Natural Resources Defense Council
By Henry Henderson May 7, 2017
In this moment where the Trump administration seems adamant about abdicating their responsibilities to protect the nation and the world against the ravages of climate change, state and local action has become all the more essential.
And in this moment, I am proud to be a Chicagoan.
The city has been a clean energy leader for a long time. From its early development of a Climate Action Plan, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Partner Award—the first given to a municipal government—for the incredible energy efficiency gains made through the Retrofit Chicago program. I am proud to say Natural Resources Defense Council NRDC has been a partner in Retrofit Chicago’s commercial building initiative for years, helping to transform massive buildings that make up the Loop’s glittering skyline into a carbon crunching tool to take on climate change. And Chicago was one of the first municipal governments to join the City Energy Project—which helped to develop a bevy of key energy efficiency policies to help ensure the Windy City continues to shrink its carbon footprint.
But a new website shows a different facet of Chicago’s leadership: ClimateChangeIsReal.org.
That site ensures that the climate data that the Trump Administration scrubbed from the EPA website remains available to the public and scientists around the world. As a seeming war on science moves forward in Washington, DC, Chicago ensures that decades of essential data can continue to inform the researchers seeking to understand and find solutions to climate change. Coming on the heels of Illinois’ groundbreaking and powerful Future Energy Jobs Act, this region brings a new level of meaning to the “think globally, act locally” mantra.
Henry Henderson is director of the Midwest program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
EPA Fires Scientists
By Climate Nexus
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cleaned house on its scientific review board last week, dismissing at least five scientists on its 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors.
The scientists, including professors of natural resource sociology, told multiple outlets they were surprised to receive notices that they would not be asked to renew their tenure on the board, especially after being assured in January that they would retain their positions through the new administration.
A spokesperson for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the New York Times that the agency was considering filling the vacancies with representatives from industry the EPA regulates, in order to include members who “understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”
Concerned current board members told the Times that the dismissals could be seen as a “test balloon” for further political moves against science.
Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University and one of those dismissed, said, the cuts “just came out of nowhere.”
“The role that science has played in the agency in the past, this step is a significant step in a different direction,” he said. “Anecdotally, based on what we know about the administrator, I think it will be science that will appear to be friendlier to industry, the fossil fuel industry, the chemical industry, and I think it will be science that marginalizes climate change science.”
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the dismal of the scientists “is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”
What seems to be premature removals of members of this Board of Science Counselors when the board has come out in favor of the EPA strengthening its climate science, plus the severe cuts to research and development—you have to see all these things as interconnected.”
For a deeper dive: New York Times, Washington Post, Science, Greenwire, Politico Pro
By Lorraine Chow
With the Trump administration slashing environmental regulations and House Republicans passing their controversial health care bill last week, this new study might put you on edge. Researchers have found a link between environmental quality and cancer incidence across the U.S.
“Our study is the first we are aware of to address the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence,” said Dr. Jyotsna Jagai of the University of Illinois, who led the research team.
For the study, the researchers cross-referenced the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program’s state cancer profiles with the Environmental Quality Index (EQI) and determined that the average cancer rate in roughly 2,700 counties was about 451 people in every 100,000 between 2006 and 2010.
But in counties with poor environmental quality, the researchers found a 10 percent higher incidence of cancer cases—or an average of 39 more cases per 100,000 people. The higher numbers were seen in both males and females, especially prostate and breast cancer.
The authors noted that prior studies on the environment’s effect on cancer usually focus on specific environmental factors, such as air, water, land quality, sociodemographic environment and built environment.
However, the current study examines how cancer development is dependent on the totality of exposures we face, including social stressors.
“This work helps support the idea that all of the exposures we experience affect our health, and underscores the potential for social and environmental improvements to positively impact health outcomes,” Dr. Jagai said.
“Therefore, we must consider the overall environment that one is exposed to in order to understand the potential risk for cancer development.”
The experts warned that recent legislative proposals could jeopardize research on the links between cancer and the environment. This includes measures attempting to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and efforts to nullify the federal collection of geospatial data, or the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017.
“H.R.861, which was introduced on February 3, 2017, to ‘terminate the Environmental Protection agency’—the source of the environmental data used in the study by Jagai [and colleagues]—will have severe repercussions on the scientific community’s ability to produce this type of valuable research,” Scarlett Lin Gomez, PhD, MPH, research scientist from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, and colleagues wrote in a related editorial.
