The US Export-Import Bank has decided not to fund the Thai Binh Two coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. This is a marginally good sign that the Obama Administration’s rejection of coal that he set out in his climate change speech will have real life benefits. However, it’s also a decision that comes at almost no political cost except irritating the Vietnamese government. What happens with the Keystone XL Pipeline and especially the exporting of Powder River Basin coal to Asia will be far more telling.
I agree with Zoe Carpenter here. If President Obama is serious about fighting climate change through clamping down on coal, he has to deal with the coal industry’s plans to export Powder River Basin coal to Asia through west coast ports. If the United States is to become more of a leader on climate change by reducing coal, it can’t just be through how we consume coal in power plants. It also has to step in and severely reduce or eliminate exports of coal to other countries. Obama has been silent on this issue. Instead, citizens of Oregon and Washington have stepped in and said they didn’t want their ports used for these exports. They have defeated the industry three straight times in finding outlets for that coal, but the industry is incredibly powerful. Ultimately, the federal government has to step in here. However, like with the Keystone XL Pipeline, I am skeptical Obama make the right decision.
Updating the story from last week on bumblebees dying by the thousands from insecticide exposure in Oregon, the state has issued a 6 month moratorium on using neonicotinoid-based insecticides. The maker of the insectcide the killed the bees is angry. And while I suppose that’s a good sign, the fact that it is now illegal to use the chemical but not illegal to buy and sell the chemical makes me think this is not all that helpful. Maybe it’s a good first step for a more comprehensive review and ban.
1. You like Canadian tar sands? Then you’ll love domestic Utah tar sands, as Tara Lohan reports!
2. The EPA dropping a fracking study linking the practice to contaminated groundwater in Wyoming is just embarrassing and again suggests the one step forward, one step back approach to the environment under Obama. As Sarah Gilman at High Country News (the best newspaper on western environmental issues, you all should read it!) states:
On a higher level, though, it’s yet another example of the Obama administration coming out guns a-blazing, aiming at the high middle of progressive ambition on an environmental policy issue, only to shrink back (or roll back proposed rules) when things get politically ugly. It’s something HCN staffers have tracked with bemusement since Obama’s election in 2008. There were those new ozone limits that the administration had trumpeted as a necessary step to protect public health, for example, which it later withdrew and endlessly delayed for further review after a political flogging from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. There were the Bureau of Land Management’s first-ever hydraulic fracturing rules, which the administration first tried to spin in terms of clearing the industry’s name and then later were systematically weakened after a top White House official met several times with industry groups.
Before last fall’s election, when Obama still had everything to lose by taking a stand that could be construed as anti-economy, his agencies’ wishywashyness sort of made sense. (Only sort of, though, since politicizing legitimate public health concerns actually doesn’t make moral sense at all.) Now, though, it’s baffling.
We can only hope that the lofty language and goals Obama laid out in his June 25 speech on how he (FINALLY!) plans to address the biggest environmental problem of all – climate change — won’t suffer the same fate as so many other of his administration’s environmental initiatives.
3. In our focus on energy, let’s not forget the joy of pesticides. Certainly people in Wilsonville, Oregon won’t forget:
Target shoppers in Wilsonville, Oregon found a tragedy in the parking lot as tens of thousands of of bumble bees were found dead and dying on the pavement, along with honey bees and ladybugs. Shoppers notified Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, who went to the scene to investigate.
Oregon officials say preliminary results point to an insecticide that was used on the nearby European Linden trees. The trees were sprayed with a pesticide called Safari to kill aphids, an insect that destroys plants and vegetation. Safari is part of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids that are known to kill pollinators such as bumblebees, Associated Press reports. The investigation is still under way. If the pesticide is the confirmed cause and it wasn’t used according to the label instructions, civil penalties could be handed down ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation for gross negligence or willful misconduct, Dale Mitchell, program manager in the Agriculture Department’s pesticide compliance and enforcement section, told AP.
Why is this pesticide even legal? But hey, I’m sure that a pesticide that kills 50,000 bees has no effect on humans. So. Much. Confidence.
Kind of an unfortunate day for Obama’s climate change speech, not that it is his fault. I’ll distract my attention from my outrage at the overturning of a huge part of the civil rights movement for a moment to make a couple of notes.
First, Obama is absolutely correct to simply sidestep Congress here. In the long run, arguably the biggest impact of Congressional dysfunction could be that presidents regardless of party begin to ignore it and we move closer to unilateral rule. Of course, filibuster reform would help with this. Anyway, Obama still has significant power within the Executive Branch to shape policy and it is here he will leave his climate legacy.
Second, increasing carbon emissions standards on power plants is absolutely the best way to go about this, or at least it’s a very good first step. If it is a war on coal, then it is a war on coal. I know the UMWA and coal companies hate him for it, and what we really need is a clear program of green jobs in coal country to replace the jobs lost to environmental regulations, but sometimes you just have to make these hard decisions. Of course, the vast majority of coal jobs have already disappeared due to automation and industry disinvestment in Appalachia for new coal seams in Wyoming.
Third, Obama needs to take two steps he doesn’t want to take to show he is serious. First, he needs to not allow the Keystone XL Pipeline. If he lets that be built, it demonstrates that he is unwilling to do what it will actually take to slow climate change. Second, he needs to fight against coal exports to China. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming is now basically an enormous coal mine, mostly to serve an export market. West Coast cities are fighting against having their ports used for coal exports. Obama needs to step in here. I am skeptical on both counts.
