The Banner, Vol. 5, No. 16 – Sending Reality Notes to the Powerful
April 16, 2019
On Federal Tax Day, the powers that be got some powerful news about its disarray, both in its internal battles and from activists. These are underscored by states and cities taking their own stands against the ‘fossil fuel Death Star,’ to use Bill McKibben’s phrase.
But first the news.
Action Alert! Rally and March:
Stop the Williams Fracked Gas Pipeline
Thursday, April 18th, hundreds of New Yorkers will rally at City Hall Park and march across the Brooklyn Bridge to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the Williams NESE fracked gas pipeline before Earth Day.
The march comes a week after Donald Trump signed executive orders — which Cuomo deemed a “gross overreach” — attempting to expedite pipelines and block states’ decision-making power on such projects, including the Williams pipeline.
WHEN: Thursday, April 18 (Rally at 5:30pm, march begins at 6pm)
WHERE: Rally at City Hall Park and march across the Brooklyn Bridge
WHO: New York Communities for Change, Food & Water Watch, 350Brooklyn, 350.org, Surfrider NYC Chapter, Sane Energy Project, People’s Climate Movement NY, Seeding Sovereignty, Democratic Socialist of America Ecosocialist Working Group and more!
WHY: Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation must make a decision by May 16 to approve, deny, or delay critical permits for the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, which would include a 23-mile-long pipeline from New Jersey into New York Harbor, passing a mile and a half from Staten Island and less than four miles from Rockaway Beach, the very communities most devastated and still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. This is in solidarity with communities across New Jersey urging Governor Phil Murphy to oppose the pipeline.
Opposition to the pipeline is widespread and continues to grow, with more than 60 elected officials, over 16,000 New Yorkers, and 250+ organizations demanding Governor Cuomo truly commit to a Green New Deal and stop the Williams fracked gas pipeline.
Hakes Landfill, Town of Campbell, DEC
Sued Over Evidence of Radiation
Hakes Landfill, Town of Campbell, DEC Sued Over Evidence of Radiation
BATH, Apr. 12, 2019 — The Sierra Club and others filed suit this week against Hakes C&D Landfill Inc. and Town of Campbell in a bid to block the privately-owned Steuben County landfill’s proposed expansion.
Petitioners argue that both the town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation failed to take “hard look” at evidence of radium and radon in the landfill, as required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Hakes, located about five miles northwest of Corning, is the state’s second leading recipient of drill cuttings from natural gas wells in Pennsylvania, which petitioners point to as the likely source of radioactive substances detected in the landfill’s leachate.
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for May 20 in Steuben County Supreme Court in Bath before Justice Robert Wiggins of Livingston County.
“Unfortunately, I cannot comment on any pending litigation, and I can’t say when we would file a formal response,” said Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella Waste Systems, which owns the landfill.
According to the petition, the DEC has not yet received an application for the state permits required for the landfill expansion. Nevertheless, the agency initiated an environmental impact statement process in April 2017 when it said such an expansion might have an adverse impact on the environment.…—Peter Mantius, “Hakes Landfill, Town of Campbell, DEC Sued Over Evidence of Radiation,” Water Front, 4/12/19
State Officials Ordered Groundwater Tests
for Toxic PFAS at 140 Sites
Locations and Results Held Under Wraps
State Officials Ordered Groundwater Tests for Toxic PFAS at 140 Sites; Locations and Results Held Under Wraps
ALBANY, April 15, 2019 — State-ordered groundwater tests for a class of cancer-causing chemicals known as PFAS have been conducted at 140 sites across the state, but the tests results — and even the locations of the testing — are being held under wraps.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are commonly found in foams used to fight petroleum fires and in a wide range of household products, including Teflon and Scotchguard. They are an urgent nationwide health threat with danger levels in drinking water measured in parts per trillion.
The groundwater tests were prompted by results of a voluntary statewide survey launched in 2016 of airports, fire training sites, manufacturers and others facilities that “used, stored, disposed of or manufactured PFAS-containing materials.”
Nearly 800 facilities responded to PFAS questions posed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The agency claims a 95 percent response rate.
“Facilities mapped within a half-mile of a (regulated public water supply) or private supply well were evaluated in greater detail for possible well-sampling,” the DEC said in a statement to WaterFront last week.
“Sampling has included testing of existing wells on the facilities and public and private wells proximate to the facilities,” the agency added. “As of December 2018, at least one sampling event has occurred at or near all 140 that require sampling.”
The DEC declined to provide a list of the 140 sites or details of the test results to WaterFront, which has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for that data. But a response could take weeks or even months and won’t necessarily provide all the information requested.
