The recent spike in oil train traffic in the Albany region presents unexamined and unaddressed risks to public safety, including potential impacts to 75 K-12 schools, according to new mapping by environmental and health groups. The recent accidents in Lac Megantic, Quebec and Casselton, ND that resulted in mass casualties and huge releases of air toxins illustrate how woefully unprepared New York State is to address derailments and other accidents.
By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News
August 6, 2014
Health experts are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan state officials for their decades-long delays in cleanup of a Superfund site that is killing songbirds in yards, possibly leaving people at risk, too.
After years of complaints from residents, researchers recently reported that robins and other birds are dropping dead from DDT poisoning in the mid-Michigan town of St. Louis, which was contaminated by an old chemical plant.
|University at Albany|
|Dr. David Carpenter questions the EPA’s cleanup at the Superfund site in St. Louis.|
“The more we know about DDT the more dangerous we find out it is for wildlife, yes, but humans, too,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the University at Albany – State University of New York’s School of Public Health and an expert in Superfund cleanups.
Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly Michigan Chemical, manufactured pesticides at the plant until 1963. DDT, known for accumulating in food webs and persisting for decades in soil and river sediment, was banned in the United States in 1972.
The dead robins and other songbirds tested last month at Michigan State University had some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in wild birds. They were contaminated by eating worms in the neighborhood’s soil.
The EPA has been in control of the Superfund site since 1982, and the residents and songbirds have been living with the highly-tainted soil in their yards for decades. This summer, EPA contractors are excavating contaminated soil from 59 yards in the town of 7,000 people. Another 37 yards will be cleaned up next year.
EPA and state officials are not conducting any testing to determine how highly exposed the residents are, or whether they are experiencing any health effects.
Carpenter said research elsewhere has linked DDT exposure to effects on fertility, immunity, hormones and brain development. Fetuses are particularly at risk. It also may induce asthma.
“Let’s say your backyard has DDT in it. If wind blows, and kicks up dust, you might [be exposed to] DDT. The sun shines, water evaporates, you might get a little DDT,” Carpenter said. “And who knows what other chemical exposure they’re getting from the site.”
Michele Marcus, an Emory University epidemiologist, said she and her team of health experts heard “shocking stories” when they visited the neighborhood near the dismantled chemical plant last December.
“We heard from several people in the neighborhood that back in the day [decades ago] on several occasions alarms would go off and the neighborhood would be covered in white powder,” Marcus said. “It would take the paint off of people’s cars. Imagine what it was doing to people.”
When asked why it took three decades to address contamination in people’s yards next to the plant, Thomas Alcamo, remedial project manager for the Superfund site, said “hindsight is 20-20.” He said there were some “obvious problems” with the initial cleanup but he maintained it was “not an oversight.”
“This was just a natural progression of the Superfund. It’s just a continual investigation of the plant site itself,” Alcamo said. “Then we looked at the [Pine] river and focused efforts there. Then the state looked at residential areas.”
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality started sampling some yards in a nine-block area near the plant in 2006, after complaints from residents. Orange fences were installed around heavily contaminated areas. The EPA cleaned up those yards in 2012, Alcamo said. Further sampling, however, found that nearly the entire neighborhood needs cleanup so more excavations began this summer.
Jonathan Chevrier, an epidemiologist at McGill University, said research suggests that fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to DDT. The major worry is brain development in the womb, he said. “Research shows those with prenatal exposure scored lower on neurodevelopmental scales,” which can indicate lower IQs, he said.
There also is evidence that DDT is linked to low birth weights. In addition, a study last month found female mice exposed as a fetus were more likely to have diabetes and obesity later in life.
“The way it kills insects is by affecting the nervous system. It induces a rapid firing of neurons, exhausts them, and then the insect is killed,” Chevrier said. “It’s very plausible that it would attack humans’ nervous systems in the same way.” DDT also may disrupt thyroid hormones, which are critical for brain development, he said.
Nevertheless, EPA officials said St. Louis residents are not in danger. Alcamo said the levels in the soil are not high enough to pose an immediate risk to people.
“This [cleanup] is all for long-term risk so there’s no one that needs to leave during cleanup activities,” he said.
The EPA has not issued recommendations on gardening or other activities while the yards are cleaned up, other than keeping people away from the removed dirt. The agency is monitoring air and controlling dust, Alcamo said. “As long as they wash vegetables,” they should be fine because DDT doesn’t uptake into plants, he said.
Health experts disputed Alcamo’s contention that the DDT levels are not high enough to pose a risk to people. There is no such thing as a level of DDT that “we don’t need to worry about,” Carpenter said.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a clear health threshold,” Chevrier added. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but, if there is, scientists haven’t found it.”
Velsicol is infamous for one of the worst chemical disasters in U.S. history: In 1973 its flame retardant compound – polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs – was mixed up with a cattle feed supplement, which led to widespread contamination in Michigan.