Fourth, the plan really needs a more vigorous green jobs program and clean energy subsidies to replace dirty energy subsidies, but without funding from Congress, it’s hard to do too much here.
Fifth, none of this will probably make a molehill’s worth of difference in the ultimate battle against climate change. But a start is a start and you have to do something. Overall, it’s a positive speech, for whatever that’s worth.
As a sidenote, it’s also worth reading this essay by environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard on the need for historically black colleges to take climate change seriously. It’s an environmental justice issue. Unfortunately, even those affected don’t always see it that way because unlike a toxic waste dump in your backyard, you don’t notice it every day.
….Or as Pierce says, Obama’s bailing the ocean out with a thimble.
Evidently, there’s a South American plant that uses gigantic spines to ensnare sheep until they starve to death, at which point decompose and fertilize the plant. I assume this will be adapted into some horror movie soon.
I’ve talked about this issue before a couple of times, so I’m really glad to see the New York Times report on the awful environmental impact of unregulated marijuana production in northern California.
The animal, a Pacific fisher, had been poisoned by an anticoagulant in rat poisons like d-Con. Since then, six other poisoned fishers have been found. Two endangered spotted owls tested positive. Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats.
That news has helped growers acknowledge, reluctantly, what their antagonists in law enforcement have long maintained: like industrial logging before it, the booming business of marijuana is a threat to forests whose looming dark redwoods preside over vibrant ecosystems.
Hilltops have been leveled to make room for the crop. Bulldozers start landslides on erosion-prone mountainsides. Road and dam construction clogs some streams with dislodged soil. Others are bled dry by diversions. Little water is left for salmon whose populations have been decimated by logging.
And local and state jurisdictions’ ability to deal with the problem has been hobbled by, among other things, the drug’s murky legal status. It is approved by the state for medical uses but still illegal under federal law, leading to a patchwork of growers. Some operate within state rules, while others operate totally outside the law.
The environmental damage may not be as extensive as that caused by the 19th-century diking of the Humboldt estuary here, or 20th-century clear-cut logging, but the romantic outlaw drug has become a destructive juggernaut, experts agree.
Once again, the only way to stop these problems is to legalize and regulate marijuana, turning the enforcement mechanism away from busting people who grow to busting people who grow in antisocial and antiecological ways. Inevitably in posts like this, someone comes around in comments to talk about how our agricultural system is broken and treating marijuana like other crops within our economic system is a defeat for the little guy. Either way, big marijuana growers are capitalists engaging in a capitalist market. The question is whether they are allowed to engage in a black market capitalism with very real negative consequences for local ecosystems and wildlife populations or whether they are forced to acquiesce to our, admittedly deeply flawed, regulatory system. The only responsible answer is the latter.
The irony in all of this is that the marijuana economy originally started by people who saw the Humboldt County forests as a treasure to be saved, rejecting not only the timber industry but much about the ecologically destructive economy of the 1960s and 1970s. And then people started making real money.
I’ve linked to articles before connecting the protection of people from lead poisoning through environmental regulations and drops in crime over the last few decades. Here is a scientific study reinforcing these connections, with lead poisoning leading to schizophrenic symptoms in mice. Interesting stuff.
More broadly, the lead-crime nexus shows the unexpected payoffs of potentially expensive environmental regulations and remediation. Protecting people from pollutants creates healthier, happier, and more productive people. It also helps make them mentally healthy and helps prevent them from committing crimes. These are huge payoffs.
In Idaho, hunters and trappers killed 698 wolves in the last two seasons — more than the estimated population of 683 wolves in the state at the end of 2012. In more than 80 percent of Wyoming, anyone can kill as many wolves as they wish, without a license. Hunters and trappers in Montana will each be allowed to kill up to three wolves this winter. (In Idaho, the number is 10.) Beginning this fall, hunters in Wisconsin can use dogs to track and chase wolves — a scenario that all but amounts to state-sanctioned animal fighting.
Where management has been transferred to the states, America’s wolves have fallen under an assault of legislation, bullets and traps. A conservation victory is quickly turning into a conservation tragedy. Now the Obama administration is proposing to remove virtually all remaining protections. Have we brought wolves back for the sole purpose of hunting them down?
It’s really depressing that the Obama Administration has continued this move toward state control, which is synonymous with elimination.
But hey, at least bat and honeybee populations are super healthy!
On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways.
ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true:
“I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time.
Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers.
A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.
It’s in the interest of both the company and a state who desires to serve corporations to deny any real problems are taking place. At the very least, the company should have to pay for long-term testing and be held financially responsible for any health problems that result from oil exposure. I guess this is what the class-action suit is for, but it would be better if residents didn’t have to come to this. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil has tried to cover up the extent of the problem.
In the world of petroleum, this is an everyday event. It usually doesn’t happen in the United States, although it certainly has in the past. Normally, it is Nigerians, Venezuelans, Indonesians, and the immigrants who work the refineries in the Arabian Peninsula who suffer from direct exposure to the oil industry. But with the future of tar sands pipelines, Americans will suffer direct exposure more frequently.
As I’ve said before, the recycling business can be pretty nasty. We say something is “recycled,” which really means “I think I did something good and now I don’t have to pay attention to my role in the consumer chain.” But the reality is that once we put stuff in those nice green bins that our sanitation workers pick up or put an old phone in a box or I dispose of a car battery in way we are told is responsible, anything can happen and often does. Here’s a good piece on the problems with battery recycling and lead contamination, in the United States and around the world.
Given the very real effects of lead contamination on populations, exposing the impoverished people near these sites to lead could even lead to a higher chance of children becoming criminals.