PFAS burst into view as a toxic threat in New York State in late 2015. That’s when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered officials in Hoosick Falls, a village 30 miles northeast of Albany, to tell residents that it was unsafe to drink from the public water supply.…—Peter Mantius, “State Officials Ordered Groundwater Tests for Toxic PFAS at 140 Sites; Locations and Results Held Under Wraps,” Water Front, 4/15/19
‘Bomb Trains.’ Trump’s Plan to Ship LNG
by Rail Raises Alarm
‘Bomb Trains.’ Trump’s Plan to Ship Natural Gas by Rail Raises Alarm
President Donald Trump wants to allow natural gas to be shipped in railroad cars, a move that would open new markets hungry for the fuel but could risk catastrophic accidents if one were to derail.
Trump on Wednesday ordered the Transportation Department to write a new rule permitting super-chilled natural gas to be shipped in specialty tank cars. The order follows a multiyear lobbying campaign by railroads and natural gas advocates, who argue it is needed to serve customers in the U.S. Northeast, where there aren’t enough pipelines, and making it possible to use the gas to power ships and trains.
“There are all sorts of new opportunities where you can use rail much more efficiently,” said Charlie Riedl, head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas trade group.
The effort, which could help offset falling rail shipments of coal, mirrors how the oil industry turned to trains to ship crude when there weren’t enough pipelines to meet demand. But a series of spills and other accidents — including a runaway oil train that derailed and killed more than 40 people in a small Quebec town in 2013 — have safety advocates warning against putting gas on the rails.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, who added that Trump’s initiative evokes earlier concerns about crude-filled “ bomb trains” traveling through American cities. “You’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.”
LNG is natural gas that has been chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 167 Celsius) in a process that removes water, carbon dioxide and other compounds, leaving mostly methane in a fluid that takes up less than 1/600th the space it previously occupied as a gas. It is already shipped across oceans around the globe, ferried across the U.S. in trucks and stashed in storage tanks to ensure natural gas is on hand when demand escalates.
LNG does not burn on its own, and it can’t ignite in its liquefied state. The risk comes if a tank car were ruptured and LNG were exposed to the air, triggering the LNG to rapidly convert back into a flammable gas and evaporate.
Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant working with citizen groups opposed to moving LNG by trains, says Trump’s policy change would pose “an unprecedented new level of risk for American cities,” and is being pursued hastily “because of enormous pressure to sell our fracked gas.”
Millar warns that LNG is especially hazardous because of its ability to easily warm to a vigorous boil, forming a flammable gas cloud that can erupt into an unquenchable fire. A 1944 explosion in Cleveland killed more than 100 people after liquefied natural gas from an East Ohio Gas Co. storage tank seeped into the city’s sewer system and ignited, leveling homes and businesses across several city blocks, he said.…— Jennifer A. Dlouhy, “‘Bomb Trains.’ Trump’s Plan to Ship Natural Gas by Rail Raises Alarm,” Fortune, 4/11/19
Sending Reality Notes to the Powerful
Extinction Rebellion Protesters
Kick Off a Week of Global Climate Action
Shutting Down London
Extinction Rebellion Protesters Kick Off a Week of Global Climate Action by Shutting Down London
Protesting climate change and treating it like it’s an emergency, isn’t just for children. On Monday, thousands of protesters around the world took to the streets as part of a wave of coordinated action led by climate activism organization Extinction Rebellion. The most visible protests took place in London where roads, traffic circles (or uh, circuses in British English), and bridges were shut down.
“We’ve tried petitions, marches, letters, reports, papers, meetings, even direct actions; and global emissions have continued to rise,” the group wrote in an announcement kicking off what it’s calling International Rebellion Week. “Governments prioritise the short term interests of the economic elites, so to get their attention, we have to disrupt the economy.”
That disruption took the form of blockades around London on Monday morning. Thousands poured into the streets at locations including Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, and Piccadilly and Oxford circuses. At the latter, protesters unveiled a sailboat named after Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist who was murdered in 2016. At Shell’s London office, protesters superglued themselves to the front door and splashed the facade with paint, tags, and stickers calling out the company for “ecocide” and highlighting its history of climate obfuscation. Ahead of the actions, Extinction Rebellion said that they would be part of a “non-violent, peaceful act of rebellion,” and as of Monday afternoon across the pond, it appeared to have remained that way.
“I don’t want to be here, I’m doing this for my niece and nephew and all life on the planet,” one of the protesters glued to the door told a police officer.
