Earth Day 2017, A Turning Point?
John Hanno – April 22, 2017
At this time last year, many of us concerned with the survival of the planet, saw a faint light at the end of the apocalyptic global warming tunnel. President Obama was in charge and the White House was full of climate change true believers; deniers were relegated to Fox News and the Republican fossil fuel panders in Congress.
The Paris Agreement, under the authority of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, negotiated by 195 countries, was opened for signatures on Earth Day last year at a ceremony in New York. As of April 2017, 195 members have signed the treaty, and after enough (143) countries ratified it, it went into effect on November 4, 2016.
Also last year, the Standing Rock Nation Earth Protectors and millions of supporters and environmentalists around the world, were stopping Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines in their dirty tracts. This valiant opposition convinced President Obama to deny approval for the Keystone and order the Army Corp to reevaluate the DAPL.
But what a difference a year makes. Trump had barely been sworn in when he approved both Keystone and Dakota Access. And with the installment of fossil fuel panderer and climate denier Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump began paying back the fossil fuel polluters who helped get him elected.
With Trump in the White House and the Republi-cons in control of Congress, this Earth Day is fraught with ominous clouds. The Donald wants to slash the EPA budget by 30%. He also wants to make steep cuts to the Energy Departments environmental programs designed to shift America’s dependence on fossil fuel to primarily supporting renewable energy. This budget could effectively eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, clearly antithetical to ‘true’ conservative governance. It would also strip $1 billion from the Office of Science. And of course, Trump and his fossil fuel and polluter friends, have proposed eliminating any and all environmental regulations as a top priority.
Unfortunately, the one consistent thing we can count on concerning our climate, is that every month and year establishes more extreme weather records. But no matter how many obstacles Trump and his cast of anti science, oil, gas and chemical pandering cabinet deniers, along with the Repubs in Congress, place in the way of the undaunted march of sustainable alternative energy progress, rational folks will not be deterred. Tomorrow, more than 1 billion earth protectors around the world will celebrate Earth Day 2017.
The original environmentalists, our Native American Standing Rock Earth Protectors, are regrouping and joining Bold Nebraska and the landowners standing in the way of Trans Canada’s plans to build the Keystone pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Texas refineries, for the sole purpose of exporting tar sands to the world markets. These tar sands are the dirtiest oil on the planet. This dilbit (tar mixed with sand), must be melted with steam and mixed with cancer causing diluents so it can be transported in a pipeline. This process is the most devastating to the environment. This dilbit is also extremely corrosive to pipelines and runs the risk of leaking and contaminating the Nebraska sand hills and the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to eight states and 10’s of millions of Americans.
This isn’t about American energy independence, its about the greed of Canadian pipeline companies and the oil industry they serve, and their indifference to the health and safety of families, farmers and Native American tribes in the middle of America. It’s just not worth the risk to only benefit greedy oil interests and their political benefactors.
Investment in these dirty tar sands has been cut by two thirds. Di-vestments by cities, universities, green funds, pension funds and others has made a difference and has put pressure on the banks funding these toxic pipelines and tar sand extraction interests to withdraw funding or sell their interests.
Earth Day’s ‘Marches For Science’: “Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world. The March for Science website says organizers are ‘advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.’ ” Dr. David Suzuki
Responsible politicians and business leaders in America and around the world are joining the inevitable switch to a sustainable future for mankind. Donald J. Trump is unfortunately not one of those forward thinking leaders. Hundreds of corporations have pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy. Some have already achieved their lofty goals. Apple already uses 96% renewables for its manufacturing processes and has pledged to use 100% recyclables for it products. China is now the largest user of solar energy and India has also gone all in on solar, having gone on line with the largest solar array in the world. Every day brings a new chapter in the fight to save our planet and some amazing story about alternative energy progress. The Smithsonian will present its series on the fight to save animal species on the National Geographic Channel.
RE100 is a global campaign of The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, to promote and support businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, Voya Financial, and Walmart have joined RE100 and pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
When RE100 was launched in 2014, there were 13 original corporate partners: IKEA Group, Swiss Re, BT Group, Formula E, H&M, KPN, Nestlé, Philips, RELX Group, J. Safra Sarasin, Unilever and YOOX Group. Mars, Inc. was the first US business to join. 36 major businesses from around the world have since joined the campaign. Elion Resources Group was the first Chinese company to join in 2015 and Infosys Technology company was the first Indian company to join the group. Swiss financial company UBS and Dutch Life Sciences and Materials sciences company Royal DSM have also joined and pledged.
Voters must ask themselves why our current President, self described as the “greatest businessman,” is refusing to join these concerned, responsible and true conservative world leaders, attempting to save the planet.
Check out two recent books helpful to understanding the fight to save our environment. The 2016 book “Getting to Green”: A bipartisan Solution, by Fredric C. Rich.
And “Climate of Hope,” a new book released last Monday, co-authored by Carl Pope and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
During the long campaign, Mr. Trump asked desperate voters in America’s rust belt, and in rural, mostly red states, many who have long ago fallen out of the middle class, to trust him. They overlooked his long history of cheating business partners, denigrating women, playing fast and loose with our “on your honor” income tax system and his single minded obsession with only doing what’s best for Trump. I guess they thought somehow, there was a slim chance he wouldn’t let them down like other politicians had done before. But they have only themselves to blame. He made a long list of totally unrealistic promises that only a mother would believe. He lied so much, it would have been easier just to highlight the rare occasion when he actually told the truth. He consistently lied about his tax returns and his business dealings with the Russian oligarchs. He insisted voters really didn’t care. It’s not surprising that the latest Gallop poll claims only 36% believe Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”
And this past weekend, on traditional income tax day April 15th, saw more than 120,000 folks take to the streets demanding that Mr. Trump produce his tax returns. Poll after poll reveals 75% of us, including many Republicans, want to see those returns. These tax records will be helpful in showing who Trump is loyal or beholden to and may explain the reasons he’s willing to forsake the survival of the world and future generations, even his own grand children, in order to reward the fossil fuel industry and polluters. His explanation, that he’s trying to create jobs, is an easily proven line of bull. More jobs have been created in the alternative energy industry than all jobs in fossil fuel combined. Jobs in the wind industry, which have just surpassed 100,000 are growing 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.
Even though 75% of voters want to maintain or improve the EPA, these Republi-cons in charge would like nothing better than to neuter the whole department; and will try to reverse the progress made by the Obama administration in protecting our air, land and especially our precious water. Concerned Americans must do their part to make sure that doesn’t happen. A good time to start is tomorrow, Earth Day. Join your friends and neighbors in one of the marches or demonstrations. Or just plant a tree. Although a large majority of Trump supporters are incapable or simply refuse to use scientific reason or engage in critical thinking when it comes to the environment and climate change, Republicans who consider themselves ‘True Conservatives,’ must speak truth to power to this uncurious, anti-science president. John Hanno
What is Earth Day, and what is it meant to accomplish?
By Kathleen Rogers, for CNN April 21, 2017
Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN)Forty-seven years ago, on 22 April 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.
In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.
The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly. In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clear Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.
One billion people
Earth Day is now a global event each year, and we believe that more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.
It is a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.
In the lead up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in 2020, Earth Day Network launched a campaign to bring climate and environmental literacy to the world.
Climate literacy is now recognized universally as the engine for driving individual behavioral change, building consumer support for a green economy, creating green technologies and jobs, and promoting policy reforms at all levels of government.
Recognizing the importance of an educated global population, the authors of the Paris Climate Agreement put climate education at its heart, calling on national governments to cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate education, training and access to information.
Environmental education has evolved since 1970, and new models are gaining traction. Once focused solely on teaching the science of the natural world, environmental education has since embraced the concepts of sustainable development, promoting the economic values associated with the transition to the green economy – including jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship. These attributes are becoming part of a continuum of environmental learning.
An uphill battle
Different models for formal and informal climate education are sprouting around the globe. Some countries internalized the values of climate and environmental education years ago, recognizing that the jobs of the future belong to those who understand not just information about the environment, but also the potential for economic growth.
Finland, for example, already recognized for its top educational system, has been teaching environmental education and climate risks and opportunities for more than a decade.
More and more countries around the world, including Italy, Morocco, and Nicaragua, are now passing laws that will create a new generation of skilled green energy jobs in a way that we have never seen before.
At the same time, climate and environmental education face an increasingly uphill battle in the US.
Unlike many countries, the US allows individual states to control their own curricula. The result is 50 separate climate and environmental literacy plans, some of which avoid teaching about climate change at all.
Given the uneven landscape of political support for protecting our planet, Earth Day remains a critical point in time. Not a day of remembrance but a day of action.
Forty-seven years after the first Earth Day, the jury is still out on whether we will take the actions that are necessary to save ourselves. Education and action are the two most valuable steps we can take to protect our planet. Earth Day is the day to start.
How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet
Carl Pope April 19, 2017
It’s a big week for me. Monday was the official publication date of “Climate of Hope,” my new book co-authored with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
The book’s premise is that climate solutions now constitute an enormous short term opportunity—healthier communities, greater prosperity, enhanced security—for both the U.S. and the world community. The key to seizing that opportunity is to understand that the climate crisis is a symptom of multiple market failures and political follies, not a single free-standing “problem;” that leadership in implementing solutions is already emerging not so much from national governments as from cities, businesses and citizen activists; and that this bottom up leadership is the key to continuing to accelerate the pace of progress and the prospects for avoiding catastrophic risks to the climate.
Climate of Hope is now out there being reviewed – not always favorably – so I thought I’d use this blog to give my perspective on why Mike and I believe this approach does, in fact, offer a solid pathway out of the climate crisis.
The main criticism thus far—and I expect this to continue—is that we are wrongly arguing that national governments don’t matter, and that cities and businesses alone can correct our climate follies. We don’t, make that argument, and they can’t do it alone. A number of our key approaches clearly require national action—like redirecting agricultural subsidies away from encouraging overproduction of cotton and corn towards supporting regenerative agriculture which can suck carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is a climate threat, and into the soil, where it becomes a fertility and water storage enhancing asset.
But others, like modernizing building codes to ensure that any house built after 2020 is hyper-efficient, powered by its own renewable generation, so its owners don’t have to pay a utility bill and don’t pollute the atmosphere when they turn on the lights, are intrinsically the business of local (and state) governments.
And in the U.S. political context some that sound national—like encouraging the rapid replacement of internal combustion cars with electric drive—may actually emerge from a combination of city and state action. Led by Los Angeles, a coalition of 30 U.S. cities recently announced they would jointly bid out purchase orders for up to 114,000 electric drive vehicles at a cost of $10 billion, while California and 12 partner states made clear they would move forward with their zero emission vehicle mandate. So the cities are providing electric-drive vehicles with the scale needed to bring down prices and improve performance, while the states are guaranteeing that the market for these vehicles will continue to grow far beyond what city fleets alone could guarantee.
Similarly, the center piece of the Trump administration assault on President Obama’s climate legacy, the suspension of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), assumes that the future of America’s electric sector depends on a top-down national mandate, because utilities will otherwise cling to their existing fossil fuel dependent facilities. But while the CPP envisaged cutting utility emissions by only 30 percent by 2025, citizen action and market forces had already slashed power plant carbon pollution by 25 percent at the end of 2016, and we are on track to cut these emissions by almost 50 percent, not 30 percent, by 2025, through market forces and public pressure.
On the other hand, cleaning up methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands, another Obama rule Trump would like to quash, can’t be replaced by state and local initiatives—the federal government ultimately must become part of the solution. But just as during the Progressive era at the start of the 20th century it was cities and states and forged the new policy instruments that eventually became the New Deal, rather than waiting for Washington, just so Mike Bloomberg and I believe that political leadership on climate in the United States, and elsewhere, will come from below, not from national elites which remain in thrall to the fossil lobby and other entrenched interests. (Remember those crop subsidies? Shifting them to protect the climate would be good for farmers, but bad for pesticide and fertilizer interests.)
The essential message of Climate of Hope, however, is that every one of the separate market and political failures that threaten the climate has its own unique source and solution—each requiring a different approach and reform, all making us better off. CFC’s, for example, cooling and refrigeration chemicals were deployed to replaced ozone depleting predecessors with inadequate testing. Because of their extraordinary ability to prevent solar radiation from bouncing back into space, they loomed as a huge future climate risk. But just as an international treaty—the Montreal Protocol—got rid of the risk of ozone depleting chemicals—the ozone layer is now healing—an amendment to that same treaty is now going to replace HFCs with climate safe alternatives.
