The lure of fossil fuel for America’s fifth largest city
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s hard not to think of that definition when considering current plans to build Philadelphia’s economic future on making it a major fossil fuel-based energy hub.
Photo by Laura Pontiggia
The insanity factor here is that Philadelphia has a very long history as a fossil fuel-based energy hub — with very painful consequences. The United State’s first oil wells were drilled in Pennsylvania in the 1850s. It was natural that much of the output from these wells would be processed in the state’s largest city. Over the years, even into the 1970s, refineries (there were seven then, five today), petrochemical manufacturers of plastics and other fossil fuel dependent products, along with related infrastructure, proliferated in around Philadelphia.
The cumulative result of all this economic activity was a massive build up of pollution residues. Which was why Forbes magazine in 2011 ranked Philadelphia the country’s most polluted large American city, the “capital of toxicity,” in the magazine’s own trenchant phrase.
Given that history, what could now lead Philadelphia’ business and political leaders to promote a major fossil fuel-based energy hub to reanimate the city’s future economy, a plan leading the press to dub Philadelphia, “the new Houston?” The answer to this question comes down to four words: Marcellus shale natural gas.
Most of the prolific production from Marcellus shale gas wells is now generated in Pennsylvania. The “new Houston” development plan envisions Philadelphia as the a major recipient of this gas, almost all of which now goes elsewhere by pipeline, primarily to processing facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. A proposed LNG (liquefied natural gas) exporting terminal in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section has in recent months become the focus of much of the debate over this whole energy hub concept.
The environmental objections to this LNG terminal touch upon its possible (and indeed likely) negative effects on local air and water quality. They also include upstream environmental issues, notably the enhanced Marcellus shale fracking that would be necessary to meet the natural gas supply needs of …more
Bill sitting on Governor McCrory’s desk would make it illegal to document or film animal abuse on factory farms
Whistleblowers beware. Last week, the North Carolina senate passed HB 405, a controversial “ag-gag” bill that would make it illegal to document unethical or illegal practices on industrial farms in the state. Passed by the House in April, the bill has been presented to the Governor, who has five more days to veto it. If he does nothing (or signs it) before the end of the week, North Carolina will join Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Utah as the fifth state with a law criminalizing undercover investigations of factory farms.
Photo by Farm Sanctuary
The North Carolina bill would stifle would-be whistleblowers by making it illegal for employees to record or remove employer data or records, to record any images or sound on their employer’s property, or to place an unattended camera to film the property. It would also make it illegal to seek employment for the purpose of exposing animal abuse, environmental harms, or food safety issues on farms, or for anything other than a “bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment.” If the bill is signed by Governor McCrory, employees could be sued for breaching the “duty of loyalty” to their employer, and liable for $5,000 per day they are found in breach, court costs, and any actual damages caused by the breach.
In addition to North Carolina, ag-gag bills are also currently under consideration in New Mexico and Washington.
Animal welfare advocates are particularly concerned about HB 405 because of North Carolina’s prominent factory farm industry. The state ranks second in the country for the number of factory-farmed hogs, second in turkey production, and sixth in production of factory-farmed broiler chickens. (In North Carolina, factory farm chickens out number people nine to one.)
“For a state like North Carolina to be really shut down from investigations is very detrimental and would put billions of animals at risk,” says Matt Dominguez, public policy director for the Human Society of the United States’ farm animal protection campaign.
Although the North Carolina bill appears to be geared towards the agriculture industry, the duty of loyalty extends to employees beyond the agricultural sector. Opponents say the law would also apply to whistleblowers trying to document abuse at nursing homes and day care centers. Dominguez believes …more
Area known as the Galápagos of the north is again choked with oil as operators exploit patchy regulation
By Andrew Gumbel
Mark Massara was eight years old in 1969, when a blowout at a Union Oil well off the California coast spilled more than three million gallons of crude along the beaches of Santa Barbara and devastated one of the northern hemisphere’s most prized ecosystems.
Photo by Glenn Beltz, on Flickr
He remembers going to the beach with his family and throwing hay on the oil as it washed ashore — a frustratingly inadequate gesture that stayed with him as he later built a career as one of California’s top environmental lawyers.
Last week, Massara was back in Santa Barbara, surveying the damage of the latest of many spills along California’s staggeringly beautiful central coast and lamenting how little has changed in the past 46 years. An oil slick stretching for miles is once again choking fish and wildlife, and again local residents are flocking to foul-smelling, blackened beaches to do what little they can to help with the cleanup.
“Instead of hay, now we have five-gallon buckets and hand shovels,” Massara said. “We’ve gotten really sophisticated.”
This time, the rupture is in a pipeline running close to the Pacific coast highway near Refugio state beach, a popular spot on a long, undeveloped stretch of coastline north of Santa Barbara. The Texas-based operator, Plains All American Pipeline, has estimated that up to 105,000 gallons leached into a storm drain before the supply was cut off, and that about 20,000 gallons of that travelled the extra quarter-mile to the ocean.
The company has described these figures as a “worst-case scenario” and expects them to go down, whereas environmental activists including Massara who have viewed the 11-mile slick expect the numbers to go up, perhaps dramatically.
Almost everything about the spill — the speed with which it was discovered and the pump turned off, the pace of the response, the quality of maintenance on the pipe and the company’s adherence to a knot of local, state and federal regulations — is mired in controversy and remains subject to multiple investigations. The …more
Film series tells the stories of eight embattled indigenous communities around the world
This story originally appeared in Triple Pundit.
