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This week, we got some disappointing news - a judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers isn't responsible for considering the health effects of coal pollution when it issues permits to fill valleys with rubble from mountaintop-removal coal mines. As Appalachian residents continue to suffer every year from well-documented health problems linked to mountaintop removal, this decision highlights a deadly loophole that requires long-overdue action from the White House and Congress.
Responsibility is a tricky thing. In our daily lives we work to be conscientious of our bills, our taxes, our family lives and a myriad of other duties that come up every day. But what happens when say, no one in the house takes responsibility for the dirty dishes? They keep piling up and things get pretty nasty.
Now, instead of dishes, think about what happens when no one chooses to take responsibility for the terrible effects coal pollution has on public health. From soot and smog to asthma, cancer and heart attacks, things go from nasty to life-threatening.
That's exactly what's happening right now in Kentucky where a court ruled (PDF) in essence that the Army Corps doesn't need to consider the health problems caused by mountaintop-removal coal mining because the Corps is only responsible for issuing permits that allow stream destruction associated with the mining, not the mining operation itself, even though the Corps admits that the mining operation could not go forward without the permit it issued. The crux of this ruling is that no one is currently taking responsibility for mining pollution that poses a serious threat to our health, waterways and communities.
Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps and the Kentucky Division of Mining Permits all have the ability to protect our health, but they’re currently all saying "it's not my problem."
This Appalachian health crisis isn't one that can be solved by pointing fingers. The statistics are staggering: the health care costs associated with mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia is estimated to be $80 billion per year. Further, roughly 60,000 additional cases of cancer can be attributed to the process and significantly higher rates of birth defects are just two of the many additional health issues facing residents in mining communities.
Simply put, we're having the wrong conversation. Solutions to the Appalachian health crisis, and who's responsible for ensuring safe, healthy communities, shouldn't be a game of hot potato. We're deeply disappointed in the Army Corps for again arguing against the best interests of the communities it serves.
It's up to the Environmental Protection Agency to create and enforce strong clean water and mining health protections. The Army Corps has a responsibility to take into consideration dangers to human health in its work. Congress should ensure that mountaintop-removal mining ceases to be a cause of human pain and suffering in Appalachia by passing the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which would halt new permits for mountaintop removal while requiring the federal government to complete a comprehensive health study of its effects. And every state where coal mining occurs should work to ensure that coal companies aren’t writing or ignoring rules meant to protect our communities' health.
With hundreds of thousands reeling in the aftermath of coal pollution spills in West Virginia and North Carolina, its more clear than ever that we need to close these loopholes, and protect our health, our families, and our communities.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. Image courtesy of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
The Senate was buzzing yesterday about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
If approved, the highly controversial pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of corrosive crude oil each day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in places like Port Arthur, Texas. To put that in perspective, it would be the equivalent of building 46 new coal burning power plants.
Tar sands that are already being transported in the U.S. have resulted in major problems, including pipeline leaks, petcoke dust, and increased rates of rare cancers near extraction sites.
That’s a health and national security risk we can’t afford for ourselves, our future generations, or our planet. Luckily, climate and public health champions like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recognize these hazards and are sticking up for our families and our planet.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Boxer hosted a press event where citizens and medical professionals who live near each part of the Keystone XL pipeline process, from extraction to waste removal, testified about the harmful effects tar sands oil is already having on their health and their communities. They called for a comprehensive human health impact study to determine the real costs of building the pipeline.
Sen. Boxer echoed that sentiment again yesterday when she invited five nurses from National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union and professional association of nurses in the country, to speak to the health effects they see in their patients on a daily basis as a result of the tar sands.
The nurses hailed from all across the country, representing 185,000 nurses nationwide, and their message was clear: we cannot authorize a pipeline that harms our planet and the health of our families.
“It’s a nightmare,” Boxer said. “Is it in the national interest to keep our people healthy? Yes.”
Karen Higgins, a Boston-based nurse and NNU co-president, agreed with Sen. Boxer that building the KXL pipeline is not in our nation’s best interest, citing the epidemic proportions of asthma in the U.S. as well as increased rates of cancer, leukemia, skin and eye issues, and nervous system damage as a result of tar sands production.
Kari Columbus, a nurse from Kansas City, Kansas, sees the impacts of tar sands daily on herself, her children and her patients.
“We need to look at the long term consequences as a whole,” she said. “It seems like they’re more concerned about money than they are the people that are affected.”
Rolanda Watson, a Chicago nurse, has seen an increase in respiratory diseases as a result of the plumes of petcoke dust that swirl around the Windy City. Petcoke, also called Petroleum Coke, is the waste leftover after tar sands are refined. The waste is then stored in open-air pits where it is free to blow about the city and is inhaled by unsuspecting people.
“Lung diseases decrease the ability to fight other diseases,” Watson said. “I am urging stricter regulations and stricter fines for the companies that violate them.”
Brenda Prewitt, a Houston-based nurse, has seen what these types of pollution do to our children. Houston is already home to various refineries for everything from tar sands to chemicals. The addition of the KXL pipeline will increase the amount of oil being refined, thus increasing the amount of pollution in the air and water.
“Our children are our future,” Prewitt said. She cited a study by the University of Texas School of Public Health that revealed “children who live within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than children living elsewhere.”
The Houston Ship Channel would refine the tar sands and pollute the air even more, a health risk the children there can’t afford.
Rounding out the group was Katy Roemer, a California nurse who lives near the Richmond, Calif. tar sands refinery. She sees the health effects in her patients and in the 25,000 people who live near the refinery.
“We can and must do better for our planet and all who live here,” Roemer said. “Do not approve the Keystone XL pipeline unless you can prove it won’t harm our communities, patients, families, and environment.”
“People need to hear these voices,” Sen. Boxer added. “These are the people who take care of our families and see mistakes from policies.”
The nurses have launched a petition to make sure their voices are heard by Secretary Kerry.
That’s also why Sen. Boxer brought the nurses’ fight to the forefront during today’s Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Keystone XL. The Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune and renowned climate scientist James Hansen were among the speakers today who opposed Keystone XL.
“The sad truth is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward,” Brune said.
“We’re going to leave our young people a climate system that is spiraling out of control,” Hansen said. “We're all on the same boat, we'll all either sink together, or find a way to float together.”
“I know this is an uphill battle,” Sen. Boxer said to conclude her press conference. “I’ve had that before. [But] ask any American if increasing the leukemia risk for children is worth it. They’d say no.”
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
Photo by Sarah White, courtesy of Conservation Colorado.
By Catherine Collentine, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Representative, Colorado
On February 23, Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) finalized a set of air quality regulations that make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions statewide. The rules were finalized following five days of public comment and stakeholder testimony that included many concerned citizens.
Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter members joined other community members, industry representatives, and elected officials to voice their concerns to the AQCC. One RMC member, Tara Meixsell, traveled across the state to make her voice heard. That's Tara, below at right, with Catherine Collentine and Matt Sura, an attorney representing a group of affected and concerned citizens at the rulemaking.
