Coal Industry Continues its Shady Practices
Thursday November 4, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 11:42AM PST on November 4, 2010
My colleague said it well yesterday in his response to Tuesday's election results - we will not cede our future to polluters
, who again poured tens of millions of dollars into various campaigns.
No surprise here, the coal industry is part of those polluters throwing money around to support candidates who will keep the loopholes and handouts in place and help them block any action on global warming. According to an election spending report from the Center for American Progress
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has spent more than $16.3 million in 2010, including $3,005,540 on a national ad and buys in Washington, D.C., Montana, and Texas over the last three months. The group has budgeted $20 million for online campaigns. This Big Coal front group is infamous for its forged letters to members of Congress opposing clean energy and climate legislation that resulted in a congressional investigation.
But the shady politics don't stop there. If you ever wanted evidence that the coal industry is corrupting our politics, look no further than the state of Kansas and the decision Tuesday by Governor Mark Parkinson to fire his chief environmental official Rod Bremby
In 2007, under then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Bremby had the courage to reject the massive proposed Sunflower coal plant because of its impacts on global warming. Global warming, Bremby argued, threatened the health and welfare of all Kansans.
After the state legislature enacted new legislation that attempted to eliminate Bremby's authority to reject the permit and Sebelius was called to Washington to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Governor Parkinson struck a deal with Sunflower Corporation to fast-track the coal plant permit.
However, Bremby remained firm that he was not rushing the permitting and he had an obligation to ensure a fair and open public process and fulfill his legal duties to review the permit's legality before it could be issued.
But on Tuesday, with everyone consumed with election coverage, Governor Parkinson fired Bremby. This was a crass political move to ensure the permit is issued before the Governor leaves office in January 2011.
And another example of coal's corruption comes from Indiana, where Duke Energy is under investigation because
"(a) top attorney in the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission took a job with Duke, which he appears to have negotiated at the same time he was overseeing decisions about Duke's new power plant."
The Duke plant is already under construction (and $1.3 billion over-budget
) and will continue construction during this ethics investigation.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, coal isn't just proving itself unethical again, it's proving itself dangerous. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced yesterday it is asking a federal judge to shut down a Massey Energy coal mine in protect workers there
. This the first time the MSHA has ever used this power.
In filing for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court, the government cites persistently dangerous conditions in Massey Energy's Freedom Mine No. 1 in Pike County....The Freedom Mine employs about 130 miners and was cited for safety violations more than 700 times this year alone.
Coal is dirty and dangerous, and our politics and our health are at risk as long as the coal industry maintains its lock on our energy sector.
That is why our work is so very important. We are not giving up and we are not done.
Texas' Fight Against Coal and Coal Ash
Thursday October 28, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:09AM PST on October 28, 2010
One More Thing to Worry About in Middle School - Energy Regulations?
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Sari Ancel.
Here's lovely daydream if you're from southeast Texas: It's a warm fall afternoon and you're out fishing on the banks of the Colorado River, listening to the sounds of birds migrating south.
Unfortunately, a proposed coal-fired power plant will soon ruin that daydream. There will be no fish to catch because their habitat has long been polluted. Those birds overhead will be flying through smoke plumes from the nearby coal-fired power plant. And forget a quiet afternoon, you'll be hearing the hum of that nearby power plant.
This is exactly what threatens Bay City, Texas - the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant.
On September 29th, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted an air quality permit to the White Stallion coal plant
, which is proposed for Bay City, putting the polluting project one step closer to completion.
Yet despite this latest permit, residents of Bay City are not convinced that their air will stay clean or that their community will remain safe in the coming years - and for good reason. According to research
, over its entire lifecycle, the plant will cause 600 premature deaths and cost over $5 billion in external costs to the community.
Alison Sliva of the Matagorda County No Coal Coalition
is helping lead the fight against White Stallion coal plant. The 1320-megawatt plant will burn petroleum coke and coal but it is not required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement.
"The more you learn about this stuff, the more it makes you sick to your stomach," said Sliva, "It is so incredibly wrong the way things work."
She is worried about the environmental and health impacts this new coal plant will have on Bay City, a small city close to the Gulf Coast known for farming, shrimping, and world-class bird watching.
In addition to health impacts, the plant will require seven billion gallons of fresh Colorado River water every year. This fresh water is already a limited resource, with area farmers experiencing a severe drought in 2009.
"Water is the most finite commodity we have that the state is already fighting over," said Sliva. "And we're giving water to the dirty coal plant but not to our local food growers."
The White Stallion power plant design has also proposed coal ash dump sites just miles away from the Colorado River. Coal ash
, which is the toxic waste left behind after coal is burned, contains arsenic, selenium, lead, and mercury. The dump site proposals are open coal ash pits, a design that is exceedingly dangerous when considering how prone this coastal area is to hurricanes. Bay City residents were asked to evacuate for hurricanes Ike and Rita.
The area also gets an average of 42 inches of rainfall yearly, and Silva and her fellow residents have yet to see an adequate coal ash flood plan from White Stallion
"I'm very concerned about the coal ash because it is virtually unregulated," she said. "We're going to have mountains of it. We have a shallow water table and we're worried about it leeching into the groundwater...I'm hoping that the (Environmental Protection Agency) comes through to regulate the coal ash."
Sliva is referring to the new coal ash safeguards proposed by EPA
. She joined hundreds of others who went to an EPA public hearing in Dallas, Texas, to testify about the dangers of coal ash.
If EPA enacts stricter safeguards, then Sliva and the residents of Bay City will have one less problem to worry about with the White Stallion plant.
Unfortunately, that would still not be enough to fully protect Bay City. While the White Stallion plant promises job creation, this does not account for the Bay City jobs lost because farmers won't have enough water for irrigation and the impacts on the fishing industry due to polluted waters.
"We have a small rural community with little political clout," said Sliva. "We were targeted because they didn’t think anyone would fight it."
But Sliva and other members of Bay City have proven that wrong by fighting and gaining momentum against White Stallion coal plant.
"Bay City's motto isn't Beaches, Bay, Birding, and Coal Plant'" says Sliva. But, to stop this from happening, "people need to be calling, emailing, faxing, and writing letters to keep this issue in front of the faces of the agencies and elected officials. Keep waving the red flag and raise it up."
Tell EPA to enact strong federal safeguards for coal ash
Posted by: Heather M at 8:37AM PST on October 22, 2010
Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, is a new mom and has some words for those trying to greenwash schoolkids and college students:
As a new mom, I'm paying more attention these days to how big companies are trying to influence our kids. I just learned that one of the biggest blockers of climate action in the U.S. is now bringing its obstructionism to your kid's middle school classroom. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy just released an energy education guide for teachers of 5th - 8th grade
The guide explains to kids where our nation currently gets its energy, and then asks this question
"What do you think could happen if one of our energy sources was suddenly unavailable (e.g., power plant maintenance, government curb on production, etc.)?"
Outside the classroom, the Chamber is working overtime to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing anything about global warming pollution. Of course, EPA would never put this nation in a position where "one of our energy sources was suddenly unavailable." But that doesn't stop the Chamber from suggesting that scary scenario to our nation’s kids and their teachers.
The Chamber has long opposed any action on curbing global warming pollution
and other dangerous emissions from dirty power plants, whether it comes via action from the EPA or Congress.
Now they're focusing on instilling their wrong beliefs into our kids. Just look at the focus of their Institute for 21st Century Energy:
"The mission of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy is to unify policymakers, regulators, business leaders, and the American public behind a common sense energy strategy to help keep America secure, prosperous, and clean. Through policy development, education, and advocacy, the Institute is building support for meaningful action at the local, state, national, and international levels."
Sounds innocent enough, but after watching the Chamber spend millions against any action on cleaning up the dirty power plants that poison our air and water and cause global warming, it seems that we all know their real "common sense energy strategy" - make sure polluters can keep on polluting at current levels, regardless of the impact on today's kids and future generations.
Right now EPA is proposing several safeguards to protect Americans from the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants - including rules that would treat coal ash
(the by-product of burning coal for electricity) as the toxic waste that it is. EPA officials have already said that living near a toxic coal ash site can be worse for kids' health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
The Chamber doesn't like these proposals, or any others that would require utilities to clean up coal pollution, and they are working overtime to stop them.
And this isn't the first time that the Chamber or the coal industry has directly targeted kids or young people with a misleading pro-coal message.
The list goes on and on. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the coal industry want you to believe that coal will not affect your or your children's health, and that any action by EPA will destroy the economy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
So for my new baby and the rest of America's kids, I’d like to add my own discussion question to the Chamber's energy education guide:
"What do you think could happen if we don't shift from coal and oil to clean energy sources, and families find that pollution makes the basic essentials of life suddenly unavailable (e.g., clean air, clean water, etc.)?"
The Aftermath of the TVA Coal Ash Disaster
Thursday October 21, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:31AM PST on October 21, 2010
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Philip Hawes.
Tennessee's Emory River has long been treasured for its natural beauty.
In 1867, when a young man by the name of John Muir
decided to walk from his home in Indiana, all the way to Florida, he crossed the Emory River. Its beauty struck him, and he wrote the following in his journal (which became his famed book "A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf"
"There is nothing more eloquent in Nature than a mountain stream, and this is the first I ever saw. Its banks are luxuriantly peopled with rare and lovely flowers and overarching trees, making one of Nature's coolest and most hospitable places. Every tree, every flower, every ripple and eddy of this lovely stream seemed solemnly to feel the presence of the great Creator. Lingered in this sanctuary a long time thanking the Lord with all my heart for his goodness in allowing me to enter and enjoy it."
Unfortunately, 141 years later, the Emory River would inspire sorrow.
On December 22, 2008, a little before 1 a.m., an earthen dam holding back an 84-acre coal ash disposal pond, collapsed
. A flood of 1.1 billion gallons (around six times the amount of BP's oil disaster) of coal ash slurry poured into the Emory River and onto the surrounding land. Coal ash
is the by-product of burning coal for electricity and contains toxic materials such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium. The spill covered more than 400 acres and destroyed houses, roads, and trees in its path.
"It was unreal. There's no way to imagine what it was like," said Steve Scarborough, a resident of Roane County, where the disaster took place. "They keep saying it's an ash spill. That's like saying an avalanche is a snow spill."
The earthen dam that failed had problems for years, including multiple leaks. And Scarborough, a civil engineer himself, said that the fixes they made were inadequate, based on bad engineering, and chosen just to cut costs. According to Scarborough, it was "just sheer incompetence. And the community suffered because of it."
Scarborough owns two properties on a lake adjacent to the spill site. He had purchased them ten years earlier as an investment. Before the disaster he had both properties on the market, deciding to sell them in order to put his kids through college. But now, he said, "They're worth pennies on the dollar."
Despite the national real estate market being down in late 2008, the real estate values in the area were relatively strong - until they crumbled following the coal ash disaster.
Scarborough said, "Even in the worst of times there are still people retiring, and we are that market. This is where they retire to. The value of waterfront properties had not yet declined." But afterwards, no one wanted to buy property, even miles away.
He spoke of one couple that decided against waterfront property in Roane County after hearing about the coal ash disaster: "The wife saw the newspaper and they stormed out. They bought waterfront property; they just bought it the next county."
Many land owners sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which operates the coal plant and coal ash disposal site responsible for the disaster, for the lost value of their property. But Scarborough said that to get money for their property, many of the people signed settlements with TVA that included a gag order and a waiver for any future health problems. Scarborough hasn't filed a lawsuit with TVA, saying he's just "trying to get TVA to do the right thing. Whatever's fair." But, he added, "They just don't want to do it."
The economic problems due to the disaster aren't limited to real estate. The tourism industry in the area has also been severely hurt, and Scarborough said that's affected the entire local economy, calling it "economic devastation."
The cost of cleanup could end up totaling $1 billion, in addition to lost property value, lost tourism, and the effects it has had on the rest of the local economy, as well as possible health risks.
Following the disaster, TVA performed a health study to find out if any health problems had been caused by the spill. But, Scarborough said, the study was very incomplete. Out of the 200 volunteers that participated in the study, only a small handful actually lived in the immediate area.
"The study came out saying that there are no health effects. That's total bullsh-t. They're putting their heads in the sand. And they're trying to push our heads in the sand."
He continued, "If you believe TVA, I've got a couple lakeside lots to show you."
For the almost two years since the disaster occurred, TVA has been dredging coal ash out of the water, putting it into rail cars, and sending it to Alabama to another disposal site. Scarborough said they fill around 100 rail cars a day with the material.
TVA claims to have removed around 90% of the coal ash, but Scarborough believes isn't true. He says as they're dredging, they pick up a lot of sediment along with the ash. Any material that is less than half sediment is classified as coal ash, which means a lot of what they're picking up isn't actually coal ash.
Above all, Scarborough is tired of coal companies avoiding responsibility for their mistakes.
"If we put a rock through someone's window, we have to buy a new window, and that doesn't seem to be the case with these coal companies. TVA is in denial - they aren't owning up to what they've done."
The disaster in Tennessee was one of the major reasons Lisa Jackson and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed new safeguards for coal ash disposal
. Having proposed two possible rulings, EPA has been holding public hearings around the country for citizens to weigh in on the decision. Scarborough traveled to North Carolina to testify at the September 14th EPA hearing and he’ll also attend the Tennessee hearing on October 27th
Scarborough said that the disaster in Tennessee wouldn't have happened if EPA had already passed federal safeguards for coal ash disposal.
"Having seen the results of lax oversight, we feel we have to campaign for the most stringent regulatory option," he said. "This cannot be left to the states where lobbyists wield oversized power on compliant legislators. We don't want anyone else to go through what we've been through."
Scarborough points out that the coal ash from the Tennessee disaster that has been shipped to Alabama still hasn't gone away. "To be honest with you, the remedy, where they're storing the ash now, it's not contained. They just built a wall around it."
Since there still aren't yet any federal regulations, the same coal ash that caused so much destruction in Tennessee still isn't being stored in a safe manner.
Scarborough calls Roane County stunningly beautiful and is hopeful for the time years from now when the mess is cleaned up. But about John Muir's famous walk, he says, "He'd be pretty disappointed in what he saw if he was there today."
Time to Put America Back to Work & Move Beyond Oil
Wednesday October 20, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 11:59AM PST on October 20, 2010
EPA Recommends Protecting Clean Water by Rejecting Giant WV Coal Mine
This is a guest post by Rachel Butler, National Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Team.
Today is the six month anniversary of the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig
, a tragedy that claimed 11 lives and marked the beginning of the ongoing BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the well has been capped, the saga is far from over for the Gulf Coast communities and the Gulf ecosystem.
America's dependence on oil has pushed oil companies to drill in more and more dangerous places for bigger and bigger profits, resulting in disasters like the explosion of BP's Deepwater rig. This disaster and its aftermath highlight the need for America to get serious about breaking our addiction to oil.
Seventy percent of the 557 million gallons of oil used daily in the U.S. are for transportation
, and the vast majority of that oil is used in our passenger cars and trucks. To move beyond oil, it's clear that we have to reform our outdated, oil-soaked transportation system.
We cannot end our dependence on oil until we emphasize convenient transportation choices that reduce our need to drive, like passenger and freight rail and public transit.
Instead, we must develop our towns and cities into livable communities where people can walk, bike, or take transit to their destinations rather than waste time, money, and gas sitting in stop-and-go traffic. We must develop 21st century transportation system that includes high speed rail that connects city centers and to transit – all without oil!
The good news is that investing in transportation reform that provides 21st century transportation choices is not only the right thing to do in the wake of the BP disaster, but it's also the right thing to do to jump-start our economy.
A recent report released by the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Department of the Treasury
(PDF) shows that investment in public transit infrastructure is in high public demand and will create jobs for the middle class. Analysis of the 2009 economic stimulus also showed that funding for public transportation created twice as many jobs per dollar as funding for roads.
Another report released today by the Apollo Alliance, entitled "Make it in America: The Apollo Clean Transportation Manufacturing Action Plan,"
(PDF) shows that investment in transportation infrastructure that creates a globally competitive transit and clean vehicle manufacturing sector in the United States can create 3.7 million jobs in the U.S., including 600,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector
In the shadow of the BP disaster and under the weight of a sagging economy, there's no time to lose. America must invest in a 21st century transportation system that puts America back to work, provides transportation choices, and moves us beyond oil.
To join in the Sierra Club's work for a 21st century transportation system that moves us beyond oil, become a Sierra Club Transportation Activist.
First photo by Jordan Macha.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:38AM PST on October 15, 2010
Hot off the presses: EPA just announced it is recommending rejecting the massive Spruce Mine in Logan County, West Virginia, for the simple reason that it can't comply with long-standing clean water protections. EPA Region 3 and Administrator Shawn Garvin recommended that the permit for Spruce be withdrawn (read the recommendation in our press release)
In short, this proposed mountaintop removal coal mine
would release huge amounts of toxic pollution into the state's waterways. That has been illegal across the country and today Lisa Jackson is proposing the same protections for Appalachia.
Today's recommendation flows from President Obama's and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's commitment to restore science and uphold our bedrock Clean Water Act. EPA is proposing to take the radical step to ensure that the residents of Appalachia have the same clean water protections afforded other residents around the country.
For far too long Appalachia's residents have been subjected to pollution from coal mining practices that would be prohibited elsewhere in the United States. There are so many local grassroots heroes who have spent more than a decade fighting this massive mountaintop removal coal mine.
As we have worked with our members and allies in Appalachia to tell the story nationwide about the incredible destruction associated with mountaintop removal mining, the overwhelming response we hear outside of Appalachia is "How can that be allowed to happen in the United States?"
This decision is long overdue. During the Bush Administration hundreds of mines were approved, dozens of mountains were razed and pollution killed stream after stream after stream. Sierra Club and our allies are working to stop this pollution, and recently a federal court ordered a $45 million clean up of an existing mine
, but it is far better to not approve these mines in the first instance.
The next step is for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to put the final nail in this destructive project and finalize her decision. This decision should then guide the agency to do what the science and public health demands - end the practice of mountaintop removal mining once and for all. We need a uniform rule that says no more mountaintop removal mining, period.
Let's put this devastating practice behind us. Let's put residents to work restoring the land and waters damaged by coal mining over the past decades. And, let's overcome the naysayers who oppose Appalachia sharing in the jobs and economic development that comes with building a clean, renewable energy future underway across the country.
Coping with Coal Ash's Health Effects
Thursday October 14, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 8:31AM PST on October 14, 2010
Our Work is Just Getting Started
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Lydia Avila.
The community of Joliet, Illinois, identifies as many things - Midwestern, humble, and hard-working. Yet they also identify with something much less positive: being collateral damage. According to Joliet residents, they don't even merit a second thought to Midwest Generation, a coal-fired power plant that has been dumping toxic coal ash near Joliet for over 40 years
is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, and it's having a major impact on Joliet. Residents say if you were to spend a week in Joliet you would find yourself driving through coal ash fog; a stroll in your yard would cause you to come back covered in "black stuff" and/or yellow particulates; you wouldn't be able to drink or bathe in the water; and your clothes would come out of the washer tinted orange and black from the chemicals in the water.
If you spent time in Joliet, residents say, you would see this "black stuff" covering your car, yard and house on a daily basis, and you certainly could not fish in any of the lakes, rivers or streams in the area.
But, they added, even worse are the health effects that you and your loved ones would experience
: nose bleeds, blisters, skin infections, migraines, coughing, gagging, mercury poisoning, neurological disorders, to name a few. And, these would culminate in the form of asthma, kidney transplants, heart transplants, lymphoma, neurological disorders, seizures, rare forms of leukemia, emergency hysterectomies, and lupus (again, just to name a few).
Tammy Thompson knows the health effects first-hand - calling herself and her family part of that collateral damage. Her six-year-old daughter Faith has suffered the effects of living near a coal plant since she was born.
Faith’s doctor diagnosed her with Grave's Disease and recommended that she, and all the children in Joliet, be routinely tested for lead and mercury poisoning.
Thompson recalls times when she often had to struggle to gain composure in her car, while her daughter in the backseat would ask, "What's that smell, mommy?" and then complain of headaches. She saw her daughter suffer from blisters and sores every time they bathed her in a storage tub filled with bottled water following recommendations from her doctor, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and others. Yet, for a long time, their health problems remained a mystery.
Thompson and her neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, filing report after report and making phone call after phone call to local, state and federal agencies. When Thompson discusses the actions taken by the people of Joliet, she underscores the fact that this is a human issue: "I'm not an environmentalist, I'm a mom. I'm not an activist, I'm an American," she said.
Unfortunately, Joliet residents say their concerns have consistently been ignored by every public agency and department that, in theory, is supposed to help them.
The IEPA and local officials play a game of ping pong with their cries for help, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims not to have jurisdiction over the area. The IEPA likes to claim that these diseases occur naturally, but there is nothing natural about the levels at which they occur in Joliet.
On the rare occasions when the IEPA has returned a few a call, agency officials have tried to justify the horrendous living conditions by saying the jobs at the coal plant and its coal ash disposal site are needed.
Thompson says that supposed "gain" certainly pales in comparison to watching her family and friends suffer the health effects. "'Get use to it and get over it' is what they try to tell us," Thompson said
Not surprisingly, when the Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club's recently released coal ash report, "In Harm's Way
," Joliet was listed as one of the most contaminated sites in the country
. The town of Joliet has received national attention from such figures as Erin Brockovich and, at the time, Senator Obama.
Thompson and her community continue to ask why they aren't receiving any help. "Why doesn't the EPA prove something is safe? Why must we wait for a body count to show it’s not?" asked Thompson.
"It's not an environmental issue; it's an ethical, social and civil rights issue."
Tell EPA we need strong federal safeguards for toxic coal ash.
Posted by: Heather M at 1:28PM PST on October 11, 2010
Oklahoma Town Fights Coal Ash
This is a guest post by Rachel Butler of the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Team.
On Friday we wrote about the 10/10/10 Global Work Party
, anticipating an unprecedented day of action with people getting to work across the globe for climate solutions.
Yesterday was 10/11/10 and the dust of these work parties is beginning to settle, and it's clear that the 7,347 work parties across the globe - including thousands of events in the United States-- show that the world’s people are leading on climate solutions.
The Sierra Club encouraged its members and activists to get to work on transportation solutions, as the transportation sector accounts for 33% of America's greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of oil use in the U.S. Most of the pollution and oil use comes from cars and light trucks, and it's clear that we're going to have to address our transportation system as we address climate change.
Looking through the photos at 350.org
is pretty incredible. It's also inspiring to see how many of these photos involve folks getting to work on their bicycles, especially from our car-centric culture in the United States.
On 10/10/10, millions of people across the globe got to work, had fun, and demonstrated to world leaders that it's time to get to work on climate solutions - but we know that one day of action isn't enough.
The Sierra Club's Transportation Activists
are "getting to work" through the year on creating a 21st century transportation system that will move us beyond oil and create transportation choices for all. Couldn't get enough on 10/10/10? Join the Transportation Activists here
Our work is just getting started.
Photo is of the Minneapolis 10/10/10 bike tour and rally, courtesy of Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club's Central Region.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:27AM PST on October 7, 2010
Ash, Spills, Emissions, Mercury: Coal News of Note
This post is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. It was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Flavia de la Fuente.
When a company named Making Money, Having Fun LLC (how's that for Orwellian?) applied for a permit for a commercial disposal facility to dump coal ash
(along with waste oil and gas water) in eastern Oklahoma, they provided geographical maps and documents indicating that, pursuant to the Corporation Commission rules, there was no town of a population below 20,000 within three miles.