U.S. Steel Chemical Spill Exceeds Allowable Limit by 584 Times
By Lorraine Chow
A U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana spilled nearly 300 pounds of a cancer-causing chemical into Burns Waterway last month, documents from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) revealed.
The release of hexavalent chromium was 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state law, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported, citing the documents. The plant is permitted to release only a maximum of 0.51 pounds daily.
The toxic industrial byproduct was made infamous by the environmental activist and 2000 movie of the same name, “Erin Brockovich. ”
The leak occurred between April 11 and April 12 and forced the closure of several Lake Michigan beaches and Indiana American Water’s intake in Ogden Dunes. Burns Waterway is a tributary that flows into Lake Michigan, a drinking water source for nearby Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
Following the spill, U.S. Steel has committed to sampling and monitoring lake water on a weekly basis to ensure it is safe through the swimming season, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson said. The discharge was reportedly caused by a pipe failure.
Sam Henderson, a staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, denounced the spill.
“If U.S. Steel had set up its system responsibly, it wouldn’t have been possible for a single mechanical failure to dump nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chrome into Lake Michigan,” Henderson told the Times of Northwest Indiana.
“Spills like this show that U.S. Steel isn’t taking that responsibility seriously. Industry needs to step up.”
The chemical spill highlights concerns over the Trump’s administration’s proposed cuts to abolish the Integrated Risk Information System, the EPA office working on hexavalent chromium standards in drinking water. The cuts would also affect funding for scientific reviews of toxic chemicals and decrease the EPA’s enforcement of environmental laws.
Henderson noted that IDEM’s budget “has been slashed to the bone, and we see the consequences of that in accidents like these.” IDEM is Indiana’s agency charged with protecting the state’s environment and human health.
“Now we face the risk that EPA will be severely cut back as well,” Henderson said. “If those cuts go through, nobody will be minding the store. And if nobody’s minding the store, it’s inevitable that spills like this will become more common.”
Cindy Skrukrud, clean water program director for Sierra Club Illinois, added that U.S. Steel’s spill “illustrates the need we have for a robust EPA to prevent and respond to situations like this.”
“We cannot bear cuts to the EPA staff and to its programs that protect the Great Lakes from pollution and cleanup legacy contamination sites. We are all depending on the EPA as we seek answers to the remaining questions about the impacts of the spill on the aquatic life in Burns Waterway,” Skrukrud continued. “As potential penalties are considered, they should include funding for restoration projects in and near the impacted areal.”
U.S. Steel said last month it takes all incidents “very seriously” and are “fully committed to researching and taking corrective actions to prevent a future occurrence.”
The beaches and water intake reopened on April 17 after EPA water samples detected no levels of hexavalent chromium.
However, last month the National Park Service staff said they were concerned about the long-term potential impacts to beach users’ health, wildlife and other park resources.
“Lake currents and waves have the ability to move this hazardous material onto park beaches at a later date,” the park service said in a news release.
Officials said that periodic beach patrols will be looking for evidence of fish kills or other environmental damage.
Environmental Defense Fund
By Keith Gaby
The Trump administration has already cancelled or sought to undermine 23 rules that protect our health and environment—including limits on toxic waste coal companies dump in rivers and regulations promoting more fuel-efficient cars.
But the administration is hungry for more, so it’s asked companies, trade associations and lobbyists to suggest other rules they’d like the president to roll back.
Part of this wish-list process is being done in public and some, of course, is happening in private meetings. Rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has a whole “wish list” docket of its own, seem to be a particular target.
Here are five of the most brazen industry wishes submitted so far:
- Coal tar: Trade association wants to end health studies.
The Pavement Coatings and Technology Council—a trade association for the paving industry—doesn’t want research into the health dangers of the black top on which your children play foursquare.
It also doesn’t want the government to study the impact of coal tar on “freshwater sediment contamination, indoor air quality, ambient air quality and effects on aquatic species.”
- Leaky oil and gas drill sites: Trade groups don’t want to fix them.
Trade associations representing the oil and gas industry, including The Independent Petroleum Association of America, have filed comments attacking Clean Air Act standards requiring energy producers to take cost-effective steps to reduce methane and other air pollution.
- Roofing fumes: Companies want no restrictions.
The National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade group representing roofing companies, doesn’t want smog-forming chemicals restricted, saying such regulations “have been burdensome to our members.”
- Cancer-causing lubricants: Manufacturers say they should still be used.
No, not that kind of lubricant. The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association complained that the newly established chemical safety law may require its members to find replacement products for materials known to cause cancer in humans.
- Toxic pesticide: Chemical manufacturer wants ban removed.
Don’t try to pronounce chlorpyrifos, just know this pesticide hurts kids’ health. That’s what the EPA had concluded last year, and proposed banning it after years of research showing that it causes developmental problems in children and that there are alternatives.
That is, until Pruitt came along, and under pressure from the manufacturer, ignored his own scientists and rejected the proposed ban, saying it needs more study.
Why This Wish List Should Be Taken Seriously
The Trump administration seems to view all health and environmental safeguards as potentially suspicious. That’s in spite of strong data showing that environmental rules actually help the economy—by preventing illness, missed school days, worker absence, productivity problems and early death.
President Trump, who encountered these safeguards as impediments to building hotels faster and cheaper, promised to rid the government of 75 percent of rules that get in industry’s way.
With an EPA administrator more eager to please his boss than to protect Americans’ health, it’s now our job to fight back and protect our kids.
Keith Gaby is senior communications director for climate, health and political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund
By Steve Horn
Hydraulic fracturing’s horizontal drilling technique has enabled industry to tap otherwise difficult-to-access oil and gas in shale basins throughout the U.S. and increasingly throughout the world. And now fracking, as it’s known, could soon arrive at a new frontier: Alaska.
As Bloomberg reported in March, Paul Basinski, a pioneer of fracking in Texas’ prolific Eagle Ford Shale, has led the push to explore fracking’s potential there, in what’s been dubbed “Project Icewine.” His company, Burgundy Xploration, is working on fracking in Alaska’s North Slope territory alongside the Australia-based company 88 Energy (formerly Tangiers Petroleum).
“The land sits over three underground bands of shale, from 3,000 to 20,000 feet below ground, that are the source rocks for the huge conventional oilfields to the north,” wrote Bloomberg. “The companies’ first well, Icewine 1, confirmed the presence of petroleum in the shale and found a geology that should be conducive to fracking.”
Why the name “Project Icewine”? “Everything we do is about wine,” Basinski told Alaska Public Radio. “That’s why it’s called Icewine. Because it’s cold up here, and I like German ice wine.”
A report by DJ Carmichael, an Australian stockbroker firm, notes that the Project Icewine oilfield is located in close proximity to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which flows from northern to southern Alaska and is co-owned by BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
Drone footage, taken in 2016 by a company owned by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s campaign manager, Steve Wackowski, shows a fracking test well being drilled for Icewine 1.
According to an Austrian Securities Exchange filing, in April of this year, 88 Energy and Burgundy Xploration began pre-drilling procedures for Icewine 2, a second fracking test well. In the filing, which also noted receipt of a Permit to Drill from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 88 Energy said it expects to begin “stimulation and production testing” in June or July.
When all is said and done, the two companies may soon have a plot of land 690,000 contiguous acres in size, according to the Securities Exchange filing. A May 3 Securities Exchange filing noted that 88 Energy is still on schedule for Icewine 2.
In a February 2016 research note, the Australian investment company Patersons Securities Limited noted that the 88 Energy-Burgundy Xploration joint venture is the beneficiary of a tax subsidy system put in place by the Alaska Legislature.
“In an effort to encourage exploration activity in order to ultimately promote an increase in oil production in Alaska and maintain the financial viability of the [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System], the State Legislature passed the More Alaska Production Act in April 2013,” reads the research note. “The Act effectively eliminated the progressive production tax on oil production and replaced it with a flat rate of 35 percent. In addition, companies like 88E operating above 68 degrees North latitude would qualify for a combined cash rebate on exploration of 85 percent for all qualified expenditure until 31 December 2015, reducing to 75 percent for the period ending 30 June 2016, and 35 percent thereafter.”
The More Alaska Production Act was so controversial that it came up for a referendum during the 2014 election cycle. This effort to overturn the law was defeated 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent after industry power players such as ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and BP spent roughly $13 million on an advertising blitz to fend off the ballot initiative.
In its 2013 annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, ConocoPhillips said the legislation has helped the company’s corporate bottom line.
“Following the April 2013 enactment of revised oil tax legislation, MAPA [More Alaska Production Act], we have increased our exploration and development investments and activities on the North Slope by adding rigs and progressing new development opportunities,” wrote the company. “We will continue to work with co-owners to identify additional opportunities to increase our investments in Alaska.”
Oil and Money
Fracking is a capital-intensive procedure, made all the more so given northern Alaska’s isolated geographical location and its Arctic drilling terrain.
