immigrants, marijuana laws directed toward Hispanics in the early 1900s, and then crack laws of the 1980s disproportionately incarcerating black men. Research shows that drug prohibition contributes to worse health and higher mortality rates among drug users while growing an illicit drug market. Targeting minorities negatively affects family and social support and eliminates economic opportunity.

Fear-based drug control tactics fail to provide information in their efforts to terrify policymakers and the public in opposition to success for drug control demonstrated in other countries that expand treatment access and decriminalize drugs. The current administration ignores research on these successes for a racial “law and order” position, always a failure.

According to the federal government, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the highest level of “potential for abuse” and no medical value. It is considered more dangerous than meth, opium, or cocaine. With cannabis in this category, medical researchers are helpless to examine studies from other countries that refute the U.S. position. Across the nation, this one “drug” is legal in 28 states for medical purposes and in another eight states for recreational use. Its popularity has caused companies to develop synthetic “look alike” drugs that increase the chance of overdoses and other negative side effects.

Earth Day’s goal, 47 years ago and now, is to mobilize people around environmental issues. The first march of 20 million people led to the Environmental Protection Agency, created by GOP President Richard Nixon, and vital environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Earth Day revolution began at a time of dangerous air pollution, rivers on fire, genetic changes in wildlife, and children with diseases and birth defects in the United States. Last year the nation signed the Paris Climate Agreement with 174 other countries.

After Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) appointed a climate-change denier for EPA Secretary, he signed a directive to reverse President Obama’s progress toward slowing down climate change. DDT’s goal is to promote oil, coal, and natural gas over all other objectives at a time when fossil fuel companies are switching to renewable energy sources. The order mandates suspension, revision, or rescinding any policies that “burden” the production of domestic energy resources, including nuclear power. Gone are the order to consider climate change in environmental reviews, including locations of oil drilling, and the one to factor in the potential economic damage from climate change. DDT’s order also removes the moratorium on new coal leases on federal land and remove regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Fracking companies will also not be required to seal off waste water in storage tanks and to disclose chemicals they pump underground. Methane emissions from oil and gas operations no longer need to be reduced.

Other DDT “climate crimes” include his reinstatement of two pipelines (at a profit to himself), allowing lead ammunition on federal lands and waters, ordering the EPA to reconsider car emissions requirements, and all his appointments.

Scott Pruitt, DDT’s EPA Secretary, set the new “tone” in his speech a week ago at a coal mine that was fined for contaminating waterways with toxic materials. His “back to basics” agenda devolves oversight of clean air and water in exchange for jobs in industries such as coal, oil, and gas. The new direction is support of the coal industry. The company owing that mine had almost entirely divested itself of West Virginia coal mines and is looking for buyers for this last one to be completely out of the business.

According to the EPA website:

Our mission is to protect human health and the environment.

 

EPA’s purpose is to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • all parts of society — communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments — have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; and the United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

Demographics – Electric power generation and fuels, Q4 2016

In addition to Prutt failing to meet his agency’s mission and purpose, he claimed that ending regulations will boost the economy and create jobs. Last month, however, the Institute for Policy Integrity released a study showing that environmental regulations have essentially no effect on the employment rate in the long term. The government would be better economically to support jobs in renewable energy as shown by the chart on the right

A four-year EPA review shows that three pesticides–chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion–“pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied.” Dow Chemical claimed that these substances are safe, and Pruitt sided with Dow against his own agency in the case of chlorpyrifos and is poised to agree with Dow on the other toxic substances. Dow gave DDT $1 million for his inauguration, and the company’s CEO is a presidential adviser.

When questioned during his confirmation hearings, Energy Secretary Rick Perry testified that “science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change.” After his confirmation, the agency’s staff was told to never use phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction,” and “Paris agreement” because these terms would cause a “visceral reaction.” Instead, DOE employees are to use words such as “jobs” and “infrastructure.”

New banners for the Bureau of Land Management demonstrate the shift from environmental concerns to coal. The image of two hikers looking over a magnificent vista of green mountains capped by snow has been replaced by these banners:

 

Can’t march? You can participate through livestreaming Washington, D.C.’s event from Democracy Now starting at 10:00 am ET.

 

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!

