Photo shared via Twitter by @350Pacific

Pacific Islanders Blockade World’s Largest Coal Port To Protest Rising Seas


The Huffington Post  | By 

Photo shared via Twitter by @350Pacific

Last week a group of Pacific islanders and Australians worked together to form a flotilla of kayaks and traditional canoes to blockade the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia. The action was led by a group of Pacific Climate Warriors, who traveled from their home countries to protest coal’s contribution to climate change and the threat of sea level rise to their low-lying islands.

The group targeted Australia in particular because it is the second-largest coal exporter in the world and plans to expand production. Just this summer, the government approved a project that will lead to the creation of the country’s largest ever coal mine. According to, hundreds of people participated in the blockade, including representatives from 12 Pacific island nations. They were successful at keeping at least two coal ships from passing through the port.

Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau told, “It is very important for us to take direct actions against climate change because it is threatening our lives and our islands. Our land is the most valuable treasure in our lives and the impacts of climate change will destroy it. We don’t want this to happen and we will not allow it to happen.”

Milañ Loeak of the Marshall Islands highlighted the inequities between those consuming fossil fuels and those at greatest risk from climate change. “None of us who have felt the impacts of climate change should continue to suffer through them just to fulfill others’ interests,” Loeak told 350. “We don’t deserve to lose our Islands and we will do what we must to ensure we won’t.”

View more photos from the protest at The Huffington Post.


‘Bomb trains’: A crude awakening for Richmond, Calif.


RICHMOND, Calif. — The streets are quiet in Lipo Chanthanasak’s neighborhood on the outer edge of this city’s downtown core. Each of the small houses is painted a variation of beige and separated from the road by a neatly kept lawn, as if to highlight the scene’s utter normalcy. But half a mile west are the BNSF Railway tracks and the Kinder Morgan rail facility, which quietly began receiving trains of Bakken crude last year.

Chanthanasak, who moved to Richmond from Laos 24 years ago, lives within the potential blast zone should an oil train derail, according to an online map created by the environmental-advocacy group ForestEthics. The 70-year-old retiree says he only learned that crude was being transported through his community because of his involvement with the nonprofit Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or APEN. Many of his neighbors, he says, are unaware.

Since July 2013, when a train carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing at least 42 people and flattening the town, major crude-by-rail accidents have occurred in Alabama, North Dakota, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado. ForestEthics says that 25 million Americans live within an oil-train-evacuation zone. An elementary school, a public-housing project and an affluent, elderly community fall within Richmond’s zone, according to the advocacy group.

train bombs Richmond California

Bakken crude has been arriving since last year at the Richmond, California, train depot, pictured here. Google

The transport of crude by rail is not a new phenomenon, but it has increased significantly over the past few years. In the first half of this year, 229,798 carloads of crude were transported by rail, up from 9,500 carloads in all of 2008. The increase is largely connected to the development of the Bakken shale, oil-rich rock formation that lies beneath parts of the northern United States and Canada.

Compared with traditional forms of crude oil, Bakken crude has been shown to be much more volatile and more likely to explode in the event of derailment. Hence the rail cars’ nickname among activists: “bomb trains.” But apart from a code on the side of the cars, nothing about their appearance indicates their origins. Smooth and cylindrical, the black cars would be adorable, if only their contents weren’t so dangerous. Richmond’s Kinder Morgan facility, a rail yard containing very little except several tracks, is just as unassuming. The trains (100 to 120 cars hitched together, all carrying the same product) arrive here, where they are lined up in several rows, each waiting for their content to be pumped into tanker trucks (three tankers are required to hold the contents of a single railcar). The tankers are then thought to travel another 25 miles northeast to a Tesoro Corporation refinery in Martinez.

Previously, the Kinder Morgan facility receiving ethanol by rail. But in September 2013, after securing the necessary air-quality permit granted by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (without the knowledge of its board), the facility quietly switched over to handling crude. By the time the community found out, in March 2014, through aninvestigative story by the local CBS station, KPIX, it was already too late. The lawsuit that the nonprofit group Earthjustice filed (on behalf of APEN and others) to halt operations at the terminal was dismissed by the Superior Court of San Francisco in September, because it had been filed after the 180-day deadline.