Except that's not true.
The town of Bokoshe (450 people) has been there since the 1800s. You can drive through it, you can stop at the post office, and you can graduate from the high school.
But for Making Money, Having Fun, there is no town and there are no rules. For eight years, they have been dumping waste oil and gas water and driving trucks of toxic coal fly ash (as many as 80 trucks in a single day), the product of a nearby coal-fired power plant run by AES, through the main street in town and dumping it in a pit a mere mile and a half from Bokoshe. Dozens of people in Bokoshe have died of cancer or are battling it right now, and children with asthma wake up in the middle of the night, struggling to breathe, afraid that they're going to die.
Diane Reece, an elementary school teacher in Bokoshe, protested the fly ash pit from the beginning.
"We didn't know anything about fly ash at the time," she said. "When they granted us a meeting downtown, it was a courtesy, because they were going to do it anyways. They haven't honored any of the promises they made, and they said it was harmless. And we believed them."
Tim Tanksley, another local Bokoshe resident, also recalls being told not to worry: "They just told everybody it was dirt, that you could put it on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Choosing a site near Bokoshe was nothing if not predatory. Reece stated, "In small towns you have people who help each other. It's a beautiful place to live. It's a wonderful thing to live in a community to help each other. And I feel that they have chosen small towns because we are so trusting. We trusted that they wouldn't be dumping anything to harm us
"They" is a broad term for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (lead state agency in charge of oil and gas water that issued the original permit), and the Department of Mines (lead agency in charge of reclamation).
To Reece and other Bokoshe residents, also complicit is Oklahoma's political leadership: the governor who appoints people to these various commissions, the local congressional representative, and the senators from Oklahoma, who in theory are charged with representing the interests of their constituents.
The ODEQ refuses to acknowledge that fugitive coal fly ash is impacting people
and property outside the fence line. The Department of Mines refuses to acknowledge that the pit is leaking contaminated wastewater
. And Oklahoma's political leadership refuses to acknowledge basic, incontrovertible science.
Tim Tanksley appealed directly to Senator James Inhofe and Representative Dan Boren to help, who in turn replied, "The fly ash is temporarily mounded while it is mixed with water to form slurry. Ultimately, the mine will be transformed into a pasture. Therefore, the fly ash mound is temporary and will disappear once the reclamation is complete."
Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe and Representative Boren are both helping the pit stay open.
According to Harlan Hentges, Oklahoman and attorney for Bokoshe residents, "Senator Inhofe is all over this thing. EPA stopped (the company) from dumping out there. After that happened, the Senator called EPA to find out when they could resume dumping in the pit. Representative Dan Boren did the same thing."
Hentges has learned to follow the money. "Those businesses pay a whole lot of money to do whatever the hell they want to do. They pay people to exploit the power that they have on their behalf. And you come up with all kinds of interesting ways to justify it. It's becoming really, really hard to justify in Bokoshe. What is wrong with this? What is so twisted here? Why is it so bad that we don't think you should dump fly ash into a pit?"
Bokoshe residents are fighting back, and founded B.E. Cause to protect their town, their health, and the future of their children.
They've tussled with state agencies, with their elected officials, and even with other people in Bokoshe.
There's a younger generation that is fighting back as well: Diane Reece's class of sixth graders has taken the kind of initiative that reassures us that small towns are still America's moral compass.
Thanks to a federal grant program called "Learn and Serve America" there is structured time set aside for Reece's class (pictured below) to serve their community. Proposals for this year's program included a "Welcome to Bokoshe" sign and a bench downtown for the gossip group (it's a small town, after all).
But then three girls raised their hands and said, "We need to stop the fly ash." Reece asked the class how many people had asthma, and of the 17 students, 9 raised their hands.
Reece recalled, "That was my answer. They started telling me about what it's like to have asthma. I was listening to them tell me how their attacks made them feel like they were going to die."
"We're just getting started," said Reece, "my sixth graders are leading the cause. The other night at our parent-teacher conference, they got 25 signatures in an hours' time. And this type of stuff is important, because out here, not everybody has access to computers and the internet. Tonight at the football game, we're going to pass out flyers about fly ash."
Bokoshe may be a small town, but the residents have big hearts.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:23AM PST on October 7, 2010
Peabody Coal's Plan to Save the World...Or Itself?
Wednesday October 6, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:46AM PST on October 6, 2010
The coal industry is a filthy business, but that doesn't stop the industry from spending a fortune on PR consultants to try and distract attention away from the costs it imposes on Americans every day. With labels like "clean coal" and "green coal," the coal industry's spinmeisters spend a lot of time and money trying to pretend coal is something it is not.
Now in response to a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and our allies in the United States to stop the construction of new coal plants - we are up to 145 plants stopped - Peabody Energy - the world's largest coal company - is proposing to grow its market by shipping coal overseas to impoverished countries.
Peabody's rationale for going overseas? They have a moral duty to alleviate energy poverty in countries that lack access to electricity.
Before exploring Peabody's new campaign to ship coal overseas, let's take stock at the industry's anti-poverty legacy in the United States:
- The three poorest counties in America are all in Appalachia's coal country and have given for decades at the altar of King Coal. And while the coal barons are richer, the counties have nothing but rampant poverty to show for the toxic mess Peabody and its ilk have left behind. Just which country is Peabody imagining aspires to be dominated by coal and look like the poorest parts of Appalachia or the Southern Illinois coalfields?
- Last month the Clean Air Task Force released a new report documenting that the fine particle pollution from coal plants causes upwards of $100 billion in health costs every year. These costs include asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and cancer. In addition to the Americans who are breathing coal's pollution and paying with health problems, all of us are also paying higher insurance costs and taxes to pay for coal's pollution.
The $100 billion health costs that coal is imposing on Americans is about the same amount Americans pay in health care costs resulting from smoking, and this is only the cost from particle pollution. It does not include the health care costs from other coal toxins like mercury causing brain disorders, or the environmental costs of fish-less lakes and streams across the Adirondacks and Appalachia. Smoking and coal burning are twin ills, literally killing and maiming Americans every day.
Over the past five years, the Sierra Club and our allies have highlighted coal's cost on our health and environment and stopped more than 145 new coal plants from breaking ground, effectively ending the industry's opportunity to grow in the United States. Now in response, the industry is taking another page from the tobacco industry's playbook: Ship its deadly product overseas
Peabody Energy recently announced its new campaign to "end global energy poverty." The company is proposing to ship U.S. coal overseas to bring electricity and prosperity to the world's two billion residents that lack access to electricity
Peabody urges us to ignore coal's pollution and focus on poverty:
"The greatest crisis we confront in the 21st Century is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models, but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve. For too long, too many have been focused on the wrong end game," said [Peabody CEO and Chairman] Gregory Boyce.
"For everyone who has voiced a 2050 greenhouse gas goal, we need 10 people and policy bodies working toward the goal of broad energy access. Only once we have a growing, vibrant, global economy providing energy access and an improved human condition for billions of the energy impoverished can we accelerate progress on environmental issues such as a reduction in greenhouse gases."
Peabody's Boyce even had the audacity to say, "We must put people first." Which people is he referring to? The miners who paid the ultimate price at the Big Branch disaster in April? The 13,000 people who die annually from coal plant pollution?
Peabody wants us to ignore coal's complete lack of concern for its worker and pollution here in the U.S. because it wants to divert focus onto another problem. (They've even got it all spelled out in this Power Point presentation
This PR ploy is ugly and offensive, and an act of desperation. Students at Washington University in St. Louis recently protested Peabody's Boyce's appearance at their school
: "Alleviating poverty worldwide is something we should all be focusing on, especially as we look at developing a clean energy future that is open to everyone - selling more coal however, will only help pad Peabody's pockets."
Just like other dangerous and corrupting corporations before it - read tobacco - the coal industry when feeling the pressure in the U.S. has always tried to target the workers, communities and countries least able to resist their abuses. Today in the U.S., with a national movement to move the country beyond coal there is a bright spotlight on the filthy lifecycle of coal from mining to burning to ash disposal, and the coal industry is running out of places to hide.
It has also run out of growth opportunities in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, and now wants to exports its pollution to developing countries.
Nice try, but we are not going to let this happen.
Mr. Peabody, consider yourself on notice. You can run, but you can't hide. We will not let you replicate your century of abuse of our workers, of our communities, of our environment, elsewhere in the world. We will use every outlet we have to collaborate with our allies overseas, to alert them that you are offering fool's gold, that clean energy is cheaper and lacks coal's polluting and corrupting ways. You will find no resting place.
This latest plan - perhaps your most audacious cynical ploy to date - will fail as surely as your efforts to build 150 new coal plants in the United States.
A Big Coal Ash Problem At Little Blue
Thursday September 30, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:36AM PST on September 30, 2010
This post is the latest in our series of coal ash community profiles. Our work on coal ash unfortunately becomes timely yet again, as news came out this week of a breach at a coal ash impoundment in North Carolina. This week's profile was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Andrea Sanchez.
There is nothing little about Little Blue Run Dam, the coal fly ash impoundment that reaches into both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Coal ash
is the toxic by-product of burning coal for electricity - the Little Blue Run ash impoundment belongs to the Bruce Mansfield Plant. This plant is FirstEnergy's largest coal-fired power plant, burning around seven million tons of coal annually.
At full capacity, the three plants that make up Bruce Mansfield complex produce four million gallons of coal slurry daily.
This is where Little Blue comes in.
Seven miles of pipeline will bring you to a 1,694 acre disposal site known as Little Blue (see its eerie blue color in the above Google Maps satellite image). By the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) own admission, Little Blue is one of 49 sites around the country whose dam currently has a High Hazard Potential rating. This rating means that if the dam holding back Little Blue's toxic slurry - the largest earthen dam in the country - were to breach, it would result in probable loss of life, largely to communities across the river in Ohio.
In addition to the structural hazard, coal ash also contains toxic metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and selenium, to name a few, and so far EPA has not required special liners to ensure that coal ash does not contaminate nearby waterways.
Debbie Havens, of the West Virginia side of the impoundment, remembers the first time the energy company spoke to her about the expansion of the impoundment years ago. A man came to her home armed with a colorful brochure and said, "There will be swimming, boating, walking and bike trails, a place my family could spend time together."
She told him, "I'm sorry sir, but I have a hard time believing that." That was the first and only time that anyone came to her door. Now large properties are being bought off left and right to make room for more coal ash waste at Little Blue.
For those living near unlined coal ash impoundments the risk of cancer can be as high as 1 in 50
, which is 2,000 times higher than EPA's "acceptable cancer risk of 1 in 100,000." This statistic only takes into account the risk of cancer from arsenic exposure in drinking water.
When looking at the entire list of toxins contained in coal ash, the health risks are even worse. Havens' husband had his thyroid removed several years ago after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and now Havens herself has a thyroid nodule which doctors are watching. Doctors also found three benign tumors doctors in her breast.
With no family history of thyroid problems, her endocrinologist has assessed that environmental exposure as the cause and told her, "You need to move or you will never survive this stuff."
In her community three men have already died from cancer this year. One thing is sure, she said, "Life is a lot different than that pretty brochure 36 years ago."
On the other side of the impoundment in Pennsylvania, Barb Reed and her son are living about a mile away from the site in Georgetown. Reed has lived in the area since 1978; her son is now living with her because he can no longer use his own water. His home is closer to the impoundment and after both FirstEnergy and the state Department of Environmental Protection found that the levels of arsenic in his water were exceeding the maximum EPA levels, he decided he had to leave his home.
"It's terribly upsetting because he can't even take showers or wash dishes, he's had to leave his home, and he's still paying a mortgage on it," said Reed. "They haven't even offered him a viable water supply because they claim it is not their fault."
If the risk of cancer, the potential for contaminated water, and the destroyed landscape isn’t enough - there is also the smell of rotten eggs. "You can't breathe because of the smell. Your throat burns, your eyes burns, everyday we're surrounded by fly ash," said Havens.
Even from a mile away Reed is reluctant to use her water because of the smell of rotten eggs coming from the tap. While she used to garden in her own backyard, she now grows vegetables out of buckets with store-bought soil to avoid eating contaminated produce.
It is time for EPA to treat coal ash as the toxic waste that it is.
Both of Reed and Havens have attended the EPA coal ash public hearings
in their areas hoping to get the agency to enact federally enforceable standards that will treat coal not like household garbage - but as toxic waste.
"A banana peel is household waste, not fly ash," said Havens.
Testifying Before the Gulf Oil Disaster Commission
Tuesday September 28, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 10:27AM PST on September 28, 2010
Appalachia Rising - No More Mountaintop Removal
Yesterday was the first day of a two day hearing
by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
. The hearing is covering the response following the BP spill, impacts on the Gulf and approaches to long-term restoration.
At the hearing, our own Sierra Club Apprentice Jenny Kordick testified about the Sierra Club's involvement and wishes for the cleanup and restoration. Here is her testimony: (You can also watch it at C-SPAN's website - her testimony starts at about minute 59)
Last week, the Sierra Club brought a delegation of Gulf Coast residents impacted by the spill
to Washington DC - these individuals included Sierra Club staff and volunteers working on oil spill response, fishermen, and coastal business owners. The group met with Professor Lazarus, Director Bromwich, representatives from NOAA, and members of Congress with a clear message that the BP oil disaster is not over
. Although the BP well may be capped, the Gulf Coast and its residents are still recovering from the disaster, with job losses in fishing and tourism, and massive fish kills as oil finds its way into our shores and ocean bottoms. The environmental, economic, and social impacts from the spill will be felt in years to come.
The Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal communities need federal resources for restoration and recovery. Funding these resources can come from Clean Water Act penalties, creating a Gulf Coast fund whereby penalties from the BP spill go directly towards restoration projects, and securing immediate funding under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. We also support the creation of a permanent regional community council to guide recovery efforts and ensure continued community driven oversight of the offshore oil industry.
In wake of the disaster, we must ensure full accountability by the oil industry.
A portion of oil and gas industry profits should be directed toward ocean protection and restoration. Long term funding can be provided for independent, peer-reviewed science to supplement federal and state research to obtain a full assessment of the BP spill's impacts on Gulf of Mexico resources like fisheries and marshes as well as seafood and public health monitoring.
A third generation Alabama fisherman who was a part of the Gulf contingent in DC last week expressed concern about the safety of the seafood industry as fishing waters re-open for the first times following the spill. The industry faces challenges ahead to not only restore the fishing stock but also to restore public perception about the safety of Gulf seafood.
The BP disaster reinforces the need to move America beyond oil dependence towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.
The BP spill demonstrates the certainty that there will be adverse economic and environmental outcomes as drilling continues. Instead of more offshore drilling, we should be building a 21st century transportation system, and investing in the kind of clean energy that will create jobs and infuse new life into our economy
Posted by: Heather M at 8:16AM PST on September 28, 2010
A Kentucky Community Surrounded by Coal Ash
Friday September 24, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 8:34AM PST on September 24, 2010
This week's coal ash community profile was written by Elizabeth Irvin, a Sierra Club Apprentice.
Ash about 20 feet over containment berm, 50 yards from residents’ homes in Riverside Gardens. Picture is taken from 2nd story window of resident's house. Credit: Thomas Pearce, Sierra Club.
For one weekend each year in early May, Louisville, Kentucky, boasts an abnormally high concentration of horses, jockeys, mint juleps, and elaborate hats. Less than ten miles from Churchill Downs, the neighborhood of Riverside Gardens has been dealing with an abnormal and deadly concentration of toxic chemicals every day for more than 40 years. A low income neighborhood in an area of Louisville known for its concentration of chemical plants, landfills, and power plants, Riverside Gardens may soon be forced to deal with yet another threat: a second coal ash dump in their community.
Monica Burkhead thought she was living the American dream when she bought a house in Riverside Gardens at the age of 17. She was assured that the neighborhood was safe, but has since learned that she is surrounded by growing quantities of all forms of toxic waste. The sources of these toxins include 11 chemical plants, a 2.4 million cubic yard unlined chemical landfill that is one of the state's oldest superfund sites, and multiple unlined coal ash waste ponds at the Cane Run coal plant owned by Louisville Gas and Electric.
The oldest of these coal ash ponds was built in the 1970s, but there are no records of any monitoring of any pond until 2005. The largest of these ponds is one of 49 nationwide that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated as "high hazard" - meaning that a dam failure like the 2008 disaster in Tennessee would probably result in loss of life.
Ash in this pond looms 20 feet over the containment berm, 50 yards from homes and within 350 yards of the Ohio River.
Louisville Gas and Electric is currently seeking permits to "expand" the pond at the Cane Run coal plant by constructing a new 5.7 million cubic yard, 14-story-tall pond some 1,500 feet from the existing one. What little data can be obtained about the existing ponds shows that they have been leaking sulfates into local groundwater. Neither the coal plant nor the state government has made public any tests of the toxic heavy metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, selenium, and mercury.
Monica and her neighbors live in a community ravaged by cancer.
EPA has found that people living near coal ash ponds have a risk of cancer greater than that of smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. Community organizers say that behind every door they knock on is someone with either cancer or kidney failure.
When Monica took the community's concerns to the chemical and coal companies, they told her that it was their lifestyles, and not the toxic contamination, that was making them sick.
Monica doesn't smoke or drink, eats healthily, and gets regular exercise. All of her family members except her husband have battled cancer. The industries evidently consider living in Riverside Gardens a lifestyle choice, even though the neighborhood existed long before plants that are now polluting it.
Resident Terri Humphrey expressed a common sentiment when she told a community meeting, "I believe the companies think that it’s already so bad down there that it doesn’t matter if they dump something else on us."
Monica, Terri, and other Riverside Gardens residents will testify at the upcoming EPA coal ash hearing in Louisville on September 28th
. Monica says that EPA can begin to repair her trust in government’s ability to protect communities by enacting a strong, federally enforceable rule that ends dangerous practices like the ones employed at the Cane Run plant.
Last spring, a group of children at nearby Farnsley Middle School were top 10 finalists in a competition to be "America's Greenest School." In the video they produced
, students talk about their plans to manage the school's waste more responsibly. Strong leadership from EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson can make coal companies live up to the example set by the students in their own community.
See www.sierraclub.org/coalash to learn more and take action on toxic coal ash.
Powerful Film About Coal Ash in Oklahoma
Friday September 17, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 12:10PM PST on September 17, 2010
Threat Remains Despite VA Coal Plant Delay
Thursday September 16, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 8:23AM PST on September 16, 2010
This is a guest Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign blog post written by Gabriel DeRita, a Sierra Club Communications Apprentice. Also, follow today's EPA coal ash public hearing in Chicago via our @SierraClubLive and @SierraClubIL Twitter accounts.
The area around Surry County, Virginia, is already home to some sinister projects, including several major coal ash disposal sites and Michael Vick's infamous dog fighting operation. One of the disposal sites is the local golf course, the Battlefield Golf Club. The green is sculpted with 1.5 million tons of coal fly-ash.
Now a major Virginia power provider, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), wants to site a 1500 mega watt coal plant, accompanied by several hundred acres of ash disposal sites, along the Blackwater River in Surry.
This project, if completed, will be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia. Its coal ash will be stored in several landfill areas around the plant. If the power plant itself falls through, ODEC representatives have indicated an option of developing the site as an exclusive coal ash landfill.
Executives announced on Wednesday, September 8, that the project deadline is being pushed back from 2016 to 2020
, citing concerns over pending federal regulations and lagging electricity demand. Though ODEC remains committed to pursuing the project, the delay comes as a welcome relief to local residents, and backs up arguments made by environmental and community groups that there is no pressing need for coal-fired power from such a massive plant.
Local residents like Betsy Shepard, mother of two, have been fighting ODEC tooth and nail since 2008, and the announcement comes as a major vindication of their efforts. Shepard is a busy full-time mom, but found the time to take a leading role in her community's fight to curb the march of coal ash contamination.
"I had no intentions of taking such an active role in the fight, but as is often the case in small communities, one has to step up and lend a hand when there is a need," said Shepard.
Live-Tweeting Today's House Enbridge Oil Spill Hearing
Wednesday September 15, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 7:42AM PST on September 15, 2010
New Coal Ash Video and Facebook App Aim to Educate, Engage
Tuesday September 14, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:29AM PST on September 14, 2010
You've seen our push against toxic coal ash continue over the past few months as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks public comment on how to regulate coal ash
. Our push continues this week with the unveiling of a new coal ash video we produced and a Facebook application. Take a look at the video first:
West Virginia Coal Company Held in Contempt of Court
Thursday September 2, 2010
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 4:10PM PST on September 2, 2010
One familiar talking point from rich coal executives is the notion that coal is cheap and clean. "Clean coal" is, of course, a myth. Not only is coal mining dirty, but so are the habits of coal companies that try to circumvent protective environmental and public health regulations.
That's why Patriot Coal was held in contempt
this week by a federal judge for dumping of a toxic byproduct called selenium into streams of West Virginia. The judge also ordered Patriot Coal to cough up (pun intended) $45 million to pay for the treatment of the poisonous toxin that was coming from two of its coal mines in West Virginia.
Selenium is a toxin that deforms fish and keeps them from reproducing. It's commonly linked to coal ash, one billion gallons of which flooded Roane County, Tennessee in December 2008. There have been several dirty-energy disasters in the U.S. since then. So where does the "coal is cheap" meme come from?
A deeper look at the true of cost of coal reveals something that is anything but cheap. The most recent example comes from the land of Honest Abe. In Taylorville, Illinois, Tenaska Energy has pushed a proposal for a $4 billion coal plant. The cost, at $212.73 per megawatt-hour, would far exceed a clean alternative
, like a wind-energy project at $88.80 to $121.97 per megawatt-hour. Who says this? The Illinois Commerce Commission, an agency of a major coal-producing state.
Like many coal plant proposals, this one is meeting stiff local resistance. While Tenaska claims to be a jobs creator, opponents are rightly pointing out that building clean energy would create more jobs and avoid rate shock.
Cheap? Clean? Big coal is out of flattering adjectives that pass the truth test. Which is why activists are battling new coal plants all over the country and winning.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:21AM PST on September 2, 2010
Calls for Handling Damaged Birds, Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife from Toxic Tar Sands Pipeline
Big Coal has an image problem. This commercial is bound to help, right? "It's like visiting the moon in your own backyard!"
Posted by: Elizabeth Irvin at 2:17PM PST on August 24, 2010
Where Has All the Plant Growth Gone?
We applaud the Department of the Interior (DOI) for their publication today of the Agency's comments
(pdf) on the Department of State's draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We can now add the DOI to the growing list of critics (if of a subtler shade) of the State Department's assessment of this massive dirty infrastructure project.
If permitted, this 1,380 mile-long, 36-inch pipeline would traverse America's heartland to deliver the dirtiest oil on earth. More than doubling our current imports of this toxic fuel, the Keystone XL could deliver up to 900,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil, from Alberta, Canada to Houston, Texas. This pipeline would cut right through numerous fragile ecosystems, including the critical Ogalalla aquifer in Nebraska, which provides drinking and irrigation water to portions of eight western states—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
In their comments to the Department of State, the DOI joins the EPA (which issued their own, hard-hitting comments to the Department of State last month in highlighting several unaddressed safety and environmental concerns with the Keystone XL project. To provide for a more robust assessment of the true impacts of this project, the DOI has requested the following:
- A more thorough and detailed plan to mitigate negative impacts to migratory birds. The DOI not only asks for a more in-depth report of how TransCanada will avoid negative impacts to migratory birds, it also requests that this plan be implemented prior to and during construction and operational activities.