April 22, 2015

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

Filed under: Environment,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:03 PM
Tags: , ,

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

 

April 22, 2014

Earth Day: The Wonders of Our Land

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 12:51 PM
Tags: ,
Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Thanks to photographers extraordinaire, Ann Hubard, and my partner (first and last photos below) for these works of art.  Happy Earth Day 2014! May we find ways to keep our planet healthy. It’s worth fighting for.

Our Favorite Beach on the Central Oregon Coast

Our Favorite Beach on the Central Oregon Coast

Cherry Blossoms in Portland

Cherry Blossoms in Portland

Iris

Iris

Crown Point at the Columbia Gorge

Crown Point at the Columbia Gorge

Hiking at Salmon Creek

Hiking at Salmon Creek

Fog in Forest Park

Fog in Forest Park

Fog over White River Canyon

Fog over White River Canyon

 

North Oregon Coast in Winter

North Oregon Coast in Winter

The Great Southwest

The Great Southwest

Frozen Falls in the Columbia Gorge

Frozen Falls in the Columbia Gorge

Pacific Coast in the Fall

Pacific Coast in the Fall

Reflections on Burnt Lake

Reflections on Burnt Lake

Mt. Hood in Summer

Mt. Hood in Summer

Waves at the Beach off Quail Street

Waves at the Beach off Quail Street

April 21, 2014

Oil Spills on Earth Day, Bad and Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

On Earth Day 2010, people were in shock over the explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform just two days earlier that released over 200 million gallons of oil in the gulf. In an attempt to solve its problem, BP released almost 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants. Four years later, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, people are seeing the bad news and the good news that followed the disaster.

The bad news about the disaster is that BP thinks the oil spill recovery is finished despite the tarballs and the ring of oil along the Gulf Coast. Big storms leave huge mats of fresh oil on the beach sand. Between 28 and 43 percent of the carbon in tiny floating particles throughout the Gulf can be traced to methane released during the BP spill. After bacteria in the Gulf digested the methane, oil spill pollution is now a ubiquitous element of the Gulf’s ecological food chain.

Serious effects on people and wildlife may continue for decades. Fresh oil keeps appearing in Prince William Sound 25 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. More information about the aftermath of the BP disaster is available here.

BP is not the sole perpetrator of oil destruction in that area. Louisiana is one of the most heavily polluted states in the country with 20 percent of the oil leaks taking place within its boundaries. Although 64,000 oil and gas wells are still active in the state, the remainder of the 220,000 have been removed, capped, or abandoned. The pipelines that crisscross among wells, offshore platforms, and onshore refineries provide more opportunity for oil and gas leaks. Fractracker.org shows daily incidents on an interactive map showing 1,887 of these between January 1, 2010 and March 29, 2013.

The Clean Water Act requires polluters to file reports of a release of hazardous materials and other pollutants into a body of water. Although over 1,200 reports from 2004 to 2011 were related to the Taylor Energy site, SkyTruth found these to be the tip of the disaster. Further research showed that Gulf oil spills and other pollution events were far more routine than industries indicated.

No government office regularly monitors the Gulf and coastal areas for oil spills. It uses an honor system, relying on gas and oil industries to be self-reporting. The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has an average of 12 inspectors assigned to check wells, meaning that each well might be inspected only every three years. Between October 2010 and September 2011, 2,903 oil releases were reported in the Gulf region, but 77 percent of these failed to include an estimate of how much oil was spilled. Oil spills from the other 23 percent totaled 250,000 gallons of crude. SkyTruth estimates that the total amount was between 1.5 million and 2.2 million gallons.

The good news part of the oil spill is that residents and activists along the Gulf have developed networks to deal with future problems. Originally those who now take part in organizations such as the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health had been excluded from recovery procedures. Documents such as the Unified Action Plan for a Health Gulf and media projects such as Bridge the Gulf    have given voices to community members outside political filters.

Three victories:

The Gulf Coast will keep the money. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, fines, which can be up to $20 billion in just this one case, go to the U.S. Treasury. Gulf Coast communities wrote the RESTORE Act to keep the BP fine money in the Gulf, and Congress passed it.

