Donald Trump wants to bring coal back, even though it’s killing miners

Salon

Donald Trump wants to bring coal back, even though it’s killing miners

In his promises to bring back the coal industry, Trump has conveniently omitted his concern for miners’ health

 Charlie May     February 7, 2018

(Credit: AP/Steve Helber)

It’s no secret that President Donald Trump has vowed to revitalize the coal industry, an industry that has been on its last legs for probably far too long. But aside from all of the obvious flaws with the president’s logic to turn back the clock on fossil fuels and usher in an era of “clean coal,” one major flaw has been vastly overlooked: mining for coal is a fatally unhealthy means of employment.

In a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirmed “416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis or complicated black lung in three clinics in central Appalachia from 2013 to 2017,” NPR reported. The clinics are run by Stone Mountain Health Services, and they treat coal miners primarily from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia.

“This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,” Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist who was involved with the study told NPR. “We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990’s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen.”

Clinics would see roughly just under 10 cases per year, but are now seeing them as often as every two weeks — an unprecedented rate that has sparked concern, as well as calls for a national health emergency, NPR reported.

“We are seeing something that we haven’t seen before,” Ron Carson, who directs Stone Mountain’s black lung program, told NPR.

The only cure for the disease is a lung transplant, which is only applicable to miners who can safely undergo such a procedure. There is zero doubt that years of working in coal mines causes this type of lung deterioration, and the industry’s decline has played a significant role as well.

NPR elaborated: PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of the disease, which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines. Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air.

The NPR investigation also found that the likely cause of the epidemic is longer work shifts for miners and the mining of thinner coal seams. Massive mining machines must cut rock with coal and the resulting dust contains silica, which is far more toxic than coal dust. The spike in PMF diagnoses is also due to layoffs and retirements brought on by the decline in coal mining. Miners who had put off getting checked for black lung earlier began streaming into clinics, especially if they needed the medical and wage replacement benefits provided by black lung compensation programs.

PMF cases are also affecting much younger miners. In the 1990’s, for example, PMF was diagnosed to miners who were typically in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while now miners who are in their 50’s, 40’s and even 30’s — all with much less mining experience — have been diagnosed.

The study showed that “a high proportion” of miners had the disease, even with a “coal mining tenure of less than 20 years, which are indications of exceptionally severe and rapidly progressive disease.”

In his pie in the sky pledge to bring the coal industry back to life, put miners back to work and massively produce “clean coal” Trump has utterly failed to acknowledge the health ramifications felt by the American workers he has championed. That’s because his outlandish promises have always been intended for fossil fuel corporations, not its workers.

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon.

At Davos, Rick Perry makes bizarre claim about U.S. fossil fuel exports

ThinkProgress

At Davos, Rick Perry makes bizarre claim about U.S. fossil fuel exports

Exporting climate-destroying fuels is not “exporting freedom.”

Joe Romm    January 25, 2018

Rick Perry wtih Kellyanne Conway March 2, 2017. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rick Perry with Kellyanne Conway, March 2, 2017. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s big push to export fossil fuels should be seen as an effort to spread freedom throughout the world — since it gives countries another choice regarding where they get their energy.

“The United States is not just exporting energy, we’re exporting freedom,” Perry said during a Fox Business interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

For Perry, giving other countries a choice of who satisfies their addiction to climate-destroying fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas is somehow increasing their freedom. But it’s really exporting dependence and exporting carbon pollution.

If the U.S. were to promote zero-carbon fuels, like solar and wind power, however, that would free countries from dependence on anyone’s dirty hydrocarbons.

Indeed, the whole point of the landmark December 2015 Paris climate agreementis that more than 190 of the world’s leading countries unanimously agreed with the overwhelming science that says the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to leave most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground.

Today, thanks to Trump, the United States literally sits alone as the only one of those countries now saying it will abandon this global deal, after the last two other holdouts, Nicaragua and Syria, signed on last fall.

“There’s no strings attached when you buy American LNG [liquefied natural gas],” Perry told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “So that’s world-changing.”

Well, American LNG is world-changing — or, rather, climate changing — but not in a good way.

Back in 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy released an analysis of total greenhouse gas emissions from LNG. One of the country’s top methane experts told me at the time, “a close reading of the DOE report in the context of the recent literature indicates that exporting natural gas from the U.S. as LNG is a very poor idea” from a climate perspective.

More recent research paints an equally grim picture. A study in the journal Energylast month on the overall emissions impact of “U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports,” concluded that “emissions are not likely to decrease and may increase significantly due to greater global energy consumption, higher emissions in the U.S., and methane leakage.”

Total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for LNG are much higher than they are for regular pipeline gas because the liquefaction process is so energy-intensive and because there are even more leaks from that process and from shipping the LNG overseas.

Remember, natural gas is mostly methane, and some 86 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. And earlier this month, a NASA analysis found that the jump in fossil-fuel methane emissions in the past decade “is substantially larger than in previous literature.”