- As such, the DOI requests five specific additional reports from the State Department relating to migratory bird impacts. The most notable of these includes the request for an explanation, if necessary, of why construction must occur during nesting season for migratory birds, and a demonstration that all efforts were made to avoid construction during this sensitive time.
- The DOI again joins other cooperating agencies in calling for a more holistic assessment of this project than the Department of State gave upon first pass. Specifically, they too demand that the numerous power lines constructed to support the pumping stations be considered as part of project, and their impacts assessed therein.
- A more detailed map identifying all impacted wetlands, open for public appraisal, as well as a detailed plan with the goal of "no net loss" of wetland habitat.
- The DOI notes the "minimal" assessment given to impacts on animal passage and aquatic biota, and calls for a more robust consideration of the project's potential disturbance of numerous species.
- And finally, the DOI highlights several "Areas of Conservation Concern," including TransCanada's proposed placement of a major power line across a highly frequented flight path out of a Wildlife Management Area wetland and nesting ground.
These comments add to the cacophony of voices expressing concern of this project, and highlight the need for a dramatically revised draft environmental impact statement, one that truly considers the dramatic impacts of this dirty pipeline. This revised draft EIS should be open for public comment, allowing impacted stakeholders, including all Americans concerned with this country's dependence on dirty, toxic fuels, a chance to digest and comment on the project. Again, it seems undeniable that once these impacts are given due analysis and consideration, there can be no other determination than the clear and resounding fact that this massive tar sands pipeline and the dramatic health, safety, and environmental impacts that would accompany it, are simply not in our nation's interest.
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:30PM PST on August 19, 2010
New Canadian Government Study Admits Poisonous Tailings Lakes are Getting Worse
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
And the bad news keeps coming. A new study
that will be out in the upcoming edition of Science
found that global plant growth is on the decline. Drought is one big reason for the trend.
For 20 years the amount of carbon-storing plant matter on the Earth's land surface had continued to increase as warmer temperatures led to a longer growing season, but somewhere around the start of the last decade, it began to decline.
It puts a damper on the notion fueled by climate deniers that excessive atmospheric carbon is good for plants and trees. (Watch the video below.) While it might be logical to assume that more carbon equals faster plant growth (kind of like steroids and muscle growth), the numbers aren't working out that way.
Other recent studies have pointed to similar correlations between an increase in carbon in the atmosphere eventually leading to a decreasing ability of plants to store and use all that carbon. A paper in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS ONE in July challenged the idea of "carbon fertilization" whereby more atmospheric carbon yields more plant growth, including greater agricultural yields.
Scientists and other experts fear climate change will exacerbate starvation and water scarcity and will particularly hit poor countries hardest. If this new data reveal a new, declining trend in the coming years, these problems might end up worse than previously thought.
The study's data were collected by NASA's Terra satellite. Via Universe Today:
"Even if the declining trend of the past decade does not continue, managing forests and croplands for multiple benefits to include food production, biofuel harvest, and carbon storage may become exceedingly challenging in light of the possible impacts of such decadal-scale changes," said Diane Wickland, manager of NASA's Terrestrial Ecology research program.
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 12:14PM PST on August 19, 2010
Toxic Metals Should Be Least of Concerns for Parents
After the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee mysteriously canceled an 18 month study on tar sands tailings and water quality -- even going so far as to shred the drafts-- members of the Liberal government and Environment Canada recently released a report on tailings waste, showing dramatic increases in many toxic substances.
This release came as a result of a lawsuit filed by EcoJustice, a leading Canadian legal advocacy group, in conjunction with Great Lakes United and Mining Watch Canada.
The shocking data released in the report is a major blow to the culture of secrecy and minimal oversight practiced by the Alberta government around tar sands tailings.
Industry has repeatedly sought to characterize the toxic lakes as benign ‘water recycling’ sites, and so far the oil royalty-soaked Alberta government has expressed little interest in regulating the massive waste ponds as toxic facilities.
The report makes public what opponents of the tar sands industry have been saying all along- that the government and industry are lying about the toxicity of tailings, and these massive poison lakes are a real threat to public heath and environment in Canada.
The report details a laundry list of rising toxic chemical concentrations in the 50,000 tons of tar sands tailings released between 2006 and 2009. Arsenic, a toxin sold as rat poison, increased 26 percent -- from 256 thousand kilograms in 2006 to 322 thousand kilograms in 2009. Other toxic heavy metals, like cadmium, surged 36 percent; nickel and lead increased 30 percent. Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, rose 13 percent in the same period. Concentrations of benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, both known human carcinogens, also rose.
The report leaves out naphthenic acids -- a chemical that researchers consider the most potent toxin in tar sands tailings, but the Alberta government has resisted classifying as a pollutant because it can be hard to track and remains dangerous for decades.
These figures are especially alarming considering current plans to triple tar sands production by 2025. For every one barrel of water produced, up to six barrels of freshwater are contaminated. The resulting contaminated waste water inevitably leaks into groundwater- by some estimates at a rate of 11 million liters a day.
If the industry continues its current tailings disposal practices, levels of toxins in Canada’s water and environment will inevitably and dramatically increase.
The Alberta government will have a much tougher sell in making tar sands and its toxic byproducts seem safe in light of this study. One can only hope Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, a longtime ally of tar sands, will take action to protect the health of Alberta’s people and environment by creating stringent standards for tailings disposal instead of propagating the fallacy of safety upheld by current lax regulations.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:11PM PST on August 19, 2010
Apple Fools' Day, Again
Remember when 12 million Shrek
glasses offered by McDonald's earlier this summer had to be recalled because they had cadmium in them
? And then you asked yourself, "What the heck is cadmium?"
The federal government today took a small step toward banning the toxic metal from kids' products. In recent years it has increasingly been found in toys, including kids jewelery. Cadmium, a "cheap, unregulated alternative to lead," can typically be found in batteries. It can cause serious lung damage when inhaled. More serious cases of cadmium poisoning can lead to kidney failure.
Through the Federal Registrar, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today opened a comment period
on potential regulations for the hazardous metal. The Sierra Club has been leading the charge with other consumer and environmental groups to get it out of our everyday products.
Hopefully, cadmium will be treated with the same seriousness as lead. Keeping these harmful chemicals from the path of our kids should be a no-brainer.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 11:56AM PST on August 17, 2010
Thousands of Sierra Clubbers Demand U.S. Bank to Stop Coal Abroad
Posted by: Guay at 10:31AM PST on August 13, 2010
Coal News of the Day - Some Blech and Some Success
7,769 Sierra Club members told the Export-Import Bank that instead of financing dirty power projects abroad, it should be positioning U.S. companies to lead in a competitive clean technology market that can create thousands more jobs in the US. These comments were directed at the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Kusile coal-fired power plant proposed by the South African Utility.
At nearly 5,000 megawatts of output, the Kusile plant would be one of the largest dirty-coal plants in the world, and would be one of the single largest point sources of climate disrupting pollution on Earth. The Kusile project would annually emit more than 150 percent of the annual carbon emissions from projects supported by the Ex-Im Bank in 2009.
While failing to adhere to a Congressional mandate to significantly increase renewable energy financing, the Ex-Im Bank’s Board of Directors also recently voted to support the Sasan coal-fired power project in India, one of nine “Ultra Mega Power Plants” being pursued by the Indian government. Sasan, slated to produce 3,960 MW
, is controlled by Sasan Power Limited, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, owned by Anil Ambani one of the world’s richest men. Local communities in India are actively protesting the Sasan project, as it will displace 6,000 people, and emit between 26-27 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
If the Ex-Im Bank proceeds with funding the Kusile and Sasan projects, U.S. taxpayer dollars will be tripling the annual carbon emissions from projects supported by the Export-Import Bank in 2009. According to a recently released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, more than 95% of Ex-Im’s energy portfolio is based on fossil fuels, and in 2009 Ex-Im Bank financing for renewable energy was less than 0.5% of the agency’s total financing.
While funding the project with U.S. tax dollars presents a strategic misstep, it also represents significant health and environmental impacts in South Africa. Pollutants proven to cause and contribute to serious cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses such as heart disease and asthma, as well as neurological and developmental disorders, will directly impact the surrounding communities.
The Ex-Im Bank Board is expected to take up a due diligence vote on Kusile in early September. The decision to whether or not to finance these projects will send a direct signal to fossil fuel industries and other lenders about the future of clean energy technology and the role of fossil fuels in development. With controversy brewing, and pressure building, it’s time for Ex-Im Bank to do the right thing.
To find out more about Kusile go here.
To find out more about Sasan go here.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:09AM PST on August 12, 2010
There's plenty of news about coal hitting the wires today - first up is President Obama's Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) - which includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Energy - today "delivered a series of recommendations to the president today on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years
If you're thinking, "Blech, so-called 'clean coal,'" you're not alone. We agree that coal is never clean. In any case, the report's main findings and recommendations include:
CCS is Viable: There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology.
A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.
Federal Coordination should be Strengthened: With additional federal actions and coordination, the task force believes our nation can meet the president's near-term goal and get 5-10 commercial demonstration CCS demonstration projects online by 2016. The report recommends the creation of a standing federal agency roundtable and expert committee to facilitate that goal.
Recommendations on Liability: The task force conducted an in-depth analysis of options to address concerns that long-term liability could be a barrier to CCS deployment. It concluded that open-ended federal indemnification is not a viable alternative but that four approaches merit further consideration: relying on existing frameworks, limits on claims, a trust fund, and transfer of liability to the federal government (with contingencies).
For a more in-depth look at the recommendations, check out this Associated Press article
Here's a new article from Nature
that shows one major reason why coal is never clean - mountaintop removal coal mining. From the article:
On 3 August, researchers at the Ecological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, presented what they say is the first conclusive evidence of a direct link between this type of mining and environmental damage. Their research has teased apart the effects of mountain-top mining and urbanization on local water quality in West Virginia, and found that even relatively small mining operations can cause serious harm to ecosystems.
"Even at very low levels of mining we found a dramatic impact on water quality and stream composition," Emily Bernhardt, a biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and one of the study's lead researchers, told Nature. The scientists have called on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten the water pollution limits faced by mining companies.
Meanwhile in Oregon, check out this article from Northwest Labor Press
about the Boardman Coal Plant near Portland (oddly, the headline for this story is for another article, but the article is the one you want to read) It's a thoughtful article covering a common theme in the clean energy battle - jobs.
Finally, some great news about moving beyond coal in Ohio. Our Ohio Beyond Coal team members living in the Cleveland area have been working hard to get the Medical Center Company to not renew the permit for its aging coal-fired power plant that operates right near a hospital and several universities
This week was a hearing about the company's attempt to renew the plant's permit, but right before then the Medical Center Company released this statement saying it would move beyond coal
! That's some great community organizing from a neighborhood that's concerned about the local air quality - shows that people working together can achieve their goals.
Community members still packed the hearing to speak out for clean energy. Check out this great video that Sierra Club staffer Mattie Reitman took of the speakers at the hearing.
Clean Energy News of Note
Wednesday August 11, 2010
Posted by: Heather M at 11:07AM PST on August 11, 2010
Burning Coal + Hot Days = Unhealthy Air Warnings
It's the summer doldrums, but there's still been a lot of clean energy and dirty energy news hitting the wires out there. Here are some highlights.
First up we have a NY Times article about using "brownfields" as clean energy sites in California
- meaning using dried up farmland as good siting for solar power projects. From the article:
Unlike some renewable energy projects blocked by objections that they would despoil the landscape, this one has the support of environmentalists.
The San Joaquin initiative is in the vanguard of a new approach to locating renewable energy projects: putting them on polluted or previously used land. The Westlands project has won the backing of groups that have opposed building big solar projects in the Mojave Desert and have fought Westlands for decades over the district's water use. Landowners and regulators are on board, too.
"It's about as perfect a place as you're going to find in the state of California for a solar project like this," said Carl Zichella, who until late July was the Sierra Club's Western renewable programs director. "There's virtually zero wildlife impact here because the land has been farmed continuously for such a long time and you have proximity to transmission, infrastructure and markets."
In the world of dirty energy, there's been some news out lately about toxic coal ash (the by-product of burning coal for electricity). Right now the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed two very federal safeguards for coal ash
- and this Alamogordo Daily News article
looks at residents in New Mexico who are fighting to make sure its regulated as a toxic substance.
Meanwhile, after some serious pressure from grassroots groups, EPA announced two more public hearings on these proposed coal ash rules
- one in Louisville, KY, and one in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn all about the hearings on EPA's coal ash rules website
- and make sure you submit your comment calling for strong federal safeguards for coal ash right away
! And if you want to see if there's a coal ash storage site near you, check out our map
From water quality (coal ash contaminates groundwater all the time) to air quality. There's a new report out showing the EPA action on air pollution will not hurt the industry
. From the release
An expert report issued today finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can move forward in a timely way on new air quality rules for power plant emissions to improve public health while maintaining the reliability of the nation's power system.
"However, these will tend to be older, smaller generating units that are already reaching the end of their design life. We have identified at least 40 units that are scheduled for retirement with an average age of more than 50 years old."
The report, Ensuring a Clean, Modern Electric Generating Fleet while Maintaining Electric System Reliability....reviews the impact on power plant operations of proposed EPA rules to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury, and other hazardous air pollutants.
Related to air quality, EPA just issued air pollution rules for facilities that produce cement
. This may sound small and inconsequential, but it's quite the opposite. From EPA's release
(The final rules) protect Americans' health by cutting emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from Portland cement manufacturing, the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States. The rules are expected to yield $7 to $19 in public health benefits for every dollar in costs.
Mercury can damage children's developing brains, and particle pollution is linked to a wide variety of serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.
And finally, we go back to clean energy. Our friends over at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy
have a brand new website in honor of their 30th anniversary - go check it out
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:27AM PST on August 10, 2010
Pipeline Company Rescinds Risky Proposal … For Now
Yesterday and today are code orange unhealthy air alert days
in the Washington, DC, region where I live. The 95+ degree temperatures and excessive ground-level ozone create extremely unhealthy air – especially for kids, senior citizens, and people with pre-existing health conditions.
These aren't the first days this summer where we've had these warnings, and I know that the Washington, DC, region is not alone in its unhealthy air warnings. Temperatures are soaring across the U.S. - and while one major source of air pollution is vehicles, the other major cause is burning coal for energy.
And with this comes new research that poor air quality days aren't just a struggle for your lungs, they're just as tough on your heart
. This is news from the combined efforts of the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, who are reminding us that while some pollution levels may be decreasing, we’re learning that air pollution is actually much worse for us than originally thought.
From one article on this research
While risks to individuals are small and are dwarfed by risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, the overall effect on the public is big, says Robert Brook, a cardiologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the report.
Much of the worrisome data concerns "fine particulate matter" - tiny bits of soot that come from burning coal, oil, diesel fuel or wood, mostly in factories, vehicles and power plants.
"These fine particles get deep into the lungs," says Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association....It's also possible that some fine particles seep into blood vessels and the blood itself, causing direct damage. Dirty air also may trigger irregular nervous system activity that affects the heart and blood vessels.
Some in Congress want to gut EPA's Clean Air Act powers - and yet air pollution levels are so dangerous that these unhealthy air warnings recommend that kids should not be outside
. Kids should not be outside in August? Right. Summer vacation is still in full force, so kids are outside, and that means they are at risk of permanent lung damage because the oil and coal companies are holding congress hostage.
We are literally killing ourselves by burning coal, and yet the coal industry continues to fight against the Clean Air Act and any safeguards that might prevent them from spewing their pollutants into the air.
This is shameful. The coal industry would rather make money than clean itself up
We must support clean, renewable energy sources that don't pollute the air and contribute to unhealthy air warnings when temperatures climb. Coal-fired power plants spew millions of tons of pollution into the air ever year, which spreads from state to state and causes numerous health issues.
Thankfully, EPA is acting to help states be good neighbors with the proposed 'Good Neighbor / Transport' rule that will systematically and efficiently cut pollution from dozens of coal plants that would otherwise spread across the country.
The rule is intended to help downwind states achieve EPA's national ambient air quality standards for ozone and fine particles.
We applaud this common sense approach by Lisa Jackson and EPA to protect public health and help states clean up their air efficiently and cost-effectively.
You can make your support heard for this rule at one of the three upcoming public hearings
(first one is next week), or by submitting your own comment
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 12:20PM PST on August 6, 2010
BP Update and More Dirty Energy Stuff
Amid two massive oil
spills, public pressure was apparently high enough to force TransCanada
to back down from its permit request to pump the world’s most toxic
crude at over-zealous pressures. In doing so, the company made a
telling statement about the risks their pipelines pose, acknowledging
their proposal was unsafe from the start.
But they made sure to allow for a “request for a special permit in the future”.
TransCanada is making a smart PR move, because pumping at lower
pressures still allows the company to meet its prospective deliveries
while making them appear sensitive to safety concerns.
They stood by their commitment to use thinner-than-standard steel,
a move that will expose American communities and vital aquifers to
increased risk, but will save the company close to a billion dollars. There's no sign of shying from that proposal -- actually building an up-to-par
pipe would provide the minimum safeguards against another disaster, but
a fraction of their profits are on the line!
The Enbridge pipeline disaster in Michigan spill is the latest of more than 2,500 significant pipeline incidents that have occurred in the United States over the last ten years, resulting in 161 fatalities and 576 injuries. There are no safe pipelines, and TransCanada knows it.
This thinly veiled publicity stunt is yet another attempt by big oil
companies to dupe the American people into believing their practices
are safe. We have been reassured time and again by companies like BP
and Enbridge, only to see the all-too-real consequences of their
negligence in the form of devastating toxic spills.
We cannot allow another oil company to placate us again with a
bait-and-switch ploy at appearing ‘safer’, while simultaneously forging
ahead with risky practices that protect nothing but their profits.
TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is a risky project that will
undermine well-paying, green jobs at home, and expose 27 percent of America’s
irrigated farmland to oil contamination.
We cannot afford another pipeline disaster, and we don't need
a multi-billion dollar project that directly undermines America's clean
energy future. We must stand up and tell the State Department that another risky pipeline carrying the world’s dirtiest crude will never be in the national interest.
Main Switchboard for State Department:
TTY:1-800-877-8339 (Federal Relay Service)
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:03PM PST on August 5, 2010
Global Warming Puts on a Party Hat
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:04PM PST on August 5, 2010
The Curse of Cheap Coal
(Image via RealClimate.org)
What's in a name?
"Global warming" turns 35 years old this weekend. Which is why the Guardian's Environment blog thinks it's as good time as any to revisit the term.
Personally, I've never much taken to the term "global
warming" (perhaps, it's my British roots, or that, yes, it seems too
narrow in its scope) so I'm happy to stick with "climate change". I
think we've reached a point now when we all know what we are talking
about, even though the world will always be populated by the
predictable pedants who love to crow that "the climate has always
changed" when they know full well that what is being discussed is
anthropogenic climate change.
Nearly everyone who's been paying attention knows that the world is undergoing a warming trend. But is it wise to call it "global warming" anymore? After all, from my vantage point here in California, it's August and freezing outside. And the 10-day forecast says that temperatures are going to get even colder next week. It's bizarre to be pulling out my coats from the closet at this time of year.
Elsewhere, meteorological extremes are happening as well. Just ask people in Las Vegas, who have just experienced their hottest month ever. Same for Moscow.
As the Guardian
article states, "global warming" as a term took off in the U.S. after NASA scientist James Hansen used it during his congressional testimony in 1988. But since then, climate deniers have demonstrated why "global warming" needs to be phased out.
We all saw why last winter when the D.C. area got an unusual amount of snow. Climate deniers in political and media circles used the snow dump to mock climate advocates and distort the issue.
(See here and here and here for examples. Meanwhile, Vancouver needed snow to be trucked in for the Winter Olympics.)
The snow in D.C. did nothing to disprove what scientists have been saying for quite some time: the climate is artificially changing because of us and this will precipitate the likelihood of local weather extremes. This point is why I'd like to see "global warming" yield the floor to "climate change" or something else that reflects the realities of what's going on out there.
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 1:32PM PST on August 5, 2010
(Not So) Great Expectations
There are no end of scoundrels to blame for the United States' failure to address global warming: Climate-change deniers, obstructionists in the Senate, an apathetic public, even the recession. But looking at the big picture, director of the Centre for European Studies Daniel Gros finds one villain that stands above the rest.
"Why has every attempt to set prices for global carbon emissions failed?" he asks. "The answer can be found in one word: 'coal'."
His essay, "King Coal's Pyrrhic Victory," is short, so instead of summarizing it I'll just urge you to give it a quick read. His conclusion is not very optimistic. We failed after Kyoto, we failed after Copenhagen, and the chances of future failure are multiplying by the day.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:08PM PST on August 4, 2010
Climate Ride 2010 Will Hit the West Coast
Late last year we had Copenhagen -- the big international talk on doing something about carbon and climate. And although it advanced dialogue on climate issues, it ended with what climate advocates felt was a lack of teeth in the "Copenhagen Accord
." There were no legally binding resolutions in it.
Climate advocates were disillusioned. So they began to look to the next international meeting for hope. That meeting takes place this November in Cancun, Mexico.
And already the expectations are taking a downward spiral. Once again, the rift between rich countries and developing countries is taking center stage:
The divisions between industrialized and developing nations over climate policy seem even deeper than they were six months ago. China, which has long acted as a spokesman for developing countries, scolded developed countries on Monday for failing to accept their “historical responsibility” for climate change and urged them to do more in the way of emissions cuts, according to Xinhua, the government news agency.
Instead of banking on some sort of deal, optimists hope the Cancun get-together will produce a step toward the direction of a deal
A U.N. summit in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year will not result in a new climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the co-head of the European Union's climate delegation said in an interview on Tuesday.
"It will not be the big deal. Hopefully it will be a big step forward to the deal," Artur Runge-Metzger told Reuters.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:19AM PST on August 3, 2010
Senate Candidate: Blowing Up Mountaintops Enhances the Land
While previous years had it coming down the East Coast and into Washington, DC, this year's Brita Climate Ride
will hit the West Coast. The Climate Ride is a huge bike ride aimed at supporting action on climate change. Here are the details from Climate Ride organizer David Kroodsma:
Join the National Bike Ride to Support Climate and Energy Solutions
The nation's largest environmental charity bike ride and 'climate conference on wheels' comes to California! After two years on the East Coast, Climate Ride debuts Brita Climate Ride California 2010 this September 21-25, 2010.
Two hundred cyclists will pedal beautiful country roads 300 miles along California’s rugged northern coast from Eureka to San Francisco to raise awareness of clean energy, the climate crisis, and pedal power.
This fully-supported adventure raises funds for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Green America, and 1Sky. Climate Ride is the first multi-day, multi-city bicycle ride to address climate issues and highlight renewable energy solutions. The event also showcases that the bicycle is the ultimate carbon-free machine and a viable form of transportation. Participants can register online at www.ClimateRide.org.
David also has a great write-up on Huffington Post
about how the event will go and why you should join him. You should also watch this video from last year's ride.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:21AM PST on July 29, 2010
Tar Sands: Same Old Song
Photo by Mary Anne Hitt
Perhaps the aesthetics of blown-up mountains are in the eye of the beholder? Last summer
, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) drew ire from coal industry execs because he expressed support for a federal ban on the destructive practice. Big Coal even attempted to launch a boycott of Tennessee.