Gulf Coast residents get some health care although the state keeps them from full benefits of the Affordable Care Act.  Unexplained illness with problems of respiration, rashes, and nausea became prevalent after the oil spill, but BP refused to permit any health-related grievances because of the oil spill. In the settlement of a civil case with commercial fishers and oil workers, however, $105 million of the $7.8 billion went to building health centers in every Gulf state. Beyond giving health care, these centers provide epidemiological training for doctors to better monitor for spill-related illnesses.  The new health centers are also in some of the states that turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Gulf residents are now spreading their stories, primarily through documentaries, to an audience that won’t hear about them in the mainstream media. Future historians will have a view of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.

The first independent group to challenge BP’s spill rate estimates was  SkyTruth, a small nonprofit that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to track pollution. In using satellite imagery, SkyTruth determined that oil was gushing from the Macondo at five to 24 times more than BP stated. Monitoring BP’s spill led SkyTruth to discover more leaks, starting with an ongoing one off the Mississippi River delta where a Taylor Energy oil platform had been damaged in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

Another positive movement since the BP disaster is the formation of the Gulf Restoration Network. Founded by Jonathan Henderson, the organization uses volunteers and other assistance the North Carolina-based nonprofit SouthWings  to fly over areas of environmental concern. In his attempt to fly over the BP spill, the company tries to deny them permission, but persistence paid off. Henderson took up to 30 flights and many boat trips at that time, tracking the oil as it spread to marshes and bays. His observations led to more accurate information as BP and government officials released lowball figures to the media.

Samantha Joye, a marine scientist and professor at the University of Georgia, is to leading a research expedition to examine the seafloor near the BP 2010 explosion to determine why the chemicals there are not being degraded. The 24 scientists left on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Atlantis March 30 and plan to return Thursday. They will use the human-operated deep submergence vessel Alvin for their deep-sea dives instead of automated or remotely operated vehicles. The research is sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation. Antonia Juhasz, a leading voice on oil and energy and investigative journalist, joined the expedition and will write three articles about it.

Tomorrow Nels New Day will showcase the traditional Earth Day photographs by photographer extraordinaire Ann Hubard as well as two from my partner that show our amazing Oregon Coast beach. As you see them, think about ways that we can keep our country and our planet from the serious pollution that is taking over the world because of our careless treatment of the Earth.

April 23, 2013

All the United States Could Look Like This

ED athabasca River 2 This is the  Suncor Energy upgrading refinery on the banks of the Athabasca River.  [Copyrighted photo; photographer not identified.]

You can see more photos of the tar sands oil destruction in Canada at this website.

ED tar sands

Located in northern Alberta, Canada, within boreal forest and peat bogs, the Athabasca Oil Sands covers 54,000 square miles, an area larger than England. It is the world’s largest biome, stretching across Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Finland, inland Norway, Siberia, Northern Minnesota, Upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine, northern Kazakhstan and Japan. The conifers such as fir, spruce, and pine are vital to our ecology because they provide carbon, regulate climate, and prevent mud slides and flooding. The history of these trees goes back over 300 million years, twice as long as flowering plants. These two photos demonstrate a before-and-after view.

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Imagine going to work and coming home to find this in your yard. That’s what happened in 22 households in Mayflower (AK) in mid March when the Pegasus pipeline broke. None of the people had any idea that there was even a pipeline in the vicinity.

ED Sludge in the Driveway at Mayflower

They found this when they drove into their subdivision.

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ed best paper towels

Exxon used paper towels to clean up the horrible mess–the same process BP used on the Gulf Coast after the its oil spill disaster.

ed gulf cleanup

Three years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, people are still finding hundreds of beached dolphin carcasses, shrimp with no eyes, contaminated fish, and ancient corals caked in oil. More photos.

ed even  messier in wilderness

Outside Mayflower near the highway.

ED Nancy ZornOne of the best photos of the Keystone pipeline is of Nancy Zorn, a 79-year-old Oklahoma grandmother, who locked her neck to a piece of heavy machinery to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. She said: “There is the Cree Indian prophecy, which inspired Greenpeace. ‘There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does, a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words.’”

Update: Yesterday, the EPA provided its report on the  State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); it rated the statement as having “Insufficient Information.” That means that the agency doesn’t know enough to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact. The EPA gave these reasons:

Increased carbon pollution: The EPA noted that the statistics for this are alarming and questioned the State Department’s assertion that the increase is inevitable even without the tar sands project.