Tara had testified before the AQCC six years earlier in a similar rulemaking process, but the resulting rule had been limited to the Front Range, and she saw the need for strong, statewide rules to come out of this process. In her three-minute testimony, Tara spoke on behalf of her neighbors who are "dead, ill, or slowly dying and watching their country homes being turned into industrial sites as property values plummeted." She spoke of those close to her, saying "these people are not environmental activists; they are everyday people" and imploring the AQCC to this time pass rigorous statewide air quality standards with no exemptions.
Tara's heartfelt testimony on behalf of affected landowners in Colorado was heard along with testimony from more than 100 other community members, the majority supporting strong, statewide rules. Public comments were followed by testimony from industry, environmental groups including the Sierra Club, students, craft brewers (they made a special beer for the occasion), health professionals, faith leaders, and local governments.
Below, representatives of Brewery Rickoli from Wheat Ridge, Colorado, just west of Denver, hand out beer brewed for the occasion to the commissioners at the rulemaking.
- The most comprehensive leak detection and repair program for oil and gas facilities in the country.
- Regulation of a range of hydrocarbon emissions that can contribute to harmful ozone formation as well as climate change. The rules include first-in-the-nation provisions to reduce methane emissions.
- Implementation of the rules will reduce more than 92,000 tons per year of volatile organic compound emissions. VOC emissions contribute to ground level ozone that has adverse impacts on public health and the environment, including increased asthma and other respiratory ailments.
- Implementation of the rules also will reduce methane emissions by more than 60,000 tons per year.
- Expanded control and inspection requirements for storage, including a first-in-the-nation standard to ensure that emissions from tanks are captured and routed to the required control devices.
- Expanded ozone non-attainment area requirements for auto-igniters and low-bleed pneumatics to the rest of the state.
- Requirement for no-bleed (zero-emission) pneumatics where electricity is available (in lieu of using gas to actuate pneumatic).
- Requirements that gas stream at well production facilities either be connected to a pipeline or routed to a control device from the date of first production.
- More stringent control requirements for glycol dehydrators.
- A requirement to use best management practices to minimize the need for -- and emissions from -- well maintenance.
- Expanding operator use of infrared (IR) cameras, which allow people to see emissions that otherwise would be invisible to the naked eye. Colorado obtained IR cameras for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources inspectors last year. They are an effective tool in identifying leaking equipment and reducing pollution.
- Comprehensive recordkeeping and reporting requirements to help ensure transparent and accurate information.
The Commission also rejected two major pushes by industry parties to weaken the rules. An effort to exempt wells with low levels of VOC emissions from the leak detection rule (which would have exempted numerous wells) got a lot of attention during the hearing, but the commissioners voted it down 6-3. Industry parties also pressed hard for a "step down" provision that would let companies conduct less frequent leak inspections after two clean inspections (with the threshold to qualify for the "step down" set so high that most of the companies in Colorado already meet it). For technical details, the final rules can be reviewed here.
These rules are an exciting step forward for Colorado in regulating oil and gas emissions across the state. However, the Commission failed to adopt strong proposals to further protect communities that have drilling near homes and schools; push for the best available technology for both prevention and detection of leaks; and eliminate the exception for downstream compressor stations that account for 15 percent of leaks nationally. Coloradans will continue to fight the powerful oil and gas industry to protect their air and public health, and the Sierra Club will continue to support and engage in this battle on every level.
Today Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune testified at a Senate hearing about the Keystone XL pipeline. Here's video of his testimony:
And here are the printed remarks:
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Corker, members of the committee, it is an honor to appear before you today to discuss whether Keystone XL is in the national interest. I’m Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club, and the more than two million people who submitted comments last week to the State Department, know this pipeline is not in our national interest. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would cut through more than a thousand miles of American farms and ranches, carrying oil that is more toxic, corrosive, difficult to clean up, and more carbon intensive all the way to the Gulf, where most of the oil would be exported.
Like many of you, I am a parent, and I am deeply concerned about the world we are leaving for our children. One lesson my wife and I try to teach our kids is the need to set goals and remain focused as you strive to achieve them. Our country has a clear, science-based goal to limit climate pollution. We must keep this in mind and recognize that achieving that goal, is incompatible with permitting this pipeline.
None of the scenarios in the State Department’s analysis show how Keystone XL could be built in a way that insures our nation can meet those climate goals. In fact, Keystone XL would significantly exacerbate climate pollution because it would increase the development of tar sands substantially. A report last week from Carbon Tracker found that Keystone XL would spur additional production of roughly 500,000 barrels per day, the emissions equivalent of building 46 new coal plants.
I would like to enter this report into the record today.
Although the climate impacts of tar sands are sufficient reason to reject this project, there are others:
Any spill from this pipeline could be catastrophic.
Transporting tar sands crude into the United States poses a heightened risk to communities and their air and water than conventional oil. Diluted bitumen is heavier and more toxic than conventional crude. When it spills in a waterway, it sinks. Just one tar sands oil spill in Michigan fouled more than 35 miles of river. After three and a half years and more than a billion dollars, that spill still has not been cleaned up. Take a look at this image from a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas where an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured, spilling more than 7,000 barrels of tar sands into resident’s backyards and driveways.
Even without spills, the Keystone XL would risk the health and livelihood of communities living near each stage of the project. Petcoke is a byproduct of tar sands production, and its a major health hazard for U.S. communities. Fuel-grade petcoke contains high levels of toxins, including mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, chromium, nickel, and vanadium. Huge petcoke piles from refining processes have begun to appear in cities like Chicago and Detroit.
Furthermore, Keystone XL would not even benefit American consumers.
This oil is intended for export.
Keystone XL would deliver tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast that already export most of their refined product, have increased their exports nearly 200 percent in the past five years and are planning to increase these exports further in the future.
Keystone XL would also be be a threat to national security.
Because it would facilitate the development of one of the world’s most carbon intensive sources of oil, it is important to consider the impacts that these additional greenhouse gas emissions would have on people worldwide and America’s national security.
Since 2010, key national security reports have indicated that floods, droughts, and rising seas brought on by a destabilized climate in places of geostrategic importance to the U.S. multiply threats and risks for Americans working in those areas.
Climate disruption directly affects our armed forces. Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Military’s Pacific Command, believes the single greatest threat to his forces is the instability sparked by climate disruption.
Finally, clean energy will power a new American economy. Let’s not delay.
America is a land of innovators. Today the factories of Detroit, the laboratories of Silicon Valley, and the next generation of American consumers are already investing in and profiting from clean technology. Thanks to fuel-efficiency standards, gasoline demand in the U.S. is decreasing and projections show decreases through 2040 and beyond.
Investing in the clean energy economy is supported by American businesses, workers, and all who care about clean air, water and a stable climate. That’s a win-win-win scenario. Compared this to Keystone XL, which jeopardizes our drinking water, farmland, climate, and health. The sad truth is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward.
Secretary Kerry has called climate disruption “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and last week, he instructed all U.S. diplomats and employees around the world to “lead by example through strong action at home and abroad” to fight the climate crisis. America can lead on climate, by saying no to this polluting pipeline, and saying yes to clean energy.