Carbon emissions from deforestation mostly stem from illegal logging—so ending corruption and cracking down on the trade in contraband timber are key climate solutions. Methane emissions from rice paddies require better irrigation and cropping practices in rural areas, while methane from urban trash can be prevented by cities deciding to compost garbage instead of dumping it in landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are soaring because nations subsidize over-fertilization instead of helping farmers figure out how much fertilizer their crops can really utilize. Black carbon from diesels will end as soon as we require all the world’s fuels to be refined to eliminate sulfur contamination, something cities and ports are initiating. But black carbon from biomass cooking in developing countries demands giving poor families access to clean cooking fuels—either ethanol from crop wastes or LPG gas currently being wasted and flared.
That diversity of solutions requires a diversity of leaders—yes, presidents, prime ministers and diplomats, but also mayors, CEO’s, school board members, architects, procurement officers, rural co-op directors, governors, municipal utility executives, hedge fund managers, college trustees and rear admirals. And properly chosen climate solutions will make each of those jobs easier, and enable those who hold them to deliver better results.
American Wind Energy Association
11 Reasons to Celebrate Wind Energy’s Record Year
By John Hensley April 19, 2017
11 Reasons to Celebrate Wind Energy’s Record Year
AWEA released its U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2016 today, which showcases strong, steady growth throughout the year.
Wind power became the largest source of renewable generating capacity and supplied record amounts of wind energy to many parts of the country. Strong wind project construction, a growing manufacturing sector and the increasing need for wind turbine technicians and operators allowed the industry to add jobs at a rate nine times faster than the overall job market, as wind employment grew to a record 102,500.
Technology advances resulted in more productive turbines, with recent generations achieving average capacity factors more than 40 percent, all while costs continued to fall. And the industry saw the installation of the country’s first offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island.
Here are the top 11 wind industry trends in 2016:
- Record Wind Jobs
For the first time in history, there are more than 100,000 Americans employed in the U.S. wind energy industry. Strong wind construction activity throughout the year, combined with a strengthening wind manufacturing sector and growing need for personnel to operate and maintain more than 52,000 wind turbines, allowed the industry to add nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2016.
That brings total U.S. wind industry jobs to 102,500. Impressively, the U.S. wind industry added jobs more than nine times faster than the overall economy. Strong wind project installation, construction, and development activity, combined with strong wind-related manufacturing activity, and over 52,000 wind turbines to operate and maintain, led wind jobs to grow 16.5 percent. That’s compared to 1.8 percent for the overall U.S. job market.
- Wind #1 Source of Renewable Generating Capacity
Wind energy passed hydroelectric power to become the number one source of renewable generating capacity in 2016. With federal policy stability secured, the U.S. wind industry installed 8,203 megawatts (MW) in 2016 and the industry now has 82,143 MW installed overall, enough wind power for the equivalent of 24 million American homes.
- Generation Records Set
Wind energy delivered more than 30 percent of the electricity produced in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016. Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, while 20 states now produce more than five percent of their electricity from wind energy. ERCOT, the main grid operator for most of Texas, and SPP, which operates across parts of 14 states, competed for new wind power penetration records throughout 2016, both topping 50% wind energy on several occasions.
- U.S. Manufacturing Sector Growth
Wind energy continues to fuel the domestic manufacturing sector, with more than 500 factories across 41 states producing components for the U.S. wind industry in 2016. Domestic wind-related manufacturing jobs grew 17 percent to more than 25,000 as three new factories began supplying the wind industry and five plants expanded production.
- Technology Boosts Productivity
Technological advances allow wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, and more sophisticated control systems are increasing the amount of electricity modern wind turbines generate. Wind turbines built in 2014 and 2015 achieved capacity factors more than 40 percent during 2016. At the same time, the cost of wind energy dropped more than 66 percent between 2009 and 2016.
- Corporations and Utilities Want Wind
Fortune 500 companies, electric utilities and others signed 47 power purchasing agreements totaling more than 4,000 MW during 2016. In doing so, they cited the declining costs and stable price of wind power as factors. Utilities submitted Integrated Resource Plans detailing at least 14,000 MW in wind power additions in the past two years.
- Record Wind Enters Queue
67 gigawatts of newly proposed wind projects were added to interconnection queues in 2016, the largest since the addition of 67.3 GW in 2009. This brings total wind capacity in the queues to 136.8 GW, the highest level in five years.
- Improving the Transmission Grid
Transmission expansion to serve wind continues, particularly in MISO and SPP. A number of proposed interregional Direct Current transmission lines have now also cleared final permitting hurdles. In total, transmission projects that could support the delivery of nearly 52,000 MW of wind energy over the next five years are currently under development, though not all are likely to be built.
- Wind Benefits Every State
More than 74 percent of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities, including 77 percent of Republican districts and 69 percent of Democratic districts. The industry invested more than $14.1 billion in new wind projects and supported 102,500 jobs across all 50 states.
- Wind Reduces Emissions and Saves Water
Operational wind projects avoided 393 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and 243 million pounds of nitrogen oxide. These pollutants create smog and trigger asthma attacks, so reducing them saved $7.4 billion in public health costs last year. Meanwhile, operating wind projects avoided the consumption of 87 billion gallons of water, equivalent to 266 gallons per person in the U.S.
- Offshore Wind Debut
The first offshore wind project in the U.S. began operating in late 2016. The five turbine, 30 MW Block Island wind farm is located three miles off the coast of Rhode Island, near Block Island.
It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It
By James Wilt April 21, 2017
For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.
That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.
Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.
Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.
“It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.
Oilsands Tailings Plans Nonexistent
The history of tailings regulations is a short one in the province: there simply hasn’t been anything binding. Toxic tailings have been allowed to expand for decades without any real constraints. The last attempt by the province’s energy regulator to require companies “to minimize and eventually eliminate long-term storage of fluid tailings in the reclamation landscape” completely failed.
Every single company breached their own targets.
Directive 085, introduced by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in July 2016, is intended to rectify that.
On March 17, the AER somewhat surprisingly rejected the first tailings management plan that was submitted under the new rules by oilsands giant Suncor for a series of reasons, including its uncertain timelines and reliance on the “unproven technology” of end pit lakes or water capping (the practice of sealing fine tailings under freshwater with the expectation ponds will evolve into healthy aquatic ecosystems).
“What this most recent rejection of Suncor’s proposal suggests to me is they haven’t done the work, and they’re not yet doing the work,” Olszynski says.
“And they need to do the work.”
Provincial Auditor General Warned of Risk of Oil Price Drop
In July 2015, provincial auditor general Merwan Saher issued a harsh indictment of the fund intended to ensure that Albertans won’t be on the hook for reclamation expenses when oilsands and coal mines shut down.
At the time, only $1.57 billion was held as security deposits in the Mine Financial Security Program for all of Alberta’s reclamation liabilities, worth an estimated $20.8 billion.
As of September 2016 that total is now $1.38 billion with oilsands companies responsible for $940 million of the total. The other $19 billion or so is expected to be paid by companies in the last 15 years of a project’s life, with reserves effectively serving as collateral — but that’s a risky approach, especially with declining oil prices.
There is a “significant risk that asset values…are overstated,” Saher said..
“If an abrupt financial and operational decline were to occur in the oilsands sector,” wrote the auditor general., “It would likely be difficult for an oilsands mine operator to provide this security even if the need for the security was identified through the program.”
Oilsands Accounting Expert Says Situation Is “Major Concern”
That very thing has happened.
Thomas Schneider, assistant accounting professor at Ryerson University who has written extensively on oilsands liabilities, said in an interview that “it’s a major concern” given the recent decline in asset values.
“The main asset securing the liabilities now as per the government and people of Alberta — and ultimately Canada I guess as I don’t know who’s going to have to pay for it if it doesn’t get cleaned up — are supposedly the assets in the ground,” he told DeSmog Canada. “That’s where it stands right now.”
The province’s $20.8 billion estimated liability is already based on shaky market grounds; the asset-to-liability approach considers “proven” (90 per cent likely to be commercially viable) and “probable” (only 50 per cent likely to be commercially viable) reserves as equally valuable, allowing companies to avoid putting in additional securities to the fund so long as assets are assessed at three times that of liabilities.
It’s a potentially troubling prospect in the era of massive write-downs of reserves by the likes of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.
Schneider says at this point in time, the government is supposed to re-evaluate the asset-to-liability ratio and require companies to cover off any missing securities with letters of credit or other financial instruments.
A government spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about whether the government has taken a recent look at the ratio.
No Definite Plan A and Definitely No Plan B For Oilsands’ Tailings
Companies and industry groups are putting a lot of work into developing new technologies to deal with tailings.
Nina Lothian, senior analyst at Pembina, said in an interview with DeSmog that there are pros and cons to every tailings technology — end pit lakes, centrifuges, atmospheric fines drying, consolidated tailings — with no clear best choice. Based on the recent rejection of Suncor’s plan, it’s clear the AER is expecting more from companies.
However, there’s the obvious related problem of if those plans fail.
The AER has established an unfortunate reputation in some circles for failing to implement required monitoring and enforcement actions to ensure compliance when it comes to pipeline safety and orphaned wells.
Lothian says that end pit lakes are considered a bit of a “silver bullet” by industry.
The Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a joint effort by 13 companies, has long planned to build a Demonstration Pit Lakes Project, made up of over a dozen test water bodies and based off of learnings from Syncrude’s Base Mine Lake. The alliance’s website still notes that “phase one of the project could move to construction with potential operation by 2017.” However, when contacted by DeSmog, a spokesperson was unable to provide any information on the status of the Demonstration Pit Lakes Project.
Olszynski says that it will likely require 15 years of monitoring data to know if any particular plan worked. He says that as a result, we wouldn’t have solid results until 2032. But the alliance hasn’t even started building the project.
“For me, the big problem here is we’re well into 2017 at this point, we’re staring down the productive life of some of these sites, and we do not yet have a proven tailings mitigation technology,” he says.
Recent Mining Disasters and Abandonments Point to Potential Dangers
As to whether or not security deposits are meant to include the treatment of tailings, Lothian says Pembina has had no success in answering that question.
Neither Alberta Environment and Parks or the AER have provided clear responses to Pembina. Lothian says that submissions from companies under the Mine Financial Security Program include related reclamation costs like land contouring and revegetation, but there’s no indication of whether funds have been set aside explicitly for tailings treatment.
“We know from all this work with the tailings management plans how many billions of dollars are associated with the treatment side of things,” she says.
In 2011, University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach wrote in an Alberta Oil article: “As long as companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation, there’s no reason to expect that deferring environmental security payments will appreciably increase investment.”
In other words, the “asset-to-liability approach” might not even have notably increased investments, and instead exposed Albertans to serious costs down the road if companies go bankrupt.
That’s assuming companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation.
There have been numerous examples in recent years that indicate mining companies can get away without fines or charges for catastrophic tailings breaches, most notably the Mount Polley mine disaster in B.C. and Peabody bankruptcy in the U.S. (the latter of which left around $2 billion in unfunded liabilities).
Provincial Regulator Has Variety of Options to Pursue, Critics Say
But regulators like the AER could take a different approach to avoid such financial disasters.
That could include providing clarity around what the Mine Financial Security Program actually covers, revoking leases for non-compliance, update calculations to acknowledge the distinction between “proven” and “probable reserves” and tap into financial instruments such as letters of credit which Olszynski describes as “bankrupt-proof.”
It would ultimately be up to the AER as an independent agency to craft new calculations for required security deposits or improve communication of the scope of the Mine Financial Security Program. But such shifts would likely require pressure from the government.
In fact, Premier Rachel Notley appeared reasonably convinced of that fact when serving as opposition environment critic, asking during Questioning Period in 2010: “will this government commit to eliminate the existing lakes of poisonous sludge within 20 years and to exercise all authority necessary to make sure it happens?”
However, since forming government the Alberta NDP has said little publicly about tailings management that served as contrast to previous decisions; Environment Minister Shannon Phillips responded to the 2015 report by the auditor general by stating: “We need to analyze whether the asset calculation needs to be changed. We need to update this security program and conduct that detailed risk analysis.”
Nothing appears to have been changed or updated since then.
“This is a really common strategy, where industry just kicks the can down the road over and over again until they are able to get out of cleaning up the waste themselves at the end of operations,” said Jodi McNeill, policy analyst, from the Pembina Institute, in a recent webinar.