“This is not a political movement, this is humanity, what it means to be human,” Jamie Kelsey Fry, a speaker at the Parliament Hill gathering told an estimated crowd of 2,000.…—Brian Kahn, “Extinction Rebellion Protesters Kick Off a Week of Global Climate Action by Shutting Down London,” Earther|Gizmodo, 4/15/19
Trump Leaks the Blueprints
for the Climate Death Star
Trump Leaks the Blueprints for the Climate Death Star
From Keep It in the Ground to divestment to school strikes, climate activists are hitting the bad guys where it hurts.
The fight against climate change is such a vast undertaking—crossing continents and decades—that it’s hard sometimes to know when you’re striking an effective blow. But last Wednesday Donald Trump helped clear the smoke of battle for a moment, issuing a pair of executive orders that let many of us know precisely where we’d done damage, and precisely where we should push even harder in the months and years ahead.
The White House issued the two executive orders to help ram through pipelines and other fossil-fuel infrastructure, even when the cities and states through which they pass oppose them, and to slow down the rush of pension funds now divesting their holdings from the fossil-fuel industry. These steps of course make a mockery of conservative claims to federalism and local decision-making—they are either one more sop to the most powerful industry on earth, or a nihilist effort to speed up climate change. Or both.
And while they will make the fight more difficult, they are also a backhanded tribute to the dogged effectiveness of millions of activists, who by trial and error have figured out some of the flaws in the fossil-fuel death star.…—Bill McKibben, “Trump Leaks the Blueprints for the Climate Death Star,” The Nation, 4/15/19
New Satellite Photos Show Climate Change Is Sweeping Europe
New Satellite Photos Show Climate Change Is Sweeping Europe
Climate change is picking up pace in Europe, thrusting farmers and power generators onto the front lines of a battle with nature that threatens to upend the lives of the half billion people who occupy the world’s biggest trading bloc.
Last year was the third hottest on record and underlines “the clear warming trend” experienced in the last four decades, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which operates a network of satellites for the European Union that collects weather, soil, air and water data.
Copernicus lenses captured dozens of images illustrating how climate change is unfolding on Europe’s landscape. The images were made available to coincide with a gathering of 15,000 scientists in Vienna at an annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union, which assesses the issue each year.
The convention in the Austrian capital is a locus of discovery, where scientists present research and compare notes. The European Space Agency, which operates the Copernicus network, is boosting its 2019 presence after it developing a series of open-source data tools designed to help economies adapt to the hotter and drier seasons already impacting crop yields, power generation and river transport.
Rainfall across central and northern Europe was 80 percent below average levels, resulting in agricultural losses and wildfires. Satellite photos showed dozens of Swedish forests burning in July that destroyed more than $100 million worth of woodland.…—Roger Straw, “New Satellite Photos Show Climate Change Is Sweeping Europe,” The Benicia Independent, 4/11/19
How Big Business Is Hedging
Against the Apocalypse
How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse
Rex Tillerson stood under a 32-foot pipe organ at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, explaining how the world worked. It was May 2015, in the middle of an oil-price crash, and Exxon Mobil’s earnings had fallen 46 percent compared with the same quarter the year before. But Tillerson, then Exxon’s chief executive, told his shareholders to be confident in the future. Oil and gas furnished billions of people, including the very poor, with cheap, reliable fuel — a fact not easily negated by a weak fiscal quarter. “Our view reflects the reality,” Tillerson said, “that abundant energy enables modern life.”
Later that morning, a Capuchin Franciscan friar rose to speak. A so-called faith-based investor, Michael Crosby belonged to a tight circle of religious leaders who bought stock in public companies in the hope of exerting a moral influence on them. While Tillerson, head of one of the largest oil companies in the world and a power broker in international geopolitics, was accustomed to ignoring protesters, Crosby proved more tactical than most. He submitted a motion to appoint a climate-change expert to Exxon’s board, which gave him the floor for several minutes. Then he laid into Tillerson for having uttered “not one word or syllable” about climate change. He asked why Saudi Arabia invested in solar panels while Exxon spent nothing. “You’re living out of the past,” he told Tillerson.
Fracking is a very electricity-intensive method of extracting hydrocarbons. By using solar energy for just a portion of its operations in Texas, Exxon could save on electricity Exxon’s arrangement in Texas reflects, in miniature, our national state of indecision about the best approach to climate change.
Fracking is a very electricity-intensive method of extracting hydrocarbons. By using solar energy for just a portion of its operations in Texas, Exxon could save on electricity
Exxon’s arrangement in Texas reflects, in miniature, our national state of indecision about the best approach to climate change.