Marcus and her colleagues are studying people exposed during the PBB mix-up. They also have launched a new study to examine the levels of PBB, DDT and other chemicals in former Velsicol workers and their families.
Some of the chemical workers in Marcus’ study live adjacent to the plant, but the study does not cover the entire contaminated neighborhood.
Alcamo said community health studies are “outside the scope” of what the EPA does.
Most of the contamination is in the top six inches of the soil, probably from the chemicals drifting over from the plant, but some yards have DDT as deep as four feet, according to an EPA report from April.
All 59 houses tested had at least one soil sample that contained more than 4.1 parts per million of DDT that the EPA set as a cleanup standard. Two-thirds of the yards had at least one sample with more than double the 4.1 parts per million guideline.
The EPA uses a DDT cleanup standard of 5 parts per million based on studies to protect wildlife health, Alcamo said.
“We are using an excavation level of 4.1 ppm DDT to ensure that we are 95 percent confident that we are meeting the 5 ppm number,” he said.
Michigan’s cleanup criteria, based on protecting people from exposure, is 57 ppm for DDT. One home had levels more than twice that amount –140 parts per million in the top six inches of soil.
Alcamo said the EPA is now over-excavating many yards to be certain of cleanup. Contractors will remove about 30,000 tons of contaminated soil this summer.
Alcamo said the EPA has made “great progress,” including a Pine River cleanup. There’s been a “98 percent reduction in fish tissue concentrations of DDT,” he said.
In addition, the EPA is providing 90 percent of the funding to overhaul St. Louis’ drinking water supply because low levels of a DDT byproduct, pCBSA, have been found in the city’s water system.
But Gary Smith, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, said the EPA failed St. Louis on the first round of cleanup, and it cannot happen again.
“We just want the doggone neighborhood cleaned up so we can put an end to this,” said Smith, 63, who is treasurer of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. “We don’t want to be called a toxic town. We want people to say ‘hey, they cleaned it up.’
“Let’s go the extra mile and not have this be an embarrassment for the EPA again,” he said. “’We have no money’ may be true, but it’s a poor excuse.”
Carpenter said it’s unfortunate that people were probably exposed to DDT for many years.
“The EPA is simply overwhelmed with hazardous sites,” Carpenter said.
EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.
“Numbers don’t lie,” said Dorceta E. Taylor, Ph.D the author of, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies. “People of color only represent 12% of staff at foundations, 15.5% of staff at government agencies and 12.4% of staff in mainstream environmental NGOs, and none of the largest organizations had a president, vice president or assistant/associate director who was an ethnic or racial minority. Even more troubling, although most survey respondents expressed interest in bridging this glaring diversity gap, they admit that their organizations are unlikely to take the necessary steps to do so.”
This conversation about lack of diversity on staff of large organizations has been on-going for decades. However, I believe the issue is bigger than whether green organizations are lacking in black and brown. That perspective I feel is too narrow; too simplistic. This marks my 33rd year of work with grassroots environmental groups since my evacuation from Love Canal in Niagara Falls. I know from experience that a diverse staff and board will not necessarily change the organizations focus— unless it is accompanied by a radical shift in mission, goals and resource allocations.
In a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) report they detailed how environmental funders mainly support large, professionalized environmental organizations instead of the grassroots, community-based groups that are most heavily affected by environmental harm. Organizations with annual budgets greater than $5 million make up only 2 percent of all environmental groups, yet they receive more than 50 percent of all grants and donations. The report makes a profound argument that the current funding strategy is not working and that, without targeting philanthropy at the community level, the movement will continue to fail.
In movements throughout history, the core of leadership came from a nucleus of directly affected or oppressed communities even as the cause engaged a much broader range of justice-seeking supporters. In other words, successful movements for social change – anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights and civil rights – have always been inspired, energized and led by those most directly affected. Yet these are the very groups within the environmental movement that are starved for resources. As Robert Garcia of the City Project in Los Angeles told The Post, “The values of the mainstream environmental movement don’t focus on the needs of people. They focus on clean air, water and climate.”
Rather than only counting heads, the conversation about large environmental organizations and environmental justice should also be about allocating resources and providing assistance to the front lines. Someday, maybe all of the large environmental groups would be diverse. But that alone will not translate into playing an active role in bringing real aid and justice to communities in need.
So how does CHEJ measure up?
CHEJ has ten employees – five are women and six are non-white (three African Americans, one Asian, two Latinos). CHEJ’s second in command, below me, is an African American woman, our Grants Director is also African American and one of our two organizers/technical trainers is Latino.
CHEJ’s resources are almost entirely focused on the core of leadership from a nucleus of directly affected or oppressed communities across the country.
The short version of our mission: To mentor a movement, empowering people to build healthy communities, and preventing harm to human health caused by exposure to environmental threats. Through training, coalition-building and one-on-one technical and organizing assistance, CHEJ works to level the playing field so that people can have a say in the environmental policies and decisions that affect their health and well-being. At the same time, we are uniting community voices and facilitating collective action by building nationwide collaborative initiatives.
11:47 p.m. EDT, July 26, 2014
State officials have driven a Texas wildcatter out of Florida, signaling tougher restrictions on oil drilling in theEverglades.
Prodded by environmentalists and community activists, the state yanked all drilling permits held by the Dan A. Hughes Co. seven months after it was caught using fracking-like methods to blast open rock near underground aquifers.
The company’s banishment was a victory for protesters across the state trying to quell an intense search for oil near wildlife refuges and water supplies. It also indicates an increasingly tough stance by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, apparently in response to public pressure and criticism that it lacks the willingness and enforcement power to rein in new methods of drilling.
At the least, the Hughes episode indicates strong resistance in Florida to fracking-like methods — high-pressure injections of water and chemicals to extract oil deposits.
“Fracking in Florida is dead,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “It’s a toxic issue now. There’s nothing like a company making a mess of things to help educate the public about how you can’t trust these drilling technologies.”
While celebrating their success, drilling opponents now are taking aim at plans by other companies to conduct seismic tests and explore energy supplies under hundreds of thousands of acres in southwest Florida. Opponents also hope to block offshore energy exploration along Florida’s east coast.
The Obama administration this month opened the way to offshore seismic testing from Delaware to Florida. Federal officials said they will consider applications from companies that want to send ships along the coast to blast sound waves underwater to help identify deposits of oil and natural gas.
“We would hate to see that part of the ocean opened for oil drilling,” Draper said. “Tests lead to leases, and leases lead to wells. The BP spill [in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010] taught us that where you have wells, you have spills. And where you have spills, you have destruction of the economy and environment.”
The rush to drill near the Everglades and to test along the East Coast show ongoing pressure to boost energy supplies and make Americans less dependent on unstable foreign sources, such as Venezuela and Iraq. Proponents see exciting prospects for bringing in jobs, tax revenue and royalties to Florida.
The seismic testing “will give naysayers exactly what they say they want by identifying places where we are not going to go, if the science tells us the oil’s not there,” said David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, an industry group in Tallahassee that lobbies for expanded drilling. “The reality is that by doing this kind of science, we may be reducing our footprint. But we are hoping that it just blows up and shows lots and lots of potential [deposits].”
Mica doubted that the Hughes Co.’s retreat will chill the rush for black gold in Florida. He called it an exceptional case that shows the need for energy companies to engage communities near well sites and to communicate effectively with state regulators.
Hughes is one of several smaller, independent out-of-state energy companies — often called wildcatters — bent on using horizontal drilling methods to tap a band of deposits near and under the Big Cypress National Preserve in the western Everglades. At one production well near Naples, the company got caught around New Year’s Day using high-pressure injections of acid and water to blast open limestone, a practice critics call fracking.
The Department of Environmental Protection stopped the acidic fracturing but allowed the company to continue pumping oil. Four months later, the state agency fined Hughes $25,000 as part of a settlement, known as a consent order. Community activists and Collier County commissioners, already wary of expanded drilling near neighborhoods and refuges, challenged the order, saying it did not go far enough. And opponents began rounding up support statewide for new regulations to ban fracking.
On July 18, the agency revoked all permits held by Hughes and filed a lawsuit seeking more than $100,000 in penalties. DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. accused the company of alarming the community and said “revocation of their permits is the only option that offers the assurance that Hughes will not cause damage to our treasured natural resources.”
Stunned by the agency’s escalating complaints, the Hughes Co. pulled out of Florida, saying it would shift its resources to projects in other states. Spokesman David Blackmon said the company had cooperated with the agency and that the turnabout came suddenly despite “constant and open dialogue.”
Drilling opponents expect the state agency to scrutinize future permit requests more carefully, especially any plans akin to fracking. But they are pushing state leaders to go much further by banning fracking in Florida, limiting drilling in the Everglades and imposing new regulations on the industry.
“This new oil drilling now is on everyone’s radar,” said Karen Dwyer, a community activist in Naples who led the opposition.
“I hope that what happened down here will give people on the East Coast hope and motivation to stop the offshore drilling that Obama opened up,” she said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
A New York court struck what appeared to be a deathblow to the case brought by victims of the 1984 poison gas disaster in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, when it ruled in favour of the defendant, the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), finding that the company could not be sued for ongoing contamination from the chemical plant.
In the Sahu II case plaintiffs EarthRights International said that they had presented the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York with evidence that a UCC employee, Lucas John Couvaras, managed the construction of the plant.