And if fracked gas domestically is part of the climate problem, then liquefying that gas and shipping it to other countries is an even bigger problem.

When you add in our exports of coal and oil, then America is one of the biggest exporters of carbon pollution in the world. And that is not exporting freedom.

Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 

EcoWatch

Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 

Lorraine Chow      December 29, 2017

                                                               Bureau of Land Management California / Flickr

The Trump administration is rescinding Obama-era rules designed to increase the safety of fracking.

“We believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified,” the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wrote in a notice published Friday in the Federal Register.

The 2015 rule required companies drilling for natural gas and oil on public lands to comply with federal safety standards in the construction of fracking wells, to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, and required companies to cover surface ponds that store fracking wastewater.

The regulation, however, never took effect after a Wyoming federal judge struck it down last year.

Fossil fuel groups, which sued to block the Obama regulation, unsurprisingly cheered the decision.

“Western Energy Alliance appreciates that BLM under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke understands this rule was duplicative and has rescinded it,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in a release. “States have an exemplary safety record regulating fracking, and that environmental protection will continue as before.”

But environmentalists and public health advocates have long warned that fracking—which involves pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to extract oil and gas—causes groundwater contaminationputs human health at risk and releases the potent greenhouse gas methane.

“The Trump administration is endangering public health and wildlife by allowing the fracking industry to run roughshod over public lands,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Fracking is a toxic business, and that’s why states and countries have banned it. Trump’s reckless decision to repeal these common-sense protections will have serious consequences.”

Maryland, New York and Vermont have banned fracking. Ireland, France, Germany and Bulgaria have also banned the practice on land.

Here are some major findings of a 2016 study by Environment America Research & Policy Center on the impact of fracking on our environment:

  • During well completion alone, fracking released 5.3 billion pounds of methane in 2014,a pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years.
  • Fracking wells produced at least 14 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also naturally occurring radioactive materials that can rise to the surface.
  • Between 2005 and 2015, fracking used at least 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. Fracking uses of vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne.
  • At least 239 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005, an average of 3 million gallons per well. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well—water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 675,000 acres of land since 2005, an area only slightly smaller than Yosemite National Park. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.

RELATED ARTICLES AROUND THE WEB

Fracking Threatens Public Safety and Health | Debate Club | US News ›

Was 2017 the Year that the Tide finally Turned against Fossil Fuel Projects?

Resilience

Building a world of resilient communities

Was 2017 the Year that the Tide finally Turned against Fossil Fuel Projects?

By Susanne Dhaliwal, originally  published by Open Democracy  December 21, 2017

The end of 2017 saw a rapid escalation of big divestment announcements, including from global insurer Axa. 2018 brings more opportunity – so long as campaigning prioritises the voices of those most impacted by climate change.

Last week AXA announced its sell off of €700m of tar sands investments from its balance sheets, covering 25 tar sands companies and 3 major pipelines projects. Thomas Buberl, the company’s chief executive, called the projects “not sustainable and therefore also not insurable.”

This was a significant win for activists like the UK Tar Sands Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who have been calling on financial institutions to end investments in the tar sands projects and pipelines since 2009, and who have most recently taken their campaigning efforts to the insurance industry.

The AXA decision comes just weeks after BNP Paribas broke the news that it will no longer finance new shale or tar sands projects, nor work with companies that mainly focus on those resources. Last Friday, Norway’s largest life insurer, KLP announced that it would exclude from its portfolio any firms that derive 30 percent or more of revenues from the extraction of tar sands. In the same week the World Bank announced it would cease financing upstream oil and gas after 2019.

It’s welcome news. Based on the financial risks, climate impacts and indigenous rights violations, we have seen a significant shift in financial institutions backing fossil fuels. The Bank of England now recognizes the monetary risks associated with climate change and is advising the central banks and governments to get out of highly polluting fuels due to the pending carbon bubble and the bad business associated with ‘extreme’ energy extraction. As a result BP, Shell, Exxon and others have pulled out of major tar sands projects and pipelines.

And now the insurance industry is beginning to act more meaningfully. As early as the 1970s, the insurance industry acknowledged the risk of climate change and the need for the sector to take meaningful action. Insurers have already seen the costs of climate related catastrophes and extreme weather events skyrocket, compelling them to be among some of the first movers divesting from coal and also develop policies to stop the underwriting of new fossil fuel projects. But they have massive holdings in fossil fuels. And so they need public pressure to push them to divest.

So despite last week’s news, we must be careful not to pop those champagne corks too fast. Significant action and commitment has yet to be seen by Asian and American insurers. Moreover, regenerative steps need to be taken to ensure that the communities whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuels benefit from the transition to the clean energy economy. Simply put, who will be responsible for the massive clean-ups of stranded projects and direct the green energy transition?

Activists say “no thanks” to greenwash

Indigenous Climate Action’s bold stance on Aviva points the way to a breakthrough on this front.