“It’s a catch-22,” says Andres Soto, an organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit. “How can you even comment unless you knew that something had been done? We would’ve had to be going through public records on a regular basis to discover when they’re making these kinds of decisions.”

Richmond’s case is not unique: In June, a NuStar terminal in Vancouver, Washington, also received an air-quality permit to begin storing crude without public notification. Community resistance has, however, encouraged the Vancouver City Council to adopt an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded crude-by-rail facilities.

“It’s very rarely been the case that local representatives or city councils have questioned these things without being encouraged to by local citizens or by being forced to by local action groups,” said Lorne Stockman, research director at Oil Change International and author of two recent reports on the rise of crude-by-rail in North America. “The only way [the projects] have been challenged are because vigilant citizens have questioned them.”

The secrecy that has characterized the projects has been aided by the fact that, in many cases, their introduction requires very little new construction — none at all in the case of Kinder Morgan. That makes the projects virtually invisible. This is also why crude by rail has been economically viable, despite being slightly more costly than transport via pipelines. In addition, pipeline projects normally require 20- to 30-year contracts to recoup their capital investments. Therefore, because the Bakken oil boom is not expected to last, constructing new pipelines to service it often doesn’t make economic sense. Meanwhile, the Bakken region is already connected to the West Coast by existing rail infrastructure. With crude prices higher in the West Coast than elsewhere in the country, and a growing Asian market for North American crude, the transportation of crude by rail to the West Coast is likely to increase unless community resistance proves successful.

Lipo Chanthanasak was inspired to join APEN because of previous experiences with Richmond’s oil industry. The city is dominated by petrochemical plants, most of them clustered near the Kinder Morgan terminal. In July 1993, an explosion at a General Chemical refinery occurred while his wife was driving in the neighborhood with the windows rolled down. By the time she returned home, she was experiencing chest pains and had trouble breathing; she could barely climb the stairs to the top floor of their two-story home, nearly fainting in the process.

Chanthanasak recalls that the air smelled strange, like someone cooking hot, dry peppers. But without understanding English, they didn’t know what had happened until relatives, who had heard the news and advisories on TV, called to tell them to shut all their windows and doors. His wife has suffered from chronic headaches and chest pain since that day.

More recently, the Chevron refinery next door to the Kinder Morgan terminal caught fire in August 2012, after which more than 15,000 Bay Area residents sought medical treatment. Fires also broke out at the refinery in 1999 and 2007, and after the 2012 fire, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said that Chevron had neglected to act upon its recommendations to increase inspections and replace degraded pipelines over the course of a decade.

“This community has already suffered Chevron for over a hundred years, and now we have to be concerned about [Kinder Morgan] shipping and storing crude oil here,” said Chanthanasak. “If something happens, we are going to be in more danger.”

At a recent weeknight meeting at APEN’s Richmond office, Chanthanasak is joined by five other elderly Laotian members, all of them sitting around a table and listening to one another through headphones. (Half speak Khmu, half speak Mien, and the APEN organizer leading the meeting speaks English.) All but one of the other members live, like Chanthanasak, within half a mile of the BNSF tracks. The organizer explains that in early September several local activists chained themselves to the gate at the Kinder Morgan facility and stopped tankers from entering for three hours. (Andres Soto was among them). He then asks if anyone has ideas for future actions to resist crude-by-rail in their community.

“Can’t we just take off the railroad tracks so that they can’t use them?” jokes one of the women, Mey Chiam Saechao. Once the translations go through, everyone laughs.

In other Bay Area cities, including Pittsburg, Benicia and Martinez, resistance from communities in the close proximity to new crude-by-rail facilities has stalled their development. Railroad safety is governed at the federal level, and federal rail-safety laws pre-empt state laws, so activists and groups nationwide, including ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, have also called for a federal ban on outdated train cars currently being used to transport crude. But in the meantime, crude oil continues to arrive in Richmond, and crude-by-rail activism throughout the country has targeted local terminals and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Andres Soto also understands the resistance to the Kinder Morgan terminal as part of a broader project, one that seeks to end energy-intensive forms of extraction such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling, which have fueled the Bakken boom.