Not inevitable: The State Department claimed that the oil would come out of the ground no matter what. EPA disagreed, stating that the report is incomplete, using outdated modeling. It also fails to consider the expense and infeasibility of rail shipping as an alternative to the pipeline.

Need for renewable energy to power pumping stations on pipeline: If this is not used, the pipeline itself will actively emit GhG emissions.

Difficulty in cleanup: Because diluted bitumen is extremely dense and sinks to the bottoms of lakes and rivers, tar sands oil is particularly dirty to clean up. The EPA notes that diluted bitumen is very dense and sinks to the bottom of rivers and lakes. Normal cleanup methods don’t work, and the highly toxic dilbit “could cause long-term chronic toxicological impacts” to wildlife. EPA wants a revised, rethought response plan before any permit is issued for a pipeline.

Affect on drinking water: The pipeline was moved away from the Nebraska Sand Hills, but it is still scheduled to cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The State Department’s report did not address any alternative paths to avoid the water pollution.

The difference between the assessments by the State Department and by the EPA are the same as the difference between a report prepared by a firm paid by the pipeline’s owner and by officials with environmental concerns.

April 22, 2013

Conservatives Aim to Destroy the Environment

For the past two Earth Days I have posted Ann Hubard’s rich photographs showing how special the planet can be. This year, she is on vacation in parts of the Southwest that has kept its beauty. Therefore today, I will write about one of the greatest potential disasters in the United States, and tomorrow I will post photographs of how conservatives want our country to look. When Ann returns, I’m sure that she will provide more gorgeous photographs to give us hope.

Today is the 43rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It was also supposed to be  the last day that the government took public comment on the proposed Keystone Pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department plans to post all 800,000+ comments and and has decided to permit further public comment during the National Interest Determination period. During the one public hearing on the pipeline project, hundreds of opponents attended the central Nebraska meeting and begged for the pipeline’s rejection.

The Keystone Pipeline is a very bad idea.

  • Oil companies are gutting Canada’s boreal forest, one of the last wild places on the planet; they have already created a waste zone the size of Chicago.
  • Oil companies have to mine at least two tons of sand to get just one single barrel of tar sands crude called bitumen that requires extensive refining to be converted into fuel.
  • Producing tar sands crude generates up to 4.5 times more climate-changing carbon emissions as the production of conventional crude oil, as much as putting 4.3 million more cars on the road.
  • The pipeline would carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year, equivalent to 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • The pipeline would cut through states with more than 250,000 ranches and farms and cross nearly 1,500 American waterways from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas.
  • Oil companies have had 5,611 pipeline failures that have killed 367 people, injured nearly 1,500 more, and spilled more than 100 million gallons of oil into our waters and over our lands.
  • Oil companies would create only 3,900 short-term jobs during construction, and only 10 percent of those would employ people living in the area of the pipeline. Following construction, the pipeline would require 35 jobs.
  • Most of the oil doesn’t stay in the United States. it will be exported.
  • The ten spills (or more!) during just the last month have been largely not covered by the media.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) thinks that “Exxon should be patted on the back for the way they handled [the spill.]” The back pat would be for refusal to pay for the cleanup, the pittance ($10,000 house cleaning) allocation per household affected for weeks with their land permanently destroyed, and the inability to use anything except paper towels to wipe up the oil. He continued with the usual ignorant statement connecting the Boston bombing to the pipeline:

“I mean, would we rather buy oil from the Middle East that sponsors the acts that we see like at the Marathon that we just saw yesterday? I don’t know if that was actually sponsored by them or not but that’s the acts that they support.”

A Department of Energy analysis noted that Keystone XL will have virtually no impact on Middle East imports to the United States. And oil companies are the top donors to Mullin’s campaign.

Another buy-in to the oil industry is the company that Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel hired for the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the Mayflower oil spill. Witt O’Brien has participated in most recent high-profile oil spills, all of them botched up—Exxon Valdez, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

After 1 million gallons of tar sands dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River, Witt O’Brien covered up the disaster by thinning out the oily debris and mixing mud into it. Witt Obrien ordered its employees: “Rake it into the soil. Cover it with grass. Cover it with leaves. I want you to hide it–to dupe the EPA and the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources].”