Despite this District Judge John Keenan ruled, “The manufacturing processes and waste disposal systems to be implemented at the Bhopal Plant were all initially proposed by UCIL (Union Carbide India Limited)… [and thus] defendant UCC’s motion for summary judgment is granted [and] plaintiffs’ motions relating to the deposition of Couvaras are denied.”
The Bhopal gas tragedy, considered India’s worst industrial disaster, occurred on December 2 1984 at the UCIL pesticide plant and in its wake many thousands of people were injured from exposure to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals and several thousands were killed.
While EarthRights International said that they were “confident [that evidence surrounding Couvaras’ role] will lead to a reversal of the erroneous decision on appeal,” Judge Keenan further ruled that the Government of Madhya Pradesh would also not be held liable for a clean-up of contamination at the site of the disaster.
The judge said, “Because I conclude that there is no basis to hold UCC liable for Plaintiffs’ damage, there will be no court-ordered cleanup in this action, and thus, no basis for enjoining Madhya Pradesh.”
However Marco Simons, counsel for the plaintiffs and Legal Director for EarthRights International said, “The evidence demonstrates that Union Carbide was intimately involved in every aspect of designing and building the Bhopal plant, including the waste disposal systems that caused the pollution.”
He added, “The court’s decision discounted this evidence, and it depends entirely on assuming that the manager who oversaw the construction of the Bhopal plant – who said he worked for Union Carbide – didn’t really know who he worked for.”
Although The Hindu reached out to UCC for a response no comments were received at the time this report went to print.
However responding to a discussion of evidence in Sahu II earlier this year UCC spokesman, Tomm Sprick, said in an email toThe Hindu a that the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals had recently dismissed “a nearly identical case” against UCC, Sahu I.
Further, Mr. Sprick said that the Court stated that documents created at the time events took place established conclusively that “no reasonable juror could find that UCC participated in the creation of the contaminated drinking water.”
The plaintiffs intend to appeal Wednesday’s decision and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear the appeal, has previously reversed several prior dismissals of cases against UCC, EarthRights International stated.
On June 28 2012 Judge Keenan sided with UCC’s erstwhile CEO Warren Anderson in denying that he faced any individual liability because he did not personally approve the location of the Bhopal plant.
By Arturo Garcia The Raw Story
A 76-year-old man in Greeneville, Tennessee was arrested for asking a local official to speak louder during a public meeting amid a dispute over a proposed wastewater plant affecting their community, WATE-TV reported.
Eddie Overholt was charged with interfering with a public meeting and resisting arrest after being taken out in handcuffs from a meeting of the Greene County Industrial Development Board on Friday, His removal came on the order of County Mayor Alan Broyles.
Overholt was one of several people at the meeting who had planned to speak in opposition to a proposed wastewater disposal plant by U.S. Nitrogen that would involve installing a pipeline into the nearby Nolichucky River. The board was deliberating whether the company should be allowed to file a second application to the state Department of Transportation. U.S. Nitrogen’s first application was rejected earlier this year.
“Eventually whatever they put in the river, we’re going to get in our wells,” Overholt told WATE. “Knowing it’s a chemical company and a fertilizer company, we know what they put in the river.”
But the Greeneville Sun reported on Monday that board members did not use microphones during the meeting, and some of them sat with their backs to the audience. The board also sat behind a rope barrier, with Greeneville Police Chief Terry Cannon standing between it and the audience.
Broyles reportedly warned the audience to remain quiet during the board’s discussion or risk being thrown out. At one point, his request for the crowd not to applaud was interrupted by laughter, prompting him to repeat his warning.
“Would you all speak up until the whole audience can hear what you say?” Overholt then reportedly asked Broyles. The mayor responded by ordering officers to take Overholt out of the building.
“It’s a public hearing,” said Overholt, a member of Save the Nolichucky, an advocacy group formed to protest the proposed pipeline.
“[Mayor Broyles] is running the show,” Cannon reportedly replied.
Overholt was released on bail on Friday and arraigned on Monday. He is due back in court on Sept. 22. He said in a statement on Save the Nolichucky’s Facebook page that the officer who led him out of the meeting became “agitated” when Overholt asked for his name.
“He told me his name was Dixon or Hixon, and very abruptly increased the pressure and lift on my right arm, pulling my shoulder up into a very painful position, causing me to walk very awkwardly,” Overholt said.
City officials refused to comment on the case.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Coal from Appalachia rumbles into this port city, 150 railroad cars at a time, bound for the belly of the massive cargo ship Prime Lily. The ship soon sets sail for South America, its 80,000 tons of coal destined for power plants and factories, an export of American energy — and pollution.
In the U.S., this coal and the carbon dioxide it will eventually release into the atmosphere are some of the unwanted leftovers of an America going greener. With the country moving to cleaner natural gas, the Obama administration wants to reduce power plant pollution to make good on its promise to the world to cut emissions.