“There’s a lot of reason for us to be very concerned.”
Why We Must March for Science
Dr David Suzuki April 20, 2017
Science isn’t everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.
Those determined to advance industrial interests over all else often attack science. We’ve seen it in Canada, with a decade of cuts to research funding and scientific programs, muzzling of government scientists and rejection of evidence regarding issues such as climate change.
We’re seeing worse in the U.S. The new administration is proposing drastic cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and others. Information about climate change and environmental protection is being scrubbed from government websites, and scientists are being muzzled. Meanwhile, the government is increasing spending on military and nuclear weapons programs.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging research, developing competing hypotheses and looking for flaws in studies. That’s how science works. But rejecting, eliminating, covering up or attacking evidence that might call into question government or industry priorities—evidence that might show how those priorities could lead to widespread harm—is unconscionable. It’s galling to me because I traded a scientific career for full-time communication work because good scientific information helps people make the best decisions to take us into the future.
Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world.
The March for Science website says organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”
The group’s 850,000-member Facebook page is inspiring, with “advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens” sharing personal testimonials about their reasons for marching and why science is important to them, along with ideas for posters and slogans, questions about the march, articles about science and exposés of climate disinformation sent to schools and science teachers by the anti-science Heartland Institute.
March participants are a wide-ranging group, from a neuroscientist who is marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to sci-fi fans who are marching “Because you can’t have science fiction without science!” to a scientist marching to honor “the many, many women and young girls interested or involved in science” to those marching “because we know climate change is real.”
Celebrating and advocating for science is a good way to mark Earth Day. I’ll be in Ottawa, where a march is also taking place. David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and I will launch our new book, Just Cool It!, at an Ottawa Writers Festival event that also features award-winning Nishnaabeg musician, scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions at the highest levels of society are endangering human health and survival. Our book is a comprehensive look at the history and implications of climate science, the barriers to confronting the crisis and the many solutions required to resolve it.
It’s discouraging to witness the current attacks on science, and the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, diminishing ocean health and other human-caused problems, but seeing so many people standing up for science and humanity is reason for optimism. Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.
Every day should be Earth Day, but it’s good to have a special day to remind us of the importance of protecting the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we all depend on for health and survival. Politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often short-sighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences. Standing together to make ourselves heard is one of the best ways to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.
Climate Nexus April 20, 2017
We Now Know Who Funded Trump’s Inauguration
Exxon, Chevron and other fossil fuel interests wrote big checks to fund President Trump’s inaugural festivities, according to Federal Election Commission filings released Wednesday.
Contributions from the energy industry totaled more than $7 million, with Hess Corp CEO John Hess donating $1 million, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Citgo Petroleum each chipping in $500k. Coal company Murray Energy, which gave enthusiastically to the Trump campaign while simultaneously laying off workers, threw in $300k.
For many of these donors, the early months of the Trump administration have been particularly fruitful: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who donated $250k, saw the president sign an executive memo ordering the construction of the ETP-owned Dakota Access Pipeline merely four days after the inauguration.
More than 1,500 corporate and individual funders for the inauguration raised $107 million all together—twice as much as Barack Obama’s inauguration raised in 2009, and more than any other inaugural event in history.
For a deeper dive:
New York Times, AP, InsideClimate News, The Hill, Politico
For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.
Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science
One Community’s Fight for Clean Air in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley
By Julie Dermansky April 19, 2017
It doesn’t take carefully calibrated measurements to realize there is something wrong with the air around the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana.
From a small plane, I photographed the petrochemical manufacturing facility, until recently owned by DuPont, noting its proximity to the community around its fence line. The emissions were horrible. Breathing them while circling the plant twice left me with a headache that lingered for hours.
The surrounding communities and I were inhaling emissions of chloroprene and 28 other chemicals, which the plant uses to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene.
Chloroprene is nasty stuff. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 toxicological review of the chemical resulted in the agency reclassifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen. Also according to the EPA, short term exposure to high concentrations of chloroprene can affect the nervous system, weaken immune systems, and cause rapid heartbeat, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes, among other health issues.
From Petrochemical Corridor to Cancer Alley
St. John the Baptist Parish lies in the middle of a stretch of land along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which contains more than 100 petrochemical factories. Once known as the Petrochemical Corridor, the area is now referred to as “Cancer Alley.”
According to the EPA’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks, residents near Denka’s plant in the town of LaPlace have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times higher than the national average. The population in six St. John the Baptist Parish census tracts closest to the Denka facility have the highest risk of air pollution-caused cancer in the country.
The DuPont plant emitted chloroprene for more than 40 years before selling the facility to Denka Performance Elastomer LLC, which continues to produce Neoprene. The only other plant in the United States that made Neoprene was another DuPont facility in Rubbertown, a heavily industrialized neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. It closed in 2008, moving its remaining production to the LaPlace plant in Louisiana, after pressure from workers and environmental groups.
Emissions Reductions Not Enough
Robert Taylor, a homeowner, lives in Reserve, a small, predominantly African-American community adjacent to the plant. He is one of more than 32,000 people who have possibly been exposed to chloroprene emissions from the plant for decades. He founded Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, and is a spokesperson for the group.
In January, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with the EPA, issued an Administrative Order on Consent to which Denka agreed. It requires Denka to install emissions-reduction devices by the end of this year that are expected to decrease the plant’s chloroprene emissions by 85 percent. Yet that reduction will still fall short of bringing its chloroprene emissions to the level recommended by the EPA.
The Concerned Citizens group doesn’t believe the measures settled upon go far enough. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), which is helping the group, concurs.
The group wants Denka to ensure emissions will not exceed the standard recommended by the EPA. It also wants Denka to cut production while the new devices are installed.
Marylee Orr, LEAN’s director, thinks the requests are reasonable. “The community has already been subjected to the chloroprene emissions for over 40 years,” she said. “How much longer should they have to wait to get clean air?”
While Denka has agreed to make some changes to reduce its chloroprene emissions before the end of 2017, which the company said would cost $17.5 million, it has not cut production. That would lower chloroprene emissions right away.
Denka emphasized that its operations are in compliance with its existing permit, which is true. However, the permit the company took over from DuPont was granted long before the EPA classified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen.
Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, meets regularly with Concerned Citizens of St. John to go over the results of air monitoring tests that EPA started six months ago. The results show that Denka’s emissions have increased since the monitoring began, with emission spikes that are hundreds of times greater than EPA’s standard.
State Downplays Concerns About Emissions, Health Effects
DEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown presented on the Denka plant situation at a St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting last December. Brown told the council that he came to bring them facts and to clear up fear-mongering surrounding the plant’s emissions.
The Concerned Citizens group worries that despite the measures Denka is taking, by not meeting the EPA recommended 0.2 milligram standard for chloroprene emissions, the air quality would not reach an acceptable level. Brown took aim at these concerns.
“That number was set for guidance,” Brown stressed. Only after all Denka’s emission-cutting measures are operational will it be possible to determine what the limit should be, he said.
Brown went on to downplay the significance of the air monitoring tests. He pointed out that spikes in emissions don’t reflect long-term exposure.
”It’s not like there’s a smoking gun somewhere in St. John Parish,” Brown said. “Believe me, if we felt there was an imminent threat, we would be taking the appropriate measures to deal with that threat. We’ve got these measures in place. We’re going to evaluate effectiveness. We’re going to continue to go through this together.”
He expects the emissions levels to start trending downward soon.
Brown also downplayed the risk of cancer. Chloroprene, he told the council, is a “probable” — not a proven — carcinogen. The Louisiana Tumor Registry, the state’s cancer registry, “doesn’t show any elevated levels of cancer at all in any group of people,” Brown said.
Louisiana’s state health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, followed Brown’s presentation at the council meeting. He called it promising news that the area doesn’t have an elevated cancer rate, and he doesn’t think the situation in the parish is a health emergency. Guidry did, however, acknowledge that “no one should have to breathe chloroprene.”
“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time”
But some contend that holding up the tumor registry’s results doesn’t give an accurate picture. “It’s impossible to tell from that data whether there is any increase in liver cancer, which is the type of cancer most clearly linked to chloroprene,” Sharon Lerner, The Intercept’s environmental crime reporter, wrote. Unless data is reported by zip code or census tract, detecting increases in particular types of cancer within the county is virtually impossible.
A new bill sponsored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson and supported by the Louisiana coalition known as the GreenArmy, could change that. The bill would require the state to track cancer by zip code and census tract.
“You can’t go by what the tumor registry says,” Geraldine Watkins, a member of the Concerned Citizens group who lives close to the Denka plant, told me.
“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time,” she said. “They will put down that someone died of pneumonia or a heart attack when they were in the hospital for cancer.” Watkins couldn’t think of a single household in her neighborhood where cancer hasn’t struck.
Members of the Concerned Citizens group who attended the council meeting were outraged by Brown’s presentation. “Brown mentioned Denka is spending $50 million, far more than what Denka has said it is spending,” Robert Taylor said. “Why is how much money Denka is spending a concern of Brown’s anyway? Shouldn’t his concern be the community’s well being?”
The Concerned Citizens group countered Brown’s presentation by making one of their own at a parish council meeting on March 28. They arrived wearing red t-shirts printed with “Only 0.2 will do,” emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions not exceed the EPA’s recommendation.
While the parish council expressed support for the Concerned Citizens group, it passed a memorandum endorsing the agreement signed by the EPA, DEQ, and Denka, which ignored the group’s concern that the emissions measures don’t go far enough.
Uncertain Futures for Cancer Alley Communities, EPA Programs
Concerned Citizens member Kellie Tabb was disappointed with the council’s move, but not surprised. Tabb has suffered her share of health issues: part of one lung removed, a carcinoid tumor, and a rapid heartbeat. “For the council to acknowledge that the measures being taken don’t go far enough to protect us would mean they’d have to do something,” she said.
Tabb had hoped that once the EPA stepped in, the community would be protected. But at this point her hope for clean air in LaPlace has evaporated. Now she says she is searching for the means to leave the area before the chloroprene causes her cancer to return and kill her.
The group worries that proposed EPA budget cuts could end the area’s air-monitoring program. The agency did not respond to my questions about how those cuts might impact that work or its programs that exposed the chloroprene emissions issue in the first place.
It is no surprise that the EPA program reviewing the health risks of chemicals is unpopular with industry and that it is one of the programs likely to be on the EPA chopping block. Without it, the EPA will no longer be making sure chemicals on the market and in the air — deemed safe by their makers — are, in fact, safe.
Taylor told me the group isn’t done fighting back by a long shot, though it is clear the odds are stacked against them. The Concerned Citizens group is considering taking legal action.
Taylor likened the gas attacks in Syria to what is happening to his community. He understands the outrage against people being attacked with chemical weapons, but doesn’t understand the lack of outrage over communities like his being slowly poisoned.
At one Concerned Citizens group meeting, a member left in frustration after stating that she thinks it will take people dying in the streets before they get clean air. At this point, Taylor isn’t even sure that would be enough.
Destroying EPA Protections Will Disproportionately Hurt Children
By Farron Cousins April 18, 2017
President Donald Trump’s proposed 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is devastating for anyone who isn’t financially connected to the fossil fuel industry. Reversing the course on projects that include reducing carbon emissions, protecting rivers and streams from industrial pollutants, and investments in renewable energy is not only bad for the planet, but it is a disaster for human health. And those most at risk of a potentially more toxic environment are children.
There are several reasons why children are more susceptible to pollution than adults, with the most obvious being that they spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come in direct contact with dirt, water, and plant life.
But the real danger to children lies in their biology.
As the Center for Disease Control explains, children require more food, oxygen, and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.
The CDC also says that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.
The CDC lays out how different types of environmental contaminants effect children differently than adults:
“Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children’s developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults.”
The last few decades have seen a reduction in the amount of environmentally induced illnesses in children as a result of stronger federal safeguards to reduce pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. As CNN notes:
“The Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most extensive studies of air pollution’s long-term effects, found that living in areas with higher pollution levels caused measurable damage to children’s lungs including respiratory infections, higher risk for asthma and reduced lung growth and function.
But it also found that children’s lungs have improved over the past two decades as pollution levels in the study area have decreased. The ongoing study, conducted by the University of Southern California, has involved more than 11,000 area schoolchildren since 1992. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, enforced and regulated by the EPA, has helped cut ground-level ozone — a component of smog — by more than 32 percent nationwide since 1980, according to the agency’s air trends data.”