These days coal execs have found a friend in Kentucky's Republican nominee for Senate, Rand Paul. Paul seems to think mountaintop removal is great!
"The top ends up flatter, but we're not talking about Mount Everest. We're talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I've seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass." Most people, he continues, "would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it."
Makes sense. That's why I visit ilovemountains.org
-- to admire pictures of enhanced plots of land.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:25PM PST on July 28, 2010
And Yet Another Oil Spill
Posted by: Heather M at 9:09AM PST on July 28, 2010
Tweet of the Day
On the heels of yesterday's second oil accident off Louisiana's coast
, emergency workers in Michigan are responding to another major slick caused by a ruptured pipe. This oil spill of more than 800,000 gallons of crude
(so far) is affecting some 16 miles of the Kalamazoo River (again, so far). Here's a photo of that mess, from Brandy Baker of the Detroit News.
This quote from the Detroit News article sticks out to me:
"We have negatively impacted your lives and made a mess of your properties and waterways," said Patrick Daniel, Enbridge president and CEO. "We're now working around the clock to minimize the impact of that and clean up the area."
And yet the oil industry says spills and accidents are few and far between, huh?
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:41PM PST on July 27, 2010
Back in Humpty Dumpty Land
I just read this on Sierra Club's Twitter
Wow -- said today it plans to claim $9.9 billion in U.S. tax credits
Golly, I wish I had their accountants.
By the way, there's a new oil disaster in the Gulf. Early this morning, a tow boat slammed into an abandoned well. A plume of oil is shooting about 100 feet into the air. Watch:
Posted by: Carl Pope at 1:35PM PST on July 27, 2010
Energy News of Note
Gillette, Wyoming -- You might be pardoned if you thought that the Powder River Basin, in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana, was a coal-producing region. After all, the third line of the Wikipedia entry mentions that the basin "supplies about 40 percent of coal in the United States." Most of the Google images for the basin are of coal-mining operations, or maps of coal deposits. This town lies next to the biggest coal mine in the country, the Black Thunder Mine. John McPhee devoted a major part of a book to the coal trains that snake out of the Black Thunder to Georgia Power's Plant Scherer, 1,800 miles away, just north of Macon, Georgia.
But in the eyes of the U.S. Government, the Powder River Basin just doesn't qualify as a coal-producing region. Although it used to be designated as one, it was decertified by the Bureau of Land management in 1990. Evidently, the PRB lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
"Who cares?" you might wonder. The coal comes out, regardless. The land is stripped and destroyed. The mercury in the Black Thunder coal ends up in Georgia's fisheries. And the climate is being dangerously disrupted.
Posted by: Heather M at 9:00AM PST on July 27, 2010
Shelter From the Storm
Here's another round-up of stories you may not have heard about just yet. Most of it is about coal - but not all.
First up, in timely coal news - we need you to call your U.S. rep right now to urge them to not weaken coal ash standards (The photo to the left is of the massive coal ash spill in Harriman, Tenn., from December 2008. Photo by Lyndsay Moseley)
. From our friends at EarthJustice:
We need you to call your Congressional Representative immediately!! Please take two minutes this morning to help stop our opponents from gaining ground in the House. You can call the House switchboard and ask to be transferred to your member's office, (202) 224-3121
Two damaging letters to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson are currently circulating in the House asking for weak coal ash regulations.
Representatives Rick Boucher (VA) and Fred Upton (MI) are circulating one letter seeking sign-on from Energy and Commerce Committee members and Representative Holden (PA) is circulating a second letter to all House members. Both letters ask EPA to issue only guidelines, maintain the inadequate status quo of weak state regulations, and refrain from establishing federally enforceable regulations!
Please call your representative in Congress and ask him/her to refrain from signing a letter that will hurt your community and lead to EPA action that fails to protect our health and environment from toxic coal ash.
Let your voice be heard and call immediately. The deadline for sign on to these letters is TODAY. The authors may extend the deadline, but only until Friday at the latest.
Next up is more coal news. If you're in California, you might just be knee-deep in election news. The latest is that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina received campaign money from Murray Energy
, a major coal company whose CEO is a climate denier
, along with other major coal companies in Appalachia.
Now for some good coal news: A legal challenge has proved successful in Georgia, where a state administrative court ruled against two state water permits for the proposed 850-megawatt Plant Washington coal-fired power plant in Sandersville, GA
. The court has ruled that the water withdrawal and water pollution discharge permits issued by Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for the proposed power plant are both legally flawed. More details here
And coal's not just bad for the water, as some residents in Illinois discovered this past weekend on a tour of a longwall mining site.
The Illinois Sierra Club Mining Issues Committee took folks on a tour in Hillsboro, where the new Deer Run longwall mine is under contruction next to town, within a few hundred feet of the local hospital. If you're unfamiliar with how damaging longwall mining can be, watch this video to learn more
They also traveled to Macoupin County to see longwall mined areas still not "reclaimed" after a decade after mining - not to mention the Shay 1 mine coal waste impoundment, which features millions of gallons of toxic coal slurry. Check out pictures from the tour on Flickr
Also this past weekend, hundreds of Texans gathered for the Great Texas Cleanup Event in Houston, which was co-organized by the Texas Sierra Club - especially by our Texas Beyond Coal and Texas Sierra Student Coalition teams (seen in the photo to the right).
The event was an outdoor music and arts festival mixed with community organizing for clean energy and clean air. This website has a great write-up and more fantastic pictures
Finally, in more good clean energy news, got this tip via email: "Atlantic Green Power (AGP) announced (July 20th) it received final approval to build a 14.4 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Upper Pittsgrove, N.J.
This approval makes the pending project the largest solar energy generation facility to receive final site plan approval in New Jersey to date, and one of the largest on the East Coast."
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:45AM PST on July 23, 2010
Game Changer: EPA Asserts Tar Sands Pipeline Environmental Analysis is Inadequate
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 8:29AM PST on July 22, 2010
Ramping Up the Home Retrofit Industry
This post was co-written by Lena Moffitt, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign.
This week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blasted the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline
- asserting that the EIS is "woefully deficient" because "the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public, and we recommend that additional information and analysis be provided."
The Keystone XL is a massive pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S., and we've long called its EIS inadequate
. Now our nation's environmental watchdog is putting its weight and expertise behind that assessment.
EPA is charged with protecting Americans' health and safety, and its concerns about this pipeline underscore and validate what Americans are saying across the country.
EPA is demanding more than 30 additional pieces of information needed based on grave concerns such as "the Draft EIS does not fully identify and address the potential for disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on minority, low-income and Tribal populations."
EPA also raises serious concerns about the threats tar sands pose to the health and safety of American communities, which underscores the need to proceed with caution when it comes to making a decision of this magnitude about the country's energy future.
And given what we've witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, where rubbers stamps for the oil industry were all too common, we welcome this call for a more thorough and rigorous approach to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Here's just a partial list of what EPA is asking of the State Department, given the woefully deficient consideration of these environmental and human impacts:
- A broader assessment of the need for this pipeline, including a "robust analysis of options for meeting national energy and climate policy objectives"; That list alone underscores the high risk and hefty cost of pursuing toxic tar sands oil at the expense of America’s clean energy future.
- A more thorough investigation into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project, including a consideration of Canadian tar sands development (which EPA asserts is an action clearly connected to building the pipeline and must be considered);
- A lifecycle assessment of "well-to-wheel" (greenhouse gas) emissions generated from tar sands;
- A better understanding of mitigation measures that could be taken to decrease the emissions from tar sands developments;
- An assessment of the air quality impacts of refining tar sands, and a more in-depth look at the environmental justice ramifications of these air quality concerns;
- A much more thorough emergency response plan, including a consideration of the specific impacts to water bodies or a leak or spill of the chemical dilutent needed to transport heavy tar sands oil;
- A consideration of the safety waiver [the Department of Transportation] is considering granting to TransCanada, with special attention paid to the sulfur content of the fuel and how this would impact the thinner steel which would be used if the waiver were granted;
- A complete assessment of all the project's impacts to wetlands;
- A consideration of the impacts of Canadian tar sands developments on migratory birds.
We applaud EPA's scrutiny.
All of the additional analysis requested by EPA must be prepared to allow for a robust consideration of the impacts of this pipeline, and whether or not is it in our nation's interest.
And because of an executive order, these requests from EPA mean that the Keystone XL plan cannot go through until the Department of State can deliver completed analysis addressing all of these points.
We have said all along, an open and honest dialogue about our energy future leads to the conclusion that we should say no to this filthy project. Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should say yes to clean energy, yes to clean air, and yes to an oil-free future.
Posted by: Heather M at 7:19AM PST on July 22, 2010
Haggle Our Way to a Climate Solution
This is a guest post from Chip Gaul, Intern for the Sierra Club Good Jobs Retrofit Campaign.
In April, twenty-five cities and states received “Retrofit Ramp-up”awards from the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus funds (a competitive grant under the Energy Efficiency and Community Block Grant Program). These grants are beefing up existing programs and new initiatives set to launch this fall and winter that allow households and building owners to improve the energy efficiency performance of their homes and businesses.
New Sierra Club ED Mike Brune recently stated that we need to do more than simply fight the status quo of dirty energy and environmental degradation: we need to promote new solutions. Improving the performance of our country's 130 million energy inefficient homes (20 percent of global warming pollution) will help curb our dependence on fossil fuels and create quality jobs in a slumping economy and construction sector.
Even though retrofits produce many benefits for building owners- reduced carbon footprint, lower utility bills, and more comfort during extreme weather days- most people are unaware of local programs that help pay for energy-saving measures. Community-based organizations and local clean energy advocates in "Ramp-up" cities can help spread the word about these new programs and help deliver real energy savings by signing up their peers and neighbors, implementing solutions envisioned in ED Brune's remarks.
For instance, in Maine, where 75% of homeowners heat their homes with oil at an average cost of $2,000 per year, Maine Partners for Cool Communities is organizing canvassing and neighborhood events to teach homeowners about the benefits of home energy upgrades through Maine's Home Energy Savings Program with Efficiency Maine. Sierra Club has joined labor unions and business partners to host Clean Energy Roadshow events across the country. The Roadshow partners create an open forum for business leaders, industry experts, public officials, and stakeholder groups to exchange best practices and form new partnerships to rapidly build new clean energy industries.
Implementing these budding "Ramp-up" programs will help communities enter a new era free of pollution from dirty energy and booming with a clean-energy economy. Read about Sierra Club campaigns in a community near you.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:35AM PST on July 19, 2010
New Drilling Moratorium: A Needed Step to Mitigate a Risky Industry
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 2:36PM PST on July 16, 2010
Climate and National Security Redux
Drilling safety is not a BP problem, it is an industry problem- Ken Salazar and the Department of the Interior agree.
A Louisiana federal Judge threw out the first ban on offshore drilling last week, but citing concerns over industry-wide use of the same blowout preventers that failed BP, the Interior Department issued a new moratorium Monday.
The extreme engineering and technical lengths companies go to extract oil from miles underwater highlights the severity of our oil addiction- and we can take steps to end it today. But establishing new, rigorous standards for drilling safely in complex and dangerous situations needs to be priority number one for the drilling industry and those who regulate it.
BP is one of the richest, most technologically advanced companies in the world- and 13 weeks after the spill, oil continues to gush nearly uninhibited from the sea floor. Can we assume that any other company would do a better job?
The reality is, we can not. The American Petroleum institute has spent millions in public relations to save their image while throwing BP under the bus, but a government review of spill response documents of all five major drilling companies found nothing but boiler-plate, cookie cutter plans- in some cases using the exact same words.
Like BP, three other companies include references to protecting walruses, which have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for 3 million years.
Two other plans are such dead ringers for BP's that they list a phone number for the same long-dead expert.
ExxonMobil’s response report has 40 pages on its media response strategy, yet its plans for resources protection is only 5 pages long and its plan for oil removal is just 9 pages long. Clearly they are more concerned with the safety of their brand than the safety of their equipment.
Every response plan document claims the companies can handle between 150,000 and 250,000 barrels per day. The BP spill is currently leaking between 11,000 to 25,000 barrels per day- with almost no ability to contain it.
What this disaster has demonstrated more than anything is that these companies cannot be taken at their word- not a single number BP has released relating to the scope of the disaster or its response capabilities has held up to facts.
The offshore drilling industry needs to seriously raise the bar on integrity and transparency, and forcing a moratorium until this occurs is mandatory to holding these companies accountable.
Our tolerance for risk needs to be at an all-time low as we struggle to contain this disaster, and that means an end to risky deepwater drilling until new safety controls are demonstrably in place.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:52AM PST on July 16, 2010
Big Cities Want Big Changes in Energy
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:43AM PST on July 15, 2010
Ashley Judd is Doing the Right Thing
Today I'll focus on yet another community suffering from coal's pollution - but this community is a little bit larger, and it's on the front end of an emerging trend. The city is Chicago and it's starting what could be a national movement to clean up dirty energy in the inner city.
Some of our oldest and dirtiest coal plants are located in major cities across the U.S.; and they are often located in areas with other major pollution sources, exposing residents of these densely populated areas to higher levels of harmful pollution than their neighbors.
What's happening now in Chicago is just the beginning as residents of these communities organize and rise up against these environmental injustices, finding ways to clean up their air and water.
In Chicago, more people live near the city's two old coal plants than any other coal plant in the nation
. The plants, located on the southwest side of Chicago, cause 40 pre-mature deaths, 500 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year. Chicago also has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, and the city's asthma hospitalization rate is nearly double the national average. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, on average, one out of seven school-aged children has asthma; in a number of Chicago-area neighbors, upwards to one out of three children suffer from asthma.
As such, community groups are working to clean up the two coal-fired power plants: Fisk and Crawford - both owned by Midwest Generation. And it goes beyond their asthma-causing air pollution. The Fisk plant produces more than 1.78 million tons of CO2 annually
. The Crawford plant produces more than 3.18 million tons of CO2 annually
Today in the Windy City, more than 50 local and national organizations, joined by local community members and elected leaders kicked off a ward by ward effort.
"Like many working-class communities of color around the country, Pilsen (a Chicago neighborhood) is inundated with multiple pollution sources, the worst of which is the Fisk plant," said Jerry Mead-Lucero, member of Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization
(PERRO), "Your race or class should not determine whether or not you have a healthy environment in which to live."
For years, local organizations such as Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
(LVEJO) and PERRO have been champions for cleaning the Crawford and Fisk coal plants. Then the Chicago Clean Power Coalition
was formed early this year, and support for the groups has grown as more families living in the affected communities get sick of the coal plants' pollution.
The groups are working to pass the Clean Power Ordinance introduced by Chicago Alderman Joe Moore in April. The ordinance will require the coal plant operators to reduce particulate matter pollution (soot) from the coal plants by 90% and global warming pollution (CO2) pollution by 50%, resulting in significant health benefits for neighboring communities. The ordinance currently has nine cosponsors and the coalition has collected close to 1,000 signatures and letters from citizens asking their aldermen to support the ordinance.
"We are looking to the City Council and Mayor Daley to not only to protect the health of its citizens, but also lead the country towards a clean energy future," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, who was at the kick off event.
This Chicago event is just another example of action against coal and for clean energy. All over the U.S. we've seen local residents uniting to protect public and environmental health from the massive pollution spewed out from coal-fired power plants. Together we can make these changes.
Posted by: Heather M at 1:14PM PST on July 9, 2010
Beatles, SpongeBob Team Up to Battle BP Meanies
This is a guest post from Sierra Club Conservation Director Sarah Hodgdon.
Actress Ashley Judd has recently been the target of some very harsh criticism and language from the coal industry in Appalachia. This is not surprising behavior from the coal industry, since Big Coal often resorts to personal attacks when they feel like their dirty, dangerous, expensive way of life is threatened.
This harsh language and attacks are coming in response to Judd's June speech at the National Press Club where she railed against
mountaintop removal coal mining as "the rape of Appalachia." We blogged about that speech right here
. I was at that speech and found it very compelling - Judd has been a longtime critic of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Judd is a native of eastern Kentucky, so the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining hits close to home for her. Her June speech discussed in detail the harsh realities that this form of mining and coal in general is having on Appalachia - including massive environmental degradation and the economics showing that the coal industry is hurting the region far more than it is helping.
The real statement behind these coal industry attacks is that when it comes down to the issues, the coal industry can only respond with personal attacks because they know that Judd - and everyone else speaking out against coal - is correct.
We've see the coal industry intimidate activists and spend huge amounts of money of lobbying and smearing good people, but we don't hear about solutions.
Jobs, the environment, health - coal and mountaintop removal coal mining are destroying them all in Appalachia. Visit the Sierra Club webpage on mountaintop removal
, or I Love Mountains' website
, or check out this post defending Judd from Jeff Biggers
As we've said before, Judd is no slouch on this issue. Not only did she grow up in the impacted areas, but she’s also done extensive research during her graduate school time at Harvard University.
Ashley Judd knows what she's talking about, she is absolutely correct, and we applaud her for using her celebrity to help bring attention to such a devastating issue. We must end mountaintop removal coal mining. We don't have time for personal attacks.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:47PM PST on July 8, 2010
Clean Energy Advocates Rally Against Tar Sands Nationwide
Posted by: Heather M at 12:50PM PST on July 8, 2010
EPA Takes Action to Protect People from Dangerous Coal Pollution
The momentum against bringing Canada's dirty tar sands oil into the U.S. via the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline continues.
Today across the nation are a series of rallies and public events
bringing attention to this dirty and dangerous option, and the need for the U.S. State Department to not approve TransCanada's permit for this pipeline. The events are organized by Corporate Ethics International, Friends of the Earth, Indigenous Environmental Network, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
The background on this dirty tar sands pipeline:
In an effort to save money, TransCanada has applied for a safety waive
r for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would allow the company to operate with thinner pipe and higher pressures than standard operating procedure; they also lack a public emergency plan in the event of a leak and have not demonstrated that emergency responders have been identified, contracted or trained.
These rallies come on the heels of last Tuesday's final public hearing on the pipeline (which I blogged about here
I attended the rally today in Washington, D.C., outside the Canadian Embassy, where many gathered wearing orange shirts that said, "Oil Spill Prevention Team" on the front and "We Want Clean Energy Now!
" on the back.
One of the rally speakers was Paul Siemens (pictured below), a rancher from Draper, South Dakota, whose own land would be crossed by this pipeline if it's built.
"Is South Dakota a state of no consequence? The State Department and TransCanada want you to think so," said Draper, noting that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department acted as if a spill in rural areas would be no big deal.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) brought in a celebrity, too - former "ER" star actress Gloria Reuben - who was born in Canada but is now an American citizen.
"These mine pits (where they get the tar sands) are so massive
you can see them from space," said Reuben (pictured below), who serves on the NWF board of directors.
"Enough is enough - Secretary Clinton, we do not want any more fast-tracking for these industries," she added, pointing to the BP oil disaster and the Massey coal mine tragedy.
The ralliers then marched from the Canadian Embassy (seen below in the background, where employees gathered on the steps to see what we were up to) over to the White House, carrying signs and chanting for clean energy and against tar sands oil.
You can learn more about the fight against tar sands on our Dirty Fuels page and on our coalition website.
And be sure to join the "Say No to Tar Sands
" Group here on Climate Crossroads.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 11:14AM PST on July 8, 2010
Because Nothing Says White Teeth Like Coal Ash
How's this for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fulfilling its role to protect environmental and public health: On Tuesday, EPA proposed a rule that would prevent between 14,000 and 36,000 premature deaths annually
The Transport Rule
would set stronger emissions standards for the dangerous air pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants in the eastern United States. This new rule would replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which had been struck down by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2008.
While a thorough review and comment period remains to be completed, this is a positive step forward for people who want clean air.
The harmful pollution coal-fired power plants emit into the air does not just endanger people in the immediate vicinity of the plant. Pollution from coal plants is carried downwind, endangering people throughout the entire eastern United States.
This rule addresses the reality that dangerous pollution doesn’t recognize state borders. Just as the oil gusher has now hit every Gulf state, the pollution from coal-fired power plants drifts downwind into people's lungs throughout a region - hence why another way of talking about this rule is as a 'Good Neighbor' rule.
Coupled with other EPA rules, the Transport Rule will achieve a 71% reduction in sulfur dioxide and a 52% reduction in nitrogen oxide from 2005 levels in the states the rule applies to.
These pollutants covered by this rule are precursors to ozone, which is incredibly dangerous to human health.
Pollutants like ozone and particulate matter (better known as smog and soot) from coal-fired pollution have been found to cause respiratory illness (including asthma and bronchitis), as well as aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease. It is absolutely essential that EPA do everything in its power to limit the damage these pollutants do to millions of people throughout the United States.
The statistics published with the rule make a very compelling case. According to EPA, the Transport Rule would yield up to $290 billion in annual health benefits, 'including avoiding an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.9 million days when people miss school or work due to ozone- and particle pollution-related symptoms.'
This is a great step from EPA to clean up the air. We will stay engaged throughout this process to ensure people's health and welfare are protected.
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 3:30PM PST on July 7, 2010
Video: Climate, National Security, and Death Threats
Is the EPA's romance with coal ash over? For years the agency has partnered with the coal industry to promote coal ash--the toxic leftover from coal-fired power plants--as an ingredient in a variety of industrial, agricultural, and consumer products. (In 2008, the American Coal Ash Association celebrated the stuff's use in everything from "toothpaste to railroad ties.")
Today, however, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports that the EPA's Web site page on its "Coal Combustion Products Partnership" has gone dark, the only explanation being a notice that the program "is being re-evaluated." As PEER points out, given that EPA has finally undertaken to possibly regulate coal ash as hazardous waste, it doesn't look right for them to also be promoting its use. But industry doesn't want coal ash declared to be hazardous waste, because then how could they put it in your toothpaste?
You can help the EPA make the right decision by making an official public comment here.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:16AM PST on July 7, 2010
Oil, Lies, and Videotape
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:49AM PST on July 7, 2010
You Destroyed the Gulf of Mexico! Pay $1 Million!
Get your BP lies by the numbers by clicking here
Even after the explosion, BP was still insisting that it had “skimming capacity of more than 171,000 barrels per day, with more available if needed.”
So far, it has managed to skim less than 900 barrels per day. Add burn-offs, and you get to just over 300,000 barrels in total, over 77 days — that’s less than 4,000 barrels per day.
BP’s reaction to being massively wrong, by a factor of over 100, is
to grab onto the biggest numbers it can find — to try, in other words,
to deal with the optics, rather than the reality. Take the much-vaunted
super-skimmer, for instance. Some reports say that it “can collect up to half a million barrels of oil a day”, but it’s much more accurate to say
that it can theoretically collect that many barrels of contaminated
water, which is only about 10% oil. And, as Kindy drily notes, “thus
far, it has been unable to produce those results in the gulf.”