Witt O’Brien also worked with the BP Deepwater Horizon dispersant cover-up. They applied 1.1 million gallons of surface dispersant in the Gulf and another 720,000 gallons of subsea dispersant, claiming that it would change the oil into something edible for Gulf creatures. It doesn’t, but Witt O’Brien did the PR spin for damage control.

Five years ago, Witt O’Brien also got a $300,000+ contract “to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project.” Many of Witt O’Brien’s employees have worked for Shell Oil, Exxon, etc. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is also part of Witt O’Brien.

One of Witt O’Brien’s former clients is IFC International, a consulting firm hired by the U.S. State Department to do the Keystone XL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz was paid over $300,000 and given 10,000+ shares for two years on IFC’s board of directors.

An open supporter of nuclear power and fracking for shale gas, Moniz worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He also accepted millions of dollars to sponsor studies at MIT. Under the auspices of the MIT Energy Initiative, the report, “The Future of Natural Gas,” was funded by the front group for Chesapeake Energy, the shale gas industry’s number two domestic producer. Of course, the report was extremely positive about gas as a “bridge fuel.”

Steven Colbert best summed up Exxon’s mishandling of the Mayflower debacle:

“Why haven’t we heard anything about the cleanup of that rupture in the Pegasus pipeline that spilled 150,000 gallons of tar sand oil? Well, that’s because Exxon has contained the cleanup [pause] coverage by threatening to have reporters arrested for trespassing.”

Showing workers power-washing oil into storm drains, Colbert said, “Of course the oil is going into the storm drains. They’re just putting back in the ground where it came from. It’s called recycling, duh.”

About the common 21st-century practice of cleaning up oil spills with quilted paper towels, he said:

“See, Exxon is employing a time-honored cleanup technique pioneered by drunk guys. You just throw some paper towels down on whatever you spilled and just get out of there. Of course, there are other drunk guy options like hiding the spill with a strategically-placed coffee table, or better yet, just flip Arkansas over like a couch cushion.”

Like most of Colbert’s and Jon Stewart’s shows, there’s as much fact as comedy in their reporting.

Evidencing the growing polarity in the United States is the contrast between the first Earth Day in 1970 under President Nixon and the current attitudes in the country. Although fewer people place importance on environmental issues than 42 years ago, more people are trying to protect the environment through limiting electricity use, eating organic food, and recycling. In 1971  88 percent of the poll’s respondents said it was important to restore and enhance the national environment compared to 80 percent now. The “very important” category dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent.

The New York Time is a reflection of this growing indifference to the destruction of the environment: last year they cut their Green blog and the reporters to cover this subject. Fortunately, smaller organizations are continuing to pursue news about  the subject. Inside Climate News is one of the best, and three of their reporters—Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer—were recognized with a Pulitzer this year for their national news reporting. Their coverage of the recent Exxon spill in Mayflower was superb, especially considering the way that the oil company tried to keep anyone outside the corporation away from the site.

Exxon has also kept the pressure on the media by preventing the Little Rock television stations from running advertising critical about their actions.

Conservatives want the teenager who allegedly set a bomb in Boston last week to be treated as an “enemy combatant.” Conservatives want everyone to have easy access to as many guns and as much ammunition as they wish. Conservatives also wish to kill the country and its people by shipping Canada’s tar sands product across the entire nation so that oil companies can send it out of the country.

April 3, 2013

Keystone Pipeline, Destructive

The decision on building the Keystone Pipeline project, designed to send oil from north of Montana through 1,700 miles and six states, is coming to a head. Since its inception, conservatives have advocated for this disaster—unless it crossed their own land—and environmentalists have fought it.

The issue exploded when the Exxon Pegasus pipeline ruptured last Friday in Mayflower (AR), flooding a residential neighborhood with tens of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, and the noxious odor, similar to that of asphalt, wafted for five miles. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to carry nine times as much as the Pegasus pipeline.

The Arkansas disaster was just one week after the Senate voted to support the Keystone Pipeline, perhaps persuaded by a State Department draft report, authored by a person with extensive ties to oil companies, claiming that the Keystone Pipeline will have no environmental impact. Congress has no control over the project; it is the State Department that makes the final decision.