The Canadian-based Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) group is led by Eriel Deranger, one of the foremost leaders driving the discussion about divestment and just transition. ICA is a new organisation that brings indigenous voices and solutions to the climate movement.

ICA’s groundbreaking work caught the eye of the Aviva Community Fund who awarded them a $150,000.00 cash prize in early December.

But ICA found out that Aviva plc – Aviva Canada’s parent company – held major passive investments (over half a billion USD) in corporations operating in Alberta’s tar sands, including Teck Resource Ltd (Frontier Open pit mine), Encana, Exxon, Imperial, Suncor, Chevron, Cenovus, Kinder Morgan (TransMountain pipeline), TransCanada (Keystone XL pipeline), and Enbridge (Line 3 pipeline).

So ICA had only one option, to reject the prize.

Aviva invests in projects that are in violation of international human rights and Indigenous rights standards… Aviva needs to ensure they are on the right side of history, and to do that, they must divest from projects that violate our rights and threaten our survival,” Spokesperson Kanahus Manuel commented.

The Canadian government has done little to recognise indigenous land titles. Tar sands expansion continues at an alarming rate, with even more pipelines being approved. We cannot rely on Prime Minister Trudeau’s support to join the climate action force anytime soon.

Odd as it may seem, ICA’s rejection of the 150K award has opened an unlikely opportunity – to have a meaningful conversation with Aviva.

“ICA turning down the Aviva award drives home the urgency of the financial industry cutting ties with extreme fossil fuels. ICA’s bold stand should prompt insurers, investors and banks to drop tar sands and coal across the board and ensure their policies and practices fully respect Indigenous rights,” said Ruth Breech, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network.

Those impacted by climate change must be at the forefront of solutions

But it is not simply enough to applaud ICA for its bold stance. We need a rapid shift in funding structures in the non-profit world to support groups like ICA who have taken a moral stand against financial institutions like Aviva. We need to ensure that the people most impacted by climate change are also at the forefront and are involved in developing climate solutions. And we need to widen the community of actors in the divestment debate, as non-profits can act as gatekeepers to key corporate relations leaving out those most impacted by these decisions.

AXA’s new ground-breaking policy shows globally that tar sands and coal are becoming uninsurable, uninvestable and eventually unbankable. We also hope to hear from Aviva that they will be dropping their tar sands investments and have a firm commitment to stop underwriting future projects once we renew engagement in the new year.

2018 is going to be another massive year for divestment with an imminent decision from the Norwegian Wealth Fund to divest $35 billion from oil shares, from corporations such as Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Chevron and Norway’s own oil giant, Statoil.

All of these decisions and ‘wins’ need to be grounded in an intersectional divestment movement that takes the time to think about the reinvestment strategies, that is twinned with a just transition model and opens up the seats at the table for dialogue with those most impacted by climate change and holding the climate solutions. If we can do this, 2018 is going to be an incredible year for our movements and hope for the climate.

Teaser Photo credit: Former US tar sands test pit site, Flickr/BeforeItStarts, Creative Commons. 

Congressional Budget Office Says GOP Senate Tax Bill Hits Poor, Including Many Veterans, Harder

CNBC

Lowest-income Americans would take bigger hit than first thought under Senate GOP tax bill, CBO says

Jacob Pramuk, CNBC    November 27, 2017 

Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images. The CBO report estimates that lower-income groups would foot a bigger bill from tax cuts than previously expected.

The lowest-income American households would take a hit while higher-earning taxpayers would see their burden reduced under the Senate Republican tax plan, according to the latest analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate proposal permanently chops the corporate tax rate and temporarily reduces individual income taxes, while changing numerous deductions . GOP senators hope to pass that plan this week and approve a final bill agreed upon with the House before the end of the year.

The CBO report, released Sunday, estimates that lower-income groups would foot a bigger bill from tax cuts than previously expected. In 2019, all income groups under $30,000 would have a bigger burden under the bill, the CBO projected.

In 2027, that would extend to all income groups under $75,000, as individual tax reductions expire.

The change largely stems from the bill effectively getting rid of the Obamacare provision requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Low-income Americans would receive fewer premium tax credits if more of them choose not to have insurance. The CBO estimate also includes the effects of changes to spending for programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

A previous Joint Committee on Taxation analysis that showed more modest effects on low-income Americans did not include the changes in those programs.

In a statement, Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman Julia Lawless criticized the CBO report, calling its logic related to the individual mandate “confusing and erroneous.”

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time CBO has vastly overestimated the impact of the deeply flawed individual mandate,” the statement said. “And, for members concerned about the sunset date for individual tax cuts, Democrats will have a chance to make these strong middle-class tax cuts permanent on the floor.”