These advances in child health could be undone if Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the EPA become reality.
However, it is important to also understand that the proposals do not necessarily do away with environmental protections (with the exception of gutting the Clean Power Plan). Instead, the budget and staffing cuts at the agency will prevent the EPA from effectively monitoring health and safety issues and governing corporate compliance with existing laws.
To put it bluntly, most of the safeguards will still be in place, we just won’t have anyone looking over the shoulders of a corporation to make sure they are obeying the law.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have pointed out that the majority of studies on the effects of things like air pollution and other forms of toxic exposure have focused only on adult populations or the effects on developing fetuses, leaving the area of childhood and adolescence inadequately studied to determine the full effects that pollution has on this population.
Unfortunately, the health-related costs (both in terms of money and life) are often omitted from discussions of environmental safety regulations. Instead, the conversations tend to focus solely on the compliance costs that businesses face.
This is why the conversation has to change.
The health-related costs of addressing pollution and climate change far outweigh the economic costs that businesses face, and a far greater number of people will be affected if these budget cuts become a reality. Public health is more important than corporate profits, and the collective health of the public will always suffer when the environment isn’t properly protected.
Overflowing landfills choke Puerto Rico amid economic crisis
By danica coto, associated press
TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico — April 21, 2017
At first glance, it looks like people have abandoned this rural community tucked into Puerto Rico’s soft rolling hills: the windows are shut, the doors closed and the gates locked.
But everyone is still here, just sealed inside their homes to shield themselves from the stench, flies and feral dogs of the nearby landfill that has expanded so much it is now just steps away their front doors in Villa Albizu near Puerto Rico’s north coast.
“You have no idea what it’s like to gulp in that smell 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Yahaida Porrata, whose house is roughly 10 steps from the landfill. “You have to shutter the house completely because you can’t breathe … If I had the money, I would have moved a long time ago.”
The majority of landfills across Puerto Rico are over capacity and groaning under tons of liquefied garbage seeping into the tropical soil and posing threats to people and the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nineteen of the island’s 29 landfills are violating federal laws, yet they still accept a large portion of the 8,500 tons of garbage that Puerto Ricans generate daily. The EPA has ordered local officials to close 13 of those landfills including the one in front of Porrata’s home because of the health risks they pose, but a decade-long economic crisis has prevented that from happening.
Puerto Rico is struggling to restructure a $70 billion public debt load that has forced the government to declare a state of emergency as its revenues dwindle. Officials say they are barely covering the costs of essential services such as education, health and public safety.
Municipalities say they simply don’t have the $3 million to nearly $30 million needed to implement the environmental and engineering measures to close a landfill. The government never required municipalities to set aside money for closures, according to the EPA. As a result, landfills keep expanding beyond their capacity as garbage piles up.
“This is a crisis,” said Carmen Guerrero, director of the EPA’s Caribbean environmental protection division. “This is one of the agency’s environmental priorities in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.”
The EPA has the authority to intercede when there’s an emergency situation, but it is Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board that is supposed to ensure that landfills comply. It is not clear why this hasn’t happened. Spokesman Aniel Bigio did not return multiple messages seeking comment.
Only two of the 13 landfills the EPA ordered closed have done so, while two others including the one in Toa Baja, where Villa Albizu is located, opened new areas that meet federal requirements. The EPA filed its most recent order of closure this month, and for the first time it was done unilaterally, meaning there is no room for negotiation with the municipality like in previous cases.
“The conditions are so critical and the threat so great to the population and environment that there was no other choice,” Guerrero said.
The order states the landfill in Toa Alta, just south of Toa Baja, must close by year’s end, something that residents there are celebrating. There are more than 100 homes and businesses within 400 yards (meters) of the landfill, which was originally built in a sinkhole that forms part of one of the largest and most productive groundwater sources in Puerto Rico. The landfill has since expanded 3 acres (1.2 hectares) outside its boundaries and lacks a system to collect liquefied garbage, control storm water runoff or monitor the groundwater to ensure it is not contaminating drinking water.
A water treatment plant that lies downstream from the landfill draws some 2 million gallons of water daily from a nearby river. The plant is closed and being renovated so it can draw up to 3 million gallons a day, raising concerns among residents in that area.
“This is the biggest environmental disaster I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Concetta Calise, who lives near the landfill and recently fought off a plague of flies. “I could not even open the door. It was horrible. I’ve never seen it like that before.”
But the mayor of Toa Alta, Clemente Agosto, told The Associated Press that he can’t meet the EPA’s deadline because the municipality can’t afford the estimated $15-$20 million to close the landfill. In addition, he said the municipality doesn’t have the money to pay for its garbage to be taken elsewhere if their landfill closes.
“We want to follow the law, but they have to give us time to find the economic means,” he said. “You just don’t throw a lock on it and that’s it.”
While he understands people’s frustrations, he said the municipality is in such dire financial straits he had to establish a four-day workweek to cut costs.
“We’re going to do everything in our power so that no one is affected by garbage collection or by operations at the landfill,” he said.
Residents in Toa Alta worry they will soon encounter worse problems than those Porrata faces in Toa Baja.
Porrata has a deep cough she can’t shake and her two teenage children have skin ulcers. They visit the doctor at least once a month, and Porrata has to wash dishes before and after using them because of the amount of dust that settles inside her house. Recently, she thought one of her children left powdered chocolate milk inside a cup only to find out it was dust.
She is forced to buy bottled water after the island’s water and sewer company warned them the tap water was not safe to drink.
“This has been a living hell,” she said. “I never saw this coming.”
Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has run out of rubbish
Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has to import rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. What lessons can we learn, asks Hazel Sheffield
Hazel Sheffield December 8, 20116
Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to landfill last year or any year since 2011.
We can only dream of such an effective system in the UK, which is why we end up paying expensive transport costs to send rubbish to be recycled overseas rather than paying fines to send it to landfill under The Landfill Tax of 1996.
The UK has made strides in the proportion of waste recycled under an EU target of 50 per cent by 2020. This has underpinned hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into recycling facilities and energy recovery plants in the UK, creating many jobs. We’re not quite at that target yet. Recycling in the UK peaked at around 45 per cent of all waste in 2014.
Since then, provisional figures from the ONS have shown that figure has dropped to 44 per cent as austerity has resulted in budget cuts. The decision to leave the EU could be about to make this situation worse. While Europe is aiming for a 65 per cent recycling target by 2030, the UK may be about to fall even further behind its green neighbours.
Why are we sending waste to Sweden? Their system is so far ahead because of a culture of looking after the environment. Sweden was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991 and now sources almost half its electricity from renewables.
“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse,” says Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association.
Over time, Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the freezing Swedish winter. “That’s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel,” Ms Gripwell says.
Sweden’s heating network is not without its detractors. They argue that the country is dodging real recycling by sending waste to be incinerated. Paper plant managers say that wood fibre can be used up to six times before it becomes dust. If Sweden burns paper before that point it is exhausting the potential for true recycling and replacing used paper with fresh raw material.
Ms Gripwall says the aim in Sweden is still to stop people sending waste to recycling in the first place. A national campaign called the “Miljönär-vänlig” movement has for several years promoted the notion that there is much to be gained through repairing, sharing and reusing.
She describes Sweden’s policy of importing waste to recycle from other countries as a temporary situation. “There’s a ban on landfill in EU countries, so instead of paying the fine they send it to us as a service. They should and will build their own plants, to reduce their own waste, as we are working hard to do in Sweden,” Ms Gripwall says.
“Hopefully there will be less waste and the waste that has to go to incineration should be incinerated in each country. But to use recycling for heating you have to have district heating or cooling systems, so you have to build the infrastructure for that, and that takes time,” she adds.
Swedish municipalities are individually investing in futuristic waste collection techniques, like automated vacuum systems in residential blocks, removing the need for collection transport, and underground container systems that free up road space and get rid of any smells.
In the UK, each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle and where. “We need more of a coherent national strategy in England to the collection of recyclable materials, rather than the current approach, whereby it is largely left to individual local authorities to determine their own collection policies,” says Angus Evers, partner at Shoosmiths and a convenor of the UK Environmental Law Association’s Waste Working Party.
Local authorities will often start by recycling the highest volume materials because they are measured according to the proportion of waste recycled, so bigger items count for more. “Whatever we end up with in the UK, we need a system which collects all recyclable materials rather than cherry-picking the easiest and cheapest,” says Richard Hands, chief executive of ACE UK, the drink carton industry’s trade association.
Mr Hands points to his own drinks carton industry, which includes Tetra Pak, SIG Combibloc and Elopak. Through ACE UK, these brands have driven up carton recycling, more than doubling the number of local authorities collecting cartons from 31 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2016.
He says that the UK needs to build infrastructure around recycling plants so that it can stop sending waste overseas. Some local authorities already have a “no export” policy to achieve this. “Growing the UK waste industry will create jobs and generate UK-based revenue for the economy,” Mr Hands says.
Angus Evers says a better domestic recycling system should be a part of our strategy for leaving the EU. “The materials we currently export represent a huge drain of valuable resources going out of the UK that could be used in the UK economy to make new products and reduce our imports of raw materials. If we have aspirations to be less dependent on Europe, then we need to be more self-sufficient and recycle more,” Mr Evers says.
And what will Sweden do if we stop sending it rubbish to feed its heating system? Ms Gripwall says the Swedes will not freeze – they have biofuels ready to substitute for our exported waste.
120,000 Americans Demanded Trump’s Taxes This Weekend, Organizers Say
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns was his biggest violation of norms of conduct for presidential candidates—and most Americans are still mad.
By Joshua Holland April 15, 2017
On Tax Day, April 15, protesters in Goshen, NY, marched in a rally organized by the Orange County Democratic Women to demand that President Trump release his tax returns. (Courtesy of Orange County Democratic Women)
Donald Trump and his surrogates claim that the public doesn’t care about his tax returns. Polls consistently find that they’re dead wrong, and even most Republicans think he should release them.
On Saturday, at least 120,000 people took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities across the country to drive that point home, according to an unofficial estimate provided to The Nation by Joe Dinkin, national communications director for the Working Families Party, one of a coalition of 69 groups behind the protests.
As one might expect, there were big crowds in New York and DC and Los Angeles and in other big blue cities. But forecasts calling for scattered showers didn’t keep around 350 protesters from coming out in Goshen, New York, a bedroom community of around 15,000 mostly white people, 65 miles or so north of Manhattan.
In a scene that played out in small towns across the country, residents marched with homemade signs down Goshen’s main street, which is called Main Street and is lined with American flags and blooming fruit trees. Goshen’s no liberal enclave–it’s located in Orange County, which went for Trump by six points in 2016, and there’s only one Democrat on the town council. (One marcher told me that the community is more or less equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, “but Democrats don’t vote.”)
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that “someone should look into who paid” for the rallies–likely referring to a popular conspiracy theory on the right which holds that protests against Trump are funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. But in Goshen, that someone was a middle-aged woman named Joan Hutcher, treasurer of Orange County Democratic Women, who was passing around a jar stuffed with coins and crumpled bills to support the group’s work. She wore a t-shirt which read, “And You Thought I Was A Nasty Woman Before? Buckle Up Buttercup.” Before I could finish asking if her organization has seen an uptick in enthusiasm since Trump’s win, Hutcher cut me off by saying, “It’s been tremendous.”
“People are really wound up,” she said. “What you hear over and over again are things like, ‘I’ve never been active in politics but this is just not acceptable,’ or I’ve never done anything like this but I can’t take it anymore.’ People are really angry and really frightened.” She said that the Tax March was especially important to her “because his conflicts of interest seem overwhelming but we don’t really know. We have no idea.”
In one sense, the Tax March was narrowly focused, but the salience of Trump’s refusal to release his taxes goes beyond what they might reveal about his net worth or potential conflicts of interest. It was his biggest violation of long-agreed-upon norms of conduct for presidential candidates—as Kevin Kruse wrote for Esquire, he was the first candidate to refuse to release a detailed accounting of his finances since Watergate—and he got away with it. The same media that reported almost obsessively on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server, another process story, largely forgot about Trump’s taxes. We can’t know what’s in Trump’s head, but having gotten away with being the least transparent candidate in modern presidential history signaled that he could run the least transparent administration –and continue profiting from the family business–with impunity.