“We’re against fracking and tar-sands extraction, and [crude by rail] is just one area where we have a direct impact,” he says. “This is really just one of the battle zones in the struggle against climate change.”

Little auks are the most abundant arctic seabird. They breed in colonies of several millions of individuals.  Credit: Pierre-Henri Fabre

Arctic Seabirds Expose Mercury’s Hiding Places


Little auks are the most abundant arctic seabird. They breed in colonies of several millions of individuals. Credit: Pierre-Henri Fabre

“Watch the skies and learn where the mercury lies.

Arctic seabirds called little auks (Alle alle) pick up mercury while on holiday in southern climes, a new study reveals, and then subsequently transport the toxin back into their main habitat. By tracking the pilgrims, scientists can pinpoint oceanic pools of the pollutant and possible sites of food chain contamination.”

Read more from Nsikan Akpan at Scientific American.

Photo by Lynne Peeples

Why Some Skin Care Products And Those Thermal Receipts May Be A Troubling Combination


Photo by Lynne Peeples

“Those little slips of paper that accumulate in our pockets and purses may do more than just document recent take-out meals, pumpkin

spice lattes and shopping sprees. Receipts, according to a small study published Wednesday, could also deliver a potentially harmful rush of hormone-scrambling chemicals into our bodies.”

Read more from Lynne Peeples at the Huffington Post

Image © AFP/Getty Images. Obtained from The Daily Mail

Is pollution to blame for autism? Researchers say breathing toxic air in the first two years of life linked to disorder


Image © AFP/Getty Images. Obtained from The Daily Mail

New research has found links between chromium and styrene pollution and autism spectrum disorder in childhood. Scientists found that children who were exposed to higher levels of polluted air during their mothers’ pregnancies and before age two. Read more at The Daily Mail.

Barack Obama

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Owner Wins Climate Leadership Award


WASHINGTON -– The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline wasrecognized this week for leadership on climate change -– to the shock of environmental activists.

Alberta-based TransCanada, which has been seeking permission to build the 1,660-mile pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, was included as a corporate climate leader on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Climate Performance Leadership Index 2014. The Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works with companies to tally and report their greenhouse gas emissions. TransCanada was one of five energy sector companies included on the “A List” in this year’s report.

The report notes that the company has set targets for emission reductions, and includes a quote from TransCanada: “Our business strategy is informed by the risks and opportunities from climate change regulations, physical climate parameters and other climate-related developments such as uncertainty in social drivers … we anticipate that most of our facilities will be subject to future regulations to manage industrial [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

In a blog post, TransCanada said the listing “presents those companies identified as demonstrating a superior approach to climate change mitigation.”

“Recognition at the highest level by the CDP — the international NGO that drives sustainable economies — is very significant to us,” TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said in a statement Thursday. “For us, our CDP ranking helps us continue to challenge ourselves in terms of protecting the environment at every level of our organization.”

But environmental groups, which have raised concerns about the pipeline’s potential contributions to climate change, deplored the listing for a company whose primary business is building energy infrastructure for fossil fuels. “The only thing TransCanada is a leader in is exploiting the world’s dirtiest oil,” Friends of the Earth’s Luísa Abbott Galvão said in a statement Friday sent by The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the state-based group Bold Nebraska. TransCanada has made a “relentless push to foul our land, water, and climate,” said Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb.

Final approval for the pipeline would have to come from the State Department, because it crosses an international border. A decision is on hold while a legal dispute over the proposed route through Nebraska is resolved.

The State Department released an environmental analysis earlier this year that found that the greenhouse gas emissions directly tied to the pipeline would be negligible, as the oil would still likely be developed without Keystone XL.

But others have questioned that logic, arguing that emissions linked to the pipelinewould be significant and that its construction would facilitate greater development of the tar sands. Environmental groups also have pointed to the fact that other proposed pipelines have generated opposition in Canada, potentially limiting options for exporting the crude.

42-20834947 reduced

Fracking ban on the ballot in tiny San Benito County has big statewide implications


SAN JUAN BAUTISTA — When President Ronald Reagan was pushing for offshore oil drilling on the edges of Monterey Bay in the mid-1980s, Santa Cruz voters fought back, approving a ballot measure that banned construction of all storage tanks, pipelines and other oil equipment in the city.

The small protest vote was soon copied by 25 other coastal communities, from San Diego to Fort Bragg, helping to kill the oil industry’s drilling plans.

Now, nearly 30 years later, the same David vs. Goliath tactic is being used farther from shore. Activists in San Benito County have placed a closely watched measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil-extraction technique known as fracking.

San Benito was the first California county to decide to take the issue to the voters. Campaign ads bankrolled by the oil industry are filling TV and radio airwaves, claiming that a fracking ban would hurt the county’s economy and trample property rights. And the issue is straining longtime friendships among farmers and ranchers.

Supporters of Measure J say they are frustrated that Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers have not banned fracking, a process that involves pumping water and chemicals underground to release oil and gas — so they decided to go around them.

“I’m hoping every community in California will emulate this,” said Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher in San Juan Bautista who backs the measure. “Too many decisions are compromised by money. We have more potential for democracy reviving itself at the local level.”

San Benito County has rarely been a political battleground of statewide significance.

The rural region on the southern edge of Silicon Valley has only 24,000 registered voters. It is best known for cattle, Pinnacles National Park and a 1947 motorcycle brawl in the county seat of Hollister that inspired the Marlon Brando movie “The Wild One.”

Already, Santa Barbara County environmentalists have copied the San Benito measure and placed it on the November ballot there. A similar measure is on the ballot in Mendocino County, and Butte County has one proposed for 2016.

The oil industry, trying to prevent the dominoes from falling, is fighting back vigorously.

A coalition funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and other oil giants has donated $1.8 million to the opposition campaign in San Benito County, outspending supporters 15-1. The coalition also gave $5 million to the no effort in Santa Barbara County.

“They didn’t get their ban at the state. Their goal is to go county by county and use scare tactics to deceive voters,” said Kristina Chavez Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the No on J campaign.

Opponents include the San Benito County Farm Bureau, the county’s chamber of commerce and the San Benito County Cattlemen’s Association. They note that although there is some limited oil production in southern San Benito County, there is no fracking taking place anywhere in the county, and no significant pollution problems from 26 existing oil wells.

Critics say the measure goes too far by also banning commonly used oil techniques such as steam injection, in which steam is pumped underground to soften thick oil deposits. In addition to costing future jobs and tax revenue, opponents contend, limiting those practices means farmers and ranchers may not be able to earn money by selling oil and gas beneath their property.

“You work all your life; your family works all their life,” said Richard Bianchi, a third-generation farmer who grows vegetables on 1,000 acres north of Hollister. “To limit the mineral rights, that’s a Pandora’s box. You are taking somebody’s rights away.”

Bianchi, president of the county farm bureau, said he doesn’t worry about fracking or the pollution that critics say can come with it.

“I kind of equate the fracking issue to banning ice fishing in San Benito County,” he said. “There’s the same amount of fracking here as ice fishing. The oil industry says we’re not fracking now, we’re not planning on fracking and we don’t need to frack. I’m not worried about it being an issue.”

Other longtime farmers and ranchers disagree.

“This is a beautiful, productive county for agriculture. Some people want to win the lottery with oil and gas, but why would we want to take the risk?” said Joe Morris, a third-generation cattle rancher in San Juan Bautista.

Morris and other supporters say they are concerned that if the Monterey Shale, a vast oil deposit that stretches across central California — including parts of San Benito County — is ever developed, an oil boom could compete with farming for scarce water supplies. They also worry that fracking and other oil-extraction techniques could cause groundwater and air pollution, as they have in Texas, North Dakota and other states.

Joining Morris in supporting the measure are other farmers and ranchers, along with the area’s longtime congressman, Democrat Sam Farr; state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey; Luis Valdez, founding artistic director of El Teatro Campesino, and two county supervisors, Robert Rivas and Anthony Botello.