Democrats, who oppose the GOP tax bill, have repeatedly cast it as a plan helping corporations and the wealthy at the expense of poorer Americans.
More From CNBC:

Wavering GOP senators must face three hard truths on tax reform

Rand Paul: ‘I plan to vote for the Senate tax bill’ despite problems

Ken Griffin: We ‘probably’ don’t need to cut taxes as much as proposed

Donald J. Trump May Be Enshrined in American History as The Tarriest of Political Tarbabys

 

Donald J. Trump May Be Enshrined in American History as The Tarriest of Political Tarbabys

John Hanno           October 31, 2017

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The list of folks who probably wished they never associated with Trump, his campaign, or his administration grows daily. The latest I’m sure, are Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. Trump’s entire administration and campaign team have had to hire personal legal defense. During the entire 8-year Obama Administration, not one single person was embroiled in scandal or had to hire defense lawyers.

During a news conference on July 22, 2016, Trump said Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and assistant chairman Rick Gates “were doing a fantastic job” and had earlier called Papadopoulos an “oil and gas consultant and an excellent guy.”

These first indictments appear just the beginning. The allegations against Manafort and Gates look iron clad and serious enough to induce their full cooperation in the possible implication and prosecution of others. And Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, in the works since July, ratted out other campaign operatives.

What implores these people to sell their souls to a devil like Trump? Is it the money; most of them are already wealthy beyond reason? Is no amount of wealth enough for them? Or are they attracted to the absolute power of the American presidency?

Trump’s stated goal is to “Make America Great Again” but everything he’s done, every executive order he’s signed has done just the opposite. He and the Republi-cons in congress have tried to make American’s sicker again by attacking the ACA and taking health care away from the 10’s of millions of poor Americans who finally acquired health insurance under Obama.

Its attack on the Consumer Protection Agency and its handouts to Wall Street will make most Americans poorer. They’ve made America’s air and water dirtier and more detrimental to its citizens. It works day and night proposing ways to plunder America’s natural resources and national treasures and turn them over to profit seeking fossil fuel and mining interests.

It’s proposed tax bill, will attempt to make incredibly rich people and corporations even richer. And it will starve the federal governments ability to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s policies will take power and resources away from workers, organized labor, consumers and anyone who supports the Democrats and their progressive agenda to rebuild our middle class.

Its obvious their main goal is to reverse every progressive accomplishment of the Obama Administration. And at the same time, to “Make Trump Inc. Great Again.”

Most of us, including progressive Democrats, critical thinkers, cheated business acquaintances of Trump, folks who bought into the bogus Trump University, women subjected to Trump’s sexual abuse, unrepentant Never Trumpers, and most of the rest of the entire world, saw the tar right from the start. Trump clearly showed us “who he really was”; and the dubious types he admired, praised and brought into his campaign and administration emphasized his flawed morality and character.

The swamp he promised to drain was obviously just another blatant Trump campaign lie. And the conflicts and mingling of his questionable business empire with his Executive Branch responsibilities, which he quite publicly promised to separate, was never perfected.

The Republican’s wholly tainted by Trumpism, are for the most part hanging on for dear life, hoping to rehabilitate their damaged reputations with their mythical tax reform legislation. They’re looking for a brier patch to escape into but the options are limited at this late date. A very few of the Republicans in Congress have managed to extricate themselves from the dirty tarbaby. Sen. John McCain, never a Trump fan, finally stood up and decided to make peace with his conscience before he meets his maker. Sen. Bob Corker, a principled conservative, decided that two 6-year senate terms were enough, and is attempting to clean his moral slate during the balance of his term. Sen. Jeff Flake, another principled conservative and very popular in his caucus, decided one term is all he could stomach when someone like Trump was steering the party into the abyss.

As the chips continue to fall, maybe others in congress will come to Jesus. There’s a good chance the promised monumental tax reform Trump and the Republi-cons promise will be as successful as their 7 year campaign to repeal President Obama and the Democrats efforts to heal our sick health care system.

Many of us, soon after Trump was elected but long before he took office, realized these Republi-cons would get drunk on their newfound power trifecta and couldn’t help but overreach. The insane promises this radical right cabal trumpeted during and since the campaign sealed their legislative fate long before the first vote was cast. The promises were so far removed from reality that even Trump’s bamboozled base supporters are even now beginning to drift back to Earth.

The Putinistic propaganda being spewed from the White House, from spokes-person Sarah Huckabee Sanders and from the ult-right media, rings more incredulous every day. Attempting to shift the focus from Trump’s Russia thing to Hillary’s Russia thing will fail on the facts Mr. Mueller and his team are uncovering by the hour.

Still, I can’t understand, that in spite of Trump’s historically low approval ratings, why are more than 80 percent of Republicans still solidly behind him. What will it take to finally turn his supporters from co-indicted treasonous co-conspirators into the courageous American patriots they pretend to be.

I can’t even imagine the hue and cry from the Republi-cons in congress if an Obama or Clinton Administration were implicated in 1/10th the scandals and conspiracies as Trump World. Articles of Impeachment would have already issued from every Republi-con controlled congressional committee.