Legal experts say that his refusal to divest from the family business almost certainly violates the constitution’s emoluments clause. As David Cole wrote in The New York Review of Books:
Trump has somewhat gleefully asserted that the conflict-of-interest rules don’t apply to the president. He mixed together personal business and official diplomacy during several meetings and conversations with foreign officials during the transition. And despite his widespread private holdings in commercial real estate, condominiums, hotels, and golf courses here and around the world, he has refused to follow the lead of his predecessors by selling his assets and placing the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he has transferred management, but not ownership, of the Trump Organization. He retains his ownership in full. And he has assigned operational responsibility not to an independent arm’s-length trustee, but to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr.
And just this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s re-election committees “continued to direct funds to his companies in the first quarter of the year, paying close to $500,000 to Trump-owned hotels, golf clubs and restaurants.”
THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.
In all likelihood, what we know of these kinds of conflicts barely scratches the surface. One thing that makes it difficult to hold Trump accountable is the opacity of his holdings. In December, The Wall Street Journal offered an example of the labyrinthine nature of Trump’s holdings in the form of a helicopter Trump owns in Scotland. “To be more precise,” wrote Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont, and Lisa Schwartz, “he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage.”
Trump’s taxes would probably reveal more hidden conflicts. Perhaps more important, enforcing the norm that presidents must be transparent about their personal finances—and the law barring them from profiting from the office—would signal that Trump isn’t an emperor and can’t just operate above the law with impunity.
After promising repeatedly to release his taxes at some point in the future, Trump’s made it clear that he never will. Congress has the power under a 1924 law to force his hand, but in February, 229 House Republicans voted to keep his tax returns from the public. Their refusal to provide oversight is why Democrats winning back the House in 2018 is so important. Ultimately, it’s also why tens of thousands of Americans felt that they needed to take to the streets last weekend.
Chicago Suntimes Editorial
Because of EPA, Chicago is cleaner and safer — let’s not go back
Chicagoans today, compared to our grandparents’ generation, can breathe a lot more easily because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Our air is clearer. Our water cleaner. Our children healthier.
The battle over the EPA’s budget may be waging far away in Washington, but many of the agency’s big success stories can be found right here in the Chicago area. To go back now on that commitment to a cleaner environment would be foolish. To return to the days of ozone alerts and children eating peeled lead paint would be unconscionable.
In Washington, President Donald Trump wants to cut the EPA budget by 31 percent, hobbling an agency we rely on every day, even if we don’t know it. A fifth of the agency’s positions would be eliminated, and Trump wants to slash scientific research.
That would matter plenty to Chicago, a city on the precious Great Lakes that has moved on — but is still cleaning up — from a heavily polluted industrial past. A city that likes its fancy new Riverwalk, which would be folly if the Chicago River were still the open sewer it once was.
Reminders of why Chicago should support a fully functioning EPA are all around us.
- Municipal sewage treatment plants throughout the region have been updated to EPA standards, making water cleaner. The EPA also took a lead role in ensuring that wastewater from sewage treatment plants is disinfected before it is discharged into Chicago area waterways.
- The EPA has coordinated a multiyear effort to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The EPA also plays a role in preventing new invasive species from being dumped into the lakes from the ballast water of oceangoing ships.
- When the operators of BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, wanted send more toxic pollution into the air, that was OK with the State of Indiana. But the EPA stopped it. In 2007, when the refinery got a permit to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into Lake Michigan each year, the EPA stopped that, too.
- Dangerous heavy metals from an H. Kramer and Co. smelter that got into residential yards in Pilsen will be cleaned up because of an EPA investigation. The EPA also cleaned up the site of the former Loewenthal Metals in Pilsen.
- The EPA provides funding for beach monitoring, so we all know when it is safe to swim.
- The EPA did a study showing mountains of petcoke stored on the South Side were causing chronic health problems. Only the EPA has the authority to install the monitors that measure the petcoke on surrounding neighborhoods.
- The EPA played a major role in detecting lead in the municipal water supply of Flint, Michigan – work that led to a program to get lead out of drinking water in Chicago’s schools.
- The EPA won a court fight in 1977 to reduce the amount of industrial waste getting into Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River from U.S. Steel’s Gary Works.
- The EPA runs the Great Lakes National Program Office, which plans for the protection and restoration of the lakes for years to come.
- With the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA is paying to dredging and remove toxic sediments in the heavily polluted Grand Calumet River in Indiana. If not removed, those pollutants eventually will move into the lake.
- It was the EPA that found that residents of East Chicago, Indiana, had lead in their drinking water. The EPA put 30 people on the ground to investigation environmental contamination from the former USS Lead site in East Chicago.
The U.S. EPA’s budget already has been squeezed in recent years. If its budget now is decimated, that will hobble the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, too. The IEPA gets a fifth of its funding from the U.S. EPA.
Our city, region and state cannot afford such cuts. Too much work remains undone throughout the region.
As Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, put it: “Everybody has a basic belief they will have clean air and water without having to wake up in the morning wondering if that is going to happen.”
The proposed cuts to the EPA are huge. If they go through, you can bet Chicago will be wondering what might happen again.
Inside the renegade Republican movement for tackling climate change
Will the GOP listen?
by Alesandra Potenza April 7, 2017
When Alex Bozmoski was in college, he didn’t believe climate change was real. He was “a very active conservative Republican,” he says, who “loved making noise.” In high school, he started a newspaper called The Right Idea; the logo was an eagle gripping a Christian cross. And at Georgetown University, after George W. Bush won the election in 2004, he carried a cardboard cutout of the president around campus until he was tackled by a liberal student and Bush was broken in half.
So when Bozmoski enrolled in a climate science class taught by Nathan Hultman, his primary goal was to heckle the professor. But every time he brought up something he had heard on a conservative radio talk show, Hultman asked him to back up those claims with actual scientific evidence. Soon, Bozmoski realized climate skepticism was unfounded, and that climate change is a very serious issue that his own political party was completely ignoring.
“I felt alienated that my tribe has been so out of the loop and not even working on it,” Bozmoski says. “To me, it seemed like just an easy way out, like a coping mechanism more than a governing strategy.”
“I felt alienated.”
So a few years after his college graduation, Bozmoski began traveling around the country, speaking to conservatives about climate change and free-market options to tackle it. He visited church groups, federalist societies, chambers of commerce, universities — alone or together with Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who introduced a bill to tax carbon emissions. (Inglis’ views on climate change cost him his House seat in 2010.) As Bozmoski did more of these talks, he says, “it became pretty clear that when people heard from us, a lot of conservatives were very motivated to get involved.”
In 2014, Bozmoski and Inglis founded republicEn, a group of about 3,000 people all over the US trying to create a grassroots movement of “conservative climate realists.” “We want to give them a voice,” Bozmoski says. “We want members of Congress to see that big chunks of their conservative constituency are deeply passionate about the environment and care deeply about taking responsible action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
It’s not just Bozmoski and Inglis — or even just their group. Around the US, conservative leaders and organizations are trying to get people on the right involved in conservation, renewable energy, and climate change action. They do it by appealing to whatever it is these constituents care about: economic growth, hunting wildlife, or national security. The goal is making sure the US is prepared to tackle one of the most serious challenges facing our country and our planet — global warming.
Some in the GOP are taking notice. In February, a group of Republican elder statesmen released a proposal to tax carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. And in March, a group of more than a dozen GOP lawmakers introduced a climate change resolution to the House of Representatives, calling for action against the looming threat of rising sea levels and warming temperatures. “It’s important that we take climate change very, very seriously because the threats that are posed by that are very serious,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who signed the resolution, told The Atlantic. “I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”
“I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”
Unfortunately, many other Republicans are turning a blind eye to it. The GOP has a track record of opposing environmental regulation and a party platform that supports burning fossil fuels. Certain Republican members of Congress don’t even believe that global warming is caused by human activity. (It is, according to the vastest majority of scientists.) At the same time, Republican president Donald Trump, who called climate change a “hoax,” ran a campaign on the promise to bring back highly polluting coal. Last week, he signed an executive order to start dismantling the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. And his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is a known climate change denier.
The GOP’s stance is at odds with what many Republicans feel. A poll from last year showed that 71 percent of liberal / moderate Republicans and 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe that our planet is warming — and that number is increasing. (The percentage of conservative Republicans who believe in climate change has jumped 19 percentage points since 2014, more than any other group.) The majority of Republicans also support more funding for energy sources like wind and solar, and believe heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide should be regulated.
So why are Republican lawmakers looking the other way when it comes to global warming? They don’t live in Miami, says the city’s mayor Tomás Regalado, a member of the Republican Party. Residents there experience regular flooding from rising sea levels, and certain banks are very hesitant about granting loans for mortgages for 30 years, he says. “This is a real issue that people have experienced here,” Regalado says. “We have a problem, and [Republicans] have to recognize that this is not only a philosophical debate, it’s a real economic issue.”
The next town over, called Coral Gables, is facing similar problems. Streets and parks are flooded during high tides. “You look out your door, you see an octopus in your basement … or the mullets swimming around our parking lots, you get it,” says Mayor Jim Cason, also a member of the Republican Party. Cason isn’t waiting for Washington to step in — his administration has already been working on a sustainability plan for the town, and is updating building codes to increase the height of the most vulnerable facilities when they need repairs. But when I ask him whether he’s doing all this because his constituents are worried about climate change, and demanding action, Cason says residents actually aren’t expressing much concern. “Basically silence,” he says.
“you see an octopus in your basement”
Bozmoski believes that’s exactly why Republican lawmakers aren’t acting on climate change. “I think the answer boils down to one phrase that we hear over and over from members of Congress: ‘My constituents rarely call me about climate change. I rarely get phone calls about this. It is not on the mind of our constituents,’” Bozmoski says. It’s also true that the fossil fuel industry overwhelmingly gives campaign donations to Republicans rather than Democrats. But in poll after poll, climate change does seem to be at the bottom of the list when Americans wonder what to worry about. And for conservatives, “it’s not a national movement right now,” Bozmoski says. So that’s the movement he’s working to create.
He travels around the country, telling people about global warming and ‘republicEn’s’ free-market vision for tackling it: no to subsidizing renewables; yes to a carbon tax; no to American export taxes; yes to government’s investment in basic research to find new forms of energy. To energize this still-infant grassroots movement — “we’re a scrappy bunch” — Bozmoski also talks about the science of climate change. If you don’t believe in the science, you’re out. “Moving past the science is not how we’re going to deal with this,” Bozmoski says. “The climate science is so central to the urgency of action that you can’t lose it and not lose the urgency.”
Other conservative groups, however, try to steer away from talking directly about climate change. “With older conservatives, if you say anything about climate, they immediately shut you down,” says Michele Combs, the founder and chair of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “The younger generation do not feel that way; they grew up recycling. It doesn’t have that stigma.” So Combs approaches the problem from another angle: energy reform. Her group, which counts 100,000 members, hopes to sway the national discourse over energy policy, by encouraging the use of renewable energy. To help conservatives embrace renewables, she often invites retired military generals to speak at her events.
The US Army has been vocal about wanting to boost clean energy. The advantage is twofold: US troops who rely less on oil can spend less time convoying that oil in foreign countries and risking to be blown up; and reducing greenhouse gases is paramount for addressing climate change, which the military sees as a serious national security threat. (Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events will lead to a more unstable, conflict-prone world, according to a Defense Department report.) When these respected military leaders speak to conservatives, it generally works, says Brian Smith, who used to work on renewable energy for the Defense Department and now volunteers at Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “I think it resonates with most people,” he says.
Combs says that climate change action is not the end goal of her group, but more of a side effect. “We come in with the clean energy, because cleaner energy is going to take care of the problem,” she says. A similar approach — when it comes to conservation — is taken by some conservative groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. The sportsmen’s organization focuses on preserving wildlife habitats, and protecting clean air and water on public lands, but it doesn’t address climate change directly. Conservation is what hunters have been doing for more than 150 years, says Land Tawney, the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, it resonates with hunters much more than a politicized term like climate change.
“I call them the flat-Earth society.”
The group works for keeping public access to public lands, so they’re not sold for private development. It also advocates for oil and gas development to be done in a safe way, so that core habitats and migration routes are kept pristine. If animals can move more freely and expand their ranges, they will be able to better adapt to warming climates, by moving to higher latitudes for example. This is, of course, just a step toward addressing climate change. “All the conservation work that we’re doing has an effect on that,” Tawney says. “You’re really still working on it but you’re not directly working on it.”
That’s not how all hunters approach climate change. Randy Newberg, a hunter and advocate for hunting on public lands, has no qualms about acknowledging the problem. “If you spend as much time in the hills as I do, I don’t know how you could deny that climate is changing,” he says. Deniers exist, “but honestly, I call them the flat-Earth society,” he adds. Many hunters see climate change as a serious threat to the wildlife and public lands they want to protect for future generations. That’s what’s been driving the conservation movement for decades in the US, and it should not be a liberal or a conservative issues, says Newberg, who identifies as an Independent. “Maybe I’m naive and too idealistic for today’s political world,” he says, “but I struggle to understand how is it that clean air and clean water and productive lands are a partisan issue. To me, they’re an American issue.”
For now, the White House hasn’t been very responsive, but it might be just too early to tell, says Bozmoski. Some proposals coming out of Washington — like the carbon tax and the climate change resolution — seem to bode well. “It really stokes our optimism on the Eco Right, that our family has gotten bigger and more powerful,” Bozmoski says. At the same time, he says, it will take time for Republicans to come together and put forward a climate change policy — they will need to get over the divisions within their own party and develop an actual policy. That’s what groups like republicEn are there for, Bozmoski says. And he has high hopes. “The prospects for a coalition of lawmakers moving forward with a solution is better now than it has been in any point since 2010,” Bozmoski says. “There’s no more pussyfooting around climate change out of fear.”
Huffington Post Politics
REUTERS April 17, 2017
Trump Advisers To Meet Tuesday To Discuss Paris Climate Agreement
Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal.
President Donald Trump’s top advisers will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to recommend that he withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, a White House official said on Monday.
The accord, agreed upon by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015, aims to limit planetary warming in part by slashing carbon dioxide and other emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. As part of the deal, the United States committed to reducing its emissions by between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal but he has been mostly quiet on the issue since he was elected.
A White House official said Trump’s aides would “discuss the options, with the goal of providing a recommendation to the president about the path forward.”
White House officials, led by the National Economic Council, have recently been asking publicly-traded energy companies for advice on whether to stay in the agreement.
Major publicly traded coal companies such as Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy confirmed to Reuters that they have told White House advisers it is in their interests for the United States to remain in the Paris agreement to ensure there was a global role for high-efficiency coal plants.
“By remaining in the Paris Agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy,” Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall wrote in the letter dated April 6.
The advisers expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Perry, a former Texas governor, at his confirmation hearings in January softened a previous position that the science behind climate change was “phony.”
Last week, Pruitt, a former Oklahoma Attorney General, said the United States should “exit” the agreement because it was a “bad deal” for the country.
The meeting comes ahead of a summit of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in late May, which White House spokesman Sean Spicer said was the deadline for the decision.
Politico on Friday first reported a possible meeting of Trump advisers.
An interview with Earth Day Initiative — and what you can do to help the planet.
Since its beginnings in 1970, Earth Day has become an annual to protect and consider the welfare of the planet on which we all live.
But we all know that concern for and commitment to the planet calls for more than one day. It takes sustained dedication and hard work — by environmentalists, elected officials, and everyday people who want the Earth and other non-human animals to prosper.
That’s why we recently sat down with John Oppermann, the Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative — an organization that promotes year-round environmental awareness and solutions through partnerships with schools, community organizations, businesses, and governments — to chat about the current state of environmental issues, how civic engagement has changed over the last few months, how we can all positively contribute regularly, and much more.
Check out the interview below, and be sure to check out environmental related petitions on Change.org, in addition to looking into the ways you can participate in Earth Day activities this Thursday, April 20th — and year round!
A.J. — Barack Obama and Donald Trump differ on their understanding and approach to environmental issues. What’s your take on the new administration, and how do you understand Earth Day Initiative’s role in this current milieu?
John Oppermann — There’s obviously a big divide in the two administrations’ views on the urgency of our environmental challenges. The Obama administration recognized the importance of coordinated action, working with businesses, government, and civil society to address our looming challenges, which obviously includes climate change. Obama also took a more global perspective of the issue,saw what was happening around the world, and made efforts to place America as a leader in the transition to clean energy and the fight against climate change. He made sure that we as a country were placed in the driver’s seat on a movement that he recognized was moving forward with or without us.
I think the current administration lacks an understanding of both the challenges that face us and the gift we’ve been given in the form of functioning institutions set up to protect our natural resources and environment. We’ve seen a lot of discussion on the lack of respect for science and the use of alternative facts to support one’s alternative reality. But I think equally important is the lack of respect for what we have done as a society. Fifty years ago we set up an institution to protect the environment we live in and depend on. We now take for granted the fact that we have clean air, clean water, and mechanisms for addressing environmental disasters as they arise. The rest of the world does not necessarily have that. Other countries are suffering from the terrible effects of uncontrolled pollution and mismanagement of natural resources. Just as some of these countries are waking up to the importance of protecting the environment, we’re at risk of forgetting what we came to realize 50 years ago.
Across the globe, particularly in the West, we’ve seen an increase in civic engagement around a host of issues. Will you say more about the changes you’ve noticed as it relates to the environment, and how is engagement different now than in the past?
It’s also an interesting time in that I see a lot of parallels to the time around the first Earth Day in 1970. A sort of perfect storm came together around that time with a mix of widespread activism, high-profile environmental disasters, and a general heightened awareness of humankind’s place in the global ecosystem. Just as that perfect storm helped turn out 20 million people for the first Earth Day and very quickly led to sweeping efforts to address environmental issues, including the creation of the EPA, I think the perfect storm of increased public engagement, high-profile climate-related natural disasters, and heightened awareness of our environmental challenges could lead to real progress in addressing those challenges. As scary as some of the latest headlines are, in terms of both environmental catastrophes and policies, we have reason to be hopeful that those headlines will push us to real positive action.
What are some of the biggest challenges you all face at Earth Day, and more generally, what do you think are the most pressing issues we face on a global scale?
The biggest challenge we face is complacency. While people seem to be very engaged right now, we must stay engaged all the time. People tend to get engaged in fits and starts. Environmental catastrophes spark people to take action. We should absolutely use those moments to galvanize people to do good on a broad range of environmental issues, but we really need people to be engaged all the time — not just in the wake of a catastrophe. Otherwise we risk backsliding into our past mistakes. We see this not just in the environmental field but across a broad spectrum of issues. We forget the constant threat of letting xenophobia go unchecked, of not standing up for the most vulnerable communities in our society, or letting powerful interests capture our governing institutions so that they start to serve their own interests more than society’s. The cliche that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is a cliche for a reason. The reason is because it’s true. So if we don’t constantly keep in mind the lessons of history and appreciate that we have environmental protections in place for a reason, we really are at risk of losing those protections.
Will you say more about the ways environmental issues intersect with other social concerns?
Environmental challenges and the way we address them definitely intersect in predictable ways with socioeconomic factors. Powerful and influential people are able to manage environmental challenges in ways that people who are less powerful and less fortunate are not able to. One thing that I think very much sets the current climate movement apart from the earlier environmental movement is that activists are making a conscious effort to build more inclusive coalitions. Climate activists are trying to make sure that the movement takes on more environmental justice issues that affect minorities, as well as traditionally disadvantaged groups. The earlier environmental movement was criticized for very quickly becoming a white and upper middle class movement, and the hope is that that mistake is not repeated.
You’re a professional activist and environmentalist, but how might the everyday person — the armchair environmentalist — play a role in bringing about substantive change in their own communities?
Every year the most common question we get is “What’s one thing I can do for the environment?” Earth Day acts as an annual touchstone for people to think about how they can do something to green their lifestyles, support an environmental cause, or just somehow make a positive impact. I think the challenge is people get bogged down by lists of dozens of things they could do to green their lifestyles. So we’re making it simple with a new campaign that we’re launching as a countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s aimed at cutting through the noise by asking people to do just one thing. We’re focusing in on the intersection between impact and convenience by asking people to sign up for clean energy via their utility bills. In some states you can sign up without even entering credit card information — you just enter your utility account number. It’s incredibly easy. By taking just a few minutes to sign up, you then have an ongoing impact, as every month your utility bill goes to support clean energy. You’re making a micro investment from dirty energy and supporting clean energy on an ongoing basis. And the way things are going right now, clean energy can use all the help it could get. People can check it out at countto50.org.
Earth Day is coming up. What’s on your agenda?
We’re looking forward to a few high-profile efforts to galvanize people around environmental action with the launch of our own Count to 50 campaign, the March for Science on April 22, and the People’s Climate March on April 29. It’s a lot of energy packed into the span of a couple of weeks. The fact that so much of this centers around Earth Day is heartening. It illustrates just what a pivotal moment that first Earth Day in 1970 was when people stood up and called for real action to protect our communities and the ecosystems we rely on. The fact that, 50 years later, this is the one time of year when such a broad swath of people take a moment to think about how we can live more sustainably together shows what a difference those organizers and environmentalists in 1970 made. It was the birth of the modern environmental movement. Now it’s time for the next movement.
A.J. Walton is the Senior Communications Manager at Change.org
Natasha Geiling, Reporter at ThinkProgress April 20, 2017
Scalia returns from the grave to pollute America’s water
A leaked draft of the Clean Water Rule rewrite circulating around Washington has Scalia’s legacy all over it.
On Tuesday, February 28, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the process of rolling back the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.
That rule was finalized in 2015, so Trump couldn’t unilaterally undo it with the stroke of a pen. Instead, he asked the appropriate agencies to rewrite the rule and redefine “navigable waters” — a term that has plagued courts for decades — according to the definition put forth by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2006. And while that might seem like a small change, legal experts say that directive could vastly reduce the federal government’s ability to protect the nation’s streams, rivers, and wetlands from pollution.
A draft of the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of the rule obtained by ThinkProgress confirms it is indeed taking an extremely narrow position in its definition of “navigable waters,” by applying Scalia’s opinion almost word-for-word to the rule rewrite. The draft, which has been circulating throughout the EPA and Capitol Hill for weeks, defines waters of the United States to mean only waters that have been used for interstate or foreign commerce, or interstate waters and wetlands, and requires such waters to be “relatively permanent.”
That would break considerably from a different opinion, also offered in 2006, by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who argued that waters could fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act if they have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.
“There is no way to quantify the impact except to say it would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act,” Pat Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email, after reviewing the draft. “It has no basis in science, law, history or sensible water quality policy.”
Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government can regulate pollutants from “point sources” into “navigable waters,” though Congress did not explicitly define what constituted navigable waters. That lack of definition has created a regulatory vacuum, especially in situations where it’s not clear whether a particular body of water is “navigable” in a literal sense — wetlands, seasonal streams and rivers, or tributaries. Courts have attempted to fill that gap through their own interpretation of the phrase, but a mishmash of rulings has left courts and the government without a universally agreed upon definition.
Instead, regulatory bodies and lower courts have relied on two opinions from a 2006 court case, Rapanos v. United States, which pitted a Michigan developer, John Rapanos, against the federal government. Years earlier, the government brought criminal charges against Rapanos, alleging that he had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping sand into wetlands without a permit. Rapanos was convicted, but appealed, arguing that the wetland was miles from anything that could be considered a “navigable waterway” under the Clean Water Act.
The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where a plurality of justices sided with Rapanos, denying the EPA’s interpretation of navigable waters as any waters that connect to traditionally navigable waters. That decision produced two opinions that have shaped water law and policy for almost a decade. Scalia’s interpretation, on one hand, relied on a dictionary definition of “waters” to define navigable waters as being relatively permanent waters, or having some kind of continuous surface connection to permanent waters.
Kennedy’s interpretation, on the other hand, defined waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act as waters that had a significant nexus to traditionally navigable waters. Kennedy also took issue with Scalia’s requirement that bodies of water be relatively permanent — under that definition, he argued, a number of rivers in the Western part of the country, which run dry for part of the year, would not qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.
“It would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act.”
Several legal experts told ThinkProgress that the leaked draft of the rules would constitute an unprecedented reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act. In addition to codifying Scalia’s opinion that the Clean Water Act should only apply to permanent and continuous waters, the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule also explicitly defines what counts as a tributary, something that was not spelled out in the Clean Water Rule. According to the draft rule, the Trump administration considers tributaries a continuously flowing body of water that has “relative permanence” — a fairly vague term that could open the rule up to legal challenges if it were finalized.