BP's plan has been to throw numbers against the wall to see what sticks. But when all is said and done, it seems like no one knows the number or even what the heck is going on. Take this AP segment for example:
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 2:41PM PST on July 6, 2010
Interview: Talk to Feds About the Great Outdoors
Back in the 1970s. the search for offshore oil was so exciting that BP put out a board game on "the thrills of drilling." Better hope you don't draw a "hazard card," though: "Blow-out! Rig damaged. Oil slick clean-up costs. Pay $1 million." Present day BP wishes it could get off so cheaply; the latest estimate of its costs thus far in controlling its Macondo gusher is $3 billion. (h/t to Metro.co.uk)
In a very similar optimistic mood, the Washington Post reports that in March, BP promised federal regulators that in the event of a major spill it could skim 491,721 barrels of oil each day. In practice, skimming since the disaster began has captured only 67,143 barrels total, or 1/500th part of what BP promised for the period.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:27PM PST on July 1, 2010
Senator Robert Byrd: An Appreciation
In April, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, a new effort to preserve parks and open areas, conserve natural resources, and promote outdoor reaction amid a changing climate. On July 8, federal agencies will hold a “listening session” in Los Angeles and continue to hold sessions throughout the country to collect public feedback for the initiative. Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s Director of Lands Protection, answered some of our questions about the initiative and the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats program.
Q: What are these listening sessions?
A: They are excellent opportunities to tell the Department of Interior what a 21st century land-management plan should be and to push these agencies to keep climate change in mind. When you look at policy in the past, it was always in reaction to railroads, sprawl, oil and gas drilling, and logging. But now we have a more profound threat and that’s climate change.
The listening session is like a public hearing. These agencies really want to hear from the public and make it as much of a grass roots policy as possible.
There are going to be seven or eight sessions across the country after next week's hearing in L.A.: Florida, New York, Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, for example. They’ll probably run one or two a week till the end of August. The Interior, the EPA, and the Forest Service will look at the public feedback, put together a report, and base recommendations on what the public has to say. We want to augment that and put forth our vision for Resilient Habitats.
Q: Explain the Sierra Club’s Resilient Habitats program.
A: It’s mainly designed to protect public lands, habitats, species, and resources that are being impacted by climate change. We think this should be prioritized above all other stressers. We need the federal government to recognize that climate change is changing our public lands more than anything in the last 100 years.
The first thing we need to do is reduce our emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Then we need to complement that by funding adaptation programs to climate change’s impacts. Animals are starting to change their migratory patterns. Migration corridors are shifting. So we need to shift or expand the boundaries of these lands accordingly. Animals are moving further and into higher elevations to get away from rising temperatures. There are a lot of changes happening to habitat and species that we need to catch up to and start funding via a cap-and-trade system.
Q: Obama’s initiative is in coordination with other government agencies, like the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, among others. Why?
A: They’re all legitimate and one of the largest managers of public lands is the Department of Defense. These military bases are islands of natural habitat. A lot of animals and plant species have migrated to these places because of sprawl, road building, mining, and oil drilling. They are a huge manager of land and in terms of endangered species -- from the red cockheaded woodpecker to the desert tortoise -- they’ve been very good stewards. They take it seriously. So there’s a lot of overlap between them and what the Department of Interior does. Right now we’re pushing Resilient Habitats
with the Department of Interior but we’d love to do more with the DOD.
Q: EPA head Lisa P. Jackson in talking about the initiative has specifically called for more outdoor access, especially for inner city kids and minorities. Can you elaborate?
A: This is one of their three priorities -- getting kids outside and connecting them with hiking and biking. They want to get inner city kids out there who don’t get to leave the city often. And this effort complements the First Lady’s Let's Move
initiative to fighting childhood obesity.
The Sierra Club of all the environmental groups is probably best positioned for these efforts because of our Building Bridges to the Outdoors program and getting youth outside, and our Military Families Outdoors program. The Department of Interior in particular is very eager to work with us because they see it as part of their own campaign for the Obama Administration to pursue.
Q: What end result are we hoping for?
A: Some of it's legislative, but mainly we need different land management plans. Current plans don’t talk about climate change at all. Some agencies are ahead of the curve. For example, Fish and Wildlife is recognizing that migratory corridors are changing. So the first step is recommendations for these agencies. And then the next step is probably legislation to fund the work they want to do. Or in the case of one issue like migratory changes -- such as mule deer that are starting to wander on private lands like ranches or farms -- we might have to do some conservation easements and rezoning so that we can adjust the corridors to where the animals are going. The first step is making recommendations and climate-smart management plans.
Q. If you don’t live in L.A. or nearby other cities that these agencies will be visiting to collect public feedback, how do you get yourself heard?
A: The Sierra Club can always make your voice heard. But there is also a public comment page on the web
. But the Sierra Club is the best way to do it
. That’s my unbiased opinion.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:27AM PST on July 1, 2010
This post was co-written by Mary Anne Hitt of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, who is also a native West Virginian.
On September 21, 2006, grandfather and former coal miner Ed Wiley took the final steps of a 455-mile walk that began in the coalfields of West Virginia
and ended in Washington, DC, at the office of Senator Robert Byrd. Ed had made his two-month, one-man pilgrimage to ask Senator Byrd to build a new school for the students of Marsh Fork Elementary, which is located immediately beneath an earthen dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge, next to a dust-spewing coal processing plant, and adjacent to a massive mountaintop removal mining operation.
Senator Byrd, one of the most powerful men in America, personally received Ed at his office. They prayed together, and tears were shed by all. Senator Byrd told Ed that he would do what he could to help, though it meant challenging Massey Energy, the now-notorious coal company that ran the coal operation and insisted the school was perfectly safe. In 2009, Byrd announced his support for moving the school. When Massey initially balked at contributing money for a new school, Byrd blasted the company, stating
“This is about companies that blatantly disregard human life and safety because of greed.” He continued,
Such arrogance suggests a blatant disregard for the impact of [Massey's] mining practices on our communities, residents and particularly our children. These are children's lives we are talking about.
After Senator Byrd made his statement, most WV leaders quickly followed by announcing their support for a new school. Just a few days ago, the last of the funding was finally secured to build a new school in a safe location for the students of Marsh Fork.
While many may remember Senator Byrd as a supporter of coal at any cost, that view became more nuanced in recent years. As we remember the legacy of Senator Robert Byrd this week, we wanted to note his amazing change of opinion on the issue of burning coal for power. Senator Byrd was one of the coal industry's most strident defenders for most of his long tenure in the Senate, but during his final years he tempered that support and signaled that West Virginia must begin to look at a future beyond coal.
Senator Byrd surprised many - including those of us here at the Sierra Club - with his December 2009 commentary entitled "Coal Must Embrace the Future
." While he did continue to tout the importance of coal, he also discussed how the coal industry must wake up and face the new reality facing West Virginia: the majority of Americans and Members of Congress oppose mountaintop removal mining, and the transition to clean energy is not something this coal mining state can afford to ignore. He wrote:
Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.
Senator Byrd also defended action on global warming - from this quote in his December 2009 piece
To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say "deal me out." West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.
Byrd also refused to support Senate efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from addressing global warming. In commenting on one such proposal by Senator Lisa Murkowski to overturn EPA's finding that global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare, Byrd wrote
The Murkowski "Disapproval Resolution" overturns the "endangerment finding." This in essence is like voting to assert that there is no climate change or global warming going on, and to dismiss scientific facts that already exist.
While Senator Byrd continued to support coal until the end, he also recognized that change was inevitable, and that fear-mongering and reactionary politics would only hurt the people of West Virginia.
Following his 2006 meeting with Ed Wiley, Senator Byrd issued this statement:
I admire the determination and dedication that Ed and Debbie Wiley have shown. The Bible teaches that if we have faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. I believe that the Wileys have that faith.
Since Ed Wiley's walk, countless coalfield residents have traveled to Washington to meet with Senator Byrd, his staff, and other decision makers. As a result, proposals to end mountaintop removal are gaining ground in Congress and in the White House. As we mourn the passing of Senator Byrd, let us remember that heroic acts by ordinary people can move those at the heights of power, and let us continue to demand decision makers work to move us beyond coal and toward a clean energy future.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 9:14AM PST on July 1, 2010
Broadcast From the Gulf
The tide of public response to BP's Maconda oil catastrophe continues
to rise. On Saturday, the world witnessed almost 1,000 rallies, with
hundreds of thousands of people holding "Hands Across the Sand"
to protest of off-shore oil drilling.
And today the Sierra Club planted 10,000 flags on the National Mall
here in Washington, a literal representation of the tens of thousands
of "virtual" flags that our online supporters have planted in the cause
of moving Beyond Oil. The Club was joined in planting the flags by the
Truman National Security Project and the Communications Workers of
America. The flags spell out these words: "Freedom From Oil." But as
you might imagine, reading them from ground level is not easy -- so we
wondered whether anyone other than the tourists looking down from the
Washington Monument would get the message on-site.
But as Club
Executive Director Mike Brune stood up to begin the ceremony, Marine 1,
the helicopter that carries the President of the United States, flew
overhead. So, thanks to the folks who asked to bear witness with us
today, at least one very important part of the audience for America's
national demand that we get off oil saw the message right there on the
To see for yourself how the flags looked from the air, check out the Sierra Club's homepage.
And if you haven't already added your flag online, you can still join the crowd -- and you won't have to go through airport security to be a part of it.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:02AM PST on June 30, 2010
Weather and Climate Face Off
Brian Williams of NBC News
is broadcasting from the Gulf this week and producing compelling coverage of the BP oil disaster.
"The view out the window for most of the two hours was either the sheen of oil, looking for the next sheen of oil, or seeing the tritest of the clean-up of vessels, skimmers, shrimp boats that have been retrofitted with booms to lay out in the open water. [...] and we've seen where they have lost the battle."
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:52PM PST on June 29, 2010
Study Finds Widespread Health Hazards from MTR
One thing climate-change deniers use is the weather
. When meteorological conditions are seemingly contrary to warming on a given day, they harp about it. "Look at all the snow we got!" they say. Well, if you're going to read anything today, check out this handy five-question interview
with NASA scientist Dr. Eric Fetzer about the distinctions between climate and weather.
We all know smokers who live into their eighties, and health nuts who drop dead in their forties, but these examples are not taken seriously in discussion of health issues. Most people understand and accept anomalies in fields like health care and economics, and we need to do the same with climate issues.
When you're done reading, watch this informational video on how to handle (er, strangle) a climate-change denier.
Posted by: Tom V at 11:49AM PST on June 28, 2010
Hands Across the Sand at Rodeo Beach
A landmark study by 12 leading ecologists, hydrologists, and engineers concludes that the damage done by mountaintop removal mining (MTR) goes far beyond the already-horrendous practice of blasting off entire mountaintops and burying nearby streams under the rubble, referred to by mining companies as "overburden."
Photo by Vivian Stockman, courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Proponents of MTR argue that the method is safer, faster, and cheaper than underground mining, and that the ecological impacts are localized and short-lived. Faster and cheaper it may be, but strip-mining, like deep mining, remains a dangerous profession, and the ecological impacts of MTR appear to be anything but localized and short-lived.
Photo by Mary Anne Hitt
Published in the January 8, 2010, issue of Science, the study found that MTR not only kills off aquatic life in the immediate vicinity of the "valley fills," but poisons the ecosystem well downstream, altering biological communities, reducing biodiversity, and causing a host of human health problems due to both waterborne and airborne contaminants. Below, contaminated water emanating from a valley fill in Wise County, Virginia.
Photo by Tom Valtin
The study, "Mountaintop Mining Consequences," represents "the first attempt to collect and assess the best available science on the potential ecological and human health impacts of mountaintop removal"
[All quotes and graphics that follow are taken from the article Mountains of Controversy by Tim Lucas, of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.]
"The current regulatory framework treats mountaintop removal as if it was a local disturbance and ignores any impacts on downstream or downwind ecosystems," says Emily Bernhardt, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry at the Nicholas School, who co-authored the study.
Bernhardt joined eight other Duke faculty members in a 2-year, $1.5 million project to map the extent of mountaintop removal mining in southern West Virginia, and assess its impacts on ecological and human health. Below, Bernhardt (at center) collects water samples with Duke chemist Helen Hsu-Kim and professor of earth and ocean sciences Avner Vengosh.
Photo by Megan Morr
One example of ecosystem damage the study uncovered was a 2009 fish kill in Dunkard Creek, in the Monongahela Mountains, that extended more than 30 miles downstream of the MTR site. West Virginia state biologists determined it was caused by toxins released by a species of algae normally found only in salt or brackish water. The algae were able to live in a freshwater stream due to significant amounts of mining salts from the MTR operation upstream.
"There's a saying: 'Dilution is the solution to pollution,'" says Bernhardt. "But the more mines we build, especially in the same watershed or on the same headwaters, the less dilution we have."
The Science study cites studies showing that chronic exposure to pollution in mining-contaminated air and water is associated with learning disabilities and lower birth weights in children, and kidney disease, breast cancers, and lung disease in adults. Compare map of mine sites in southern West Virginia, above, with chart showing cancer rates by county, below.
"There are a whole suite of contaminants that are elevated in the water and air," Bernhardt says. "It could be that none of them are over the legal limit, but individually or collectively these contaminants are generating significant chemical stress for organisms living in, or drinking, contaminated water or breathing contaminated air."
Learn more about mountaintop removal mining and take action to help stop it.
Posted by: John Byrne Barry at 11:33AM PST on June 28, 2010
Other Global Warming & Energy News of Note
Saturday was not a beach day. Foggy and
cold, though not windy. No blue sky in sight.
That didn’t stop about 200 people from gathering at Rodeo Beach in the Marin
Headlands for Hands Across the
a worldwide gathering to oppose offshore oil drilling and promote
clean, renewable energy.
While we held hands, facing the
Pacific, an Exxon oil tanker appeared on the horizon. Empty, as someone
near me noted, riding high in the water, most likely after having
unloaded at Chevron or one of the other refineries along San Pablo Bay.
A few people gave the
tanker the finger, but the woman to my right said she didn’t feel that
was appropriate, given that she had driven her car to the beach.
We got a short hike in
too, and wildflowers were everywhere.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:42AM PST on June 22, 2010
Interview: Musical Activism and "Gasland"
Time again to update folks on other news that is not BP oil disaster related.
Let's start with coal. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally published its proposed coal ash rules in the Federal Register
(PDF), meaning they're now taking public comments on the rules
. Coal ash is the toxic by-product of burning coal for power, and right now it's not subject to any federal safeguards
. Sounds pretty crazy to me to not have safeguards for a substance that contains mercury, selenium, arsenic, lead and many more heavy metals
that can harm humans and the environment.
Here's the Little Blue Run Coal Ash Pond that sprawls across the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania near the Ohio River. Oh yeah, that looks real normal right there. (Photo is courtesy of Google Maps satellite).
So, let us help you send in your public comments to EPA telling them to enact strong federal safeguards on coal ash - take action right here.
Meanwhile, also related to coal, last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it was suspending nationwide permits for mountaintop removal coal mining
This announcement comes more than a year after a March 2009 U.S. District Court decision ruled these permits illegal.
The nationwide permits, created in 1982, gave a blanket authorization to mountaintop removal coal mines to dump their mining waste in streams and waterways. The District Court ruled that this overly generalized permitting process could not guarantee compliance with the Clean Water Act and that mining companies must apply for individual permits in order to be able to fill streams with mining waste.
Duke University just published some of its research on mountaintop removal coal mining
that came from its January 2010 study that showed mountaintop removal site reclamation barely makes a difference
. It's pretty eye-opening, so take a look.
And if you like important energy-related research, the U.S. Green Building Council
just teamed up with Harvard University to release the 2010 "State of the Nation's Housing
." (PDF) The report "studied the affordability, energy and location efficiency within the existing U.S. housing stock."
Next up, related to our post yesterday
talking up the new documentary "Gasland" about natural gas "fracking," EPA announced a series of four public meetings on this controversial process
- July 8 in Fort Worth, Texas
- July 13 in Denver, Colo.
- July 22 in Canonsburg, Pa.
- August 12 in Binghamton, N.Y.
More details are in the EPA news release
In environmental justice news, we just had two of our fantastic EJ organizers get major news hits
. In Detroit, our own Rhonda Anderson got this very nice spread in the Detroit Free-Press about impact of excessive industrial pollution on certain neighborhoods in Detroit: Article 1
, article 2
, and video here
Our EJ organizer in Texas, Mariana Chew, was profiled in this Latino Magazine piece
on the EJ issues in her community.
Finally, in global warming news, we've got two hits for you. First is the news out on the latest study about whether there is a scientific consensus on human-caused global warming
- of course there is! Read about this latest study in the NY Times' Green Blog
And then we've got this Discover magazine blog piece
on a melting glacier that may not be melting because of global warming. Science!
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:05PM PST on June 21, 2010
Watch "Gasland" Tonight, Take Action for Clean Water Now
Posted by: Heather M at 11:28AM PST on June 21, 2010
Video: Sea Turtles Die By Fire
If you've got HBO, check out the debut of the new documentary "Gasland
" tonight at 9pm ET
. The documentary - which won awards at the Sundance Film Festival - is about the environmental hazards of natural gas drilling, including a process known as hydraulic fracturing ("fracking.")
Check out the trailer:
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:22AM PST on June 21, 2010
Michael Brune Interviewed on CNN's Rick Sanchez Show
Posted by: Heather M at 11:01AM PST on June 18, 2010
Another Capitol Hill Drilling for BP - UPDATED with Video
Posted by: Heather M at 7:11AM PST on June 17, 2010
Quitting Oil, Part III
BP CEO Tony Heyward is on Capitol Hill today to testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment at the "The Role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill
You can watch the hearing live at that link above - as of 10am ET, it was underway.
UPDATE: Two quotes of note from this morning's hearing thus far. First up, the big one - Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the government making them create a $20 billion liability fund to pay for the impact of the disaster on Gulf residents.
Yes, you read that right. Barton pretty much said, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" Or as a Twitterer Delrayser paraphrased, "We're sorry we got all that seawater in your oil, Mr. Hayward." Here's video of that apology:
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:36PM PST on June 16, 2010
When You Think You've Hit Bottom There's a Bottom Below
Wouldn’t it be nice to work in your pajamas from home? Americans spend about 100 hours a year commuting
. That's a lot of time, money, and oil. If you have a job that allows you to telecommute one or two days a week, jump on it. If your boss is flying you around the country, look into alternatives such as web seminars and phone conferencing from home.
Spending more time at home for work can have its drawbacks, namely with your energy bill. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider your home's energy usage. Turning to programmable thermostats
and putting on layers during the winter months are good starts. Here are tips
on minimizing your need for an air conditioner during the summer months. And lastly, look into Google’s PowerMeter
, a free energy monitoring tool for your home. Along those same lines, consider a home energy audit here
Read Part IV of "Quitting Oil."
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 9:38AM PST on June 16, 2010
Quitting Oil, Part I
In my last post
I noted that the estimated size of the BP oil disaster had been revised upward, so that it was believed to be spewing the equivalent to the oil from the Exxon Valdez
every 5 to 13 days. That was so yesterday! In the meanwhile the government panel judging the spill rate upped its estimate once again, this time to 60,000 barrels a day, or an Exxon Valdez
's worth every 4 days. As noted by the New York Times
, "It continues a pattern in which every new estimate of the flow rate has been dramatically higher than the one before."
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:14PM PST on June 14, 2010
Double the Trouble
One reason the BP oil disaster makes us sick is the flood of heartbreaking images of dead or dying wildlife and despoiled wetlands coupled with an infuriating sense of helplessness. BP's “handling” the crisis, so there's nothing we can do -- right?
Oil has infiltrated our daily lives to an astonishing degree, but that doesn't mean we can't significantly reduce our use of it. Americans burn nearly 20 million barrels of oil every single day, most of it for personal transportation.
Even for the most committed environmentalist, to go completely oil-free overnight would be next to impossible. But taking the first step toward an oil-free future -- by simply reducing our current daily consumption -- is actually incredibly easy. It's also one of the most significant things you can do to wrest control of our energy future back from the Big Oil companies, which have enjoyed cozy political relationships and big government subsidies for far too long.
Each day this week, we'll highlight a different strategy for getting oil out our lives.
1. We Are What We Eat
If the oil disaster makes you angry and you eat a lot of meat, one powerful solution is sitting right on your plate. The U.S. meat industry is a major consumer of petroleum. In fact, raising one cow in a factory farm requires about 35 gallons of oil -- just under a barrel (according to The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 84). Processed foods and corn syrup also heavily depend on petroleum.
* Cutting meat out of your diet for just one day each week is equivalent to driving 1,000 miles less per year.
* When you do buy meat, consider the source. Grass-fed, sustainably raised livestock are a breath of fresh air compared to the filthy, industrialized feedlots that have taken over the U.S. Click here for a directory of responsibly raised meat.
* Location matters. The label “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “oil free.” Organic apples from Chile, for instance, use as much oil as non organic domestic apples because of the required transportation. Look for produce that’s grown as close to home as possible first, then consider whether it's organic or not.
* Farmers rule! The easiest way to get healthy and low-oil-use foods is to take you reusable bags to a local farmers' market. Most of the market vendors are local, seasonal, and sustainable.
Read Part II of "Quitting Oil."
Have you got other ideas for how we can get the oil out of our diets? Share them in the comments.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:51AM PST on June 11, 2010
Ashley Judd - A Powerful Coal Opponent
The government says the BP oil disaster is twice as bad
as previously thought:
The new estimate is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day. That range, still preliminary, is far above the previous estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
These new calculations came as the public wrangling between BP and the White House was reaching new heights, with President Obama asking for a meeting with BP executives next week and his Congressional allies intensifying their pressure on the oil giant to withhold dividend payments to shareholders until it makes clear it can and will pay all its obligations from the spill.
Frustrated with nowhere to turn? Visit the Sierra Club's new Beyond Oil site
to take action, watch video, and keep updated with an oil-spill Twitter feed.
Posted by: Heather M at 1:25PM PST on June 9, 2010
Awash in Oil
I had the pleasure of attending a National Press Club luncheon today that featured Ashley Judd speaking about the sad, horrible, and grim realities of mountaintop removal coal mining.
If you're not familiar with the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining
, you should be. It's when mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal and then, to minimize waste disposal costs, dump millions of tons of waste rock into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and landscape.
Mountaintop removal coal mining, has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of land by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increas
es the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.
Let me tell you, I never thought Ashley Judd would be a slouch on this topic, but she still really surprised me and just nailed her speech. She clearly knows the topic extensively - everything from the history of the destructive process, to what actions must be taken right now to help stop it, and much more. Judd also brought it home because the topic is very personal to her: She grew up in eastern Kentucky, an area home to many mountaintop removal coal mining sites.
Judd started off her speech by stating that she's very proud of her Kentucky heritage, even exclaiming, "I'm proud to be a hillbilly!" and then choking up when talking about family memories from growing up.
"There is no better home than Kentucky," she said. Really, that's what helped make it very powerful to me, her descriptions of the effects of the endless destruction mountaintop removal has on Appalachian families and the environment were fairly breath-taking and frequently caused her to tear up.
Judd pushed clean energy as an alternative, and admitted that while she does not have all the answers, she does know that mountaintop removal coal mining is wrong and unjust, and she would be more than happy to sit down with coal supporters to have a conversation with dignity and respect about the future of it, why it must end, and why clean energy will help Appalachia.
The Sierra Club even got a shout-out during her speech. Not only was Sierra Club Conservation Director Sarah Hodgdon
invited to sit at the head table with Judd (she is seated at the right in photo at the top of this post, and below you'll see her smiling next to Ashley Judd), but Judd also recommended to the audience, "If you want to know more about how bad coal is, then read the 'Dirty Truth About Coal
' report from the Sierra Club." Not bad!