When all is said and done, the list of criminal conduct and conspiracy will be impressive and substantial. But Robert Mueller may have a legal tight rope to walk, so that all the work his investigative team undertakes getting to the bottom of Putin’s attack on our Democracy, and the Trump campaign’s collusion, couldn’t be undone by pardons from Trump. Mr. Mueller may have to somehow slow-walk some of the prosecutions until after Trump is impeached, in order to bring all these criminals to justice.

John Hanno

The Old, Hidden Pipeline at the Bottom of the Great Lakes

EcoWatch

By Sierra Club    October 12, 2017

The Old, Hidden Pipeline at the Bottom of the Great Lakes

By Conor Mihell

At dawn, I launch my kayak and paddle into a velvety expanse of turquoise water. Here, in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, Great Lakes Michigan and Huron meet like the middle of an hourglass. To the east, the rounded form of Mackinac Island is the centerpiece of an archipelago in Lake Huron.

According to an Ojibwe creation story, this is Mishee Makinakong, the Great Turtle, whose surfacing shell became a refuge for plants and animals as floodwaters surged in the days before time. Today, droves of ferries buzz to and from the island, a bustling summer tourist destination replete with kitschy fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages.

I’m paddling south, dwarfed by the Mackinac Bridge, a monolithic five-mile-long ribbon of green steel and gray concrete that connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Lake Michigan sprawls westward. Its watery horizon shows the telltale dance of rising winds just as a wave splashes over my deck, reminding me to put away my camera. This isn’t a place to multitask.

Currents deflect my course as I approach a towering bridge support. It’s like paddling on the ocean, with steep waves and a strengthening tidelike flow. I angle my bow to compensate. Whitewater reflects from the concrete pillar, and eddies swirl in its wake. Even on this sunny June morning, the conditions hint at a destructive violence that makes me nervous.

Almost directly beneath my kayak runs Enbridge Line 5, twin 64-year-old pipelines at the bottom of the lakebed. Line 5 transports 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily for 645 miles through Wisconsin and Michigan to Canada. Enbridge, the Canadian oil transportation giant, operated Line 5 inconspicuously until 2010; that’s when its sister pipeline, Line 6B, ruptured, pouring a million gallons of tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. It was the largest land-based oil spill in U.S. history. Suddenly, the peril posed by vintage infrastructure carrying petrochemicals through the heart of North America’s greatest supply of freshwater loomed very large.

University of Michigan hydrologist Dave Schwab has concluded that the Straits of Mackinac is “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.” At any given time, one million gallons of petroleum products are contained in the 20-inch pipes that run along the lakebed. If one ruptured, oil would disperse with the currents that slosh back and forth through the straits. In Schwab’s worst-case scenario, 720 miles of lakeshore would be devastated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts that in the event of a spill, no more than 40 percent of the oil could be recovered by deploying booms and “in-situ burning”—lighting surface slicks on fire, a technique used in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The success rate would plummet in the winter, when the Straits of Mackinac are sheathed in feet of ice. This apocalyptic vision was enough to convince more than 60 municipalities and all 12 of Michigan’s Native American tribes that Line 5 should be decommissioned. Even Republican state attorney general Bill Schuette called for a timeline to shut down the pipeline.

“We know that Line 5 will ultimately be decommissioned,” said David Holtz, the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter chair and the coordinator of Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a grassroots coalition of pipeline opponents with 30,000 supporters. “The only question is, will it be decommissioned before or after it ruptures?”

Line 5 is a product of the post–World War II construction boom, when oil companies installed pipelines across the country to fuel an increasingly global economy. “Michigan was the shortest path to get oil to market,” Holtz explained. “We get all the risk; Enbridge gets the reward.”

For Enbridge’s part, spokesperson Michael Barnes said that Line 5 is “vital to the people of Michigan, who need energy to heat their homes and power their industries.” (Holtz contends that the company has never documented this claim.) In the five years following the Marshall disaster, Barnes said, the company spent nearly $5 billion on maintenance, inspection, and leak detection: “This is the largest, most comprehensive and sophisticated maintenance and inspection program of any pipeline system in the world.”

As for the underwater pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, Barnes said, “Recent inspection reports show that Line 5, from an engineering and integrity perspective, is like new and in excellent condition.”

Retired Dow chemical engineer Ed Timm has taken it upon himself to debunk such rosy claims. Timm, a resident of nearby Harbor Springs whose dark ponytail and youthful swagger belie his 72 years, started studying the pipeline and checking out Enbridge’s claims out of curiosity. He dug up early construction journals documenting the hasty process whereby pipelines were “pulled,” as the engineers called it, across the straits. He plotted modern imagery alongside original blueprints to show how lakebed sediments have shifted drastically over time, placing stress on sections of pipe. And he tabulated modern-water-current data to prove that the Straits of Mackinac are capable of producing double the 2.25-mile-per-hour currents envisioned by the original plans.