Dr. Kim, President of the World Bank, has declared the world must do more to address climate disruption. His lofty rhetoric has soared over that of previous World Bank presidents, drawing widespread support for his progressive stance. But for those who follow this institution closely, one thing has always been true – talk is cheap. That’s why all eyes are now focused on whether Dr. Kim will walk the walk by rejecting a highly controversial new coal plant in the tiny Eastern European country of Kosovo. When it comes to making decisions that test their willingness to build climate legacies, President Obama has the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and Dr. Kim has a massive coal plant in Kosovo.
Dr. Kim’s decision should be cut-and-dried. The World Bank recently put coal finance restrictions in place, putting the institution on the right side of history. These restrictions essentially ended the institution’s support for the most carbon-intensive and destructive fossil fuel known to man or, as Grist blogger David Roberts, calls it, “the enemy of the human race.” But rather than adhere to these restrictions, let alone his own calls to address climate disruption, Dr. Kim is allowing the World Bank to pave the way for support for yet another coal plant, this time in Kosovo.
About three years ago, the World Bank began considering a loan guarantee for the construction of a new coal plant in Kosovo on the baseless assertion that this tiny nation was a renewable energy wasteland. But that’s not the case. In fact, the Bank’s own former chief clean-energy czar, Dr. Daniel Kammen, released a study showing that Kosovo can power itself with clean energy and do so more cheaply while producing more jobs than it would by building a coal plant. But rather than listen to his own former staff, Dr. Kim, a public health champion, has made embarrassing statements about Kosovars “freezing to death” as the alternative to funding this controversial project.
Kosovars have not responded kindly to the idea that their country, on course to join the European Union, has advanced so little that their citizens are freezing and dying in the streets. That’s why local civil society led by KOSID has waged a campaign for several years demanding Dr. Kim make good on his rhetoric and help move their country onto a clean-energy path that aligns with the rest of the EU. From high profile public service announcements about the health and economic risks of this ill-advised project to illuminating their demand for “no new coal in Kosovo” on the World Bank’s building in Washington, D.C., Kosovar citizens have made their opinion abundantly clear.
The problem is Dr. Kim isn’t listening. Instead, the World Bank is moving forward by conducting an environmental and social impact assessment that is likely to be perfunctory and pave the way for a final board vote that would approve millions of dollars for the coal-burning plant. Worse, sources are saying that in addition to providing a loan guarantee, the institution might double down and invest directly in the plant since even coal-plant construction companies aren’t investing.
But it’s not over yet. Across the world, civil society groups including the Sierra Club and KOSID are banding together to draw a line in the sand. It’s no longer enough to simply make strong statements about climate. It’s time to walk the walk. So let Dr. Kim know, just like President Obama, you’re watching to see if he passes his climate test.
Join us in taking Twitter by storm today and sending him a message: All eyes now on Dr. Kim @WorldBank, will he pass his #ClimateTest & reject #coal in #Kosovo?
Remember the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Whether it was for work or school or family reasons, you know its a lot easier to get things done in the wee hours of the morning when you know you’ve got a little support from your friends.
Last night, a group of 30 friends of the planet in the U.S. Senate stayed up all night urging action onSenator Whitehouse (D-RI) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.
climate disruption. And we wanted to be sure they knew that Sierra Club members and supporters all across the country were standing side by side with them as they fought off fatigue and fought back against the climate crisis.
That’s why Sierra Club staff and volunteers took to Capitol Hill, to bring support for the long night ahead to the offices of Senators Heinrich, Whitehouse, Schatz, Markey, Kaine, Shaheen, and Murphy.
The Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force have had enough of the inaction by their colleagues when it comes to acting on climate disruption, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently called “the worst problem facing the world today.”Senator Schatz (D-HI) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.
"The cost of Congress' inaction on climate change is too high for our communities, our kids and grandkids, and our economy,” Senator Whitehouse said in a statement. “On Monday we’ll be sending a clear message: it’s time for Congress to wake up and get serious about addressing this issue.”
Senator Reid, along Senators Heinrich, Whitehouse, Schatz, Markey, Kaine, Shaheen, and Murphy, were joined for the 14 hour 36 minute ‘talkathon’ by Senators Durbin, Schumer, Murray, Boxer, Feinstein, Wyden, Nelson, Cantwell, Cardin, Sanders, Klobuchar, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Merkley, Gillibrand, Franken, Blumenthal, King, Leahy, Warren, Coons, Reed, and Booker.
While we’d love to visit with every Member of Congress to help them arise from their collective slumberSenator Heinrich (D-NM) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.
over the climate crisis, we hope that last night’s action by the Senators drove the message home that the time is now to wake up and act on climate.
-- Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
Last week, security guards at Duke Energy's Charlotte headquarters blocked me from delivering 9,000 petitions signed by Duke customers calling on the company to clean up its toxic coal ash, in the wake of a spill that decimated 70 miles of the Dan River. It was the culmination of a dramatic rally that shone a glaring spotlight on one company’s reckless pollution practices, and the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency to finally close coal water pollution loopholes, without delay.
After keeping the crowd waiting for 45 tense minutes, a Duke spokesperson finally accepted our petitions. You'd think Duke would roll out the red carpet for the public, given all the scrutiny of this spill and their cozy relationship with NC governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee - outlined in this recent front page New York Times article with the telling headline "Coal Ash Spill Shows How a Watchdog was Defanged." Instead, they shut the door in our faces, perhaps symbolic of how they wish this whole issue would just go away.
Well, the issue of coal pollution in our water is not going away - not by a long shot.
In their coverage of the rally, CNN pointed out there are hundreds more Dan River disasters waiting to happen, at hundreds of coal ash storage sites nationwide. As I told the crowd in Charlotte, reported by CNN,
"This needs to be our last wake-up call. Our last coal ash spill."
The good news is that the EPA has the opportunity, and the authority, to ensure this is our last coal ash spill. The agency has drafted two standards (one for coal ash disposal and the second for coal plant water pollution) that could prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. The bad news is that the coal industry - including big coal burning utilities like Duke - is putting the screws to the EPA and the White House to try and make the final standards toothless. We can't let that happen.
Coal ash is a waste product from power plants, and it contains a witches' brew of toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. It may be stored near your drinking water supply - check out our new map of coal as sites to find out.
Meanwhile, in my home state of West Virginia, people are still afraid to drink their water, almost two months after a coal chemical spilled into the drinking water supply for over 300,000 people. Last week, West Virginians delivered 50,000 petitions calling on the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to take over enforcement of mining and water pollution standards, currently being run by the state. But that hasn't stopped Gov. Tomblin from continued grandstanding against EPA regulation of carbon pollution, despite the recent poll showing two out of three West Virginia voters support more enforcement and stronger environmental regulations in the state.