Judd also had two good quips when asked about the coal industry. When asked her thoughts on "clean coal," she responded with, "Oxymoron." And then asked about what role carbon capture and sequestration played in making coal clean, she responded, "CCS exists, it's called a tree."
I got a lucky seat out in the audience - I was at the same table as Mari-Lynn Evans and Phyllis Geller (pictured L and R in the above photo)
, the amazing filmmakers behind the phenomenal documentary "Coal Country
." They are fascinating women, and Mari-Lynn had one great quote when our table was chatting before the speech started: "After making that film, I don't ever turn on the lights without thinking of mountaintop removal coal mining anymore."
Finally, Judd closed her speech with something really amazing. She read from a letter one of her aunts wrote to another in 1975. The excerpt was about the aunt's fear of a local coal company taking over their land for strip-mining, and the aunt said she wished someone would stip strip-mining before the whole area was gone. Very poignant.
So if you ever get a chance to hear Ashley Judd speak, go for it. We can at least offer you a small example here in this 2009 video of her speaking at a rally about coal in Kentucky
Want to take action against mountaintop removal coal mining? Learn more here.
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 10:25AM PST on June 9, 2010
Other Global Warming & Energy News of the Week
Posted by: Heather M at 12:58PM PST on June 8, 2010
BP Knows Irony
To again take a break from the BP oil disaster news, let's talk about some other global warming and energy news out there.
First, there is a very important vote in the Senate scheduled for Thursday - on Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R - Oil) disapproval resolution that would block Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act.
This move is a total sham - the Supreme Court ordered EPA to regulate carbon dioxide after EPA ruled it as harmful to humans. EPA Administration Lisa Jackson is speaking out in opposition to Murkowski's resolution as well.
Looks like Senator Murkowski just wants to protect Big Oil and Big Coal from cleaning themselves up. Have you asked your Senator to vote against this resolution yet?
Speaking of Senate action, Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana released his version of a climate bill on Monday
. Here's our statement
In coal news, Duke Energy is taking a long hard look at buying coal from mountaintop removal coal mining operations....really? Ah, because they're estimating how much it would cost to stop buying MTR coal, I see. In any case, here's another interesting fact from that article:
North Carolina is one of the nation's top users of mountaintop coal.
About half the electricity used in this state comes from coal-burning
power plants, and about half the coal for those plants comes from
You can do better than that, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Massey Energy (owner of the mine that blew up and killed 29 coal miners in early April) is now blaming the Mine Safety and Health Administration for making them install a ventilation system that's unsafe. And it just happens to be the same system that was in place at the mine that exploded.
And while some dirty tar sands company executives are saying this Gulf of Mexico BP oil disaster means we should switch to the much safer tar sands oil for our needs, we're saying No Way.
If you're in Houston this Thursday night, then check out the Houston Sierra Club Chapter's Air Quality forum, where they'll talk about plans for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. That pipeline would bring Canada's dirty tar sands (see the photo) into the U.S., and you can send in your comment right now opposing that plan.
We just released a major report on tar sands with several other organizations, too. Go read "Tar Sands Invasion" and educate yourself on why this dirty energy source is not a wise choice for the U.S. Here is a good column on this issue, too.
Finally, today Yale University and George Mason University co-released a poll on public opinion about global warming. The results?
Since January, public belief that global
warming is happening rose four points, to 61 percent, while belief that
it is caused mostly by human activities rose three points, to 50
percent. The number of Americans who worry about global warming rose
three points, to 53 percent. And the number of Americans who said that
the issue is personally important to them rose five points, to 63
The polling also includes numbers on specific policy points to stop global warming. Check it out.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:04PM PST on June 7, 2010
BP's Negligence, Graphically Speaking
Gabrielle Burton, Sierra Club member who runs fivesistersproductions.com, sends us these shots from a BP pump station. Thanks, Gabrielle!
Take a closer look at that red warning sticker:
A lot of people are noticing these warning signs and taking pictures. There are more at Think Progress. If you have pictures related to the oil mess, post them at the BP Oil Disaster group's gallery here on Climate Crossroads.
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:51PM PST on June 7, 2010
Update on Chase and Mountaintop Removal
While professional photographers are capturing horrifying images from the Gulf (BP's doing more to contain press coverage than its own oil disaster), Web sites that are good with numbers are putting together eye popping graphs that really put BP's conduct into perspective.
Take this graph, for example. Between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received 760 "egregious citations" across its six U.S. refineries. FlowingData.com illustrated that fact to create this bar graph of citations per million barrels processed per day. BP is in green while all other refineries are in grey. Click here to get a closer look.
InformationIsBeautiful.com is another site that I often visit to find graphs on current events. Here's their latest on the BP oil disaster:
BP has engaged in some graph making of its own -- albeit the making of misleading graphs.
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 11:21AM PST on June 7, 2010
A Photo is Worth a Thousand Birds
It takes a lot of money to blow mountaintops to smithereens to get at the coal below. The largest funder of such projects -- up to now -- has been banking giant JPMorgan Chase. According to Mother Jones
, Chase has underwritten bond or loan deals worth $8.5 trillion dollars over the past 17 years for the major players in the MTR world--the biggest being Massey Energy, now famous as operator of the Big Branch coal mine where 29 miners died on April 5.
In May, the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network put out a report card on banks and mountaintop removal
[pdf] wherein JPMorgan received an F. Its environmental policy, the report noted, did not even mention MTR.
But last month, in a little-noticed move just prior to its annual shareholder meeting, the bank promised to review “all proposed banking transactions for companies engaged in MTR . . . . include[ing] considerations of a company’s regulatory compliance history [take that Massey Energy!], as well as exposure to future regulatory changes and litigation risks, particularly as they relate to valley fills and water quality issues.”
While short of the total phase-out of MTR financing that environmentalists would like to see, JPMorgan’s move is, according to Rainforest Action Network’s Nell Greenberg, “a huge first step.” Also jazzed by the news is Reverend Billy of New York City’s “Life After Shopping Church,” whose followers have been leaving little piles of West Virginia mud in front of Chase ATMs, along with flyers describing the impact of MTR. They’ve also been personally divesting:
Posted by: Reed McManus at 3:43PM PST on June 4, 2010
Global Warming Meets Gulf Oil
The Gulf of Mexico spill has been pretty abstract, despite GusherCam images from the sea floor. Louisiana has many marshes and few beaches, so access to assess the spill’s onshore toll is difficult. That has benefited BP, which has been accused of restricting media coverage and barring contract workers from sharing images of what they’ve witnessed.
Then veteran AP photographer Charlie Riedel’s startling Armageddon-on-Earth photos appeared on Thursday. Blogger Digby found some hope in the anguishing images, referencing Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange: “Remember the scene where Alex was forced to watch violence with his eyes propped open? I'd think maybe all those people who gleefully chanted 'drill, baby, drill' as a tribal chant would benefit from a little of that aversion therapy." (For more arresting images, go here. For horror on video, go here and here.)
Meanwhile, in BP’s latest media effort CEO Tony "I’d like my life back" Hayward assures us that "thousands of people" are ready to clean up the mess. BP’s commercial, which began airing Thursday, reportedly cost $50 million. "That kind of money can pack a big punch," writes Steve Pendlebury of AOL News. "But in this case, a $50 million campaign is no match for the emotional impact of a few iconic pictures."
The beleaguered birds have already gotten much-needed attention: On Friday, Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, pledged the government would respond to the Sierra Club's complaint that too few rescuers had been deployed to help the oiled animals.
Posted by: Paul Rauber at 11:20AM PST on June 4, 2010
The 2010 hurricane season has officially begun, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting it to be a wild one
. “This season could be one of the more active on record,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. Her agency project 14 to 23 named storms, 8 to 14 hurricanes, and 3 to 7 major hurricanes--all in an area increasingly contaminated with oil.
One of the major reasons for NOAA’s high projection is what the National Weather Service calls “exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.” While those high temperatures can not be conclusively linked to global warming, they are predicted by it. Here’s the satellite view from NASA’s Earth Observatory
Posted by: Reed McManus at 9:30AM PST on June 4, 2010
Pictures Tell a Thousand Words About BP
BP has moved from top-hat to top-kill to cut-and-cap. (Is cut-and-run next?) Since the company has literally thrown the kitchen sink at its hemorrhaging Gulf of Mexico well -- the “junk shot” at the end of May included golf balls and rubber scraps that failed to stop the flow -- no proposed solution seems beyond consideration.
Okay, at least two are pretty much off the table: detonating a nuclear device (radioactive uncontrolled oil, anyone?
) and inserting a giant tampon
, as proposed by the Today
show’s Hoda Kotb.
For more your-guess is-as-good-as-mine proposals, go here
, and here
. You can submit your own idea to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command
or directly to BP. The befuddled oil empire’s “Do you have ideas to help us?” phone number is 281-366-5511.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:29PM PST on June 3, 2010
Ohio Coal Plant Linked to $30m in Annual Economic Damage
A catastrophic event like the oil spill really brings out the creativity in people with computers and keyboards. Visit BuzzFeed for a compilation
of images from around the Internet of BP's disaster. This one of Mario in particular takes me back. Ah, those innocent days of 8-bit Nintendo excellence...
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:40AM PST on June 3, 2010
New Offshore Drilling in the Gulf Approved. What?!
This post was co-written by Nachy Kanfer, Associate Field Organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Ohio.
We regularly dispute Big Coal when they say coal is not bad for the environment - now we have another example of how this dirty, outdated power source is costing jobs and damaging the economy in one state.
The Sierra Club just co-released a report
showing that the Bay Shore coal-fired power plant in Oregon, Ohio, causes nearly $30 million in damages to the state's economy every year
, produced by Genter Consulting and co-released by the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association, Ohio Citizen Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, and the Ohio Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, shows that this massive economic damage is caused by the plant's antiquated cooling system.
The Bay Shore facility lacks cooling towers, which means that every day it has to draw over 650 million gallons of fresh water. In the summertime, that requires the plant to suck in the entire Maumee River!
The water is then spit back into Lake Erie, 5-12 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and with 126,000 fewer fish every day. This destroys fish populations in Lake Erie that would otherwise be used by Ohioans for recreation or commercial sale.
The conservative $29.7 million estimate was for damage to fish only, and did not include estimates of damage from other uses such as hunting or bird-watching, both of which contribute to the state's economy as well. The study used FirstEnergy's (operator of the Bay Shore plant) own numbers for how many fish are killed.
The report methodically demonstrates a central necessity: the installation of cooling towers at the Bay Shore plant, which would reduce fish kills by 95 percent.
"We now know that the estimated $100 million cost of installing cooling towers is economically justified by the annual $29.7 million economic loss from the fish kills," said Sandy Bihn, a member of the Oregon City
Council and Executive Director of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association
"Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to require Bay Shore to install cooling towers to reduce the millions of fish - and billions of larval fish - killed each year."
This report also comes as the Ohio EPA reviews its draft of a wastewater discharge renewal permit for the Bay Shore facility - which we are urging them to reject.
Commercial fishermen, sport anglers, and recreational boaters in the Toledo area are taking the lead on this issue, saying the coal plant's destruction of fish populations for cooling purposes robs them of their livelihoods.
"I have lived and worked within one half mile of the Bay Shore plant starting 17 years before it was built in 1951, and ever since," said Frank Reynolds, a local resident and commercial fisherman. "The Bay Shore power plant has killed fish and degraded the Maumee Bay waters, spawning grounds, nursery and general food supply."
Ultimately, of course, the best way to preserve the livelihoods of those who rely on fishing in Lake Erie - and the best way to clean the lake and strengthen the economy of northwest Ohio - is to stop burning coal at the Bay Shore plant.
It's not just a problem of fish - though that would be bad enough. The Bay Shore plant, along with three other FirstEnergy-owned plants along the shore of Lake Erie, is also under a Notice of Violation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act
. Bay Shore has no modern pollution controls and contributes to Ohio's chronic conditions of poor air quality, through heavy emissions of dangerous soot, smog and mercury.
Coal has no place in Ohio's energy future. In recent weeks, as the BP oil disaster
unfolds off the Gulf Coast, we have all felt a keen sense of solidarity with those whose livelihoods - and lives - have been ruined by our nation's addiction to oil
. The problem, in a nutshell, is dirty energy.
Whether it's oil on the Gulf Coast or coal in Ohio, we have learned that dirty energy is simply incompatible with clean water, our nation's crucial fishing and tourism industries, and a strong, robust economy.
We'll end with some good news that just came down from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today EPA announced a new strong standard for sulfur dioxide
, one of the major pollutants that burning coal spews forth into our air. This new EPA standard will reduce acid rain, soot and smog pollution.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:37PM PST on June 2, 2010
Faith Community Response to the BP Oil Disaster
In case you needed another reason to take action on offshore drilling
Today, the Minerals Management Service approved a new drilling permit for an offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week, the president extended his ban on deepwater drilling for an additional 6 months, but lifted the ban on shallow water drilling, allowing this project to move forward.
It sounds like the folks in Washington aren't getting the message. Click here
to find out what you can do.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:18AM PST on June 2, 2010
Friends Don't Let Friends Drill and Tweet
Over on the blog
of the "People of Faith for the Environment" group
here on Climate Crossroads, I've been posting news hits covering how various faith groups are responding to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Whether the groups are there in person, like Mennonite Disaster Service or the United Church of Christ (their work is here, here and here), or there are various religious groups - from Christians to Jews to Buddhists and more - all talking about a faithful response and the morality of our oil dependence, there's been an article about it and I've posted it on the blog in that group. Here are links to those blog posts: June 2nd post, May 14th post, May 11th post, and the May 7th post.
If you know of any other faith groups talking about and/or responding along the Gulf, let us know in the comments section.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:55AM PST on June 2, 2010
If the Oil Spill Was In Your Town
The following comment isn't from The Bizarro World. It's from Sarah Palin's Twitter account. Via TPM: "Extreme Greenies:see now why we push"drill,baby,drill"of known reserves&promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR? Now do you get it?"
Oh I get it alright: Twitter is not the best venue for a politician to CYA. I think it makes more sense to frame the BP oil disaster as an "act of God," which is what Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma did yesterday.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:13PM PST on June 1, 2010
BP CEO: "I'd Like My Life Back"
Click here, punch in your zip code, and find out how much area BP's oil disaster would cover if it happened in your backyard.
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:10PM PST on June 1, 2010
Top Kill Fails. Now What?
BP CEO Tony Hayward is quite the character. He's the guy who blabbered that the spill is a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean's total volume. Now he complains that he wants his life back. Which life is that? I suppose it's the life in which his dirty-energy company turned record profits while bypassing basic safety standards and regulations. Hello! Your company has caused the worst spill in U.S. history (not to mention the loss of 11 people). Wake up, Mr. Hayward.
Today, President Obama pledged to consider criminal charges.
Let's hope he's serious
“If laws were broken, leading to death and destruction,” Mr. Obama said, “my solemn pledge is, we will bring those responsible to justice.”
Mr. Obama’s heightened rhetoric reflected deepening frustration within the administration at the inability of BP to stop the spill, along with wide concern that the government and Mr. Obama are appearing increasingly impotent as oil laps at the Louisiana shoreline with no end in near sight.
AG Holder has opened a criminal probe. Read about it here
.) If you're looking for some good articles today about BP's mess, try Kate Sheppard's take on how BP and MMS ignored the warning signs
[O]n June 22, 2009, BP engineers noted concerns that the metal casing the company wanted to use on the well could collapse under high pressure. BP used the casing anyway, after overriding its own design and safety standards. Other documents released this week reveal that the company knew that there was 'unlikely to be a successful cement job" on the site and that the casing would be "unable to fulfill M.M.S. regulations."
Another great read comes from Leslie Fields, who is the National Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships
Director for the Sierra Club. Here's a snippet of the article
This is part of an unbroken chain of disproportionate impacts. It’s as if the Gulf Coast is the one of our country’s major sacrifice zones.
It is essential that we hold BP fully accountable for the cleanup, for helping Gulf Coast families facing job losses in fishing and tourism, and for restoring the destroyed wetlands and marine ecosystem – just as we should hold any oil company accountable for the spills they cause.
I’m saddened that the total cost of response efforts so far is equal to just a few days of BP's profits. All that money, and another hit to a region that is unfortunately becoming too accustomed to tragedy and destruction. Hurricane season starts on June 1, and all anyone can do is pray there will not be any big storms this summer.
For all the latest news and photos, join the BP Oil Disaster group
here on Climate Crossroads.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:59PM PST on May 30, 2010
It's Friday, There's Still an Oil Disaster
With the top kill idea toast, BP and government officials are looking at options. And it doesn't look good. Today officials speculated that this thing might spew oil into the Gulf in August
A top Obama administration official warned Sunday that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill might not be stopped until late summer after BP's latest attempt to plug the leak failed.
The "American people need to know" that it's "possible we will have oil leaking from this well until August, when the relief wells will be finished," said Carol Browner, the White House energy advisor.
Browner said on CBS that Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a team of scientists on Saturday essentially put a halt to BP's attempt to cap the spewing well through a process known as "top kill." The administration team worried that the increasing pressure from heavy drilling mud being forced into the well to seal it actually would make the leak worse.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:22AM PST on May 28, 2010
All About Birds
U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen was on CBS
's Early Show
to talk about today's presidential visit and also the idea of building man-made barrier islands as a way to contain the oil disaster.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:07AM PST on May 28, 2010
Oil Disaster Deja-Vu
Posted by: Heather M at 6:47AM PST on May 28, 2010
Coal: Good News and An Opportunity for More
Here's a disturbing segment from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night - all about some Gulf of Mexico oil spill deja-vu. Turns out a very, very similar situation as this current BP tragedy happened just over 30 years ago. And we still don't know how to fix the problems all these years later.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:27AM PST on May 27, 2010
A Satellite's Eye View
Last week our Michigan Chapter and everyone who loves clean air and clean energy got some great news when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (MDNRE) denied a permit for the proposed Wolverine coal-fired power plant.
We're cheering the news - the DNRE decision states there is no need for the proposed power plant, in Rogers City, Michigan, and that alternative methods are available that would supply the customers of the four electric cooperatives that make up Wolverine with electricity at a much cheaper rate than the cost of building a new coal plant.
State officials estimated that the proposed plant would increase the electric rates charged by the cooperatives by at least 59.2% even after Wolverine suggested reducing the plant by half.
Residents had been fighting this plant and calling for clean energy options instead for almost three years now!
"The cost of Wolverine coal would have meant diminished health, diminished economy, and great injury to our environment which sustains our lives," said Jean Veselenak, a resident of Rogers City. "Wolverine must now put its head to the real thing; wind, solar; and new technology that already exists in Michigan. Our families deserve these jobs and their health after long promises."
We also saw good news from Ohio last week
when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA and Department of Justice announced a settlement with American Municipal Power that will shut down AMP's last coal plant in Ohio
by 2012: the Richard Gorsuch Station, located near Marietta, over its Clean Air Act violations.
This move will clean Ohio's air, reduce global warming pollution, and prevent destructive coal mining by AMP. The company will also spend $15 million on an energy efficiency program that will further reduce polluting emissions and save consumers money.
Now after that good news, we head to West Virginia, where we need your help bringing good news to the residents of Logan County. There is a very important deadline rapidly approaching - on June 1st EPA will stop taking public comments on its proposed veto of the permit that would allow devastating mountaintop removal coal mining at the massive Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia.
Local residents have been actively challenging the approval of this permit at the Spruce No. 1 Mine
for more than twelve years. The proposed expansion of the mine would bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, directly impact 2,278 acres of forestland, and degrade water quality in nearby streams. This EPA veto would stop that expansion.
We urge you to join us in supporting EPA in its proposal to veto Spruce No. 1
, one of the largest proposed mountaintop removal coal mines ever authorized in Appalachia. Take action right now to block this mine's permit.
As with the Ohio AMP plant closure settlement, this is another example: EPA has a critical role in protecting our health, and the health of our environment.
We must not let this dirty coal mine move forward in Appalachia.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:48AM PST on May 27, 2010
Top Kill Comes With Top Risk
We showed you the view from inside the oil spill
. Now take a look at the disaster from space. NASA's put together this timelapse thanks to its Terra and Aqua satellites. The video begins on April 21 with a plume of smoke and concludes Monday with what looks like a giant dark stain in the ocean blue.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:07PM PST on May 26, 2010
BP's Disaster Is Not Like an "Airplane Crash"
BP's "top kill" procedure to plug up the gash is underway. Let's hope this works. The L.A. Times
's Greenspace blog
mentions that if it fails, it could exacerbate the situation.
If executed incorrectly, however, the top kill could blow the fail-safe systems, dramatically increasing the flow of oil.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:10AM PST on May 26, 2010
Live Oil Spill Feed, We Hardly Knew Ye
At about 2:50 of this clip, Sen. Alexander of Tennessee compares the BP disaster to an plane crash. "We can't stop flying just because we have a terrible airplane crash, but we can do everything we can to make sure we don't have another one," he says.
Does this analogy hold water (or oil)? I like Sierra Club's tweeted response: "Sen. Alexander, this BP oil disaster is more comparable to the Hindenberg -- when’s the last time you flew on a dirigible?"
The way to "make sure we don't have another" disaster is to end offshore drilling for good. Take action and let your elected representatives know that you mean business.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:05PM PST on May 25, 2010
Sierra Club Illinois Marches Against BP with Rev. Jesse Jackson
UPDATE (5/26): Amid pressure, BP has agreed to keep the camera rolling during its "top kill" attempt.
Click here to get a clear glimpse of BP's live shot of the leaking well before it goes dark. Yeah, that's right. BP plans to cut off the feed tomorrow before it moves forward with its so-called "top kill" procedure in which "heavy mud and cement are to be shot into the well to plug it up. The procedure has never been tried a mile beneath the sea, and company executives estimate its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent."
Posted by: Heather M at 11:54AM PST on May 25, 2010
What Would it Be Like to Dive into the Oil Spill?
Our Illinois Chapter
got a visit from a major icon. On Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson invited Illinois Chapter staffers Jack Darin, Jen Hensley and Sarah Gulezian to march with him and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition
at a Chicago BP Station. Check out this video from the event:
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:00AM PST on May 25, 2010
A Thousand Words Can't Describe
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:43PM PST on May 24, 2010
While Pundits Chat, Oil Hits Shore and Wildlife
Don't miss The Big Picture's gallery of the BP oil disaster. The oil has reached Louisiana's shore and the sights are tragic and stunning. Of the photos, the one pictured here of a dragonfly with splotches of oil on its wings really stands out. Other images include a saturated crab, a dying heron weighted down by thick oily filth, and the bare foot of an eight-year-old beachgoer with small specks of oil on it.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:39AM PST on May 24, 2010
Lesson Learned on Offshore Drilling?
In the world of politics and pundits, Sunday is the day to hit the airwaves. With BP's oil disaster a month old, many of them were chatting about it.
Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Did you watch the panel discussion of the BP oil disaster yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press"? If not, here it is. Thomas Friedman in particular had some strong thoughts on it: Obama's White House's philosophy has been, "Think small and carry a big stick."
On a related note, Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs sent a message to Sarah "Drill, Baby, Drill" Palin:
Meantime, BP's oil slick hit wildlife in a major way over the weekend:
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:52AM PST on May 24, 2010
Latest BP Oil Disaster Videos
Here's the president's weekly address. "Even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable," he says. Obama adds that we cannot let this kind of thing happen again. But today's New York Times reports on several other offshore drilling projects moving forward since BP's explosion last month.