Timm also discovered a 2016 technical report that he calls a “smoking gun.” The operating-easement agreement for Line 5 between Enbridge and the state of Michigan mandates that there be no unsupported spans longer than 75 feet. According to engineer Mario Salvadori, who reviewed the design, “The pipe must not be allowed to span a valley of more than 140 feet.” But the 2016 report, conducted by the Ohio-based engineering firm Kiefner and Associates, mentions unsupported spans of up to 286 feet, indicating that over time the pipeline has shifted from its moorings. Timm showed me a graph of how the pipeline’s resiliency diminishes across increasing lengths of unsupported spans. Just like a bent paper clip, he said, a pipeline with inadequate support will become fatigued as it flexes back and forth in moving water. “At that distance a steel pipeline basically turns into a noodle.”

For Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, Line 5 touches a cultural nerve. The area a spill might affect coincides with tribal fishing areas and encompasses the watery heart of the indigenous creation story.

On Lake Michigan’s east shore, the Grand Traverse Band operates a couple dozen boats, whose captains and crews make their livelihoods fishing year-round, said Desmond Berry, the band’s natural resources manager. Fish is a staple of the indigenous diet and is recognized in the tribe’s traditional clan system. “We are a fish nation,” Berry said.

The Grand Traverse Band is one of five Chippewa and Ottawa tribes with commercial operations in the Mackinac Straits area. They harvest more than three million pounds of whitefish and lake trout annually. Commercial and recreational fishing on the Great Lakes contribute $2.5 billion to Michigan’s economy, with tourists spending $660 million annually in the counties straddling the Straits of Mackinac, supporting 7,500 local jobs. “If there were a spill,” Berry said, referring to the slogan on the state’s license plate, “‘Pure Michigan’ would cease to exist.”

Safeguarding freshwater was at the core of efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and is also at the root of Native American opposition to Line 5. Little Traverse Bay Bands member Jannan Cornstalk takes her responsibility as a water protector seriously. “Women have the ability to bring life into the world through our bodies,” she said. “An embryo is held in a sack of water inside of us. That’s our connection to the water.”

Cornstalk was shocked when she learned about the sunken pipelines at Mackinac Straits. Since 2015, she’s organized Labor Day demonstrations to coincide with a popular Mackinac Bridge walk, which includes canoe and kayak flotillas and, this year, an arts and culture festival. “I believe our water is in crisis,” she said, pointing to the contaminated drinking water in Flint, which led to a federal state of emergency in 2016. “Clean water is a basic human right. Without it we are nothing.”

The water calms and my mind wanders as I paddle back to shore. After the flood in the Ojibwe creation story, Sky Woman, the mother of humanity, settled on the Great Turtle’s back and summoned the animals to help rebuild the earth. One at a time, the strongest swimmers—Beaver, Fisher, Marten, and Loon—plunged into the water, diving deep in search of soil. Each returned to the surface empty-handed and ashamed.

Then diminutive Muskrat volunteered. The other animals snickered, but Muskrat dove in anyway and stayed underwater an exceedingly long time. “The Muskrat floated to the surface more dead than alive, but he clutched in his paws a small morsel of soil,” recounted the late Ojibwe historian Basil Johnston. “Where the great had failed, the small succeeded.”

Sky Woman spread the modicum of soil on the turtle’s back and infused the new world with the breath of life. Turtle Island grew, teeming with grasses, flowers and trees. Finally, Sky Woman gave birth to the first Anishnabeg—the people—whom she instructed to live in harmony with all of creation, living and yet unborn.

The Mackinac area exerts an energy that pulls at the conscience of indigenous people and newcomers alike. A 2016 poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Michigan voters do not support oil pipelines in the Great Lakes. Holtz hopes the state government will soon have a moment of reckoning like he did five years ago, when he represented the Sierra Club in an initial meeting to discuss Line 5 with other environmentalists. Holtz had recently retired from a career in media and “wasn’t looking for a fight.” Then he spent an autumn weekend alone at the straits. “I drove across the bridge and looked over the water,” he recalled. “I decided I didn’t want to be responsible for not stopping an oil spill in a beautiful, wonderful place that I love. I don’t want that to be my legacy.”

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.

Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

The Guardian

Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

Joseph Stiglitz   September 8, 2017

We should have learned the lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy – we need political action to help prevent disasters

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/0a18bfbbe19beec30b1e5e4d4e3a1a4fb34e1150/415_0_6065_3639/master/6065.jpg?w=620&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=b5df99c1c88c2089a16b95b1b60cb7aeUS CBP Air and Marine Operations aircrew evacuate stranded residents trapped by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Photograph: Donna Burton/Zuma/Avalon.red

Tropical Storm Harvey has left in its wake upended lives and enormous property damage, estimated by some at $150 to $180 billion. But the storm that pummeled the Texas coast for the better part of a week also raises deep questions about the United States’ economic system and politics.