Over the coming weeks, we will be working hard to make it crystal clear to the EPA, Duke Energy, and all the nation's coal water polluters that enough is enough. No more delays. No more excuses. No more coal pollution spills. If you want to help now, click here to send a message to the EPA.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Setting aside the critically important fact that Keystone XL and the tar sands oil it would tap into would have devastating repercussions on our climate crisis, what the FEIS omits entirely are the serious health effects on the people along its proposed route from Canada to Texas. Every step of the way, from extraction to refining to waste removal, is a proven public health disaster.
“I’m concerned about the impact of tar sands on our people wherever they live,” Boxer said.
Today, four voices that could speak to that joined Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to talk about their first-hand experiences with tar sands oil at each stage of the process of its production.
The tar sands originate and are mined largely in Alberta, Canada, the home of Dr. John O’Connor. In the Fort Chipewyan area O’Connor serves, residents of this tiny town are 30 percent more likely to develop cancer -- specifically rare cancers like cholangiocarcinoma, a fatal bile duct cancer.
Disturbed by the drastically increasing cancer rates, O’Connor brought this information to the attention of the authorities starting nearly a decade ago. Since then, he says, tar sands extraction has increased, and the authorities have done nothing.
“It’s a public health crisis in this community,” O’Connor said.
A bit further to the southeast, Dr. Stuart Batterman, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has found the public health crisis to be just as dramatic. He’s observed an increase in the number of adult males developing leukemia in the area surrounding tar sands oil refineries. And he believes we are significantly underestimating the number of chemicals used in the refining process.
“We need to be proactive and avoid this situation in the first place,” Batterman said, arguing that the key is solving the problem before the cancer develops, not doing damage control after it’s found.
Even further south at the ultimate destination of the Keystone XL pipeline in Port Arthur, Texas, Hilton Kelly, an environmental justice activist and founder and CEO of Community In-power and Development Association Inc., said introducing tar sands oil in an area already saturated with numerous oil refineries and chemical plants would make a bad situation much worse. Kelly said tar sands and Keystone XL would increasing the emission of benzene, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air residents of Port Arthur breathe on a daily basis.
"Enough is enough,” Kelly said. “We do not need nor do we want tar sands in our community. It's time for the onslaught to end."
Once the oil is refined, the leftover waste, called petroleum coke or petcoke, needs to go somewhere. One of those places is southeast Chicago, home of Tom Shepherd, vice president of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago. These mountains of petcoke line rivers in the area and are dangerously close to backyards, parks, and schools. Because the petcoke is stored in open air pits, large clouds of black dust have been swirling around southeast Chicago for months. It has affected children and the community and has forced residents to stay in their homes for fear of developing asthma and other diseases.
“The dust coats our homes, and we’re afraid it will coat our lungs,” Shepherd said. “It has no place near homes, schools, and parks, not in southeast, not in any community.”
If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, these Americans and millions more like them will continue to suffer at the hands of tar sands oil and all of the waste and contamination associated with it.
"If we continue with the status quo, we're in for a dangerous ride," Whitehouse said.
Senators Boxer and Whitehouse are writing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to hopefully change that. Their goal is for the State Department to conduct a human health impact study on the tar sands and to show once and for all the harm tar sands oil and Keystone XL has on the health of Americans.
"Nothing less than the health of our families is at stake," Boxer said.
-Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.
This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.
Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.
There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country. "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.
The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.
There have been many success stories -- just not as many as EJ activists would have hoped. Over the past 20 years we have seen a few Superfund sites remediated, some Brownfields have been redeveloped, some buyouts have occurred that relocated residents plagued by toxic hazards, some polluters have been shut down, and some 'bad actors' have been criminally prosecuted.
Partnerships have been promoted, colleges and universities have embraced EJ communities and worked to alleviate suffering and raise the level of consciousness about disproportionate amounts of pollution and contamination in neighborhoods. Large environmental groups like the Sierra Club that had not traditionally been involved in EJ felt compelled to do so and established staff and programs to support poor and people of color communities.
Within the Sierra Club EJ guidelines and procedures were developed to ensure we worked in a respectful and sensitive way. In the broader community, lots of policy work has been done to counter policy work that was being done by corporate and business lobbyists. Numerous reports, articles, and academic studies have been produced. Numerous books have been written on the subject of EJ, and folks from coast to coast have kept the EJ movement fires burning over the years.
When I think back to all the community members that were "fighters" and present at the time Executive Order 12898 was signed in 1994, I am saddened because many have passed away. They fought a good fight for so many years, but have left us with a legacy that demands we continue to be strong fighters for clean healthy communities and never give up.
(L to R, Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice & Sustainable Communities; Rita Harris; Angelo Logan of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles; Charles Lee, the deputy associate administrator for environmental justice at the EPA; and Richard Moore, former member of NEJAC and former director of the Southwest Organizing Project in New Mexico.)
These were my personal thoughts as I sat in the EPA National Environmental Justice Council meeting held in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2014. I had the opportunity to participate in the 20th anniversary commemoration of Executive Order 12898 with other colleagues and friends. It was a time to reflect and also a time to rededicate ourselves to continuing the hard work of so many fighting for environmental justice. In addition, there was a moment of silence for all those EJ fighters who have passed away that was quite moving.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended and addressed NEJAC, expressing continued support for environmental justice communities coast to coast. The political climate has given us peaks and valleys in the EJ movement and has activists now trying to regain the momentum we lost during eight years of the Bush Administration. As we all know, we must keep the pressure on to achieve success, but at least for now we have an EPA administrator that supports environmental justice. "EJ Plan 2014" is the EPA's roadmap to achieve success. We can all help keep the focus on support for EJ issues and EJ communities.
West Virginians hold the coal industry responsible for air and water contamination in the state, and they are tired of the stranglehold they believe the industry's lobbyists have on state politics.
That's just one of many powerful findings of a new poll out today about the aftermath of the January coal chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.
The Sierra Club and Hart Research Associates polled West Virginia voters, and look at the results:
2) West Virginians strongly support increased regulations and enforcement to protect air and water. And they don't just want "better enforcement" in the abstract – they solidly endorse specific changes in policy and more EPA involvement in the state.
3) Two out of every three West Virginians support political candidates who are independent of the coal industry.
This is major news – even in a state long dominated by the coal industry, my fellow West Virginians have made it clear that a majority want strong Environmental Protection Agency and state action on coal industry pollution. They want the coal industry out of the pockets of their state politicians [or leaders if politicians is not compliant], and they want state leaders to stop cozying up to the industry.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where thousands of people are reeling after a coal ash dam leaked into the Dan River earlier this month, there is major frustration as well. State officials confirmed last week they've known for years that toxins from Duke Energy's 14 coal ash ponds around the state are seeping into groundwater.
That's on top of the controversy surrounding just how close Governor Pat McCrory (a former Duke Energy employee) and the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources is with Duke Energy. Recent reports have exposed the state's practice of intervening in coal ash pollution suits brought by environmental groups, and then giving Duke a small fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist, while avoiding a full hearing before a judge. Federal attorneys are now investigating Duke for any possible legal wrongdoing.
So on Tuesday, February 25, hundreds of people are expected to rally at Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte as the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the North Carolina Conservation Network, and Greenpeace will deliver more than 8,500 letters demanding that the utility clean up its coal ash.
I'll be in Charlotte at the Duke rally - if you're in the area please join us!
Americans are standing up to the coal industry in the face of its continuous pollution of our air and water. How many more spills will it take before we see action by the EPA to close these coal water pollution loopholes?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
This week, more than 120 Members of Congress sent a clear message to the United States Trade Representative: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact must have a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter that addresses the core conservation challenges of the region.
The letter comes just days before officials from the 12 governments involved in the TPP will meet in Singapore to try to make progress on an agreement that is facing increasingly steep opposition from the American public and Members of Congress.
In the letter, Members of Congress recognized that while they don’t all agree on the trade pact in general, they do all agree on the need for a strong environment chapter that builds on the so-called “May 10th Agreement,” a political agreement struck on May 10, 2007 between then-President George Bush and Congress.
The May 10th Agreement set minimum standards for all environment chapters of U.S. trade pacts. It said that environment chapters must be legally enforceable and subject to “dispute settlement,” meaning a country violating an environmental trade rule could be penalized with trade sanctions. It also required that countries uphold their domestic environmental laws in addition to commitments made in international environmental treaties.
Members of Congress have good reason to be concerned about the environment chapter of the TPP. On January 15, Wikileaks published a leaked version of the environment chapter, which environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund deemed “unacceptable.” The leaked text actually rolled back the May 10th standards. It wasn’t enforceable, and it didn’t obligate the TPP countries to uphold commitments in environmental treaties.
Members of Congress said it well: “To build on the May 10th Agreement, TPP must include new and robust commitments for member countries to protect and conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife and obligate member countries to comply with both domestic environmental laws, not derogating from those laws, and meet their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).”
The letter also said that “these commitments must be strong, binding and enforceable, and subject to the same dispute settlement procedures as the commercial chapters, including recourse to trade sanctions.”
In order to help ensure that increased trade doesn’t destroy our environment, the chapter should include, to name a few, a ban on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife, and fish; the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies; and a ban on shark finning and commercial whaling.
Members of Congress also wrote that a strong environment chapter would help the U.S. tackle climate disruption. But a recent leak revealed the opposite. It showed that the United States Trade Representative is actually trying to weaken language in the pact that deals with climate disruption and biodiversity. The U.S. seems to want to eliminate even a reference to climate change and the international forum designed to address the climate crisis—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—and refer instead to the “transition to a low emissions economy.”
This letter’s signers won’t accept a weak or unenforceable environment chapter, and they won’t succumb to pressure to strike a deal that’s not in the interest of communities, workers, and the environment.
And if Congress wants a deal that protects people and the planet, they must also look beyond the environment chapter. The pact’s chapter on investment, which was also leaked, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over policies designed to protect our environment. Corporations such as Chevron and ExxonMobil have launched hundreds of these cases against 95 governments using similar rules, and many cases directly attack policies on the environment, climate, and clean energy.
The pact would also require the U.S. to approve all exports of fracked gas to other TPP countries without any review or protections in place for communities and the environment. More natural gas exports would mean more fracking next to schools and hospitals throughout the U.S. and more climate-disrupting pollution.
As trade negotiators go to Singapore, they should take heed from these Members of Congress. And Members of Congress should note that a strong environment chapter is critical, but not sufficient to protect the environment and our climate from the risks of the TPP.
What we know isn’t good. What they’re hiding could be far worse.
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program
Ohio governor John Kasich finds himself embroiled in a growing scandal that some are calling "Frackgate" because of a PR-plan co-written by his administration and the oil industry to "proactively open state park and forest land" to fracking. The Sierra Club was dismayed (but proud) to find ourselves at the top of a list of opposition targets, along with two state representatives and eight other public interest partner groups.
It's the very definition of corruption when the governor partners with oil industry right-wingers to target public interest groups, even state legislators, to frack Ohio's state parks. Across the U.S. communities are standing up to oppose fracking on public and private lands. Many states and cities are rethinking this dangerous practice, implementing moratoriums or banning the process altogether. The Ohio administration, instead, got into the PR business, allowing corporate polluters to write the state environmental agency’s pro-fracking script. Fracking threatens our property, public lands, climate and our health. Now we can add the insidious threat of the oil and gas industry controlling our democracy to the list of dangers from fracking.
The PR plan was uncovered by the Ohio Sierra Club Chapter as we looked into Kasich administration mismanagement of the regulatory process that would open public lands to fracking. The administration tried to put the news "out with the trash" by releasing it last Friday afternoon. But the governor is not going to walk away from this problem so easily.
In 2011 the Ohio legislature opened state parks and forests to fracking, but required that the administration first create a five member state oil and gas leasing commission. The commission was never formed, though the administration did move forward with permits for fracking on public lands. We discovered evidence through an Ohio Open Records Request that the Kasich administration coordinated with oil and gas industry lobbyists on a public deception PR campaign to "marginalize” opponents to fracking and convince Ohioans of the benefits of fracking public parks and forests. The plan names targets include Ohio Sierra Club, OMB Watch, Ohio Environmental Council, and even elected officials State Senators Bob Hagan and Nickie Antonio.
The 13-page pro-fracking public relations strategy titled, "Oil and Gas state lands leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan" was written by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s staff, in alliance with industry giant Halliburton, and lobbying groups like Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the American Natural Gas Association, and JobsOhio, a right-wing pro-fracking political pressure group. The governor, taking a page from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's playbook, denied knowing about the plan or implementing it. But it was the Governor's top staffers who convened the meeting where the strategy was created. The invitees to the August 20, 2012 "State Lands Leasing, Strategy and Communications" meeting, held in the Governor's main conference room, included Governor Kasich's director of policy, communications director, and reelection campaign director, plus the director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources and several of top agency staff.
This week the Governor Kasich reversed himself on fracking in state parks, admitting that the 'regulatory structure' is not 'mature' enough to allow fracking in Ohio's parks. We agree. But the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters understand that what is too dangerous for our parks is too dangerous for all public lands or our backyards too. And everyone will agree that public officials shouldn't be colluding with the oil and gas industry to force fracking down our throats.
When the governor is ready to stop working for the frackers and start working for the people, there are three immediate steps that must be taken:
- Ohio must institute a moratorium on fracking until the state can guarantee a clear and objective path protecting the public, wildlife and our public lands.
- We demand a thorough ethics investigation into the administration's use of a public agency and public funds to promote the interests of the oil and gas industry.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take immediate action to investigate conflicts of interest by Ohio agencies involved and suspend of the state's delegation to oversee waste disposal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Kasich administration chose to ally itself with the oil and gas industry against public health and safety, to discredit public interest groups and try to dupe Ohioans in their rush to frack our public parks and forests. These are the places that we hike, hunt, fish and picnic with our families. They should not be ground zero for dangerous oil and gas fracking, and the governor of Ohio has no business working with the oil and gas industry to push the industry’s dangerous agenda over the health and safety of Ohioans.