Perhaps in a nod to this, the GOP-dominated Alaska Legislature attempted to offer $430 million worth of tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry in the fiscal year 2017 budget. That was vetoed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an Independent, meaning the industry only got its statutory limit of $30 million in subsidies.
Patrick Galvin, chief commercial officer for Great Bear Petroleum, formerly served as petroleum land manager for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and commissioner for the Alaska Department of Revenue. When Walker vetoed the $430 million proposed subsidy, Galvin publicly criticized him.
“What seems to have developed in this particular moment is the governor having to kind of take hostages in order to get the legislature to act on what he wants them to act on with regard to a fiscal plan,” Galvin told Alaska Public Radio. “It has an impact down the chain for all of the business that company wanted to do and they were expecting to get these payments and now they’re basically stuck waiting to see when the state will ultimately pay its bill.”
Galvin’s company also drilled fracking test wells earlier in the decade but has yet to commercialize the technique. Great Bear previously estimated it could frack 200,000 barrels of crude per day by 2020 and 600,000 barrels per day by 2056, though it appears a long way from reaching those aspirations.
Another tax subsidy fight in Alaska is currently underway over the proposed Alaska House Bill 111, which passed 21-19 in the Democratic-controlled House and awaits a Republican-controlled Senate vote. The state bill—opposed by Conoco Phillips, BP, Great Bear Petroleum and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association—would essentially undo the tax subsidy in place under the More Alaska Production Act, while also forcing the oil and gas industry to pay more taxes to fill the state’s coffers.
In the end, tapping Alaska’s shale resources via fracking, not unlike the attempts to drill for its Arctic oil, may come down to a simple issue of money. Whether enough cash will flow to the 49th state to make fracking a commercial-scale endeavor remains to be seen.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Chicago Mayor Recoups Climate Change Data Deleted from EPA Website
By Cassie Kelly May 7, 2017
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his own ideas about the Trump administration taking down important climate data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
This weekend, Emanuel posted the scrubbed data on the City of Chicago’s official website to preserve the “decades of research [the agency] has done to advance the fight against climate change. ” Emanuel said he plans to develop the site further in the coming weeks.
“While this information may not be readily available on the agency’s webpage right now, here in Chicago we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it,” Mayor Emanuel said.
The new page highlights NOAA records on global warming, basic information on what climate change is, the impact that it will have on things like farming and human health, and what citizens can do to reduce their emissions. It even has a section linking to the president’s Climate Action Plan, which as of right now, doesn’t lead anywhere but a blank page that says “stay tuned.”
The Trump Administration has shown it is not making climate action a priority and is leaning toward withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
“The Trump administration can attempt to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees on the reality of climate change, but burying your head in the sand doesn’t erase the problem,” Emanuel said.
Fracking’s Dark Secret
Dr. David Suzuki May 7, 2017
We’ve long known extracting oil and gas comes with negative consequences, and rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases the problems and adds new ones—excessive water use and contamination, earthquakes, destruction of habitat and agricultural lands and methane emissions among them.
As fossil fuel reserves become depleted, thanks to our voracious and wasteful habits, extraction becomes more extreme and difficult. Oil sands mining, deep sea drilling and fracking are employed because easily accessible supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. The costs and consequences are even higher than with conventional sources and methods.
Fracking involves drilling deep into the Earth, and injecting a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to break apart shale and release gas or oil. In British Columbia, politicians tout liquefied natural gas as an economic panacea, a product we can export around the world to create jobs and prosperity at home. More than 80 percent of BC’s natural gas is fracked, and as fracking increases, the percentage rises.
Of the many problems with the industry, methane emissions from fracked and conventional operations are among the most serious. Methane is at least 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. Researchers estimate it’s responsible for 25 percent of already observed climatic changes. One difference between methane and CO2: Methane remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time—around a decade, compared to many decades or centuries for CO2.
Methane’s relatively short lifespan means reducing the amount entering the atmosphere will have major and rapid results. Cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to address climate change. The technology to do so already exists. It’s absurd that the industry is leaking the very resource it wants to sell.
Methane comes from a number of sources, including animal agriculture and natural emissions. Global warming itself means methane once trapped in frozen ground or ice is escaping into the air.
The oil and gas industry is one of the major emitters. A field study by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University found methane pollution from BC’s oil and gas industry is at least 2.5 times higher than BC government estimates.