It is ironic, of course, that an event so related to climate change would occur in a state that is home to so many climate-change deniers – and where the economy depends so heavily on the fossil fuels that drive global warming. Of course, no particular climate event can be directly related to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But scientists have long predicted that such increases would boost not only average temperatures, but also weather variability – and especially the occurrence of extreme events such as Harvey. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded several years ago, “There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” Astrophysicist Adam Frank succinctly explained: “Greater warmth means more moisture in the air which means stronger precipitation.”

To be sure, Houston and Texas could not have done much by themselves about the increase in greenhouse gases, though they could have taken a more active role in pushing for strong climate policies. But local and state authorities could have done a far better job preparing for such events, which hit the area with some frequency.

In responding to the hurricane – and in funding some of the repair – everyone turns to government, just as they did in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Again, it is ironic that this is now occurring in a part of the country where government and collective action are so frequently rebuked. It was no less ironic when the titans of US banking, having preached the neo-liberal gospel of downsizing government and eliminating regulations that proscribed some of their most dangerous and antisocial activities, turned to government in their moment of need.

There is an obvious lesson to be learned from such episodes: markets on their own are incapable of providing the protection that societies need. When markets fail, as they often do, collective action becomes imperative.

And, as with financial crises, there is a need for preventive collective action to mitigate the impact of climate change. That means ensuring that buildings and infrastructure are constructed to withstand extreme events, and are not located in areas that are most vulnerable to severe damage. It also means protecting environmental systems, particularly wetlands, which can play an important role in absorbing the impact of storms. It means eliminating the risk that a natural disaster could lead to the discharge of dangerous chemicals, as happened in Houston. And it means having in place adequate response plans, including for evacuation.

Effective government investments and strong regulations are needed to ensure each of these outcomes, regardless of the prevailing political culture in Texas and elsewhere. Without adequate regulations, individuals and firms have no incentive to take adequate precautions, because they know that much of the cost of extreme events will be borne by others. Without adequate public planning and regulation, including of the environment, flooding will be worse. Without disaster planning and adequate funding, any city can be caught in the dilemma in which Houston found itself: if it does not order an evacuation, many will die; but if it does order an evacuation, people will die in the ensuing chaos, and snarled traffic will prevent people from getting out.

America and the world are paying a high price for devotion to the extreme anti-government ideology embraced by Donald Trump and his Republican party. The world is paying, because cumulative US greenhouse-gas emissions are greater than those from any other country; even today, the US is one of the world’s leaders in per capita greenhouse-gas emissions. But America is paying a high price as well: other countries, even poor developing countries, such as Haiti and Ecuador, seem to have learned (often at great expense and only after some huge calamities) how to manage natural disasters better.

After the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the shutdown of much of New York City by Sandy in 2012, and now the devastation wrought on Texas by Harvey, the US can and should do better. It has the resources and skills to analyze these complex events and their consequences, and to formulate and implement regulations and investment programs that mitigate the adverse effects on lives and property.

What America doesn’t have is a coherent view of government by those on the right, who, working with special interests that benefit from their extreme policies, continue to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Before a crisis, they resist regulations and oppose government investment and planning; afterwards, they demand – and receive – billions of dollars to compensate them for their losses, even those that could easily have been prevented.

One can only hope that America, and other countries, will not need more natural persuasion before taking to heart the lessons of Hurricane Harvey.

Joseph E Stiglitz is a Nobel prizewinner in economics, professor at Columbia University, a former senior vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank, and one-time chair of the US president’s council of economic advisers under Bill Clinton

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Agriculture a culprit in global warming, says U.S. research

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Agriculture a culprit in global warming, says U.S. research

by Ellen Wulfhorst Thomson Reuters Foundation    August 22, 2017

https://d2sh4fq2xsdeg9.cloudfront.net/contentAsset/image/1df1cc5f-9141-4d53-bcef-dc05ecc9f162/image/byInode/1/filter/Resize,Jpeg/jpeg_q/70/resize_w/1230

While soil absorbs carbon in organic matter from plants and trees as they decompose, agriculture has helped deplete that carbon accumulation in the ground

NEW YORK, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Agriculture has contributed nearly as much to climate change as deforestation by intensifying global warming, according to U.S. research that has quantified the amount of carbon taken from the soil by farming.

Some 133 billion tons of carbon have been removed from the top two meters of the earth’s soil over the last two centuries by agriculture at a rate that is increasing, said the study in PNAS, a journal published by the National Academy of Sciences.

Global warming is largely due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from such activities as burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees that otherwise would absorb greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

But this research showed the significance of agriculture as a contributing factor as well, said Jonathan Sanderman, a soil scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts and one of the authors of the research.

While soil absorbs carbon in organic matter from plants and trees as they decompose, agriculture has helped deplete that carbon accumulation in the ground, he said.

Widespread harvesting removes carbon from the soil as do tilling methods that can accelerate erosion and decomposition.

“It’s alarming how much carbon has been lost from the soil,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Small changes to the amount of carbon in the soil can have really big consequences for how much carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere.”