In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.
What happened to that supposed moratorium?
These folks in Washington need to hear that we're serious. Click here
to take action.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:22PM PST on May 21, 2010
BP's Oil Disaster Getting Loopy
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:13PM PST on May 19, 2010
Gulf Aid Fundraiser -- Who Gets the Funds?
This image by European Space Agency shows the Gulf's loop current and its role in how it'll influence the oil slick's path. The picture was taken by ESA's Envisat satellite. (h/t Space Gizmo.)
While everyone waits and watches the slick, environmental groups are fighting back. The Sierra Club has joined other organizations in suing MMS for waiving required rig standards in the Gulf
In terms of recent media news -- in case you missed it -- radio clown Rush Limbaugh demanded to know when the Sierra Club will pay for the clean-up (yeah, he wasn't kidding) ; NYT's Thomas Friedman pondered why the White House hasn't toughened up on the country's oil addiction in light of BP's disaster; and we all marked our calendars for Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune's appearance tonight on MSNBC's "Hardball." We'll post it here when the segment becomes available.
Join the BP Oil Disaster group on Climate Crossroads for the latest news and pictures.
Posted by: jamie hansen at 1:06PM PST on May 19, 2010
Three New Govt Reports Call for Action on Global Warming
I just recently read a blog post by the nonprofit Bucket Brigade regarding Saturday's Gulf Aid concert
, which was designed to fundraise monies to assist those negatively affected by the oil disaster. The post, which you can read here
, explains that the Bucket Brigade was almost asked to leave the show (for rather vague reasons involving targeting British Petroleum through one of their signs and asking for donations). It also raises the concern that the recipients
of the Gulf Aid fundraiser have yet to be named. Eyebrows raised, I called to check in with local radio station WWOZ's general manager and even co-founder David Freedman to see what was up with the Gulf Aid monies.
Freedman verified that recipients of the Gulf Aid fundraiser haven't yet been chosen: "We're trying to get on the ground, visit these groups, and widen our pool so we consider all the possible groups [that are worthy]," he said.
Freedman is one of the three members of the Gulf Aid board, along with plumbing contractor Joe Jaeger and Sidney Torres of SDT Waste and Debris Services.
Freedman said the final tally of the funds raised through last Saturday's concert wasn't completed yet, and declined to give an estimate of what those funds might be. He did say that the amount -- and the names of the beneficiaries -- will likely be released Friday.
According to a Times-Picayune
article, the board is using the following criteria in selecting those beneficiaries:
The foundation's creators are hoping to support organizations that meet the foundation's three standards: Money must go as directly as possible to beneficiaries, not operating costs; it must help either wildlife or people whose livelihoods were directly affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill; and it must target needs not being addressed by government...
It sounds like the board could use some help finding the best -- and most legitimate -- groups to donate to. To encourage the Gulf Aid group to donate to an organization you think deserves it most, email David Freedman at email@example.com.
The fundraiser seems like a wonderful idea: "The principle of this thing was based on the fact that when Katrina came, we were all waiting around for outside money and insurance to flow in," said Freedman. "This time, we didn't want to wait, we wanted to do something."
Hopefully, Gulf Aid will be transparent about its fundraising and decision making as it moves on from Saturday's concert.
Stay tuned as we continue to cover how much Gulf Aid raised and where the money will go.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:46AM PST on May 19, 2010
Fighting Oil With Hair
The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences today released three brand new reports on global warming
as part of the America's Climate Choices
project. This afternoon you'll be able to watch a webcast of the press conference for these reports right here
First up is the "Advancing the Science of Climate Change" report:
phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses (of global warming) have been examined
thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful
evaluation of alternative explanations.
Climate change is
occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant
risks for - and in many cases is already affecting - a broad range of
human and natural systems... It calls for a new
era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on
"fundamental, use-inspired" research, which not only improves
understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also
is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and
international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change....
recommends that a single federal entity or program be given the
authority and resources to coordinate a national, multidisciplinary
research effort aimed at improving both understanding and responses to
The second report is "Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change
," which calls for serious action on greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. This report concludes that:
- Strong U.S. actions to reduce emissions will help encourage other
countries to do the same.
- An inclusive national policy
framework is needed to ensure that all levels of government, the private
sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to
shared national goals.
- The U.S. should establish a
greenhouse gas emissions "budget" that sets a limit on total domestic
emissions over a set period of time and provides a clear, directly
- The longer the nation waits
to begin reducing emissions, the harder and more expensive it will
likely be to reach any given emissions target.
- A carbon-pricing system is the most cost-effective way to reduce
- Carbon pricing alone, however, is not enough to sufficiently reduce
Finally, the third report is "Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change,
" which "notes that policymakers need to anticipate a range of possible climate
conditions and that uncertainty about the exact timing and magnitude of
impacts is not a reason to wait to act...
adaptive capacity now can be viewed as 'an insurance policy against an
uncertain future,' while inaction could increase risks, especially if
the rate of climate change is particularly large."
Conclusions from this report include:
- Policymakers need to anticipate a range of possible climate conditions
and that uncertainty about the exact timing and magnitude of impacts is
not a reason to wait to act.
- A national adaptation strategy is needed to facilitate cooperation and
collaboration across all lines of government and between government and
other key parties, including the private sector, community
organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.
- We must identify vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and begin to examine
adaptation options that will improve resilience.
- Adaptation to climate change should not be seen as an alternative to
attempts to limit it.
These reports were requested by Congress and funded by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Academy of Sciences will release two more reports later this year as part of the America's Climate Choices series.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:57AM PST on May 18, 2010
Some Other Energy & Global Warming News
Lisa Gautier, who co-founded Matter of Trust, is partnering with other organizations in an ongoing drive to deliver tons of hair stuffed in pantyhose to the Gulf to soak up the oil. Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with her on the phone. She's a pretty busy person these days. Matter of Trust began its hair collecting drive 10 years ago. The effort really took off after the Cosco Busan spill three years ago. But it was only after the BP disaster last month that the hair idea exploded.
"My phone is just ringing off the hook," Gautier told me.
She told me that May 20 will be the day hair by the truckloads will be heading to the Gulf. And we're not just talking about human hair.
"Because this is the shearing season, sheep farmers and alpaca farmers are just trucking it in," she told me. "It's coming in droves."
It sure seems like a better idea than lighting the slick on fire. Hair naturally takes in oil. That's why we shampoo it out.
Gautier's efforts have paid off with press coverage. The New York Times, CNN, and Reuters are among the dozens of outlets that have provided coverage. (Gawker summarizes all the weird clean-up ideas in addition to hair.)
Here's a pretty great demonstration of what we're talking about:
If you want to donate your hair to help clean up BP's catastrophic mess, click here for the details.
Posted by: Heather M at 9:37AM PST on May 18, 2010
Grim Oily Trajectory
There's still news happening out there related to other energy and global warming issues beyond the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
We'll start with a news hit that's slightly related to the BP drilling, though. Recently we lost our final appeal against Shell in its bid for oil drilling leases in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi seas. One of our many arguments against allowing drilling in the Arctic waters is because an oil spill there would be even harder to clean up due to icy waters and how remote the region is
Well Shell is now attempting to respond to those concerns - see this LA Times article
Shell Oil Co. pledged Monday to deploy a prefabricated coffer dam ready for "immediate" use in the event of a blowout, with a full-scale oil spill response within an hour.
In a letter intended to reassure federal officials that offshore drilling can safely begin in the fragile Arctic in July despite the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell said it also would be ready to apply dispersant immediately underwater near the source of any oil flow and would have a remotely operated submersible and trained divers at the drilling site.
Sorry Shell, despite this move, we still think Arctic drilling is a bad idea. Learn more in this LA Times article from earlier this month
Moving on from oil drilling to another dirty energy source: Coal. Today in Richmond, Va., a coalition of unions, environmental and faith groups joined for a rally and march to remember the 29 coal miners who died in April at a Massey Energy coal mine in West Virginia
, as well as to call for safer mining conditions and for Massey CEO Don Blankenship to step down.
Why a rally in Richmond? Today is the Massey Energy shareholders' meeting. There was also a vigil last night. If you were there, please comment and let us know how it all went and share some photos.
Speaking of coal, looks like our corporate accountability pressure on one of the many banks that finances mountaintop removal coal mining is moving in a positive manner
. JPMorgan Chase announced a change in its policy this week
(PDF). I'll let Mark Kresowik, our Beyond Coal Campaign Corporate Accountability
Rep explain it:
After the Sierra Club and our partners began campaigning to end JPMorgan Chase's coal financing in September of 2008, JPMorgan Chase conducted an internal review of their environmental policies and financial support for coal companies engaged in mountaintop removal. Starting in 2009 JPMorgan Chase began an "enhanced due diligence" process for any potential financial transactions related to mountaintop removal coal mining, which means extra review of potential risks to their bottom line or their reputation. In global warming news
As a result of that process JPMorgan Chase decided not to conduct business in 2009 with any coal companies engaged in "significant" mountaintop removal operations, such as Massey. While Bank of America and Citigroup have similar policies in place, JPMorgan Chase still lags behind Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo which have policies that end or phase out any financial involvement with companies engaged in mountaintop removal, respectively.
, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced yesterday that
"The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for both April and for the period from January-April, according to NOAA. Additionally, last month's average ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for any April, and the global land surface temperature was the third warmest on record."
It's getting hot on earth! But who doesn't care? Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. After blocking an attempt last week to hold BP fully accountable for its oil disaster, Senator Murkowski is expected to introduce a resolution in the Senate this week that will block the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to enforce the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming pollution
. You can take action against this resolution today
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:58PM PST on May 17, 2010
"60 Minutes" on the Deepwater Horizon Explosion
Here is the most recent 72-hour trajectory map created by NOAA. Get a closer look here (pdf). Observers are worried the slick is going to head on over to the Florida Keys.
The loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas.
The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 580,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Officials report that more than 390,000 gallons of chemicals are stockpiled. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea reefs.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:56AM PST on May 17, 2010
BP CEO: Disaster is "Tiny" Compared to Total Water Volume
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:31AM PST on May 14, 2010
Gulf States' Tourism Teeters
I'm not making this up, folks. Take it away, Tony Hayward, BP CEO:
"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," he said.
Say that with a straight face to the people who live along the Gulf.
Posted by: Brian F. at 7:11AM PST on May 13, 2010
Oil Disaster Doesn't Mean We Should Switch to Other Dirty Fuels
BP accountants are taking extra headache medicine
Gov. Charlie Crist asked BP PLC on Wednesday to pay nearly $35 million for an emergency ad campaign to assure the world that Florida's beaches and coastal waters are untainted by the company's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The spill off Louisiana so far has stayed well away from the Florida Panhandle shoreline but that hasn't stopped thousands of wary tourists from canceling or declining to make reservations.
Crist earlier Wednesday promised the panel that oversees state tourism promotion he would help find money for efforts to counteract those fears.
People in the Panhandle in particular are worried
Visit Florida currently has more than $2.5 million for an emergency promotions campaign, part of it cut from another campaign to battle the bad press and erroneous word-of-mouth claims that the spill has arrived on Florida shores. But it’s not enough, the tourism board members insisted. The constant news of the spill, including an erroneous Twitter message Wednesday about tar balls washing up on Destin’s shores, are discouraging visitors.
“As of yesterday, I can tell you, restaurant and hotel owners in the Panhandle, most of them hit the 911 button,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:35AM PST on May 12, 2010
Oil Disaster Protest Pics and More
This post was co-written by Kate Colarulli of the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign.
As we've watched the Gulf Coast clean up from the massive BP oil disaster
, besides BP picking up its own PR mission to improve its image, we've also noticed another disturbing PR campaign: the coal industry and the tar sands industry are both starting to use this disaster to tout the supposed "cleanliness" of their respective energy sources.
There are more and more "clean" coal ads appearing alongside oil cleanup articles, and the tar sands (also known as oil sands) industry has already made the outrageous claim that they are
"safer" than offshore drilling. One executive said "that while there can be failures with conventional oil and oil sands projects, 'the damage would be much smaller and more modest' than with offshore spills.'"
This could not be farther from the truth, of course. One could compare the tar sands industry in Canada to a massive and permanent oil spill on land. When the tar sands industry destroys the environment from the get-go
, who needs a spill?
Here's a fact for you: The Canadian tar sands operations are intending to expand to the size of Florida (and have already destroyed 200 square miles
The mining and production of oil from tar sands creates three times the carbon emissions as that of conventional oil. As if its global warming pollution were not bad enough, tar sands mining also results in the destruction of the Canadian boreal forest, a vital carbon reservoir for 11% of the world's carbon and a global nesting ground for 166 million birds. In other words, not only does tar sands development create vast quantities of new carbon emissions, it destroys the Earth's natural ability to capture carbon through the forest.
And think BP's bad behavior only crops up in oil? Think again - BP is actively involved in the tar sands industry
and has recently been cited for cutting corners on a tar sands project that would have impacted the drinking water for the eight million people residing in the Chicago area.
In October, BP was caught trying to under-count the pollution that would result from a proposed expansion of its BP Whiting refinery in order to process tar sands.
The tar sands expansion would increase the refinery's discharges of ammonia into Lake Michigan by 54 percent and its discharges of suspended solids - the byproducts of making gasoline - by 35 percent. Surely the people of Chicago would thank BP for adding "byproducts of making gasoline" to their drinking water.
If that incident doesn't scare you, one of BP's tar sands operations, ironically named Sunrise, is situated above Canada's biggest freshwater aquifer. Rick Boucher, vice-president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region One, fears that "It's just a matter of time before an accident causes injury or death, and pollution of this massive underground freshwater system."
Instead of taking every precaution to protect this water resource, last month BP's management successfully beat down "a resolution that would have required the company to report on the environmental, financial and reputational risks of developing Canadian tar sands projects."
The tar sands have been called "the greatest environmental crime in history," yet BP is steadily increasing their involvement.
This BP oil disaster should be a turning point in our energy policy here in the U.S.
We should not keep relying on dirty energy sources like coal, oil and tar sands. We have available technologies such as electric vehicles, solar and wind power which would allow us to get off oil. It's time to make the switch.
There is no room in America's future for coal, oil and tar sands - don't let the BP oil disaster help chain our country to more dirty energy.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:41AM PST on May 11, 2010
And What of the Minerals Management Service?
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:38AM PST on May 11, 2010
Senate Hearings on Oil Disaster and Offshore Drilling
The oil's not splitting up; but the Minerals Management Service might
An administration official who asked not to be identified because the plan is not yet public said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will urge that Congress approve splitting the Minerals Management Service in two. One agency would be charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations, while the other would oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties.
Currently, the Minerals Management Service, an arm of the Interior Department, is responsible for collecting more than $10 billion a year from oil and gas drilling and with enforcing laws and regulations that apply to drilling operations.
Some critics have said the two roles are in conflict and are one reason the agency has long been accused of being too cozy with the oil and natural gas industry.
Posted by: Heather M at 9:08AM PST on May 11, 2010
Rallies Against Oil Drilling, for Clean Energy
The NY Times has a good live-blog covering this hearing right here
. They also had this photo up, showing a protester in the hearing. The photo is courtesy of NY Times photographer Luke Sharrett. The speaker in the foreground is Lamar McKay of BP.
Currently underway in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is a hearing on the BP oil disaster and current plants for more offshore drilling. The hearing, described as being for reviewing "current issues related to offshore gas and oil development
," started at 10am ET and features a good round of speakers:
Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones
- Dr. F.E. Beck - Associate Professor, Texas A&M University
- Mr. Danenberger - Former Chief, Offshore Regulatory Program, Minerals Management Service
- Mr. Lamar McKay - President and Chairman , BP America, Inc.
- Mr. Steven Newman - President and Chief Executive Officer, Transocean Limited
- Mr. Tim Probert - President, Global Business Lines; Chief Health, Safety and Environmental Officer, Halliburton
is at the hearing and live-tweeting, and she's also already written a good round-up of how the hearing's been going so far
- sounds like it's the blame game thus far. Follow her on twitter right here
. And you can read each speaker's submitted testimony by clicking on their names on the official hearing website
Posted by: Heather M at 1:05PM PST on May 10, 2010
"Like Open-Heart Surgery in the Dark"
The Sierra Club has been holding a series of "Clean It Up!" events around the country calling on BP to clean up the disaster and demanding an end to new offshore drilling. Citizens have already turned out for rallies in Florida, Virginia, Seattle, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Houston.
On Saturday in New Orleans, the Sierra Club joined with fishing industry representatives, Gulf Coast leaders, and a crowd of more than 200 concerned citizens at a rally in support of Gulf Coast communities impacted by the BP Disaster.
"We are here to urge that President Obama dedicate every necessary resource his disposal to contain the well and stop the flow of oil," said Sierra Club president Allison Chin. "We need to clean up this disaster. The people who live in the Gulf Coast are looking at sweeping job losses and a destroyed ecosystem."
Last Thursday in Houston our Lone Star Chapter also held a brief presser and gathering outside an oil industry conference to call for more clean energy. They started the presser off with a fake speech from a fake oil industry spokesperson, "Oilivia Blackwater." Here's video of that:
Then the press conference got serious, as the group called for no more oil drilling, including a speech from a shrimper who spoke of the oil disaster's impact on her industry.
That message is present at all the "Clean It Up" rallies. "Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous. This disaster could happen in Virginia, or California, or anywhere offshore oil rigs are allowed. We need an end to all new drilling off America's coasts. But that's not enough," said Chin at the New Orleans rally.
"We need our leaders to deliver a plan to get America off of oil and onto a clean, efficient, 21st century transportation system. We need to clean up the Gulf Coast, and we need to clean up America’s energy."
There are more clean energy rallies and events coming up to counter this terrible oil disaster - are you going to one? You can even sign up to host one!
New Orleans photos by David Graham-Caso. Houston photos by Zac Trahan.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 12:49PM PST on May 10, 2010
Reaction From the "Redneck Riviera"
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:49PM PST on May 10, 2010
"Endless Explosion of Toxic Muck"
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:19AM PST on May 10, 2010
Other Energy and Global Warming News From the Week
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune penned an op-ed for Sunday's LA Times
. Read it here!
Here's a snippet:
What I saw flying over the gulf waters Wednesday, and what we've all been watching on television the last two weeks, is no spill. It's an endless explosion of toxic muck, a sickening creep of poisonous sludge that may soon blanket a national park, more than a dozen wildlife refuges and hundreds of miles of coastline, perhaps even oozing into the fragile Florida Keys and up the Eastern Seaboard.
This catastrophe may also prove to be one of those rare events that rivets attention, bolsters resolve and encourages pivotal change — in this case, a national commitment to stop the expansion of offshore drilling immediately and end our dependence on oil and the other dirty fuels that are fouling our planet in a slow-motion environmental disaster every day.
In western Canada, monstrous earthmoving machines rip up forests and pollute freshwater supplies to produce dirty oil from Alberta's "tar sands." In Ecuador, billions — with a "b" — of gallons of oil-contaminated waste were dumped into the Amazon watershed by Texaco, now owned by Chevron. And here in the U.S., 90 million Americans live near 150-plus oil refineries. These refineries release into the air and water millions of pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, such as benzene, butadiene and formaldehyde, along with nickel, lead and other pollutants linked to heart disease, asthma and other health threats.
Posted by: Heather M at 12:43PM PST on May 7, 2010
Widget Your Oil Disaster
The major oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is of course worthy of extensive news coverage, but perhaps you've missed these other big energy and global warming news articles from the week.
On Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to regulate coal ash
- only it proposed two options
. One to classify it as hazardous waste (which it should be)
, and the other to continue treating it the same as household garbage. As we've noted before, most of us don't usually have arsenic, selenium, chromium and numerous other toxins in our household trash, but that's exactly what's in coal ash
. Even investors are raising their eyebrows at coal ash disposal
This EPA announcement opens up a 90-day comment period and we'll soon have an action that will allow you to submit your own comments. Stay tuned.
In other toxic coal news, check out this sad story from Crawford, Nebraska, where runoff containing coal dust contaminated a family farm
where the vegetables were being given away to the elderly and low-income families for free. Don't let anyone tell you coal is clean
- this story is just about the impact of the DUST from train cars full of coal.
On the energy efficiency front, good news! The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010
, a bipartisan home energy efficiency retrofit bill
, passed in the House of Representatives Thursday
. The bill will help create clean energy jobs by setting up a $6 billion program to retrofit millions of homes to make them more energy efficient and to lower consumers' energy bills.
On to global warming - here's some stunning news: U.S. energy-related global warming emissions are down nearly 10% since 200
5. Yeah, really! Learn more in this blog post
and in this USA Today article
And you may have seen the blog post on Climate Crossroads from Bruce Nilles about the University of North Carolina announcing that it will transition away from coal power on campus
, but we didn't have video of it then. Check this out:
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:49AM PST on May 7, 2010
Miss the LiveChat with Michael Brune on the Oil Disaster? Watch it Now!
PBS is providing a widget that displays a ticker meauring the amount of oil that BP's disaster has pumped into the Gulf. We've embedded it into the BP Oil Disaster group here on Climate Crossroads. So check it out. Join the group for more updates and correspondence from the ground.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:35AM PST on May 7, 2010
Video of Oil Spill, and Statement from Michael Brune
Posted by: Heather M at 10:28AM PST on May 6, 2010
On the Ground in the Gulf; Oil Press Conference
This is a guest post by Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, who now has video footage up of him talking about the Gulf oil disaster on our BP Oil Disaster website - along with this new map of the spill area.
Last year, Americans were outraged when the government bailed out the same big banks that nearly ruined our economy. We had to do it, we were told, because these banks were "too big to fail." Now we're being asked for another bailout -- this time for BP, the company whose irresponsibility has brought ruin to the Gulf of Mexico
. Initial estimates for just the first few months of cleanup are in the billions.
Although President Obama has said that BP must pay the bill for its titanic oil disaster, the Oil Pollution Act currently on the books caps liability for economic damages at a paltry $75 million dollars. After that, an oil-tax trust fund kicks in another $1 billion. And after that, the bill will be delivered to the American taxpayer.
To make sure that BP's corporate hand stays out of your pockets, the Sierra Club is backing The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act,
cosponsored by senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Also known as "Too Big to Spill," the act would retroactively raise the $75 million liability cap to $10 billion. (By the way, BP had $12 billion in cash on its balance sheets at the end of the last quarter.)
Of course, even that amount of money won't be enough to restore the fisheries and bayous of the Gulf Coast. I just had the opportunity -- "pleasure" is not the word -- to visit Louisiana
and fly over the affected area
. As far as 76 miles from the site of the explosion, you could clearly see the oil pollution -- ribbons of orange muck coursing through the water. Oil was already washing up on the outer islands.
You can't see this mess and not be angered by the impact BP has had on this entire region.
Like so many issues, this one ends up being about responsibility. Sierra Club members and supporters are doing their part. Already the Club has mobilized 2,000 volunteers in the Gulf States to aid in recovery efforts. We're also continuing our decades-long efforts to usher in clean-energy solutions, so we no longer have to sacrifice our beaches and wildlife to prolong our dependence on oil.
BP, on the other hand, is running an expensive public relations campaign in an attempt to mask the full extent of the damage in the Gulf and minimize their accountability. Anyone who is here in the Gulf, talking to residents and seeing the oil on the water, knows that the impacts of this disaster can't be minimized. BP needs to be accountable for every penny of the response effort and for every job lost.