-- Co-written by Beyond Natural Gas Director Deb Nardone and Ohio Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator Brian Kunkemoeller.
Our climate champions have proven they’ve got hearts of gold. And now they have the bling to match.
While the Sochi games will continue the rest of this week, the Protect Our Winters (POW) Olympians have finished their competitions, and five of the Olympic champions who raised their voices against climate disruption medaled for Team USA.
Jamie Anderson and Kaitlyn Farrington won the gold medal in Ladies’ Slopestyle and Ladies’ Halfpipe, respectively. Devin Logan won silver in Ladies’ Ski Slopestyle, and Julia Mancuso and Alex Deibold won bronze in Women’s Super combined Alpine Skiing and Men’s Snowboard Cross, respectively.
Our green athletes have won a quarter of Team USA’s total medals, helping the United States to rank in the top five countries in medal count all while promoting climate change advocacy.
And they aren’t alone. More than 100 international athletes recently signed on to a letter written by Olympic cross-country skier Andy Newell and even more joined the POW Riders Alliance. All have the same goal: to raise awareness for climate disruption and the toll it takes on our winters.
“Snow conditions are becoming much more inconsistent, weather patterns more erratic, and what was once a topic for discussion is now reality and fact,” Newell wrote. “Our climate is changing, and we are losing our winters.”
Scientists have been warning for years that climate disruption leads to more severe and inconsistent weather--like the recent Polar Vortex that gripped most of the U.S. following years without much snowfall at all. In fact, if climate disruption continues at this alarming rate, more than half of the cities that have already hosted the winter Olympics, including Sochi, will be too warm to host again.
Winter Olympians worldwide are working to protect the season they cherish the most, and their environmental advocacy won’t end with the closing ceremony. POW and its Riders Alliance are dedicated to fighting climate disruption and protecting the winter season for generations to come.
“The image of a two-year-old boy experiencing his first backyard ski at Christmas, just like I once did, is becoming more and more rare,” Newell continued. “[...] The continued loss of snow is only the beginning, and unless changes can be made at a federal level, it will be more than our skiing that's at stake.”
The Olympians are hoping to grab the attention of world leaders heading into another international setting -- the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris.
“We can't risk inaction any longer, and we're asking our world leaders to come together in the spirit of something bigger than just our individual goals,” Newell concluded. “On behalf of the more than 100 Olympians who have signed this letter, we're urging you to act in Paris to set limits on global emissions and take meaningful steps forward in fighting climate change.”
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
A new generation of kids is becoming more dependent on "fast-food" and "smart phones," rather than understanding the importance of "perseverance" and "patience." I'm not alone in feeling that my generation have not taken the time to really to dive deeper into learning our Black History, enough to supplement the enormous gap that leaves the history of people of color out of our schools lesson plans.
I have tried to impress upon my daughters that knowing your history is important - even if it's just to recognize that you cannot take for granted the opportunity to attend school, the house and neighborhood you live in, and last but certainly not least, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safe, green space we enjoy.
In 2014, we celebrate several milestones in civil rights. Sixty years ago, we de-segregated our public institutions with Brown vs. the Board of Education and 46 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lead the striking of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, which was the civil and human rights movement that would soon become known to many as environmental racism.
Environmental justice is a movement that has fought to bring a solution to end environmental racism - making sure that no person, despite, race, ethnicity, social status, political power or the amount of income, will be disproportionately, or negatively impacted by environmental laws and policies that are not protective of public health.
Communities across the county began to speak out about all forms of racism. They were tired of living near hazardous waste landfills, tired of waking up to the spells of the chemical manufacturing facility that violate the comfort of their homes. They were tired of their family members getting sick and dying because of some chemical that infiltrated their water system. These were the types of harsh realities that engendered a generation of community activities and leaders that - through pressure and persistence - led to signing of the first executive order to mandate that all federal government agencies make their policies and programs in accordance with the principles of environmental justice.
You do not have to be an environmentalist to fight against environmental racism. Environmental JUSTICE is needed in many areas of our lives...
- Where we work: making sure that people have safe places to work and are not being exposed to harmful chemicals, and the good jobs are available in all communities
- Where we live: living in homes that are free of lead, and energy efficient (operate in a manner that conserves energy and reduces costs for the homeowner).
- Where we learn: avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals and other air quality concerns in schools and ensuring schools have the proper ventilation, cooling, and proper water quality.
- Where we shop and what we buy: promoting products that are not made from chemicals - like Bisphenol-A and Phthalates - that have been shown to cause health concerns in children; avoiding 99 cent stores that carry products that are banned outside of the United States but still sold here due to the lack of updated, meaningful regulations; and discouraging ethnic personal care products - like perms/relaxers, cosmetics - that are composed of unsafe chemicals.
- What we eat: addressing the lack of access to organic and fresh foods.
- How we move: providing adequate and clean transportation options that are safe and affordable; providing access to open-spaces for play.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, I challenge you to take action!
Tell your Congressional Representative to sign-on to the letter directed to the President to tackle environmental justice issues in his Climate Action Plan & support HRES479: Strengthening Environmental Justice Resolution
WE ACT's Washington DC Legislative Office is spearheading, with sponsorship from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a letter that will go to the President, to continue to put pressure on the Obama Administration to develop a better plan to address the concerns of climate change felt by environmental justice communities, and a Resolution that will codify the importance of the environmental justice movement. But we need your help.
While there have been some strides in 'connecting the dots' between the overwhelming environmental pollution in certain communities of color and health disparities - more asthma, more lead exposure, etc. - we still have a long way to go. (See report on Environmental Justice Milestones and Accomplishments: 1964-2014)
We need you, your colleagues, your friends and family to call their representative (ask to speak to the Environmental Staffer) and urge them to do two things:
- To sign-on to the letter directed to the President to tackle environmental justice issues in his Climate Action Plan.
- Encourage their boss to support and vote for HRES479 "Strengthening Environmental Justice Resolution" (being circulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus).
Getting the message out that environmental justice is important is our goal. And as we continue to recognize the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations during February and throughout the year, these next steps will insure that the purpose and the intent of this Executive Order will move forward.
We need voices from across the country to get this successfully passed! Two minutes of your time, and your voice, can lay a great foundation for change! What we do the 'day after' for environmental justice is just as important!
-- Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome, Federal Policy Analyst for WE ACT
In a speech today in Maryland, President Obama directed his administration to move forward with standards to make our tractor trailers and commercial vehicles more efficient. Already the administration has set historic standards for passenger vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that will cut U.S. carbon pollution nearly 10 percent. These truck standards are another step to slash oil use, save Americans money and bring down carbon pollution.
Medium and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from 18-wheelers to delivery trucks, are the fastest growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. Even though these vehicles only make up seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they guzzle more than 25 percent of transportation fuel. Although new fuel-saving technologies are found in some trucks, most 18-wheelers on the road average around six miles per gallon (mpg) -- about the same as they did decades ago.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the first-ever efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles sold from 2014-2018. These standards will ensure that new engines are more efficient, and will reduce fuel consumption in semi-trucks by roughly 20 percent.
