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Tag: "environment"

Labor and Climate Change

[ 1 ] July 29, 2014 |

The stereotype is that unions oppose any action to fight climate change. Certainly that’s true for some unions, especially the Laborers and United Mine Workers. But it is not true for all unions. In fact, like most issues, organized labor is divided over climate change. That however means there are unions that see the absolute necessity for alliances with environmental organizations and to participate on the side of environmentalism. After all, climate change is very much a working class issue as the effects will be felt disproportionately by the poor.

Expropriation is a Good Answer to This Problem

[ 41 ] July 25, 2014 |

Coal billionaires are the best people:

Coal mines owned by billionaire James Justice II have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations in five states with unpaid penalties worth about $2 million, according to sources and records obtained by Greenwire.

Violation notices — including many cessation orders — from the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and state regulators have been issued for Justice mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, records show.

Justice, a coal baron whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion, also owns West Virginia’s storied Greenbrier Resort. He sold many of his mines in 2009 to Russian steel and mining giant Mechel OAO. “The coal business is terrible,” Justice told the Associated Press last year. “It’s just terrible, and we’re doing everything in our power to stay open.”

I’m sure that even if the government can get the $2 million out of Justice’s blood-stained hands, it will really stop him from committing more violations, given that the equivalent is for the government to fine me a penny for something. Justice lights more money than that on fire for the hell of it.

But this is just great:

He’s not without support in Appalachia.

“Sure, he’s had some help from the state with tax credits and partnerships. Sure, some have raised questions about some of Justice’s companies’ practices, late payments, regulatory fines and the like,” said an editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail.

“Yet, while many talk of diversifying the state’s economy in the face of market and regulatory setbacks for the coal industry, Jim Justice and company are doing something about it. They are bringing investments and tourism dollars that are rarely, if ever, seen at that level in southern West Virginia.”

So someone tell me–what precisely is this tourist money the coal industry is bringing to West Virginia. The state does bring in plenty of tourists–to play in the beautiful mountains. I don’t recall the mountaintop removal operations replacing those mountains as a real generator of outdoor activity or fun. I guess there could be a new game called “Who Can Drink the Most Cadmium Tainted Water” the kids are playing these days.

Sure, he’s shortening people’s lives. Sure, he’s polluting the land and serving as a geologic agent reshaping the region. Sure, he’s the son of Satan. But he has money so the Charleston Daily Mail is going to support him to the bitter end.

Obama Opens East Coast to Oil Drilling

[ 86 ] July 22, 2014 |

My dismay toward President Obama’s decisions to open the ocean off the east coast to oil drilling cannot be overstated. This is a terrible decision that is in line with his drilling policies throughout his entire administration. Combined with his restrictions upon coal-fired power plants, my evaluation of Obama’s overall energy policy is that it has been nothing less than incoherent, good in some areas and terrible in other, closely related, areas. Moreover, the technology that allows oil companies to find the deposits has potentially devastating impacts on already overstressed and declining marine wildlife:

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging — amplified in water by orders of magnitude — will be impossible for many species to avoid.

Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 120,000 comments were sent to the government, which spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.

These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” said Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up?” she asked.

The answer to that question for the Obama Administration is obviously yes.

Good Job University of Miami

[ 38 ] July 14, 2014 |

The University of Miami for the win, if by win you mean destroying the planet:

One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.

I mean, sure we are committed to saving the rockland in the sense that we will sell for the 1,000,000th Wal-Mart in this country and turn it into cash we can then concentrate in improving the salaries of our most administrators. That is what America is all about, destroying rare ecosystems to buy ivory backscratchers (unfairly illegal!) to not only our president and provost, but our deans as well. Thus, no questions.

Habitat

[ 51 ] July 8, 2014 |

This is a useful graphic on habitat loss for charismatic mammals. And I know that big green groups rely on the shock and awe value of this kind of thing to fundraise. But it would also be interesting to show how other species have expanded their range in recent centuries, whether it be an invasive species like the starling or a species that has just wandered into new territory like the armadillo. None of that would diminish the power of 99%+ loss in habitat for key species, but would give a more complete picture of environmental change and its effect upon animals.

Thames Mud Butter

[ 15 ] July 1, 2014 |

Rebecca Onion’s latest Slate Vault piece is typically good, about pollution in the 19th century Thames River. She suggests reading this link at your own risk if you really like pollution stories. I recommend it highly. But probably not while eating.

Bullard

[ 36 ] June 29, 2014 |

If you aren’t familiar with Robert Bullard, the founder of the study of environmental justice as a line of academic inquiry, you should be. For over 30 years, Bullard has straddled the line between academic and activist, working with local communities to fight for environmental justice and forcing rich white environmental organizations to come to terms with the structural inequalities in society and in their own movements that marginalize the concern of the poor. At the end, most environmentalism should protect the poor because it is the poor that are most effected by pollution due to their inability to move away from it and their lack of political power to prevent it from occurring near their homes. Unfortunately, this has not always been recognized by the environmental community as important. That has slowly changed, but it’s largely been more superficial than real, as the big green organizations remain mostly dominated by whites. An excerpt of this interview Guernica did with Bullard:

Guernica: As a corollary to marginalized communities shouldering a disproportionate toxic load, do you see the equity issue playing out in access to green energy? Because to date that appears largely clustered in communities of privilege.

Robert Bullard: Oh yes. We have a term for that: energy apartheid. At the same time that all this emphasis is being placed on going green and clean and renewable, if you look at the equity impact, there is a class bias, and a racial bias embedded in class. People with resources can have better access to clean energy and renewables, and better access to green transportation, while at the same time a lot of the dirty energy industry facilities are still getting placed in working-class, lower-income communities of color. We’re talking clean and acting dirty.

Look at the fact that the nuclear power industry is trying to redefine itself. There had not been a nuclear power plant built in decades, and it is not by accident that the first two plants to get permitted are being placed in Waynesboro, Georgia, which is overwhelmingly African-American and that already has two nuclear power plants. So you’re talking about a community of lower-income African-Americans that is going to be used as a guinea pig for restarting nuclear power, a very risky operation. We have to point out the inconsistency of these things—who is going to benefit from this green economy, who’s getting the jobs and the contracts and the benefits? There is a disconnect. If we are going to have a green economy and move toward a green future, we have to make sure that future is equitable and not an opportunity for some communities to just get more dirty industry.

Union Environmentalism

[ 10 ] June 18, 2014 |

Let me recommend Trish Kahle’s Jacobin piece on the Miners for Democracy (1970s reformist United Mine Workers members) and the potential of energy workers embracing environmentalism. Brief excerpt:

Ultimately, the group of miners arguing for an energy workers union federation — or even a new union to represent all energy workers — were unsuccessful in transforming their union in that vision. This failure helped lead to the decline of the MFD, and along with it, the radical environmentalist vision they put forward.

The political space that had been opened up by the incredible levels of self-organization among rank and file miners allowed broad debate and agitation on issues like the environment. But as it became harder for workers to go on the offensive and the energy conglomerates continued to consolidate their power, miners found themselves fighting an increasingly uphill battle that left less and less room to fight for anything except survival.

Although they were some of the last workers to do so, the United Mine Workers did eventually face decline accompanied by the growth of conservatism. Today, rather than being seen as the vanguard of a movement to protect the land, miners are portrayed by many environmentalists as backwards, reactionary, and part of the problem.

I think this is pretty much correct for the UMWA, but in other industries, it wasn’t so much consolidation as it was capital mobility that undermined union environmentalism. The labor-green alliance she describes was not unique to the UMWA at the time. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers were the pioneers here, but the International Woodworkers of America, International Association of Machinists, and United Steel Workers of America had pretty strong environmental records as well. She concludes by talking about union democracy as central to a labor environmentalism, but my own research on the IWA really doesn’t suggest this is necessary. For the IWA, it was the union leadership pushing the green message and the locals embraced it or didn’t depending on the issue. When there was rank and file resistance, it was against environmentalism, not for it. So in the case of the UMWA, the connection between union democracy and environmentalism was profound because it was so connected to the leadership’s indifference to workers dying of black lung and in accidents. But that’s very much not a universal thing.

Despite this quibble, this is an excellent article on the potential of energy workers embracing a green future, even if, understandably enough, how to get from Point A to Point B remains pretty hazy.

Rewilding

[ 133 ] June 14, 2014 |

This is an interesting article on rewilding declining agricultural spaces in rural Europe. As much of the farmland of Spain, Romania, Portugal, and other nations suffer severe population declines (as they have in part of the U.S.), some environmentalists are attempting to “rewild” them by bringing back rare species, usually large mammals. Some go so far as to want these spaces for wildlife not native to these areas, like elephants. Rewilding is a curious concept, although one I am basically fine with exploring. The first question is always “rewilding to what?” As these efforts are often led by rich landowners, it tends to be whatever animals they and their enormous egos like. In the U.S., Ted Turner has led the path here. Because Turner likes bison, there are now bison on his ranches in southwestern New Mexico, even though that is not native bison territory. These efforts tend to leave out the smaller creatures and plants that don’t excite rich people.

But whatever. The planet is so inexorably transformed by humans at this point that it’s hard for me to get too bent out of shape by the inconsistencies involved in these efforts. Respecting ecosystems is important, but those ecosystems are undergoing radical transformation because of climate change anyway. Maybe the more valuable principle is open space and preserving biodiversity, however we define it. I don’t think I can really get behind importing disappearing African megafauna to western Kansas, and the experience of the oryx on the White Sands Missile Range does suggest the kind of grassland degradation introduced big species can cause, but if there were a few elephants running around out there, I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s probably a bad idea for the ecosystem, but so is everything else humans do.

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

[ 104 ] June 2, 2014 |

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

A Drop in the Bucket

[ 22 ] May 25, 2014 |

Like the absurdly low OSHA violation fines that give employers no incentive to fix safety problems on the job, the low fines for corporate polluters are just a drop in the bucket for gigantic companies. That’s especially true in the oil industry:

Citgo was convicted of criminal charges under the Clean Air Act in 2007 for operating two large tanks at its Corpus Christi East Plant without emissions controls from 1994 to 2003. The lack of controls, prosecutors say, exposed nearby residents to the carcinogen benzene and other compounds.

But seven years after the conviction, the case is still a focus of attention in this industrial port city on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where refineries abut largely poor and minority neighborhoods. Victims are continuing to press their case for restitution payments from Citgo for hundreds of people.

Citgo was hit with a $2 million fine when sentencing for the 2007 conviction occurred in February, but more recently a federal judge ruled against providing what the Justice Department and victims say should be far more to address future medical costs and more.

Melissa Jarrell, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University (Corpus Christi), said the $2 million fine imposed against Citgo early this year sends the wrong signal.

“There is no deterrent value, really, in our sentencing guidelines for corporations, because we know that $2 million is not a deterrent for a major, multibillion-dollar corporation,” Jarrell, who works with activists here, said in an interview in early May. “I’m certain other corporations saw that.”

The penalty that district court Judge John Rainey imposed is indeed relatively little money for the major refiner, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.

$2 million is nothing for Citgo. $20 million would probably barely get its attention. There’s no incentive for oil companies to not keep right on violating pollution standards.

Stimulus

[ 34 ] May 6, 2014 |

The obvious reason we should build the Keystone XL Pipeline is that the inevitable spills will stimulate the economy since we have to clean them up.

Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there’s always the chance of a “large pipeline spill.” But it says the “probability” of such an accident is “low.” And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.

“Spill response and cleanup” after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.

Those aren’t the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company’s efforts to expand its pipeline.

I don’t want those hosers to get all the good economic opportunity. Now I want all the pipelines to come through the U.S. Make ‘em nice and leaky!

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