In the last month, Native Hawaiians blockaded construction machinery headed for the top of sacred Mauna Kea, where a 30-meter telescope is to be built. Thirty-one people were arrested. In Arizona, members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe walked 45 miles to Oak Flats and occupied a ceremonial initiation site that the US Congress has handed over to a London-based mining company for a copper mine. In California, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe continues their fierce opposition to government plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam, which would flood Winnemem sacred sites.
Photo by Christopher McLeod
Sacred places are alive in the hearts and minds of native people around the world. Mountains, springs, lakes, rivers, trees, groves, caves — these are sites of ceremony, inspiration and learning for human cultures throughout time. From Mt. Fuji to Uluru, from Taos Blue Lake to the Grand Canyon, sacred lands anchor peoples’ souls to earth.
The public relations push to proclaim national parks as “America’s Best Idea” missed an important historic fact: Sacred places are the oldest protected areas on the planet. This is an old idea. Perhaps it has been buried by monotheistic Christian ideals that instruct man to dominate nature, or capitalist market values that dictate extraction and profit off land that is bought and sold. But long before there was a “protected area movement” to counter environmental threats, there were culturally protected places on every continent. And there still are.
By Christopher McLeod
Sacred lands are more than esoteric, spiritual sanctuaries. These places protect biodiversity. The World Bank reports that indigenous people make up 4 percent of the world’s population and control 22 percent of the earth’s surface — and on that land is 80 percent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. People whose connection to land goes back centuries …more
ACLU calls arrangement “flat out unconstitutional”
Between June and October 2013, Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, paid a local Pennsylvania police department more than $50,000 to patrol a controversial pipeline upgrade. The company requested that the officers, though officially off-duty, be in uniform and marked cars. Kinder Morgan’s aim, according to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, was to use law enforcement to “deter protests” in order to avoid “costly delays.”
Photo by Delaware Riverkeeper
It’s unclear if the police department instructed its officers to explicitly “deter protests” but, if officers carried out Kinder Morgan’s request, their conduct would clearly violate the First Amendment rights of protesters.
“It is politically and socially entirely inappropriate for a private company to be able to hire a police department and use its officers to try to intimidate protesters of one stripe or another,” says David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia and a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
In a letter to the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department (EPRPD) dated May 1 2013, Duane Jones, Kinder Morgan’s corporate security manager, acknowledged the “controversial nature” of the pipeline project and requested that the local police “provide a visible presence to create a deterrent effect.” The officers began conducting patrols in June 2013 and were paid $54.80 an hour for their off-duty services. The patrols were terminated in October of that year.
The off duty officers were employed in addition to a 24/7 roving private security patrol.
Two weeks after Kinder Morgan sent the letter (described as a “letter of engagement for police services”), the Eastern Pike Regional Police Commission voted to accept Kinder Morgan’s proposal to contract with the department. In an email from the EPRPD to Off Duty Services, a Texas based private security company that administered the contract, the department said that its attorney would “cc you a copy of the contract.” In response to several public records requests, however, EPRPD has said that no contract exists.
Chief of police Chad Steward declined to comment for this story and referred me to the commission’s solicitor, Thomas Mincer. Mincer also declined to comment.
“If they are actually being instructed to deter protest that’s not okay,” says Mary Catherine …more
As the University of Hawai'i was cozying up to GMO giant Monsanto, one of the school's professors says that he was forced to tolerate a climate of 'bigotry, retaliation and hostility' for speaking out on risks of genetic engineering
This story originally appeared in Cascadia Times
The islands of Hawai`i are like a magnet attracting insects from all over the world. Bugs catch a ride on every ship headed to the islands, and state authorities often find bug species they’d never seen before. And the bugs stay.
As Hawai`i has no winter frost to beat back pests, over time this accumulation of bugs started to become a problem, especially for farmers. Their response: apply a heavy dose of chemicals
Photo by Justin Ennis
A Hawai`i Department of Agriculture report from 1969 said Hawaiian farmers were using pesticides at a rate 10 times higher than the national average (in terms of pounds per acre).
In 1993, Dr. Hector Valenzuela, then a non-tenured professor of tropical plant and soil science at the University of Hawai`i-Manoa, began a long-term research project to determine whether it’s possible to grow crops in the state without synthetic pesticides. Valenzuela, who in 1990 received his Ph.D. in vegetable crops from the University of Florida, established the first long-term organic farming research project in Hawai`i and the Pacific region.
Valenzuela planted 50 varieties of vegetables — including tomato, daikon radish, bulb onion, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, sweet potato and bell pepper — on 2.5 acres at the university’s Waimanalo Experiment Station located some 15 miles from the Manoa campus in the southeast corner of Oahu. With an enrollment of about 20,000, the Manoa campus, located near downtown Honolulu, is the largest of the 19 units in the University of Hawai`i system. The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) where Valenzuela teaches is the largest unit within the Manoa campus.
By 1999, he had initiated several long-term research projects at Waimanalo. The organic farming plots were his research laboratory.
But it all came to an end inexplicably in 1998 when Charles Laughlin, then the dean of CTAHR, shut down the organic farming research project. Valenzuela recalls the dean’s exact words: “You can no longer use those plots.” Laughlin had decided that a Japanese religious group would use them instead.
“I saw the removal of my field laboratory as an infringement of my academic freedom,” he says. “The college …more
'Shocking' $5.3 trillion subsidy estimate for 2015 'shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap'
By Damian Carrington
Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion a year, equivalent to $10 million a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan, on Flickr
The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3 trillion subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.
The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.
Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”
Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”
The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20 percent. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date.
Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50 percent — about 1.6 million lives a year.
Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth.