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In a Time of Severe Drought, It Shouldn’t Come Down to “One Man” to Protect Our Water from Fracking Waste

Posted By Lowell F. on July 22nd, 2014

Let’s get this straight: currently, 25% of the country is under severe, extreme or exceptional drought, with 18% of normal snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Clearly, it’s time to be conserving and protecting precious water resources in this country. Which is why stories like this one are so jarring.

Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche parked his pickup across the road from a gas and oil waste dump and watched through binoculars as a container truck unloaded a mountain of black sludge.

Zertuche, the environmental crimes officer for Jim Wells County, is the law here when it comes to oil and gas waste. The job has fallen to him, he said, because the state’s environmental agencies don’t effectively police the disposal of the industry’s waste. It typically contains benzene and other chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing, along with heavy metals and other contaminants from deep within the earth.

Zertuche draws his authority from the Texas Oil and Gas Waste Haulers Act, which is part of the state Water Code and is rooted in laws enacted almost a century ago during an earlier oil boom. It allows him to issue citations for everything from spilling waste along highways to not having the proper disposal permits.

So, while this is great work by Deputy Sheriff Zertuche, the question is simple: why is the job of policing the dumping of toxic materials from oil and gas drilling into our drinking water supplies being left to the initiative of one man? Where are the state authorities?  Given that in Texas, 63% of the state is currently experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, shouldn’t it be a top priority for the state to protect precious water supplies from being contaminated by the oil and gas industries? If that’s not the case, why isn’t it?

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Yale Climate Change Project Survey: Voters 3 Times More Likely to Oppose Candidate Who Opposes Climate Action

Posted By Lowell F. on July 1st, 2014

Earlier this month, we noted another new poll indicating that Americans overwhelmingly want action to combat global warming and are willing to pay to do so.  Now, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reinforces that message with the release of its Politics & Global Warming Spring 2014 report.  Key findings from this report include:

  • “[R]egistered voters are 2.5 times more likely to vote for a congressional or presidential candidate who supports action to reduce global warming. Further, registered voters are 3 times more likely to vote against a candidate who opposes action to reduce global warming.”
  • Two in three Americans (66%) support the Congress and president passing laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.”
  • “A majority of Americans (62%) say the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.”
  • “One in three Americans (34%) are either currently part of or would definitely or probably be willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to substantially reduce the nation’s use of fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.”
  • “Half or more Americans think that if the United States takes steps to reduce global warming, it will provide a better life for our children and grandchildren (60%), help free us from dependence on foreign oil (55%), improve people’s health (54%), save many plant and animal species from extinction (52%), and create green jobs and a stronger economy (50%). “
  • There are striking partisan divisions among American voters, including: “82% of Democrats and 65% of liberal/moderate Republicans support strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, compared to only 31% of conservative Republicans.”
  • Another example of partisan divisions is that “liberal Democrats are the only group who believe that a majority (76%) of climate scientists agree, although this is still well below the actual degree of scientific consensus” (which is somewhere in the 97%-99% range).

In sum, there are many encouraging signs in this report that U.S. voters strongly favor taking action against fossil-fueled global warming and a transition to energy efficiency, wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. But there’s still a need to translate those voter preferences into action in Congress and in state legislatures around the country, so that we can move in that direction as expeditiously as possible.

Posted in Environment
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Is the “Pro-Science” Side of Global Warming “Debate” Starting to Win the PR Battle?

Posted By Lowell F. on June 30th, 2014

There’s an interesting new article at Forbes, by Robert Wynne of Wynne Communications, about the public relations battle between fossil-fuel-industry-funded climate science “deniers’ and “skeptics” on the one hand; and by the “‘pro-science’ faction of the debate” on the other.  The former, as Wynne notes, have had their case “bankrolled…with $558 million between 2003 and 2010.” Bankrolled by who? Exactly the folks you’d expect:

Fossil-fuel companies like Exxon and Peabody Energy — which obviously have a business interest in slowing any attempt to reduce carbon emissions — have combined with traditionally conservative corporate groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and conservative foundations like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, to raise doubts about the basic validity of what is, essentially, a settled scientific truth. That message gets amplified by conservative think tanks — like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute — and then picked up by conservative media outlets on the Internet and cable TV.

Other than raising false doubts about climate science, what fossil fuel interests spent hundreds of millions of dollars – a good chunk of which is essentially subsidized by taxpayers and the government, both implicitly and explicitly – just between 2003 and 2010 is crystal clear: falsely claiming that cleaner power plants would kill jobs, falsely smearing non-carbon-based sources of energy such as wind and solar. And, as Robert Wynne notes, unfortunately they’ve had a decent amount of success doing all this, just as the tobacco companies fought for years to deny tobacco’s link to cancer and other diseases, to fight regulation of their (highly profitable) industry, and to “prevent most regulation of tobacco products until 2009,  nearly six decades after the carcinogenic properties of tobacco were established.”  In this case, the fossil fuel folks have succeeded in “block[ing] laws that would require them to retrofit or modify their facilities or to pay additional taxes on pollution while promoting a sense of doubt in the public’s mind.”

It’s worth reminding everybody that the fossil fuel industry’s tactics wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they’ve been without a big assist by the media.  As we wrote in late 2012 about “a groundbreaking new study by the Checks and Balances“:

…The Checks & Balances Project looks at 10 fossil fuel-funded think tanks that are prominent in their criticism of clean energy policy support. We found that these groups were mentioned over 1,010 times on energy issues in 60 mainstream print outlets, including major daily newspapers, the Associated Press and Politico from 2007-2011. These organizations’ ties to fossil fuel interests are mentioned only 6% of the time in the five-year period studied despite receiving at least $16 million from fossil fuel lobbying interests – both directly from companies and from fossil fuel-connected foundations.

As we wrote at the time, “the media is doing a disservice to the public by failing to reveal the sources and motivations behind the ‘experts’ and ‘think tanks’ cited in their pages,” in this case fossil-fuel-funded interests paid big money to promote dirty energy, attack clean energy and call climate science into doubt.

Fortunately, there may be some good news here, according to Robert Wynne. In Wynne’s view, “there’s reason to believe the ‘Pro-Science’ faction of the debate may have learned to argue their case more effectively,” and that in 2014, “five developments may have slowly melted the resistance to the prospect that man’s carbon pollution has accelerated global warming.” Those developments, in summary, are:

  • Major corporations like Nike and Coca-Cola are not only acknowledging the reality of global warming, but also that it has “significantly affected their business operations.”
  • Other major corporations “have started planning and profiting from global warming including Deutsche Bank and Shell Oil.”
  • The U.N. in March 2014 issued a “conclusive…climate change report,” one which has now “been cited thousands of times in stories around the world,” and which definitively concluded ”Human interference with the climate system is occurring.”
  • The Pentagon says the effects of global warming are a serious national security problem, acting as “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”
  • There’s actually a 99% consensus, not the oft-cited 97% consensus, among scientists that there’s “a link between man-made activities and global warming.”

Given all these developments, Wynne argues that “those who still deny man-made global warming would have to conclude the following groups are colluding to fool them: The Pentagon, Nike, Coca-Cola, Shell Oil, Deutsche Bank, the United Nations, 99% of the world’s scientists,” etc. Clearly, such a “massive worldwide conspiracy” is beyond laughable. Given that reality, the question is, when will the media stop treating fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers and clean energy bashers as being a serious “other side” they feel compelled to quote? The correct answer, of course, should be “right now.”

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Johnson Controls Forum: Energy Efficiency a Key Building Block for EPA Carbon Rule Compliance

Posted By Lowell F. on June 25th, 2014

Reported by: Bridgette N. Borst

Video and photography by: Jacob Miller

Earlier this month, Johnson Controls held its 25th annual Energy Efficiency Forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. After a quarter-century, Johnson Controls continues to encourage the discussion of key topics related to energy efficiency and the positive impact of reduced energy consumption on the environment, national security, and economic growth.