From his spot beneath the pipe organ, Tillerson regarded the friar. “Like it or not,” he said, the world would depend on fossil fuels “for the next several decades” — well into the middle of the century. This was Tillerson’s line whenever people asked him about the future of hydrocarbons: Remind them how dependent they are and paint alternatives as childlike fantasies. Tillerson said the motion for a climate-change expert would be defeated. Turning to renewables, he dismissed them as a sucker’s bet. “Quite frankly, Father Crosby,” he said, “we choose not to lose money on purpose.” The crowd at the Symphony Center showered him with applause.
Three years later, an Irishman named Declan Flanagan, chief executive of the renewables company Lincoln Clean Energy, was addressing his own shareholders in Copenhagen when he delivered a cryptic announcement. Lincoln, he said, was going to build a solar farm in the Permian Basin — the heart of West Texas oil country — with funding put up by a “blue-chip counterparty.” Flanagan let this hang for a moment in the room while he breezed through a jargony update on regulatory matters. Finally he returned to the story. “I mentioned the blue-chip counterparty,” he reminded his listeners. “That,” he said in his strong Irish accent, “is Exxon Mobil.”…—Jesse Barron, “How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse,” The New York Times, 4/11/19
Concerns of young protesters are justified
Concerns of young protesters are justified
The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being.. As scientists and scholars who have recently initiated similar letters of support in our countries, we call for our colleagues across all disciplines and from the entire world to support these young climate protesters. We declare: Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.
Nearly every country has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015, committing under international law to hold global warming well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. The scientific community has clearly concluded that a global warming of 2°C instead of 1.5°C would substantially increase climate-related impacts and the risk of some becoming irreversible. Moreover, given the uneven distribution of most impacts, 2°C of warming would further exacerbate existing global inequalities.
It is critical to immediately begin a rapid reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The degree of climate crisis that humanity will experience in the future will be determined by our cumulative emissions; rapid reduction now will limit the damage. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently assessed that halving CO2 emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and globally achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (as well as strong reductions in other greenhouse gases) would allow a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C of warming (5). Considering that industrialized countries produced more of and benefited more from previous emissions, they have an ethical responsibility to achieve this transition more quickly than the world as a whole.
Many social, technological, and nature-based solutions already exist. The young protesters rightfully demand that these solutions be used to achieve a sustainable society. Without bold and focused action, their future is in critical danger. There is no time to wait until they are in power.…—Gregor Hagedorn, et al, “Concerns of young protesters are justified,” Science|Letters, 4/12/19
FERC: Sources: Chatterjee helped sink nomination of new chairman
FERC: Sources: Chatterjee helped sink nomination of new chairman
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee played a role in torpedoing the all-but-final White House nomination of Republican David Hill to join the commission, several sources familiar with the matter told E&E News.
Hill confirmed to E&E News the White House told him he would be appointed chairman.
Multiple sources said Chatterjee made calls to energy companies and Republican allies, undercutting his potential nomination.
E&E News spoke with a dozen industry and political sources who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions.
Chatterjee did not respond to requests for comment nor answer written questions.
Not having a Republican nominee keeps FERC gridlocked with two Republican commissioners and two Democrats and places in limbo the future of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment as well as progress on electricity market reforms and enhancing grid resilience.
“I think he got taken down in a quintessential Washington assassination,” a veteran Washington energy attorney said of Hill. “It’s just part of the cynicism that’s pervading Washington now. This administration is not about public service. It’s about self-service.”…—Jeremy Dillon and Rod Kuckro, “FERC: Sources: Chatterjee helped sink nomination of new chairman.” E&E News, 4/12/19
CU Boulder CWA panel to address fracking,
U.S. oil and gas policy
CU Boulder CWA panel to address fracking, U.S. oil and gas policy
A group of scholars and industry leaders are set to have a timely debate about fracking and its associated benefits and drawbacks at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs on Wednesday.
Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones will moderate the policy debate among Ivan Penn, energy correspondent for the New York Times; Steven Rubin, associate professor of art at Penn State University; and Chris Wright, CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services.
“My role as moderator is to make sure we have a lively and thorough review of the facts around the fracking issue,” said Jones, adding that in her role she will seek a full vetting of the facts but will not take a side.
Last week, the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 19-181, which Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign and which will make sweeping changes to the way oil and gas is regulated in the state. And the Denver Post on Sunday reported that Colorado public health officials have let oil and gas companies begin drilling and fracking for fossil fuels without first obtaining federally required permits that limit their emissions, a practice that might not be legal under the federal Clean Air Act.