Yet the estimated 228,800 tons of carbon dioxide contained in the coal aboard the Prime Lily equals the annual emissions of a small American power plant. It’s leaving this nation’s shores, but not the planet.
“This is the single biggest flaw in U.S. climate policy,” said Roger Martella, the former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “Although the administration is moving forward with climate change regulations at home, we don’t consider how policy decisions in the United States impact greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world.”
This fossil fuel trade, which has soared under President Barack Obama, threatens to undermine his strategy to reduce the gases blamed for global warming. It also reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global issue. As the U.S. tries to set a global example by reducing demand for fossil fuels at home, American energy companies are sending more dirty fuels than ever to other parts of the world, exports worth billions of dollars every year. In some cases, these castoffs of America’s clean energy push are ending up in places with more lax environmental standards, or where governments are resistant to tackling the emissions responsible for global warming.
It’s a global shell game on fossil fuels that at the very least makes the U.S. appear to be making more progress on global warming than it actually is, because it shifts some of the pollution — and the burden for cleaning it up — onto another country’s balance sheet.
“It’s not taking responsibility,” said Thomas Power, a research professor at the University of Montana who has worked for environmental groups and clean energy foundations and has pushed for a more honest accounting of emissions. “It’s shifting the responsibility to someone else.”
With companies looking to double America’s coal exports, the nation’s growing position in the global energy trade could make global warming worse, fueling the world’s demand for coal when many experts say most fossil fuels should remain in the ground to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change.
In 2012, about 9 percent of worldwide coal exports originated in the U.S., the latest data available.
White House officials say the U.S. will continue to be a small player with a negligible global footprint and the best way to address global warming is to reduce coal’s use globally. In the meantime, they’re considering adding crude oil and natural gas to the menu of U.S. energy exports shipped abroad.
“There may be a very marginal increase in coal exports caused by our climate policies,” said Rick Duke, Obama’s deputy climate adviser, in an interview with The Associated Press. “Given that coal supply is widely available from many sources, our time is better spent working on leading toward a global commitment to cut carbon pollution on the demand side.”
But as companies plan new coal export terminals, the Obama administration has resisted evaluating the global fallout of those decisions.
It says that if the U.S. didn’t supply the coal, another country would.
In Oregon and Washington state, where three proposed terminals would double U.S. coal exports, the Democratic governors are pressing the administration to assess the global-warming impact of that coal when it is burned abroad. The administration has refused to do so.
Guidance drafted by White House officials in 2010 did outline how broadly federal agencies should look at carbon emissions from U. S. projects. Four years later, that guidance is still under review.
Carbon dioxide, regardless of whether it enters the atmosphere in Germany, India, or Brazil contributes to the sea level rise and in some cases severe weather that is linked to global warming.
The nexus of the challenge, and its international conundrum, can be found here, in Norfolk, Virginia, a low-lying coastal community that exports more coal than any place in the U.S. One of the region’s three coal export terminals, Dominion Terminal Associates, says that it supplies “Coal for the World.” At the same time, Norfolk is already experiencing one of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the country.
“Ultimately we would like to leave the coal in the ground. That is the best place for it,” said Joe Cook, a local resident and Sierra Club activist. He is fighting a much more local side effect of coal exports: dust released as it travels along rail lines, is dumped in massive piles by the dock and loaded onto ships. Cook believes that the dust is threatening people’s health.
When asked about the emissions from exports harming the planet, he said, “We have no control over that.”
As for the president, in recent speeches promoting his plan to reduce global warming Obama has highlighted the progress his administration has made driving down emissions at home.
“Together, we’ve held our carbon emissions to levels not seen in about 20 years,” he recently told the League of Conservation Voters. “Since 2006, no country on earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States.”
But that’s only part of the story.
The U.S. has the largest recoverable coal reserves in the world. Over the past six years, as the country has cut its own coal consumption by 195 million tons, about 20 percent of that coal was shipped abroad, according to an AP analysis of Energy Department data.
Last year, global coal use grew by 3 percent, faster than any other fossil fuel, according to the 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
And while less coal being burned here has helped the power sector reduce carbon emissions by 12 percent and left more U.S. coal in the ground, a growing share is finding its way to the rest of the world.
The proportion is expected to get larger as global demand for coal rises and the U.S. continues to clean up its power plants, boost energy efficiency and move to less-polluting sources of energy such as wind and solar. The latest EPA proposal on power plants envisions even less coal being used to make electricity.
The Obama administration, and the world, account only for coal burned inside their own borders when charting their progress on global warming.