The forum provided an impressive line-up of speakers, a networking reception and the release of the annual Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, which highlights trends and provides new insights into energy management and investment decisions. Our Scaling Green team had the opportunity to speak with Johnson Controls’ Vice President of Global Energy and Sustainability, Clay Nesler, who shared with us a few key highlights from the 2014 Energy Efficiency Indicator report. Nesler’s overall point was a crucial one, that “energy efficiency is a great way to save money, reduce carbon emissions [and] put lots of people to work in good-paying, local jobs.” Energy efficiency is also, as Nesler further explained, “one of the key four building blocks that states will be able to comply with the part 111-D Rule” (the EPA’s recently-announced proposal for reductions of carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants).

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy was the forum’s keynote speaker. Conference attendees were especially interested in hearing from McCarthy following the release by her agency three weeks ago of the first-ever rule that limits carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants.

Additionally, Dennis McGinn, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment; and John Hoeven, U.S. Senator from North Dakota, were both speakers at this year’s forum. Many attendees, such as Gregg Merritt, Vice President of Marketing at Cree (see his comments on the video) and Peter Kimmel of FM Benchmarking told us that they were excited to hear from this year’s speakers at the Energy Efficiency forum and to learn more about the development of energy-efficient technologies and market opportunities. 

In between sessions, our Scaling Green crew interviewed guest speakers including: Roger Duncan, Research Fellow at the University of Texas and Chairman of the Board for the Pecan Street Project; Trisha Miller, Senior Advisor of the Office of Economic Resilience at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Maria Koetter, Director of Sustainability for the City of Louisville. You can listen to what they had to say in the video. In general, though, it’s fair to say that throughout the conference, attendees heard a consistent, shared message from the speakers – namely, the importance of advocating for common-sense strategies that optimize productivity, drive sustainability, and increase energy efficiency.

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Yet Another Way in Which Dirty, Toxic Coal Threatens People’s Health

Posted By Lowell F. on June 23rd, 2014

We already know that mountaintop removal coal mining poses a serious threat to human health, with “people living near the destruction are 50% more likely to die of cancer and 42% more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia.” As if that’s not bad enough, coal-fired power plants “release at least 5.5 billion pounds of pollution into the nation’s waterways every year, ” with most “power plant water pollution permits (188 out of 274) hav[ing] no limits on how much
arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium that these plants can discharge.” Then there’s the nasty air pollution from coal fired power plants leads to ” premature death, heart attacks, lung damage, and a variety of other significant health problems” and “$100 billion in annual health costs.” Plus, of course, coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, which means that coal-fired power plants are a major contributor to global warming.

All of that should be enough to prompt a rapid transition from coal-fired power plants to clean, renewable energy. But just in case you need another reason, how about coal ash ponds?

In March, April and May, the Waterkeeper Alliance took samples from 15 wells in Dukeville and from seepage on the Thomas family’s land. According to lab reports provided to the AP:

— Water from the Thomases’ kitchen faucet contained chromium at nearly four times the state limit for groundwater and exceeded the state limit for arsenic.

— Samples taken from the wellhead at the Thomas farm and 14 other wells contained some hexavalent chromium, though at amounts considered acceptable by state regulators. Some wells also exceeded state groundwater standards for total chromium, lead, iron and manganese.

— A sample taken from water seeping up in the Thomases’ cow pasture contained chromium at nearly 10 times the state groundwater standard, lead at more than six times the standard, manganese at 562 times the standard, iron at 1,086 times the standard and boron at 1.5 times the standard.

Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University, said the readings from the cow pasture leave little doubt that coal ash pollution had spread.

Again, can we please get off of this filthy stuff and onto clean, renewable energy ASAP?

Posted in Environment, coal
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