Developing the next round of efficiency standards now will allow manufacturers to innovate and develop new fuel saving technologies, such as aerodynamic trailers, higher-efficiency engines, advanced materials and lower rolling resistance tires. Last year Peterbilt and Cummins showcased a 10-mpg truck as a part of the DOT's Super Truck program. While 10-miles-per-gallon might not sound like much, it’s a big deal. By increasing fuel economy 54 percent over today's average trucks, this prototype could slash greenhouse gas emissions and save an average driver $25,000 in fuel costs annually.
It is critical that the new standards developed by EPA and DOT are strong. Stringent standards will not only drive innovation for a wide range of new technologies, they will ensure that these technologies spread throughout the marketplace, instead of being found on only a small portion of vehicles.
Of course, setting new efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles is only one part of the solution to reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption. We must create an energy-efficient, multi-modal freight system that relies on trains and ships, as well as trucks. When we’re smarter about what we ship and how we ship it, we save money and reduce carbon pollution.
President Obama's announcement of new heavy-duty vehicle standards will build upon a strong legacy of passenger vehicle standards that are already reducing our oil consumption. While it will take EPA and DOT two years to develop new standards and incorporate input from the public, this is another tremendous opportunity to save drivers money at the pump and make our air cleaner to breathe. But most importantly, this is the kind of policy action that’s good for manufactures and businesses, it's good for workers and consumers, and it’s a very real and significant step to addressing carbon pollution.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club
Just when you thought coal couldn't get any dirtier, not one but TWO federal watchdog agencies released outrageous findings last week, proving (again) that the federal government's coal leasing program has it own toxic problems.
Friday, the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a letter it received from the U.S. Department of Interior in response to a probe the Senator's office launched in early 2013. The Interior Department's investigation discovered that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff were "illegally conferring" with coal companies during the bidding process for coal leases despite federal regulations designed to limit interactions between the BLM and coal companies in order to prevent unfair influence from the industry.
BLM's excuse? It claims that it wanted to help the leasing process "move faster." With only a handful of coal companies to ever place a lease-bid in the history of the federal coal leasing program, and even fewer to have ever received a competing bid or have a bid rejected, one is left to wonder: what’s BLM’s hurry?
Here's a fun fact from the same letter: since 1991 one solitary employee has been responsible for setting the value of eight billion tons of federal coal -- $4.9 billion worth of coal leases. None of this employee's valuations have been independently audited. Incredible? No, it's business as usual in a program that is essentially captured by the coal industry it leases to.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the result of its highly anticipated report called for by the office of Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to investigate whether, as earlier reports had claimed, BLM's lax bidding process on public lands let coal companies hose U.S. taxpayers out of $30 billion.
The GAO results were damning enough that Senator Markey echoed the call from the Sierra Club and several other environmental and community organizations to immediately suspend the federal coal leasing program until the BLM gets its act together. The report found specific flaws in the information BLM considers during the leasing process, the lack of public transparency, and the lack of independent oversight. Specifically, the GAO found that BLM's current leasing practices fail to do more than supply "generic boilerplate statements" about the coal industry's plans to rake in cash by exporting federal coal, do not provide the public with accessible, transparent information on coal leases, and lack independent reviews that are "critical for ensuring the integrity" of the appraisal process. According to the GAO, "BLM is unable to ensure that its results are sound" when leasing billions of tons of federal coal.
Senator Ed Markey and Representative Peter DeFazio produced a joint summary of the report, saying:
Following on the heels of the Inspector General's report, released in June 2013, the GAO report is the second federal report in just over six months to criticize BLM’s coal leasing program.
The GAO findings provide a definitive answer for people across the country who have eyed the mounting evidence against the BLM's coal leasing practices on public lands.
Two government reports and now news of illegal actions by federal representatives all confirm that this program has lost its public integrity. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, should get ahead of this growing scandal by suspending the leasing program. Continuing ahead with leases for billions of tons of coal would neglect the public interest. The federal coal leasing program needs a timeout and a substantive commitment to transparency to ensure the public interest is protected.
We cannot afford to continue the current coal leasing policies that take advantage of the U.S. taxpayer, damage our economy and public lands, and worsen climate disruption. It's time for America to move beyond an 'all of the above' energy policy and use available clean energy like wind and solar that don't come at such a high cost to American families.
-- Bill Corcoran, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign Western Region
As cross-country skier Andy Newell takes to the mountains of Sochi for his competition today, he'll be sending a message every winter Olympian and athlete can relate to: Climate disruption is putting winter in jeopardy.
Newell and over 100 past and present Olympians-- such as Danny Davis, Gretchen Bleiler, Arielle Gold, and Elena Hight -- have signed a letter calling for climate action to stop the disruption that is putting their livelihoods at risk.
"As winter Olympic athletes, our lives revolve around the winter and if climate change continues at this pace, the economies of the small towns where we live and train will be ruined, our sports will be forever changed and the winter Olympics as we know it will be a thing of the past," the letter states.
The winter tourism industry generates an estimated 23 million participants and $12.2 billion annually in 38 states in the United States alone. When you factor in international competitions, like the Winter Olympic Games, and international tourism, that figure skyrockets.
Even now, the difference between a "good" snow year and a "bad" snow year can cost up to $1.9 billion and between 13,000-27,000 jobs. As the climate continues to be disrupted, the amount of bad years will increase.
Luckily, Newell isn't alone. This is not the first time athletes are taking a stance against climate change. Within the last year, winter athletes and Olympians alike have been raising their voices with Protect Our Winters (POW) to save the snow. Just yesterday, Olympians Kikkan Randall and Alex Diebold wrote a letter to drive this point home.
"[...] If we're going to create a social movement in winter sports against climate change, the responsibility falls on us—to speak out, to teach the youth who look up to us, to influence the media who listen to us and leverage our reach and connections to mobilize millions," Randall and Diebold wrote. "We've joined POW because we realize that we have a platform to speak out about the changes we're seeing, to raise awareness and to influence change and that as one, we can truly make a difference."
Climate disruption has been a main focus over the past four winter Olympics after first being recognized following the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. In the wrap-up report for those games, the authors cautioned, "[...] Striving to host the Olympic Winter Games in harmony with nature is especially important, and we ask the IOC and future Olympic Winter Games host cities to pay close attention to the environment."
Sixteen years and four games later, we're still working toward that goal. In fact, if global temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, only a little more than half of the 19 cities that have hosted the winter games over the last century will ever be cold enough to host the games again.
But, these Olympians aren't willing to let that happen.
"The power we have as Olympians on a global stage is immense," Newell's letter continues. "Let's use this year to make a collective statement, to send a message to the world's leaders to recognize the impact of climate change and to take action now."
"If not us, who?" Randall and Diebold ask.--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
When it comes to rivers and clean, safe water, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned that the hard way over recent weeks, after a dangerous coal chemical spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia's capitol city, and then toxic coal ash from a retired Duke Energy power plant spilled into North Carolina's Dan River (and now there's another coal slurry spill in WV).