“Energy exports bit by bit are chipping away at gains we are making on carbon dioxide domestically,” said Shakeb Afsah, who runs an energy consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland. Pollution from coal exports has wiped out all the carbon pollution savings the U.S. achieved by switching from coal to natural gas, according to an analysis he published earlier this year. A 2012 report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England said the carbon contained in coal exports put back half the pollution.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in a town on the edge of Germany’s coal-mining region, sits a new power plant burning some of America’s coal. The 750-megawatt Trianel power plant in Luenen relies completely on coal imports, about half from the U.S.
“American coal is simply very attractive for us because of its price, and therefore we’re using a high percentage of it,” Stefan Paul, executive director of the Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Luenen GmbH & Co. plant, told AP.
During a recent visit by an AP reporter, workers unloaded South African coal from two barges docked in an adjacent canal. The canal was built in 1914 to send coal from the Ruhr Valley through Rotterdam to ports overseas. Now the coal comes the other way.
German coal mining has been a dying tradition. The government will end subsidies in 2018, effectively killing it.
However, Germany is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power. Five German coal plants have been built since 2008, and more are coming. While the new plants are more efficient and much cleaner than older plants being phased out, they are also larger and are replacing some of the nuclear power that the country has been phasing out since the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The result: In 2013, Germany’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 1.2 percent.
This has happened even as the European continent has clamped down on the emissions blamed for global warming by increasing the use of renewable energy and instituting a cap-and-trade pollution system similar to one the U.S. Congress rejected in Obama’s first term.
Coal is cheaper than alternatives in Germany, particularly natural gas. So, too, are the prices on the carbon market in Europe. Companies can afford to buy the right to release more pollution.
“When coal is available, it is kind of like crack. It is the cheapest, biggest high that an industrial consumer can get,” said Kevin Book, an energy analyst at Washington,-based ClearView Energy Partners LLC.
In the U.S., the opposite is happening. Until recently, coal was more costly than natural gas, which is booming. Environmental regulations also are pushing the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired plants to retirement by adding more costs, and any new coal-fired power plants will have to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground if the Obama administration gets its way. Few if any new coal plants are expected to be built.
But the U.S. and other countries have no problem supplying Germany and the world with coal. Last year, the U.S. exported coal worth $11 billion.
Of the top five countries receiving power plant-grade coal from the U.S. in 2013, four were in Europe: the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy and Germany. All have seen their coal imports more than double from the U.S. since 2008.
German environmental officials say the reliance on coal-fired electricity will make it hard for the country to meet its climate-protection goals. Activists partly blame the U.S.
“This is a classic case of political greenwashing,” said Dirk Jansen, a spokesman for BUND, one of Germany’s most influential environmental advocacy organizations. “Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn’t help the global climate at all if Obama’s carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany.”
It’s unclear just how much pollution the U.S. is sending abroad or its overall effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. No one, including the administration, has calculated it. It’s a complex equation that includes global demand, natural gas prices, cheaper sources of coal from other countries, even weather. For instance, coal exports are down this year after a colder-than-average winter and higher natural gas prices in the U.S. caused power plants here to use more coal. Exports are forecast to be down slightly for several years before resuming an upward trajectory through 2040.
U.S. coal producers, and the companies that move and sell coal for export, are laying the groundwork for more exports. They see a growth market globally, in spite of efforts by the Obama administration to curb it. The administration has placed restrictions on U.S. financing of coal plants overseas that don’t control for carbon dioxide.
No such limits are in place for coal exporters.
In 2012, the U.S. Export-Import Bank backed $90 million in loans to XCoal Energy & Natural Resources LLC, a Pennsylvania-based exporting company, which plans to increase coal shipments to Japan, South Korea and China for use in steel and other industrial facilities.
Kinder Morgan, which owns one of the three terminals in the Norfolk area, earlier this year expanded its facilities to handle 1.5 million more tons of coal there. The company also spent $388 million to boost exports from Louisiana and Texas, mostly for thermal coal, the type of coal burned in power plants.
In Virginia, a coal-friendly state, the expansion has barely caused a stir. Coal has been leaving these shores for 130 years from Norfolk Southern Corp.’s enormous terminal.
The politics in the Pacific Northwest have been less favorable for coal. Three terminals proposed for Oregon and Washington would double U.S. exports, sending coal mined from mostly federal land in Montana and Wyoming to China and other markets in Asia. The plans have drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups, tribes and others.
And they’ve prompted some of Obama’s allies in the climate fight, the Democratic governors of Oregon and Washington, to point to what they describe as contradictions in the administration’s energy and climate policy and ask for a full analysis of the environmental impact both at home and abroad.
In a 2012 letter, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said, “The impacts of United States coal exports on climate change are an issue of national concern that merits a hard look by a federal agency.”
The administration seems unwilling.
The lead federal agency in charge of evaluating the terminals’ environmental impact, the Army Corps of Engineers, has refused to analyze the contribution that coal from the terminals will have on global warming, despite calls by the Environmental Protection Agency to consider them.