Boulder voters in November also overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure that authorizes the city to tax the extraction of oil and gas.
“This is an issue near and dear to Boulder, so I look forward to a lively but respectful debate,” Jones said. “… Even though this is a national discussion, it’s very timely at a local level as well.”
Penn, who writes about issues related to the electric grid, said one of the big debates has been about how to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“One of the big things right now is this question of natural gas serving as the bridge between where we have been with fossil fuels, supplying the generation for the grid in large part, to the shift to carbon-free sources of generation,” Penn said. “A great part of the debate has been up until now that renewables weren’t ready for prime time in terms of supplying the entire grid. Those things are quickly shifting.”
Solar and wind prices have dropped dramatically over the last decade, he said, to the point that in some cases solar plus its storage is cheaper than the natural gas alternative.…—Cassa Niedringhaus, “CU Boulder CWA panel to address fracking, U.S. oil and gas policy,” Boulder Daily Camera, 4/9/19
Montana judge rules PSC intentionally
set PURPA rates to kill solar projects
Montana judge rules PSC intentionally set PURPA rates to kill solar projects
A Montana district court judge last week issued an order in favor of solar developers, ruling that the state’s Public Service Commission intentionally disadvantaged small solar projects in violation of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).
- The ruling comes after a June 2017 audio recording captured Commissioner Bob Lake acknowledging that cuts to compensation rates the commission had approved that morning were likely deep enough to kill small solar projects. After the recording was released, a number of solar developers in the state filed suit against NorthWestern and the PSC.
- The PSC cut the rates utilities have to pay solar producers under PURPA by 40%, from $66/MWh to $31/MWh, and cut contracts from 25 to 15 years. District Judge James Manley’s order gives the PSC 20 days to come up with new compensation rates and restore contracts to 25 years.
The judge’s ruling last week is a win for solar developers after a long fight between the state’s dominant utility, NorthWestern Energy, and independent developers over the prices paid to renewable energy projects under PURPA in the state.
“This decision is an important step in beating back NorthWestern’s ongoing attempts to kill competition from clean and affordable renewables,” Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, who represented the solar developers, said in a statement.
Vote Solar, Montana Environmental Information Center and Cypress Creek Renewables filed the lawsuit in 2017 against the PSC and NorthWestern.
“The Commission’s decision is a death knell for small solar development in Montana at a time when demand for renewable energy is growing, the cost of producing renewable energy is at an all-time low, and NorthWestern has claimed a significant need for electric capacity that solar and wind developers are well-positioned to supply,” the lawsuit said.…—Catherine Morehouse, “Montana judge rules PSC intentionally set PURPA rates to kill solar projects,” Utility Dive, 4/8/19
With Youth Climate Actions
Backed by Leading Experts,
Latest Round of Protests Highlights Call
for Bold and Urgent Action
With Youth Climate Actions Backed by Leading Experts, Latest Round of Protests Highlights Call for Bold and Urgent Action
The latest round of weekly climate strikes took place in cities across the globe on Friday as a group of experts said that the youthful protesters deserve the support of the international community, and backed their call for “rapid and forceful action.”
London was among dozens of U.K. cities where #FridaysforFuture actions took place. One of the protesters there was 21-year-old Cameron Joshi, who told the Guardian: “The global system of trade benefits them, not us, it’s built for consumption. But they’re fucking afraid of us.”
And they should be, he said.
“They fear us because they know if we get our shit together we can change the world. We’re at an absolutely seminal point in history, years of consumerism, capitalism, and environmental murder, and we can change it all if we want it all, and we do.”
…Also on Friday, in a letter published at Science, over 20 climate experts—including Michael Mann, Penn State distinguished professor and director the Earth System Science Center, and Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research—declared their support for the climate protesters, calling their concerns “justified and supported by the best available science.”
Campaigns like Fridays for Future and the youth climate strikes are evidence that these young people fully grasp the climate crisis, they wrote, acknowledging that the young activists seek to stop mass extinctions and hold onto “the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations.”
“Without bold and focused action, their future is in critical danger,” the climate experts wrote.
In an early morning tweet responding to Thunberg’s 34th week of school climate strikes, Mann pointed to the letter and said, “We’ve got your back.”…—Andrea Germanos, “With Youth Climate Actions Backed by Leading Experts, Latest Round of Protests Highlights Call for Bold and Urgent Action,” Common Dreams, 4/12/19
And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to everyone who sent in news, action announcements and comments this week. Send kudos, rotten tomatoes and your story ideas, your group’s action events, and news of interest to intrepid climate change and environmental justice warriors! Send to email@example.com.