In the wake of these disasters, frightened families have been faced with a sobering reality – the state agencies they were counting on to keep their water safe have actually had their hands tied behind their back for years, thanks to decades of pressure from the coal industry.
Chaos, fear and uncertainty; that’s all the people affected by the chemical spill in West Virginia and the coal ash spill in North Carolina have come to expect from their leaders in the wake of these disasters. It’s simply unacceptable.
Yesterday in Charleston, West Virginia the House sub-committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a field hearing on the spill, just a day after WV Senator Jay Rockefeller said he still had no faith in the safety of water for more than 300,000 West Virginians, stating:
And the Senator gets very specific on who is to blame for his skepticism:"It just gets into the degree of control that corporations have over people," he said. "They dominate in West Virginia's life. Governors get elected - and I was a governor once - and they appoint people to regulatory jobs who helped them in campaigns. What does that tell you?"
This comes just days after physicians in West Virginia reinforced a recommendation for children and pregnant women to avoid drinking the water - over one month after the spill. It's gotten so bad in West Virginia that, as the New York Times reports, a key selling point for restaurants is that they only use bottled water for cooking.
Sadly, corporate control over the safety of our water isn't just a problem for those of us in West Virginia. In North Carolina, Duke Energy finally announced yesterday that they had stopped the flow of toxic coal ash from a retired coal plant, after a week-long spill that dumped 82,000 tons of arsenic containing toxic coal ash into the Dan River.
An Associated Press investigation yesterday revealed that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has actually been shielding Duke from citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute after citizen's groups have filed suit, ensuring that Duke pays exceptionally small fines while doing nothing to clean up toxic coal ash ponds. Rachel Maddow broke this down brilliantly on her show last night, and also interviewed Amy Adams, a former state environmental regulator who resigned in protest after being asked to give polluters a free pass - she is now on the staff of Appalachian Voices, where I used to work as executive director.
Thanks to an investigation by our allies at the Waterkeeper Alliance, the DENR is telling residents along the Dan River to "avoid prolonged direct contact" with water from the river as levels of the toxic metal arsenic are at some points more than four times higher than levels deemed safe for human contact. This warning comes days after the same agency said the water was safe - eerily similar to the way events unfolded in West Virginia.
The response of state and federal agencies to both of these crises is simply unacceptable. It took the EPA nearly a month to respond publicly to the water crisis in West Virginia, and in North Carolina, the DENR only admitted to dangerous levels of arsenic in the river after concerned citizens did testing of their own.
Enough is enough. It has been five years since the disastrous Kingston coal ash spill dumped more than a billion gallons of the toxic sludge and the EPA is still sitting on a draft rule that could have prevented the North Carolina spill, had they finalized a strong version of the rule. The agency is also in the midst of drafting rules to finally set limits for toxic water pollution from power plants, but the coal industry has tried to put the screws to the agency and the White House to ensure the final rule has no teeth.
From corporate mishandling to federal inaction, the depressing fact is that those under the gun from coal pollution still don't have much recourse to protect their homes, their safety or their water.
There are many more coal pollution time bombs ticking on our waterways nationwide, and states are clearly not able to prevent these disasters, nor to respond in time. Now is the time for the EPA to act. It's time to ensure that everyone has the security to expect clean water free from the threat of pollution from coal in any of its forms.
- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
On a very snowy winter's day February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed a historic executive order: EO 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations."
The executive order directs, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations. The order mandates each agency to develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice (EJ). The order also directs promotion of nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information and public participation.
The road to the environmental justice executive order has been a long and hard one for EJ communities and activists. The road is still uphill with many tough and treacherous areas. Communities of color and low-income communities, urban and rural, had been sited for decades near toxic and noxious facilities and extractive processes.
It is commonly accepted that the EJ movement formally started in 1982 when black residents in Warren County, NC laid down in road near where a carcinogen-laden landfill was about to be sited. This county which was mostly African American already had a number of such landfills and the community had had enough. Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and workers inside industrial plants had long agitated for environmental justice as well. The research and documentation started piling up that the government was acquiescing to disproportionate pollution in communities of color and low income communities.
The environmental justice communities have had to make a way when there has been no way. The executive order gave EJ folks a ledge to cling to when taking on the federal government. Unfortunately, the implementation of this executive order is not complete. The work was stalled during the Bush Administration. Meanwhile EJ activists continued to fight for the health and sustainability of their communities.
The Sierra Club started work on EJ issues in the 1990s and the Environmental Justice Program was created in 2000. Organizers were placed in communities, at their request (as the mission of the program) to work on local EJ issues. The EJ Program was later combined with the Community Partnerships Program to become the present Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships (EJCP) Program.
EJCP has worked closely with communities in: Appalachia, Detroit, El Paso, Flagstaff, Memphis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. All the organizers and the director integrate the local issues to the national and international levels on a frequent basis. EJCP has fruitful collaborations with many EJ networks as well as with faith, civil rights, labor organizations. The Sierra Club's EJCP Program is called upon to collaborate and convene with EPA and other federal agencies with EJ communities on a regular basis. Due to this influence, the Sierra Club has moved toward a greater justice frame in the national campaign work.
The biggest recent boost of attention to the environmental justice executive order began with President Obama selecting Lisa P. Jackson as the EPA Administrator for his first term. She made EJ one of her seven priorities.
Through EJ Plan 2014 (and EJ activists' advocacy around it), the EPA is facilitating the active participation of the aforementioned federal agencies with a coordinated approach to address the suffering of the overburdened EJ communities. In December of 2010, then-Administrator Jackson and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley convened the White House Forum on EJ.
Despite a greater focus on EJ at the EPA (February was deemed "Environmental Justice" month by EPA this year), much more needs to be done on to prioritize EJ in enforcement in all the regions. Seriously overburdened communities, for example are suffering detrimental health effects and economic deprivation from chemical accidents and proposed coal terminals. Port communities are exposed to more and more truck, container and barge traffic due to globalization. Communities around refineries are being subject more fires and explosions at refineries who cannot refine tar sands in a safe manner due its toxic content. People in Charleston, WV are still wondering whether their water is safe to drink after a chemical spill last month. Tribal communities and border communities still have to live with the legacy of Cold War uranium contamination and pesticides contamination.
These communities are proactively fighting for a just sustainable future and refuse to be condemned as sacrifice zones. The executive order has been helpful in mandating EJ become central in these agencies' cultures, practices, compliance and enforcement. Much more work needs to be done by the federal government to protect the most overburdened and vulnerable communities.
-- Leslie Fields, Director of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program.
EPA is holding a 20th anniversary celebration at the National EJ Advisory Council (NEJAC) in Denver, CO on February 11-12. Sierra Club EJCP Organizer Rita Harris will be featured on the commemoration panel on February 11. See also the Sierra Club's comments on Dr. Bob Bullard's (called the father of environmental justice) link about the 20th anniversary. Learn more about Dr. Bob Bullard here.