The Council on Environmental Quality, the White House office in charge of overseeing environmental matters, has stood on the sidelines, though saying that the law allows emissions abroad to be part of the analysis.
A 2010 guidance aimed at clarifying how agencies should evaluate greenhouse gas emissions for major projects is still being reviewed.
“They have sat on their hands,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, which has sued the administration over this delay.
Meanwhile, the state of Washington has decided to estimate on its own the quantity of greenhouse gases its two terminals will generate in the U.S. and in the countries that receive the coal.
Independent analyses have come to different conclusions about the impact the West Coast terminals will have.
A study by Power, the Montana professor, found that exports of cheap-to-produce Powder River Basin coal to Asia would depress prices, driving up demand and increasing the amounts of gases blamed for global warming. But another, by the Washington, D.C.,-based think tank Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc., said that expanding U.S. exports will have no impact on world coal consumption or global greenhouse gas emissions, because it will replace higher-cost coal that would come from somewhere else.
A federal judge last month faulted the administration for using similar logic when it failed to fully analyze the greenhouse gases from the expansion of a Colorado coal mine.
“The production of coal … will increase the supply of cheap, low-sulfur coal,” wrote Judge R. Brooke Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. “At some point, this additional supply will impact the demand for coal … and coal that otherwise would have been left in the ground will be burned.”
Changing the global system to start looking at the flow of carbon out of the ground would carry political risks, especially for the U.S., which is trying to boost energy production and exports even as it addresses global warming. America is an outlier among the top coal exporters worldwide, making the most significant public strides to combat climate change. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a visit to Indonesia in February, the largest coal exporter in the world, told the country that if it didn’t do something on climate it would put its entire way of life at risk.
Australia, the world’s second largest coal exporter, recently repealed its carbon tax, in part because the coal industry argued it was making it more expensive to do business.
“The U.S. needs to be pragmatic on this,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “If our coal exports are very small and having no or little impact on global greenhouse gas emissions … the government has to take into account the economic and foreign policy costs of restricting exports.” He was a National Security Council energy and climate change adviser to Obama until January 2013.
The United Nations’ climate chief earlier this year warned that three-quarters of all fossil fuels must remain in the ground if the world has any hope of containing the planet’s temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, as the international community, including the U.S., agreed to in 2009.
Norfolk is caught in the middle.
In 2013 alone, coal shipped from here for foreign power plants contained 48 million tons of carbon dioxide, pollution that could come back to haunt this city. The sea level here is expected to rise an additional 1.5 feet in 50 years, even if the world stops releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere tomorrow.
Bob Parsons lives on a half-mile-wide sandbar, just miles from two coal export terminals, and keeps a chart on his garage door chronicling a decade’s worth of battles with rising water.
The highest line marks the 2006 nor’easter that submerged his backyard in more than three feet of salt water from the bays and inlets. Another mark, around a foot, was the brush with Hurricane Ernesto that same year.
“Sure, there is a connection between them, what gets exported out of here and burned and the sea level rise,” said Parsons. “They are still burning it. They are still polluting the atmosphere.”
Associated Press writers David Rising and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed reporting from Berlin and Luenen, Germany.
Despite all the economic boom that fracking has brought to the state of Pennsylvania, residents have quickly seen the consequences the practice has had on the quality of living in the state. Residents of the state have learned this all too well after learning that most of the local well water in the area is unfit to drink as it has been found be contaminated by a number of toxic metals and other chemicals linked to both fracking and mining. In a radio interview with one local activist, host of the program Living on Earth, Steve Curwood spoke to local activist Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front about the situation on the ground.
“The boxes are loaded with gallon jugs of spring water. This is his drinking water for the week. You’ve heard of a food drive? This is a water drive. It was organized a couple of years ago after neighbors in Fair’s community, called the Woodlands, say their water quality deteriorated. They blamed nearby drilling rigs for the water problems. Fair says he drilled a water well three years ago at his home. The water was perfect, he said. Then it started smelling bad like rotten eggs, and it looked like mud.”
“The company drilling the nearby gas wells, Rex Energy, initially provided Fair [John Fair of the Woodlands, Connoquenessing Township] and his neighbors with drinking water, but that ended in 2012, when the state said gas activities were not the cause of the water problems. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection found water had high levels of iron and manganese before drilling began, and the EPA agreed. Some in the Woodlands say they’ve had problems with their well water in the past: that it smelled bad, or that after rainstorms it became dirty. But they say it got worse when drilling commenced, and some of them, including Fair, are suing Rex because of it.”
The entire transcript for the program can be found here.
Rex Springston | Richmond Times-Dispatch | Posted Yesterday
Col. Paul B. Olsen, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District, showed a slide of Holland Island.