One company, Newport Beach-based Citadel Exploration, has plans to drill up to 1,000 wells on nearly 700 acres in a remote area near Bitterwater, on the southern edge of the county, using steam injection. In July, those plans were delayed when environmentalists sued and won a court ruling requiring more environmental study.

Citadel’s CEO, Armen Nahabedian, is a fourth-generation oil man who served in the Iraq War. He predicts the industry will sue and overturn Measure J if it passes.

“All of these recent wars and occupations that we have had are largely driven by a dependency on foreign fossil fuels — and they are entirely unnecessary,” he said. “We have the ability to be independent, and California needs to lead the charge.”

Supporters of the measure say the state needs to do more to get off fossil fuels quickly and is following in the footsteps of New York State, where more than 200 local communities prohibit fracking.

“We need Gov. Brown to put an immediate halt to fracking statewide,” said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group supporting the measure. “But until he does, we are going to see more local governments and local residents going forward with measures to protect themselves.”

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at

petition sign

The Easy Way — NOT Most Effective Way


Sign a petition or write a letter? It is true that many signatures on a petition is meaningful but such petitions also has its limits. Legislators look at the petition signatures and note the number but essentially ignore what activists see as their “powerful voice” they intended the petition to represent.

It’s a case of “the easiest way is also not the most effective.” Clicking on to a form letter ends up to be not only a very soft message to the targeted audience. Moreover, the person signing thinks that they have done their good deed of the day and takes no further action. For example, last year, almost 4,000 comments were submitted to a legislator in Pennsylvania and 95% of them were rejected as “form letters.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t represent some level of people’s voices but were not as meaningful.

When you look at what citizens did in NC around fracking regulations, where they worked to get specific comments from people who may have use a model predefined set of issues, but many comments were personalized, you get a very different story. According to an article in the NC paper News Observer the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission is plowing through a mountain of public comments on its proposed fracking standards with less than a month left to fine-tune the safety rules for shale gas drilling. State officials estimate that more than 100,000 comments flooded in by the Sept. 30 deadline and the finally tally could approach 200,000.

The number of submission was so large that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials are not sure they have sufficient memory space on the agency’s hard drives to post the comments online for public view. DENR have assigned at least eight extra staffers, including from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, to sort through public remarks and enter them into a database.

That action made a difference at a very high level. However the people power could have been even stronger if everyone said a little more than “don’t frack.” According to the commissioner, “about half of the comments are repetitive ‘don’t frack’ and they don’t really count, if you know what I mean.”

This was successful with the chairman of the commission saying, there is no question that we will recommend some adjustment to the rules, how much is not clear. It was the volume and the individual comments not just signing on to a model set of comments that made the difference and has moved the needle. So think about giving people talking points to actually submit individual comments that are not all exactly the same and you may see the difference, next time you want to move a person with authority or regulations. Some people will only act with a sign-on but encouraging one more step, making that step as easy as possible could increase your power. No one ever said that activism was easy, but it’s not all that hard either.

Photograph: David Brossard/flickr

How saving West African forests might have prevented the Ebola epidemic


Photograph: David Brossard/flickr

The ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for months has now spread to North America and Europe – and fear of the virus has traveled worldwide. Research suggests that deforestation may have laid the groundwork for the outbreak, by allowing for more contact between humans and fruit bats, the animal reservoir for the virus.

“Even as global efforts intensify to quash the outbreak in West Africa, let’s not lose sight of what we can learn in this most sobering of teachable moments: we must give environmental science a much larger and more powerful role in public health practices. If West Africa’s forests had been harvested in a more sustainable manner and its wildlife monitored for health, Ebola might not have jumped into the human population,” writes JA Ginsburg for The Guardian.

Read more here.

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?


Coaches, athletes and families across the U.S. have started to draw surprising connections between the “grass” on athletic fields and instances of childhood cancer.

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

A rash of leukemia and lymphoma diagnoses among soccer goalies has sparked concern about “crumb rubber” turf commonly used on athletic fields. Recent studies of crumb rubber, commonly made from used tires, have shown that the material contains hazardous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Could your child be at risk?

Read the full story by Hannah Rappleye at  NBC News.