Two days before the Pegasus spill, a train carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. During that week, Exxon got a $1.7 million fine for its pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011. The fine is miniscule, 0.004 percent of Exxon’s $45 billion profit last year.

The pipeline transports diluted bitumen because bitumen is in a solid or semi-solid state that can be sludge or rock-like and must be diluted into a liquid to move through the pipe. The industry won’t tell anyone what it uses to dilute the bitumen.

The first Environmental Impact Statement gave Keystone an “inadequate” rating because of no information on the diluents. In 2011, Cynthia Quarterman, the agency director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified in the House of Representatives that her agency, the regulatory one for the pipeline, had no idea whether dilbit is more dangerous in transport than ordinary crudes and had not studied the issue.

The second EIS, released this past month, shows that no one knows anything more about the contents of the diluents or how it will react to a spill. Instead the report waffled by saying that the diluted bitumen does “behave as a conventional crude oil.” The EPA does report on the damage to animals, plants, and humans of benzene, a very toxic chemical remaining in the air after the Enbridge tar sands spill of 2011.

This spill in Michigan, which released a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River and cost more than $820 million, still challenges scientists and regulators as they try to remove submerged oil from the riverbed. Thirty-two months after the Enbridge spill, the Kalamazoo River still has oil, and the cost has risen to over $700 million dollars. Conservation groups, with evidence, that sands oil leads to more spills because it is “highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable.”

So back to the oil spill in Arkansas. Exxon-Mobil expressed regret and apologized. But who will fix it? The state Oil and Gas Commission can’t do anything because the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge. That means that the state can’t inspect the spill or the pipeline and that the state has no oversight over this disaster.

Exxon won’t have to pay one cent for the clean-up. The company confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta” that had to be diluted. According to a 1980 law, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.

The Keystone Pipeline is bad for United States economy:

The building of the pipeline won’t provide the number of jobs that the GOP promises: The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for two years. After that it would require about 35 jobs a year.

Much of the oil refined in Texas will be exported to other countries: At least 60 percent of the gasoline produced in 2012 at Texas Gulf Coast refineries, the same ones the Keystone pipeline will serve, was exported. Exports will only rise because U.S. production is rising but consumption is declining and the industry can make more money through exports.

Many Canadians are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline: A year ago, a poll showed that nearly 42 percent of Canadians don’t want the pipeline. It is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities, wrecking vast areas of forest and sucking up huge quantities of water from local rivers before making it toxic and then dumping the contaminated water into ponds that now cover 70 square miles.

The Keystone Pipeline project will hurt both national and local economies: The increase of the earth’s temperature from burning tar sands oil can permanently cut the U.S. GDP by 2.5 percent at a time that 67 percent of U.S. counties have been hurt by at least one of the eleven $1 billion extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone cost an estimated $80 billion, and the drought that affected 80 percent of farmland last summer destroyed one-fourth of the corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the nation’s economy. NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen said if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be “game over” when it came to the effort to stabilize the climate.

The fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have cut, not created, jobs: While garnering $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees. Forty percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

Unemployment will rise because of increasing disasters: Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, reported that “Superstorm Sandy [sliced] an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” Two weeks after Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont rose from 731 to 1,331. Hurricane Katrina erased 129,000 jobs, almost 20 percent, in the New Orleans region. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: Keystone and projects like it have a disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12; households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: The solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research shows a 13-percent growth in highly skilled solar jobs including installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and software development, bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 people. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Congress is more inclined to vote in favor of Keystone, however, because of the lobbying money. At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million paid politicians to suppport the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. The dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total.

How likely is it that the new Keystone Pipeline will have spills in addition to the 14 that they’ve had on the first part of the project? Isabel Brooks knows. When she and two friends locked themselves one night inside part of the pipeline in Winona (TX), they were amazed to see sunlight coming through gaping holes in the pipe the next morning from faulty welding. Law requires independent inspection, but TransCanada pipeline contracts can pick their own inspectors.

Brooks got her photographs of the holes in the pipeline shortly before the three protesters were arrested and jailed for 24 days. That gave TransCanada time to bury the pipeline without inspecting it. This is the same pipeline that runs under the Ogalalla aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people in the United States.