In 2015 and 2016, foundation researchers joined St. Francis Xavier University’s Flux Lab under the supervision of David Risk, an expert in measurement, detection and repair of fugitive emissions. Using gas-detection instruments mounted on a “sniffer truck,” they traveled more than 8,000 kilometers in northeastern BC. They found methane emissions from BC’s Montney region alone are greater than what the provincial government has estimated for the entire industry! (Montney represents about 55 percent of BC’s oil and gas production). David Suzuki Foundation senior scientist John Werring followed up on and corroborated that research by measuring point-source methane emissions from more than 170 oil and gas sites.
The research, available in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, found Montney operations leak and intentionally release more than 111,800 tonnes of methane into the air annually—equivalent to burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. Half of all well and processing sites in the region are releasing methane.
This research shows that the oil and gas sector is the largest source of climate pollution in BC, surpassing commercial transportation—and it contradicts claims that natural gas or LNG is a clean fuel or that it’s useful to help us transition from other fossil fuels.
Given these results and other studies—including one in Alberta that found the amount of methane leaking from Alberta operations in one year could heat 200,000 homes—it’s time for all levels of government to get industrial methane emissions under control.
Beyond existing commitments to reduce methane emissions by 45 percent, governments must work to eliminate them from this sector by 2030, with strong regulations, monitoring and oversight. We need better leak detection and repair, improved reporting and enforcement and methods to capture emissions rather than burning them.
Climate change is a serious issue, and methane emissions are a significant contributor. Getting them under control is a quick, cost-effective way to help address the problem. What’s stopping us?
Wind Industry Just Chalked Up Strongest First Quarter in 8 years
American Wind Energy Association May 7, 2017
America’s wind power workforce installed 908 utility-scale turbines in the first quarter of 2017, totaling 2,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity. This is the wind industry’s strongest start in eight years, according to a new report released Tuesday by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
“We switched on more megawatts in the first quarter than in the first three quarters of last year combined,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, in releasing the U.S. Wind Industry First Quarter 2017 Market Report. “Each new modern wind turbine supports 44 years of full-time employment over its lifespan, so the turbines we installed in just these three months represent nearly 40,000 job years for American workers.”
The early burst of activity reflects how 500 factories in America’s wind power supply chain and more than 100,000 wind workers are putting stable, multi-year federal policy to work. The industry is now in year three of a five-year phase-down of the Production Tax Credit, and Navigant Consulting recently forecast a strong 2017 for wind power, similar to 2015 and 2016.
New wind turbine installations in the first quarter spanned the U.S. from Rhode Island and North Carolina to Oregon and Hawaii. Great Plains states Texas (724 MW) and Kansas (481 MW) led the pack.
Texas continues as the overall national leader for wind power capacity, with 21,000 MW installed, enough to power more than five million average homes. North Carolina became the 41st state to harness wind power, bringing online the first wind farm to be built in the Southeast in 12 years.
Horace Pritchard, one of nearly 60 landowners associated with the North Carolina project, explained what it means to him and his neighbors: “Farms have been growing corn, soybeans and wheat for a long time here, and the wind farm revenue means a lot of families are protected from pricing swings, floods or droughts going forward. We’re just adding another locally-grown crop to our fields, with very little ground taken out of production, and the improved roads really help with access. So it’s a great fit here.”
Expanding wind farms continue to benefit rural America, since more than 99 percent of wind farms are built in rural communities. According to AWEA’s recently released 2016 Annual Report, wind now pays more than $245 million per year in land-lease payments to local landowners, many of them farmers and ranchers.
Along with rural benefits, American wind manufacturing facilities remain busy in the first quarter as projects continue to be built. With 4,466 MW in new construction and advanced development announcements recorded in the first quarter, the near-term pipeline has reached 20,977 MW of wind capacity. That’s about as much as the entire Texas wind fleet’s existing capacity.
Demand remained strong in the first quarter. There were 1,781 MW signed in long-term contracts for wind energy, the most in a first quarter since 2013. Utilities and Fortune 500 brands frequently use these long-term contracts, called Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), to purchase wind energy. Home Depot and Intuit, maker of TurboTax, both signed up for wind power this quarter, joining a host of Fortune 500 companies like GM, Walmart, and Microsoft that are buying wind energy for its low, stable cost.
In addition to leading brands, low-cost wind power reliably supplies a growing number of cities, universities, and other organizations—including the Department of Defense. This quarter, a Texas wind farm came online to supply a PPA with the U.S. Army. Powering a military facility demonstrates that wind power is ready to reliably serve our most vital electricity needs, boosting American energy security in more ways than one.