“If this rule were adopted, it would be an outrageous contraction of the scope of the Clean Water Act that is contrary to Congress’ clear intent, and this arbitrary reversal would never withstand review in court,” Karl Coplan, a professor at Pace Law School, told ThinkProgress.
But finalizing a rule based on Scalia’s interpretation in the Rapanos case could lead to legal trouble down the road for the administration. Lower courts have generally been split in their decisions about giving deference to Kennedy’s definition, or Kennedy and Scalia’s definition together. No court has upheld the Scalia opinion on its own — it’s always been taken in conjunction with the Kennedy test.
Read: Why the EPA’s clean drinking water rule is so controversial thinkprogress.org
That means the Trump administration’s rewrite directly contradicts how the Court of Appeals has been interpreting the Rapanos decision, and throws into question how favorably the Court of Appeals would view the Trump administration’s rule if it were ever challenged in court. And if the challenge were to reach the Supreme Court while Kennedy was still on the bench, convincing a majority of justices to side with the administration’s rule would mean convincing Kennedy to disagree with his own opinion in favor of a definition he rejected more than a decade ago.
“If the Trump administration proposes a new rule along the lines of what is in the current draft I would bet good money that it would be overturned in court, and I say that without even knowing how they might embellish the record or try to defend this new approach,” Mark Squillace, professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email after reviewing the draft.
Perhaps further complicating matters concerning the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule, industry groups close to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are reportedly pushing for the EPA to outsource rewriting the rule to private law firms. That would allow Pruitt to bypass career EPA employees who worked on promulgating the Obama administration rule, and would mean less public scrutiny of the decision-making process. Legal experts told Politico that such a move would be “likely legally doable,” but “almost unheard of.”
On April 19, amid rumors of outsourcing the rule-making process and Pruitt’s reported intention to rewrite the rule as quickly as possible, 26 environmental and conservation organizations sent Pruitt a letter asking the agency to reconsider basing the rewritten rule on Scalia’s opinion.
“We especially fear the damage that a final rule would inflict on the nation’s waterways if, as Executive Order 13,778 forecasts, it relies on a legal test that a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court rejected and that would weaken the federal rules so that they protect fewer resources than they have in several decades,” the letter read.
If the Trump administration moves forward and finalizes a rule based on Scalia’s opinion, the rule is certain to face a suite of challenges from environmental groups in court. And while the draft of the rule could certainly change before being finalized, Ann Powers of Pace Law School said that drafting a rule based on Scalia’s opinion certainly represents a step towards rolling back clean water protections for much of America’s wetlands and waterways.
“This is not a done deal tomorrow, but it is certainly a critical step in the path to undoing a great deal of protections for our national wetlands,” Powers said. “It would be very unfortunate if this were to be implemented.”
Thanks to Kiley Kroh.
Trump Office of Science and Technology Policy Jobs
Trump Doesn’t Appear to Be Hiring Anyone Who Studies Climate Science
Eleanor Sheehan April 20, 2017
President Donald Trump is demonstrably unconcerned with the environment. Following through with his campaign commitment to discrediting climate science to promote the fossil fuel industry, Trump’s administration has yet to fill the majority of positions at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The ofice currently employs only 44 out of the 114 positions that it did in Barack Obama’s administration, according to a list obtained by Motherboard — and none of them are climate scientists.
The OSTP was established in 1971 to encourage the president to make more informed policy decisions about science. While Obama was president, the office was responsible for orchestrating the administration’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, reports The New York Times. However, in President George W. Bush’s administration, the office only employed 50 people.
Read: New Head of the EPA Does “Not Agree” Humans Have Led to Climate Change
Of the positions Trump has filled at the OTSP, none of those include titles with the word “climate.” The positions at the OTSP center around technology and assist Trump’s innovation effort, which is currently spearheaded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. There are a few positions that employ scientists, but the titles are vague and it’s unclear what they do. Some of those jobs include “natural disaster resilience assistant director” and “senior policy adviser for oceans and the environment.”
Though Trump’s team has been atypically slow in staffing the White House, the OSTP’s vacancies seem to be intentional considering his stance on climate change. If Trump’s climate-science-denying Environmental Protection Agency director is any indication of how his administration plans to address global warming, it’s safe to say those positions will not be filled any time soon — if ever.
Salt Lake Tribune
Letter: Toward a safer, cleaner future
April 19, 2017
More scientists seem aware of the political reality of climate change, as there’s a March for Science this Earth Day. Why have they waited until the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, while the threat has been known since before it was 300 ppm? Don’t get me wrong, protest has a role in policy debate. A huge effort was required to change the previous administration’s stance on Keystone XL, but most scientists were silent. Many said they didn’t want to jeopardize funding.
The March for Science’s stated mission is championing for robust funding, but time is up for researching climate change. There’s a scientific consensus. When James Hansen addressed Congress in 1988, we could have protected our planet by reducing emissions 1 percent per year, but after decades of silence, it’s increased to 7 percent. To safely make this transition, many economists and politicians support legislation putting a modest price on greenhouse gas pollution that steadily rises and to refund the collected fees equally to every American citizen.
Perhaps the marchers could take public stances by sending letters to the editor and to our representatives to generate the political will for this step towards a safer, cleaner energy future.
Kevin Leecaster Salt Lake City
Kiley Kroh Senior Editor at ThinkProgress. April 20, 2017
Dow Chemical gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, now wants pesticide risk study buried. The chemical manufacturer also pushed for a potentially dangerous insecticide not to be banned.
Andrew Liveris, president and CEO of Dow Chemical Company, is quite pleased with the new atmosphere in the White House. Liveris, who also heads Trump’s American Business Council, has praised the president’s business sense and cheered the administration’s regulatory rollback, saying Trump and his team have “managed to move the ball in 45 days on regulatory reform more than in the previous eight years.”
Dow Chemical also joined several other major corporations in ponying up for Trump’s inauguration — giving $1 million to the organizing committee. Donors at that level “received tickets to a luncheon with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders,” CNBC reported.
Two months later, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, announced that he would not follow the recommendation of the agency’s own scientists to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that has been linked to severe health consequences, particularly in children and farm-workers.
Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. Dow has argued against a ban, claiming the science regarding potential health impacts is inconclusive. In announcing his decision to reject the ban, Pruitt said his agency was “returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”
Since then, Dow has already moved on to its next request. Last week, lawyers representing Dow sent letters to three of Trump’s cabinet heads asking them to ignore government studies regarding the harmful effects of a group of pesticides on endangered species, according to an Associated Press exclusive published Thursday.
“Over the past four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied,” the AP reported. “Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.”
Read: EPA rejects calls to ban pesticide linked to brain damage, the agency sided with the chemical company manufacturing the product, putting farmworkers most at risk. thinkprogress.org
As with its fight against the potential human health impacts of chlorpyrifos, Dow sought to cast doubt on the scientific findings regarding the threat its pesticides pose to endangered species. For years, environmental groups have pressured the EPA to more closely scrutinize the harmful effects of pesticides on humans and endangered species.
“Dow Chemical wants to suppress the science showing that chlorpyrifos is harmful to everything it contacts. It damages children’s brains, contaminates drinking water, poisons workers, and threatens to wipe out Pacific salmon and other endangered species,” Patti Goldman, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northwest regional office, said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “Each time independent scientists reveal the dangers of this pesticide, Dow commissions its own ‘science’ and tries to delay the inevitable — banning this outdated and harmful pesticide.”
Dow Chemical has devoted a significant sum of money to influencing policy and lawmakers — spending $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016 alone, according to the AP report. The chemical giant gave $250,000 to both the Republican and Democratic party conventions last year, according to Federal Election Commission records, and its corporate PAC spent more than $1 million in the 2016 campaign cycle, acording to OpenSecrets.
“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Rachelle Schikorra, director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, told the AP. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.” Thanks to Ned Resnikoff.
An infamous chemicals company wants Trump to kill a pesticides study that’s bad for business
Michael Biesecker, Associated Press April 13, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.
Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.
The letters, dated April 13, were obtained by The Associated Press.
Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities.
Over the last four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages showing the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.
The industry’s request comes after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month he was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains. In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than one dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.
Pruitt declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday as he toured a polluted Superfund site in Indiana. A spokesman for the agency later told AP that Pruitt won’t “prejudge” any potential rule-making decisions as “we are trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.”
“We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic and we are reviewing petitions as they come in, giving careful consideration to sound science and good policymaking,” said J.P. Freire, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs. “The administrator is committed to listening to stakeholders affected by EPA’s regulations, while also reviewing past decisions.”
The office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Natural Marine Fisheries Service, did not respond to emailed questions. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, referred questions back to EPA.
As with the recent human studies of chlorpyrifos, Dow hired its own scientists to produce a lengthy rebuttal to the government studies showing the risks posed to endangered species by organophosphates.
The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals. Similar results were shown for malathion and diazinon.
In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its “scientific basis was not reliable.”
“Dow AgroSciences is committed to the production and marketing of products that will help American farmers feed the world, and do so with full respect for human health and the environment, including endangered and threatened species,” the statement said. “These letters, and the detailed scientific analyses that support them, demonstrate that commitment.”
FMC Corp., which sells malathion, said the withdrawal of the EPA studies will allow the necessary time for the “best available” scientific data to be compiled.
“Malathion is a critical tool in protecting agriculture from damaging pests,” the company said.
Diazinon maker Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., which does business under the name Adama, did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Environmental advocates were not surprised the companies might seek to forestall new regulations that might hurt their profits, but said Wednesday that criticism of the government’s scientists was unfounded. The methods used to conduct EPA’s biological evaluations were developed by the National Academy of Sciences.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Dow’s experts were trying to hold EPA scientists to an unrealistic standard of data collection that could only be achieved under “perfect laboratory conditions.”
“You can’t just take an endangered fish out of the wild, take it to the lab and then expose it to enough pesticides until it dies to get that sort of data,” Hartl said. “It’s wrong morally, and it’s illegal.”
Originally derived from a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany, chlorpyrifos has been sprayed on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops for decades. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.
As a result, traces of the chemical are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.
In 2005, the Bush administration ordered an end to residential use of diazinon to kill yard pests such as ants and grub worms after determining that it poses a human health risk, particularly to children. However it is still approved for use by farmers, who spray it on fruits and vegetables.
Malathion is widely sprayed to control mosquitoes and fruit flies. It is also an active ingredient in some shampoos prescribed to children for treating lice.
A coalition of environmental groups has fought in court for years to spur EPA to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by pesticides, especially organophosphates.
“Endangered species are the canary in the coal mine,” Hartl said. Since many of the threatened species are aquatic, he said they are often the first to show the effects of long-term chemical contamination in rivers and lakes used as sources of drinking water by humans.
Dow, which spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016, has long wielded substantial political power in the nation’s capital. There is no indication the chemical giant’s influence has waned.
When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.
“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.
Rachelle Schikorra, the director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, said any suggestion that the company’s $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee was intended to help influence regulatory decisions made by the new administration is “completely off the mark.”
“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Schikorra said. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.”
Associated Press reporters Jack Gillum in Washington and Sophia Tareen in East Chicago, Indiana, contributed to this story.
The Rachel Maddow Show/ The MaddowBlog
Debate over pesticides enters Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’
By Steve Benen April 20, 2017
At first blush, it may seem like an obscure, technical debate. The Associated Press reports that a four-year review conducted by government scientists of three pesticides – chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – found that they “pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied.” Federal agencies are poised to issue findings on how to limit use of these pesticides.
The story takes on a broader political significance, however, when we consider what one of the pesticide manufacturers is up to. The AP explained:
Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.
Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.
As one might imagine, Dow is pointing to its own research, which is in conflict with the information compiled by government scientists.
If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s controversial far-right choice to lead the agency, decided two weeks ago to side with Dow Chemical – against the advice of the EPA’s researchers – on the use of chlorpyrifos, one of the insecticides in question.
Now, apparently, Dow Chemical wants Team Trump to side with the company once more.
And while I’m not privy to the administration’s deliberations, it seems Dow Chemical has reason to be optimistic about its chances. Not only is the Trump administration ideologically predisposed to agree with corporate interests over environmental interests, but in this case the ties between the company and the president run deep.
The AP reported added, “Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities…. When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.”
At a certain level, this is a classic elections-have-consequences moment. American voters were given a choice in presidential candidates, and just enough of them sided with the Republican who’d create conditions like these. The country is now stuck, at least for four years, with the consequences.