Sanderman said the research marked the first time the amount of carbon pulled out of the soil has been spatially quantified.

The 133 billion tons of carbon lost from soil compares to about 140 billion tons lost due to deforestation, he said, mostly since the mid-1800s and the Industrial Revolution.

But the findings show potential for the earth’s soil to mitigate global warming by absorbing more carbon through such practices as better land stewardship, more extensive ground cover to minimize erosion, better diversity of crop rotation and no-till farming, he said.

The world’s nations agreed in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases generated by burning fossil fuels that are blamed by scientists for warming the planet.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark Paris accord in May, saying it would undermine the U.S. economy and weaken national sovereignty.

Supporters of the accord, including some leading U.S. business figures, said Trump’s move was a blow to international efforts to tackle global warming that would isolate the United States.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org

It’s more obvious than ever: Trump doesn’t care about the national interest. He’s in it for himself.

Chicago Tribune  Commentary:

It’s more obvious than ever: Trump doesn’t care about the national interest. He’s in it for himself.

Max Boot, For the Los Angeles Times   July 11, 2017

For a president who lies more than any of his predecessors — even Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon! — Donald Trump can also be candid to a fault. Recall how, after firing FBI Director James Comey, he blew apart the administration spin that this had nothing to do with any investigation of the Trump campaign by openly admitting that he acted because of the “Russia thing.” Now he’s done it again.

Trump’s aides claimed that he was tough on Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement.” Anonymous U.S. officials denied Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assertions that Trump had “accepted” Putin’s false assurances that Russia was not behind the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party documents last year.

And then on Sunday morning Trump took to Twitter to essentially confirm what Lavrov said: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..”

Yes, he did: In Warsaw, the day before his meeting with Putin, Trump opined, as he has many times before, “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries…. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”

This is, as the British say, bollocks. We do know for sure: the FBI, CIA, NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a unanimous “high confidence” assessment in January that Russia was behind the hacking last year, and that its intent was to hurt Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump. Trump’s misleading assertions that it was “three or four” intelligence agencies, not all 17, are meaningless, because there was no dissent from the other intelligence agencies. And, as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “We saw no evidence whatsoever that it was anyone involved in this other than the Russians.”

Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump refuses to accept reality. In Hamburg, he even discussed with Putin an Alice-in-Wonderland proposal of forming a joint American-Russian “Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.” As Sen. John McCain noted sarcastically on Sunday, “I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he’s doing the hacking.” The idea is so inane that by the end of the day even Trump had disowned it, leaving his Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who had loyally called the cyber-security partnership “a very significant accomplishment for the president,” twisting in the wind.

Trump’s denial of Russian election-meddling is all the more startling when contrasted with his reckless promulgation of baseless claims that millions of illegal ballots were cast in the presidential election. There is not an iota of evidence to support this assertion. It is an entirely imaginary scandal manufactured by Trump because his fragile psyche can’t handle the fact that Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than he did.

Yet Trump is pursuing nonexistent evidence of wrongdoing with all the powers at his disposal, setting up a voter fraud commission, headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that is itself fraudulent. Pretty much every state has declined to share voter information with this politically motivated commission because doing so would violate voters’ privacy and could open the way to genuine large-scale fraud — imagine if hackers could break into a single database containing all of the nation’s voter information.

How to explain the discrepancy, with Trump ignoring a real scandal and doggedly pursuing a phony one? The answer is pretty simple: Trump doesn’t care a whit about the national interest. All he cares about is his self-interest.

He is hardly ignorant of Russian machinations. Even before receiving the full intelligence briefings on what the Russians did —and it appears that the intelligence community has proof that Putin personally ordered the election meddling — he showed his awareness of the Russian role in July 2016 when he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. This is what the lawyers call “guilty knowledge.”

But Trump isn’t mad about this assault on American democracy because he was its beneficiary. He is only mad that the “fake news” media, his political opponents and special counsel Robert Mueller continue to probe the Russian role. The most benign explanation is that Trump is worried that such investigations undermine his political legitimacy. The more sinister explanation is that he is worried that collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin will be exposed — something that appears more likely after the new revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton. Either way, the president is not treating this with the seriousness that an attack on our democracy deserves.

Trump is effectively giving the Russians a pass, refusing to impose any sanctions beyond the inadequate steps taken by President Obama — namely kicking out a few Russian diplomats and confiscating a couple of Russian diplomatic compounds. His administration is even lobbying to water down in the House a sanctions bill passed 97-2 by the Senate.

The result of Trump’s passivity is likely to encourage more such Russian assaults. James Clapper warns that the Russians are already “prepping the battlefield” for the 2018 election — and beyond. That may be just what Trump is counting on. Given current opinion polls, Republicans are facing a tough election next year and Trump will have trouble getting reelected in 2020. Maybe he’s counting on winning, to mash up two Beatles titles, “with a little help from my friends … back in the USSR.”

Los Angeles Times, Max Boot is a contributing writer to Opinion and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.