Utah kids are being taught to support the use of oil. As a part of Earth Day, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining is sponsoring a poster contest for all kids grades K-6 with the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, and Mining?” State winners get $500 for their schools and are honored at the Earth Day Awards Luncheon.

The sponsors—and teachers—probably won’t be telling students that the EPA has ranked Salt Lake City among the worst U.S. metropolitan areas for air pollution close to Los Angeles. Other Utah cities–Logan, Provo, and Brigham City respectively — took the top three spots on the EPA’s worst air quality list in January.

Of course, the Keystone Pipeline won’t be going through Utah.

April 22, 2012

Join Earth Day Pledges

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 12:55 PM
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The Palouse

Arizona Saguaro Cactus

 

For the second year, award-winning photographer Ann Hubard has provided the blog’s images of Oregon that might not have been here in 2012 without the first Earth Day—and might disappear in the near future if people lose the battle to protect the Earth.

Multnomah Falls

Within the past year, Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan have given Wisconsin a black eye with their firsts, but the state has a history of positive actions. One of the most important is Earth Day, conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson after he saw the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara (CA). Outraged by the devastation, he helped pass a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth. An estimated one in 10 Americans—over 20 million people–took part in the first Earth Day, observed across the country 42 years ago, joining Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city dwellers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. Its success led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the 1973 passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, both under the aegis of President Richard Nixon.

Cape Kiwanda

The good news for environmentalism: Between 1970 and 2010, concentrations of six principal air pollutants declined by almost 71 percent; and in just the first 20 years of the Clean Air Act, an estimated 200,000 premature deaths and 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis were prevented. The percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels dropped from 88 percent in the 1970s to just 4.4 percent in the mid-90s. Similarly, lead air pollution decreased 98 percent by 2000. Prior to 1972, industrial waste and sewage had made approximately two-thirds of waterways unsafe for recreation and fishing use. Three decades later, in 2004, 53 percent of assessed river miles and 70 percent of bay and estuarine square miles were safe for recreation and fishing.

Half Dome Yosemite

The bad news for environmentalism: The United States lost more than 500,000 additional acres of such vital areas just between 1998 and 2004. In 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) concluded that “water quality improvement reached a plateau about a decade ago” and there had been a recent “upward trend for beach closings, red tides, dead zones, droughts, flooding, coral reef damage, nutrient pollution, and sewage pollution.” Given current trends, the EPA has “projected that sewage pollution will be as high in 2025 as it was in 1968, that is, before the passage of the Clean Water Act.”

Grand Canyon (Arizona)

Fish consumption warning advisories increased from 899 nationwide in 1993 to 4,598 in 2010. Toxic chemicals, species loss, landfill waste, deteriorating freshwater supplies—the list seems endless. Around 154 million Americans, about half of the nation, currently live in areas that suffer from ambient ozone and/or particulate levels that are often too dangerous to breathe, resulting in 50,000 or more premature deaths per year.

Tree and Snow

The economic system is committed to growth in the use of resources (many of them non-renewable); growth in the use of low-cost labor; growth in the number of products produced; growth of shareholder profits; and, inevitably, growth in pollution and carbon emissions. Local communities feel the full effects of pollution and climate change as well as the massive social and environmental costs of corporate outsourcing of jobs.

Ramona Falls

A “new economy” movement is, however, building up momentum, in large part because the failure of national and international strategies produces more and more economic and ecological devastation. Citizens in all parts of the country have been taking the lead in constructing new economic models and institutions that not only promote democratized economic opportunity, but also, ecological sustainability, for example, in Austin (TX), Cleveland (OH), and San Francisco (CA).

Forest Park, Portland

Earth Day went global in 1990 with 200 million people in 141 countries. By 2000, 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries organized activists, including hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 22 that year. Eight years of George W. Bush as president saw climate-change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, and frightened politicians reduce the impact of Earth Day by 2010, yet 225,000 people still met at the National Mall that year for a Climate Rally. Two years later, over 800 million actions have been recorded by the program “A Billion Acts of Green,” and this year’s theme, Mobilize the Earth, has moved its activism into faith, literacy, education, arts, athleticism, etc. You can join them with your pledge of action.

Mt. Hood (Oregon)

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