But stories like these also shed new light on what Trump meant when he vowed to “drain the swamp.” The phrase, a staple of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, has become a laughable cliché, but let’s not forget its purpose: the GOP candidate took aim not only at D.C., but also at the city’s culture and legal corruption. Trump assured voters that he – and he alone – would change how the system in the capital worked.
We now know that meant making things quite a bit worse. Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to Trump’s shady inaugural committee; Dow Chemical’s CEO became a presidential adviser; and now Dow Chemical wants its friends on Team Trump to “set aside” scientific research.
I’d recommend caution before entering Donald Trump’s Swamp. It’s likely to soon be filled with some potentially harmful pesticides.
Explore: The MaddowBlog, Culture of Corruption and Donald
Lorraine Chow April 19, 2017
Widely-Opposed Pipeline ‘Confirms Worst Fears’ After Two Spills Into Ohio Wetlands
Energy Transfer Partners’ new Rover Pipeline has spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio’s wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project only began last month.
According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline’s installation.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline’s construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.
Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project’s in-service date.
“Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved,” she said.
Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline’s construction.
“Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation,” said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.
“We’ve always said that it’s never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.
“Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer’s total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted.”
LA Times Editorial
Surprise us, Mr. President, and embrace the Paris climate agreement
Donald Trump has been president for only three months and already he’s given up or reversed course or been stymied on a wide range of campaign promises. Given how awful some of those ideas were — ending Obamacare, declaring China a currency manipulator, ordering a blanket federal hiring freeze (done, but since lifted) — it is not necessarily a bad thing for the country that he’s fallen down on the job.
Now, we’re mildly heartened to learn that Trump also may be moving away from his ill-advised campaign pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement of 2015, under which nearly 200 nations pledged to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
Climate change, of course, is viewed skeptically by the new president. He once described the idea that human activity is heating up the oceans and atmosphere in potentially catastrophic ways as “a total, and very expensive, hoax” that was “created by and for the Chinese” in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He appointed a climate skeptic, Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, a department Trumps hopes to reduce by 31%, according to the budget proposal he sent to Congress. The administration also is pushing plans to roll back Obama-era limitations on methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public lands (an effort that, fortunately, may die in the Senate), and to consider weakening the aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles established under Obama.
Trump also has drawn a target on the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to significantly reduce emissions from primarily coal-fired power-generating plants responsible for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gases.
That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign.
His hostility to the science of climate change poses a global risk. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter of carbon and other greenhouse gases. It was instrumental in crafting the Paris agreement, a milestone in international environmental cooperation even if experts say its goal of capping the rise in temperatures by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius isn’t ambitious enough if the world is to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
It’s slightly encouraging that there seems to be an internal debate underway between a set of Trump advisors who want the president to keep his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement and another set urging him to stick with the pact but loosen the Obama goal of reducing by 2025 U.S. emissions by up to 28% of 2005 levels. That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign that the president’s position could change, and that he might still join the rest of the world in trying to address the potentially existential threat of global warming. For the United States to back off from the Paris accord now not only would imperil the chances of global success, but would marginalize the U.S. as a leader in a defining issue of our era.
At the same time, if the U.S. were to stay in the Paris agreement while weakening the United States’ commitments, that still would be a losing proposition for the nation, and the world, given that emissions need to be even more sharply curtailed than already planned. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is a difficult challenge, but it needs to be done. Yes, there will be economic hits to the oil and gas industries, but alternative renewable energy already has become a significant part of the global economy and it is growing quickly. Given the worldwide damage that will be caused by rising seas — one estimate puts it at $1 trillion a year by 2050 — insuring jobs today at the expense of the future is the definition of penny-wise, pound-foolish.
The president is in a position to prove his critics wrong — to demonstrate that he can weigh (actual, not alternative) facts and frame positions based on reality and in the best interests of the nation. We invite him to do so by sticking with the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan, and by directing the government to find ways to reduce U.S. emissions even further. Those are steps that a sagacious and respected world leader would take. We hope Trump moves in that direction, away from his reckless campaign stance on this enormously important issue.
The Buffalo News
Even at Wyoming County food bank, unwavering support for Trump
Jerry Zremski April 16, 2017
PERRY – The crowd at a monthly food pantry in this Wyoming County town of about 4,500 turned out to be a perfect microcosm of the most pro-Trump county in New York, where 72 percent of voters pulled the lever for the rebellious Republican candidate for president.
Waiting to gather their food from a nonprofit that might have to shut down if President Trump’s budget becomes law, seven out of 10 people interviewed last week said Trump was still their man, their president, no matter what his budget says.
“I’d vote for him again 20 more times if I could,” said Hal McWilliams, 59, a self-employed contractor from Portageville. “Build the wall! …Democrats do everything in their power to destroy this country. Hillary Clinton was everything I am against. She was out to destroy the culture that made this country: Hard work, guns, freedom.”
Voters talk like that in every corner of this county of rolling farmland just east of East Aurora, where the 40,000 human residents are, according to federal statistics, outnumbered by the cows by a margin of about 2 1/2 to 1.
You will hear some strikingly different comments, though, from the people who run that food bank, from some of the county’s 16 town supervisors – all Republicans – and from some of the farmers who tend to those cows.
Many of them speak of Trump’s actions as president with varying measures of concern, none more so than Connie Kramer, executive director of Community Action for Wyoming County. The nonprofit, which runs that monthly food bank, projects it would lose about 90 percent of its funding if Congress were to approve Trump’s proposed budget.
“That is our core funding, and that definitely would cause us to look at the viability of the agency and whether it could continue,” Kramer said.
Praise for the president
Community Action runs a host of programs, from job training to rental assistance to housing weatherization, all funded by the Community Services Block Grant and other federal programs that Trump wants to eliminate or dramatically cut.
That seemed to be of little concern to most of the people packing their pickups with fresh produce and other items at last week’s food bank.
Told that the food bank was in danger, McWilliams shrugged and said: “I grow most of my own food anyway.”
Meantime, Reggie Clark, a 51-year-old chef from Castile, said he thinks Trump will back off from his budget cuts, which is possible, given that members of Congress oppose many of them.
What matters more to Clark is what he sees from the new president day in and day out.
“He’s about action,” said Clark, who didn’t vote for Trump but said he would do so if he could vote again now. “I believe he’s doing pretty much everything he promised to do.”
That’s what Keith and Bobbi Muhlenbeck think, too.
“We love him,” said Keith Muhlenbeck, 46. “We support him in everything he’s doing. He’s a businessman who knows how to get things done, and you can tell he has America’s best interests at heart.”
Washington pundits might be criticizing Trump for his recent reversals on a number of policy issues, including trade with China and the future of the Export-Import Bank. But Bobbi Muhlenbeck sees the president as a tough talker who stands his ground.
“I like that he doesn’t back down,” said Muhlenbeck’s wife, 49.
Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad found that out the hard way, her husband noted, citing Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base to retaliate for Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people.
“This country used to stand for something, and now we’re a joke,” he said, arguing that former President Barack Obama projected weakness – something Trump obviously doesn’t do.
“There’s iron in the glove now,” he said.
As for Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Muhlenbeck doesn’t worry that the food bank his family depends on will be forced to shut down.
“I’m sure they’ll find the money somewhere,” he said.
A troubled county
The Muhlenbecks, who live on government disability payments due to assorted ailments and injuries, were among about 200 people who lined up in a parking lot outside the Cornerstone Outreach Center for free groceries last week.
The line at the food bank should come as no surprise, given the state of the Wyoming County economy. Heavily dependent on agriculture, the local job market swings with the seasons. The unemployment rate sank to a mere 4.3 percent last August, but then shot up to 7.7 percent in February.
Beyond the farms, the county lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs over the past decade, and locals complain that young people continue to move away in pursuit of the jobs they can’t find here. The Census Bureau estimates that the county has lost 3.3 percent of its population in this decade alone, continuing a 20-year trend that has seen the county shrink by 7.2 percent.
In other words, Wyoming County is much like the struggling rural counties of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that made Trump president.
While Wyoming County has long been heavily Republican, Trump exceeded the vote total of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, by 8 percentage points here, as voters embraced his promise of bringing back jobs that had disappeared.
Locals – especially farmers – came to see Democrats as job-killers, several Wyoming county residents said last week. Farmers in particular pointed to an Obama-era regulation that expanded Clean Water Act protections to small wetlands and streams, a move that could have limited how farmers use the ponds and creeks on their own property.
“When you talk about why Trump did so well here, it’s things like that,” said Daniel Leuer, supervisor of the Town of Middlebury.
Trump quickly moved to repeal that Clean Water rule, and it’s those sorts of moves that make him popular here, said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, whose district includes Wyoming County.
“These folks don’t like government,” said Collins, a strong Trump supporter who himself fought that Clean Water rule for years.
Besides, people in Wyoming County could relate to Trump far better than they could Clinton, his Democratic opponent, said Tom Marquart of Marquart Brothers Farming, a dairy and produce farm in Gainesville.
“Hillary and Trump, they live in a different world, but at least he knows what the other world is,” said Marquart, who thinks Trump inherited “a big mess” and is doing his best to clean it up.
Despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, even some of the Bhutanese refugees who work as farm laborers here voted for Trump, said Pat Standish, founder of Angel Action, a Community Action effort that enlists volunteers to work on everything from early childhood education to emergency help for families in need.
“One of them told me that Trump loved the country more than his party,” Standish said.
Concerns about Trump
Now, though, the reality of the Trump presidency is starting to shake some Wyoming County community leaders.
The failed Republican health care bill would have cost the Wyoming County Community Health System $800,000 a year, the state hospital association projected, making matters far worse for an already-strapped rural hospital.
“We’re just hanging by a thread here,” A.D. Berwanger, supervisor of the Town of Arcade and the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said of the local hospital in Warsaw.
Meantime, Supervisor James R. Brick of the Town of Perry noted that his town and others could benefit from federal funding to expand their water systems. That’s something that could be included in the billion-dollar infrastructure bill Trump promised but hasn’t delivered.
Trump has, however, moved forward with plans to build a wall at the Mexican border. That could be troublesome, said Leuer, the Middlebury supervisor, because Mexico is a huge trading partner that buys dairy products from Wyoming County.
That’s just one reason some local farmers are starting to worry a bit about some of Trump’s policies.
Pat McCormick, a Wyoming County farmer who serves as a top official with the New York Farm Bureau, said farm labor shortages – a growing problem for several years – could grow worse because of Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrant workers. He also worries that Trump’s Department of Agriculture is not fully staffed and not prepared to deal with a Canadian government action that’s limiting the shipping of milk north of the border.
“I don’t agree with everything he’s done,” McCormick said of the new president.
Then there’s the matter of Trump’s budget cuts, which would cost 5,302 families in the county their home heating aid while probably shuttering Community Action, a nonprofit that essentially serves as an adjunct to the county Department of Social Services.
“Community Action is a key human services agency for us,” said Ellen Grant, supervisor of the Town of Bennington. “If they don’t have the funds to continue to operate, a lot of the services are going to fall back on our Social Services office.”
“Trump is a go-getter”
Those realities seemed not to matter much to the Trump supporters at last Thursday’s food bank.
Frances Daley, 90, of Castile, said she doesn’t agree with some of Trump’s budget cuts. But she quickly added: “I think he’s doing a good job. He’s more down to earth and speaks to the people. The Congress needs to cooperate with him more.”
A middle-aged woman, who identified herself only as Sherri, agreed that Trump is doing well – despite the roasting he’s taken in the mainstream media for the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, the palace intrigue inside the White House and a continuing stream of controversial tweets.
A resident of Java, Sherri complained that the Obama administration fought her effort to get Social Security disability payments and otherwise produced a stagnant economy all across the nation.
In contrast to Obama, “Trump is a go-getter,” she said. “There’s no bull … with him. He’s up front on everything.”
Not everyone in line at the food pantry agreed.
“I think he’s going to ruin the country,” said Carol Green, 53, a Clinton voter from Warsaw who worried that Trump sets a poor example for young people.
Yvonne Barnhardt of Silver Springs, who was collecting groceries for her 87-year-old mother, was fully aware of Trump’s budget cuts.
“He’s taking away stuff we might need,” said Barnhardt, 55.
Barnhardt didn’t do anything to stand in the way of a Trump presidency, though.
She’s not registered to vote. “I never thought about it,” she said as people in front of her in the line snagged their free groceries.