Join Michael Brune for a livechat about the oil disaster today at 4:30 PT / 7:30 ET.
Posted by: Heather M at 7:37AM PST on May 6, 2010
Video of Most Recent BP Oil Disaster Developments
A heads up, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune was down in Louisiana yesterday to check out the oil disaster up close and personal. He spoke with some affected business people and then flew over the spill area. Check out his early remarks on this trip here
. We'll soon have some video of this trip and the oil slick as well. For now, we have these photos. The above photo is of Brune talking with reporters before boarding the plane. This below photo is the team about to board the plane.
This next photo is of Brune talking with Tulane University Professor and New Orleans Sierra Club Chapter Conservation Chair Barry Kohl.
On Tuesday, Brune took part in a press conference
back in Washington, DC, on Capitol Hill with key coastal protection champions from the Senate to discuss the impact of the catastrophe on future coastline drilling policy and to recommend courses of action.
Brune was joined by Senator Bill Nelson
of Florida, and Senators Frank Lautenberg
and Robert Menendez
of New Jersey, as well as Environment America head Margie Alt and Andrew Sharpless of Oceana. (In the above photo, Senator Lautenberg is at the mic, and L to R are Brune, Senator Nelson and Senator Menendez). The press conference garnered great media attention, as you can see in this photo below.
Senators Lautenberg and Menendez are now getting attention for a bill they're introducing called the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, which would "raise the economic damages liability cap for offshore oil spills from $75 million to $10 billion
," ensuring that BP pays the full amount to clean up this massive oil catastrophe. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has already come out in favor of this bill as well
Stay tuned for more details on the recovery and response to BP's oil disaster. (Louisiana photos by David Graham-Caso, press conference photos by Javier Sierra)
Posted by: Brian F. at 7:35AM PST on May 6, 2010
There is No Safe Way to Drill for Oil
Posted by: Brian F. at 7:26AM PST on May 6, 2010
No More Drilling
Check out Michael Brune's Bloomberg column today
Offshore Drilling After BP Oil Spill: Michael Brune
May 05, 2010,
9:30 PM EDT
May 6 (Bloomberg) -- The death of 11 oil workers and
of the Gulf Coast’s ecosystems and economy by the
toxic sludge gushing
from a BP Plc accident site is a tragedy that
may well change the
course of our nation.
Americans are horrified.
Leaders who had been willing to give offshore
drilling the benefit
of a doubt have abruptly changed their minds,
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said he no
longer supports a plan
to allow limited drilling for oil off his
right. There is no safe way to drill for oil in oceans. This
is an impetus to halt our dependence on oil completely and
move to a
clean energy future fast.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 2:13PM PST on May 5, 2010
Day 1 of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference
In the coming week, thousands of Americans will be coming together at events across the country to call for the end of off-shore drilling. "This does serve as a wake-up call, to both the administration and Congress, to focus more effort on reducing the demand for oil," the Sierra Club's Executive Director Mike Brune told the Washington Post
. "There's increased enthusiasm for fighting it, and fighting it hard." While BP and other industry insiders are trying to portray the disaster as something that will never happen again, we know that when it comes to dirty energy, danger is always present.
in keeping the pressure on our elected representatives to end off-shore drilling and move to a clean-energy economy. Events are taking place throughout the country – you could even be a host. Get breaking news here
Posted by: Heather M at 8:09PM PST on May 4, 2010
UNC Decides to Move Beyond Coal; Plus Bonus Coal Ash News
I spent most of today at the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference
here in Washington, DC, and I have to say, what I saw was fantastic. If you're not familiar with the Good Jobs Green Jobs conference, this is its third year. It's organized by the Blue Green Alliance
(a great unified organization of environmental groups and unions), among other excellent groups.
They've lined up an incredible list of keynote speakers again this year, and today was a great group gathered to kick off the event.
I really enjoyed hearing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discuss how clean energy jobs and building a clean energy economy are part of President Obama's plans for our country. She and President Obama see the potential for clean energy.
"It is a big job creator," said Pelosi.
Terry O'Sullivan, General President, Laborers’ International Union of North America
, also had a great quote from when he introduced Speaker Pelosi. "This conference will help us continue our efforts to save our environment and improve our economy while protecting our workers."
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis gave a long and rousing speech as well, really rallying the crowd to the idea of green jobs for everyone. "These green jobs are not completely new jobs," said Solis. "These are jobs that many of you have skills that can transfer or upgrade to."
But man, Leo Girard (pictured below), International President of the United
, really got the crowd going, and even though it seemed as if he was just riffing to fill some time because another speaker was late. He's a great public speaker. Girard spoke about the long history of his work as a representative for the United Steelworkers with the Sierra Club. He said people used to laugh at it, but now they see how forward-thinking it was and how valuable and important the coalition of unions and environmentals groups can be.
"We believed then and we believe now that we're heading in the right direction," said Girard. "We've built a movement, not just an organization. And we're going to fight for sustainable policies, not just at home, but all over the world."
Girard also received a standing ovation when he spoke about the importance of manufacturing the components of clean energy here in the U.S. "What's the difference between relying on Chinese wind turbines and relying on foreign oil?"
Finally, I really enjoyed hearing from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (pictured above). His state has made some many big strides toward clean energy, including a recent increase in the state's Renewable Electricity Standard. Colorado is a great example of what states can do for clean energy.
So overall, today was fantastic. I even got to check out a press conference discussing a new report about how increased freight rail is a huge source of green jobs
I'm headed back to the conference again Wednesday, so another post is coming after hearing some more great speeches!
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 11:21AM PST on May 4, 2010
Great news out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Today the University of North Carolina (UNC) announced that burning coal has no place in our clean energy future
and is transitioning away from using pollution-rich coal power to power this nationally-ranked university.
I attended the press with UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp as he outlined how they were going to start testing alternative fuels and phasing in alternatives as fast as possible, and end coal use altogether no later than 2020
I was also joined at the press conference by Stewart Boss, one of the student leaders of the Coal-Free UNC Campaign. It was Stewart and his fellow students who began a campaign a year ago to get UNC to walk the talk, and credit to Chancellor Thorp for hearing and responding to their concerns. A huge amount of the credit also goes to Tim Toben, the chair of the UNC taskforce that the Chancellor charged with making recommendations about coal's future role on campus.
"Universities must be on the leading edge of the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy
. Today UNC takes another major step in that direction," Thorp said during today’s press conference. "The University of North Carolina has been a national leader in campus sustainability. Our systems for energy efficiency, cogeneration of electricity and steam, waste recycling, green building, mass transit and water conservation are models. Our commitment to end the use of coal will also be a model for other campuses."
UNC is now leading by example. College campuses cannot responsibly teach about the dangers of air pollution, the science of climate change and leadership in sustainability in classrooms powered by coal. We applaud UNC for agreeing to a firm deadline and we will continue to work with the University to end its coal use as soon as possible, i.e. well before 2020.
Best of all this shows the power and effectiveness of students who want clean energy. The Sierra Club's Coal-Free Campus Campaign
is focusing on the last 60 U.S. college campuses that are still burning coal, including UNC and its coal-burning facility on Cameron Avenue. UNC students led an intensive campaign, coming together on numerous occasions to rally and call for an end to coal and to use more clean energy on campus.
Together with all these amazing students, we are urging these campuses to lead by example, cut their pollution, and end burning coal as soon as possible. Chancellor Thorp has responded by appointing 10 students, faculty and community members
(including our own Molly Diggins, the state director of the Sierra Club) to a task force to make recommendations before year's end to reduce Carolina's carbon footprint.
This great news from UNC comes on the heels of last Friday's announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency, when the agency proposed strong new rules to limit hazardous air pollution
from industrial boilers, which includes most campus coal plants.
The new EPA rules are designed to protect residents who live near and downwind from these coal plants. Specifically the rules will substantially reduce emissions of toxic air pollution, like mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which can cause cancer, reproductive disorders and other serious health problems.
These decisions are great moves for clean energy and cleaning up coal.
"My hope is that today’s announcement will serve as encouragement for the thousands of students who have been engaged in similar efforts on college campuses nationwide
," said Stewart Boss, coordinator for the Coal-Free UNC Campaign and co-chair for the UNC chapter of the Sierra Student Coalition.
"The fight to stop burning dirty coal is absolutely necessary to protect our communities, our country, and our planet. Our universities can and should be at the forefront of developing clean energy technologies and preparing students to be clean energy leaders. I urge other universities to follow UNC’s lead in moving beyond coal."
Congratulations to UNC's students, staff and community. This is the kind of progress we need on our nation's college campuses, in our cities and nationwide in all of our communities. Together, we can build a clean energy economy in the U.S.
BONUS COAL NEWS:
Today EPA announced it is "proposing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants
Included in the Agency’s plan are two options: one includes strong, federally enforceable safeguards to protect the public from toxic coal ash, and the other treats toxic coal ash (which contains potentially dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals) less stringent than household garbage. Both the science and past failures of the patchwork of state-based regulations call for the stronger, federal protections. There will be a 90-day public comment period during which Sierra Club will be working hard to call on EPA to adopt the most protective safeguards.
We're still digging into this announcement to figure out all the details of the rules, and we'll update this post or post a new column once we know more. You can at least learn a little more on the official EPA rule website
Posted by: Carl Pope at 9:36AM PST on May 4, 2010
Jon Stewart Critiques Oil Disaster
As the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe worsens by the minute, and as BP desperately tries to tame an underwater gusher, one thing is overwhelmingly clear:
The intellectual foundation of the offshore-drilling enterprise -- that oil companies know how to handle ever-deeper drilling "horizons" -- is false. BP doesn't know what it is doing -- and neither do any of the other oil companies. Our technology for dealing with oil spills turns out to be almost useless -- once you dump millions of gallons of oil in the ocean, you really can't do much to stop the damage. Prevention, not rapid response, is the key.
Still, after every disaster, the oil industry promises that it could never happen again.
Let's learn the right lesson: Oil and water don't mix. A major explosion on land is a tragedy, but it's not a region-wide catastrophe on the scale we see here. Oddly enough, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the more thoughtful offshore drilling advocates, seems tone deaf on this one. Senator Graham is arguing that after the Challenger disaster America went back into space, so after Deepwater Horizon we should keep opening up new areas to oil drilling.
That analogy is simply wrong. Imagine that the Challenger tragedy, in addition to causing the deaths of astronauts, had put at risk the economic base of a significant part of the United States. Suppose thousands of businesses were ruined, and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their livelihoods. Would we have continued launching Space Shuttles?
I don't think so. It's time to start phasing out offshore oil production now, as a first step to making America genuinely independent of oil.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:49AM PST on May 4, 2010
Watch: Sierra Club Mississippi Director on MSNBC
Jon Stewart uses "West Side Story" numbers to go after everyone from the media to pro-oil politicians. Watch BP's COO try to answer who's to blame for all this about five minutes into the clip.
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:29AM PST on May 4, 2010
Oil Disaster Triples in Size
Louie Miller, the Sierra Club's Mississippi State Director, was on The Ed Show on MSNBC yesterday. Some are calling the disaster "America's Chernobyl."
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:03PM PST on May 3, 2010
BP Offering Waivers to Avoid Lawsuits
The oil slick has tripled and the ecological fallout is becoming more widespread.
Near Gulfport, Mississippi, 19 sea turtles were found dead and necropsies were being done by experts at the National Marine Fisheries Services. But they had no external oil soiling and it was not clear if the deaths were linked to the slick.
U.S. energy output from the Gulf has not been not strongly affected and shipping operations at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port were normal, a port spokeswoman said.
Many of the coastal communities in the path of the oil slick, including Venice on the west bank of the Mississippi River, were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It's just like Katrina, catastrophic," said Frances Lacross, a local resident.
Meanwhile, BP is reeling from the political fallout
Three House committees, including Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources and Oversight have scheduled hearings. A special House subcommittee that deals with global warming has called on executives from five major oil companies to testify. And three Democratic senators introduced legislation which would raise liability caps on oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion. Republicans, meanwhile, want to turn the focus back on the federal government, with one top House Republican calling for an investigation of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:22PM PST on May 3, 2010
Wind Turbine Breaks, Spills Wind Everywhere
Reports are surfacing that BP is offering folks along the Gulf $5,000 in exchange for giving up their right to sue. BP spokespeople have since said they are no longer asking people to sign waivers. Read the article at Talking Points Memo:
Sid Jackson, a Mobile-based lawyer representing a shrimper who last week filed suit against BP, claiming that the spill had already taken a financial toll on his business, told TPMmuckraker that he believed BP would be wise to back down. "I think they kind of drop-kicked that [waiver] clause into the fine print," Jackson said. But, "I think it would backfire" if BP tried to enforce it.
"This is the same company that told the coast guard there was no leak," Jackson added.
Join the Gulf Oil Disaster group
here on Climate Crossroads for all the latest developments.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:49AM PST on May 3, 2010
It's Monday. Here's Your Oil Slick News
I like snark. That's why I recommend this DailyKos diary
about a "massive windspill" at the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm that is leaving wind everywhere:
How are animals going to survive when their natural habitat has been contaminated by all this 02?!
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:47AM PST on May 3, 2010
This Spill is a Game Changer
Posted by: Brian F. at 8:50AM PST on May 3, 2010
Sierra Club India Environment Post: The Adaptation Myth
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune's column on CNN was front and center all weekend. Take a read. Here's a little snippet:
We are pleased that the White House is now saying it will suspend any new offshore drilling while the explosion and spill are investigated, but there should be no doubt left that drilling will only harm our coasts and the people who live there.
Taking a temporary break from offshore drilling is an important step, but it's not enough. We need to stop new offshore drilling for good, now. And then we need an aggressive plan to wean America from dirty fossil fuels in the next two decades.
This BP offshore rig that exploded was supposed to be state-of-the-art. We've also been assured again and again that the hundreds of offshore drilling rigs along our beaches are completely safe. Now, we've seen workers tragically killed. We've seen our ocean lit on fire, and now we're watching hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic oil seep toward wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Posted by: Guay at 8:41AM PST on May 3, 2010
Sundry Oil Spill Disaster Videos for Your Weekend
Driving through the remnants of the Sambhar Salt Lake
in central Rajasthan provides a glimpse into what a changed climate holds for our future. The surface of the sea has not only dried up entirely, the salty ground water that accompanies it has spread to neighboring fields. This is due in part to the damning of streams that feed the lake; the unsustainable use of ground water for salt production, and also largely because of the progressive failure over the past decade of the annual monsoon. These factors have conspired to drastically cut fresh water supplies, allowing the salty ground water to expand. The cumulative result is that locals now “grow” salt in fields where they once grew wheat.
The struggle of the surrounding community to deal with a lack of fresh water supplies for food production and daily drinking needs has created an enormous strain on community ties and family structures. A lack of water for basic necessities has driven the more well-off villagers to nearby cities and towns where water scarcity is not as much of a drastic issue. A factor in migration that many fail to realize is that the relatively rich migrate, not the poor.
While the specter of millions of climate change refugees haunts international negotiations, the aforementioned case shows that the gradual process of climate-induced migration is already occurring. Although many cite catastrophic figures of hundreds of millions of climate change refugees, Oli Brown of the International Institute for Sustainable Development speculates that climate stabilization at the lower bounds of IPCC scenarios (2 degrees) would result in a 5-10% increase along existing migration routes - an optimistic, yet achievable goal.
In order to stem the migratory tide, Manthan has attracted government funds to create a 1,000 KW solar array that powers a reverse osmosis water purifying plant. The plant provides water to fulfill the basic daily needs of over 100,000 villagers near Sambhar Salt Lake
. However, it remains a drop in the proverbial bucket as villagers still lack water to irrigate their fields due to the inexorable encroachment of brackish salt water.
As communities on the front lines of climate change struggle with overwhelming odds, we in the West struggle to reduce our emissions and control the growing problem. It could be argued this failure stems largely because we are insulated from many of these initial effects. However, the West is more vulnerable than many think. In fact, the United States
has already witnessed its own cases of climate change migration, epitomized by the relocation of Shishmaref Alaska
. This vulnerability has only been reinforced by our failure to safeguard many of our most vulnerable citizens during disasters like Hurricane Katrina. While we stumble along in our attempts to pass climate change legislation in the US
, we may be able to protect ourselves from the initial challenges climate change poses. But Shismaref and Katrina are telling reminders that our own ability to adapt is likely no more than a myth.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:27PM PST on April 30, 2010
"My Nose is Now Burning"
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:29PM PST on April 30, 2010
Drill, Baby, Drill -- or Whoops, Baby, Spill?
Andrew Sullivan shares a reader's email about the smell in New Orleans:
I smelled something "funny" in the air about midday today and it got gradually more noticeable as the day went by. Then I saw this report on the local paper's website. My wife and I just walked our dog for about 20 minutes and my nose is now burning, not terribly, but it is burning. And the reports are saying this oil well won't be capped for at least 4 weeks! If there hasn't been outrage yet, there will be when the oil slick actually reaches the shore. The air is going to be twice as bad especially when it gets hotter.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 12:55PM PST on April 30, 2010
Update on the Oil Catastrophe in the Gulf
Posted by: Heather M at 9:49AM PST on April 30, 2010
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:28AM PST on April 29, 2010
Oil Spill Story Getting Larger, Sadder, More Shocking
Posted by: Heather M at 7:22AM PST on April 29, 2010
Peabody Energy Exec Misleads During Great Coal Debate
The oil slick off the coast of Louisiana. Photo by Chris Gaithen/Getty Images, from the NY Times. Click to see larger version.
There has been much more news surrounding the leaking oil rig off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials had said the exploded rig's pipeline was leaking 1,000 barrels oil/day, but now that estimate is up to 5,000 barrels/day
The NY Times also has a sad story about the workers who were injured or killed by the explosion last week, and how that line of work is really all there is for their communities: "In Area With Few Options, Rigs Are Mixed Blessing
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the rig's well
"didn't have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills."
BP is certainly in some hot water over this explosion, especially as they just reported first quarter profits were up 135%
and that they were part of a group of oil companies that fought safety standards
for rigs like these.
Oh, and oddly enough, BP was a finalist to receive a oil drilling safety award from the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS)
, but that ceremony was canceled yesterday.
This whole disaster also now has many government officials either saying "We told you so" about off-shore drilling, or reconsidering their stance on it (including Florida Governor Charlie Crist
In New Jersey, the first hearing from the MMS on the Obama administration's offshore drilling plan was held Tuesday night and was dominated by off-shore drilling opponents
More hearings are scheduled this week in Wilmington, Del.; Norfolk, Va.; and Charleston, S.C.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 1:07PM PST on April 28, 2010
Video of Last Night's Great Coal Debate
Last night I debated the role of coal in our country's energy futur
e with Peabody Energy VP of Government Relations Fred Palmer on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
The debate took place in front of more than 500 students and community members
at Graham Chapel on campus, and was watched live online by nearly 4,700 additional interested observers.
Here are four minutes of highlights.
Posted by: Heather M at 7:00AM PST on April 28, 2010
Exploded Gulf Oil Rig Now Leaking
If you missed last night's Great Coal Debate between Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Bruce Nilles and Peabody Energy VP Of Government Affairs Fred Palmer, Ustream TV recorded it. Click here to watch it.
Here's an article on the debate, and here are some photos. Did you watch the debate? What did you think?
Update: Here's the video. Enjoy.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:16AM PST on April 27, 2010
Photos from The Climate Rally in DC
Satellite image of the oil spill area, courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory. Click to see a larger version of this image.
The situation is worsening for the destroyed oil rig 50 miles south of Lousiana's gulf shore. After it exploded last week, injuring many of the workers and leaving another 11 missing and presumed dead, the race is on to cap the pipe it was attached to.
The pipe is leaking 1,000 barrels of oil day and the oil slick now covers 2,000 square miles
. Beyond harming sea life already, there's worry of it soon reaching the shore in Louisiana and elsewhere. The NY Times has an interesting article today
on the immense work going into the stopping the leak thousands of feet below the surface.
These are the dangers of off-shore drilling. The rigs can explode and kill the workers, not to mention the leaking oil which then ruins the surrounding environment. The Christian Science Monitor also has a helpful article entitled "Why
Do So Many Oil Spills Happen?
This is the latest in a string of fossil fuel tragedies. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said as much in a recent statement
: "Right now America is mourning workers lost in a coal mine in West Virginia and an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. The latter tragedy is also causing 42,000 gallons of oil to be spilled into the Gulf every day.
"These human and environmental disasters put our desperate need for a new clean energy economy in stark relief. We need to move away from dirty, dangerous, and deadly energy sources. We join our colleagues in saying that every day the Senate fails to pass clean energy and climate policy, we put our economy, our national security and our environment at risk. Now is the time to put America back in control of our energy future with comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. It’s time to finish what we started."
Meanwhile, today BP - the owner and operator of the exploded well - reported a $6.5 billion profit
for last quarter. And Huffington Post has an excellent article
up today about how the industry fought off new oil rig safety standards before this explosion.
We can do better than oil and coal to power the U.S.
Posted by: Heather M at 12:52PM PST on April 26, 2010
Earth Day: Profiling Coal's Eco Heroes
Sierra Club Board Member Jim Dougherty snapped these great photos from yesterday's huge Climate Rally
on the Mall in Washington, DC.
Our own Bruce Nilles (now Sierra Club Deputy Conservation Director and former Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director) spoke at the conference and got the crowd roaring.
The Sierra Club also had a booth on the Mall during the rally to educate folks on all sorts of issues.
Treehugger also has a good write-up of the rally, including photos.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 11:07AM PST on April 22, 2010
James Cameron on Tar Sands: "Dead-End Paradigm"
As we remember the first Earth Day happening 40 years ago, it's also worth spending some time today thinking about our eco heroes, too. I thought I'd spend my post today talking about two fantastic women who are hard-working green heroes in the coal movement.
Susan Holmes is behind the group Bokoshe Environmental Cause Group
, or "BE Cause," a small but mighty environmental action group in Bokoshe, Oklahoma. She came together with some fellow residents when the nearby Shady Point I coal-fired power plant and coal fly ash
dump proposed adding a second dump site. According to BE Cause, building the second plant would at least double if not triple the amount of fly ash dumped around Bokoshe.
Susan had no background in science or anything energy-related, so she took to the internet to learn everything she could about coal and coal ash. "For me it was getting online and finding out what fly ash was," she said. "The more I looked, the more horrified I was about what we had in our backyard."
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:09PM PST on April 21, 2010
Spring's an Early Bird
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:03PM PST on April 21, 2010
Spring came early, according to scientists. This simply means nature's ability to adapt will become increasingly important. Join the Resilient Habitats group here in Climate Crossroads.
The phenomenon known as "spring creep" has put various species of U.S. wildlife out of balance with their traditional habitats, from the rabbit-like American pika in the West to the roses and lilies in New England, the environmental experts said in a telephone news briefing.
"The losers tend to be our native plant species," said Charles Davis of Harvard University, who studied plant changes in Concord, Massachusetts, where American conservationist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived a century and a half ago.
"Climate change is not affecting species uniformly," Davis said. "Certain groups are hit harder than others, and those species that are not able to respond to climate change ... are being hit the hardest."
In Massachusetts, Davis said, those include some of the most charismatic species, such as lilies, orchids, roses and dogwoods.