The once-populated spot in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland is now abandoned, the victim of rising sea levels and flooding.
“As Holland was, Tangier (Island) is, and Hampton Roads will be,” Olsen said, making a grave assessment for low-lying parts of Virginia.
Olsen and others spoke at the General Assembly Building Tuesday during the first meeting of a legislative panel studying recurrent flooding in coastal Virginia.
The theme that emerged during the meeting is that flooding linked to rising seas is dangerous, complicated and hugely expensive to address.
“There is no doubt that Virginia is at significant risk for property damage and loss of life from flooding,” said Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, summarizing what he learned at another meeting on rising seas. “We know we have a problem; we have studied it thoroughly, and it is time to take action.”
Stolle teamed this year with Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton, on a resolution to create the study panel. Stolle was elected the group’s chairman Tuesday.
Virginia has become a hotbed of concern over rising seas, flooding and climate change.
In addition to the study panel, a group called the Secure Commonwealth Panel is working to advise Gov. Terry McAuliffe on flooding and other issues, and McAuliffe has created a climate-change commission to explore ways to address global warming.
Rising seas and coastal flooding pose threats to waterfront development, historic areas like Jamestown, lots of communities in lots of localities, and military bases like Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base.
Potential options include restoring beaches, building floodwalls, abandoning some flood-prone areas and barring people from building near some waterways in the first place.
Bryan Pennington, director of intergovernmental relations for Norfolk, said in an interview that his city alone faces nearly $1 billion in potential costs for such things as beach restoration, flood gates and pumps.
With so many other localities at risk, the price tag would surely run into billions more, Pennington said.
Pennington would like the General Assembly to authorize a governmental authority in southeastern Virginia that could raise money, perhaps by issuing bonds and seeking grants.
“We need for decisions to be made at the regional level by our designated regional leaders,” Pennington said.
So far, localities have been working as “free agents” seeking federal grants, he said.
Flooding, during storms big and small, is an increasing problem in coastal Virginia. The main cause is rising seas, and seas are rising at least partly because of global warming, experts say. Among other effects, warming water expands.
In Virginia, sea levels are rising faster than the global average because the land is sinking, primarily from natural causes.
To make things worse, there’s evidence that sea levels will rise faster and faster in coming decades. If current trends hold, scientists project Virginia’s waters could go up 1.5 feet in 20 to 50 years and 5 feet or more by 2100.
By Laura Arenschield The Columbus Dispatch
A fracking company made federal and state agencies that oversee drinking-water safety wait days before it shared a list of toxic chemicals that spilled from a drilling site into a tributary of the Ohio River.
Although the spill following a fire on June 28 at the Statoil North America well pad in Monroe County stretched 5 miles along the creek and killed more than 70,000 fish and wildlife, state officials said they do not believe drinking water was affected.
But environmental advocacy groups said they wonder how the state can be sure.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report obtained by The Dispatch shows that the federal and state EPA officials had to wait five days before they were given a full list of the fracking chemicals the drilling company used at the site.
Halliburton, the company hired by Statoil to frack the horizontal well, provided a partial list up front that included most of the chemicals. Others, which are protected by Ohio’s trade-secrets law, were omitted.
“How can communities know that they are being protected when an incident like this happens?” said Teresa Mills, an environmental activist and Ohio organizer with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
“We need more transparent laws.”
To pull oil and natural gas from shale, companies drill vertically and then turn sideways into the rock. Then they blast millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the shafts to free trapped oil and gas in the process called fracking.
During the process, fluids bubble back up to the surface with the gas.
Once a fracking job is finished, drilling companies have 60 days to disclose what chemicals they used to the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees drilling and fracking operations in Ohio.
Ohio law says that companies have to disclose the contents of proprietary fracking mixes only to firefighters or Natural Resources if there is an emergency, such as fires or spills. In this case, both were given the full list but did not share the details with other agencies.
Halliburton has yet to finish fracking the Monroe County well that caught fire.
Chris Abbruzzese, an Ohio EPA spokesman, said that on the day of the fire and spill, a representative from a group that represents the federal and state EPA offices, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Monroe County emergency management and fire workers asked Statoil and Halliburton for a list of the chemicals.
“Once they realized that the proprietary information wasn’t included, there were additional (requests) made,” Abbruzzese said.
Natural Resources, which regulates drilling in Ohio, has authority under state law to see the entire list and asked on its own two days after the fire.
Halliburton, the company hired by Statoil to frack the well, gave the list to the single agency.
But Natural Resources did not share that information with either EPA office.
“Internal communication is something we’re going to work on,” said Bethany McCorkle, a Natural Resources spokeswoman.
Kirsten Henriksen, a spokeswoman for Statoil, said the company hired an outside toxicology firm to test both the creek and the Ohio River for toxic chemicals. None were found in the Ohio River, she said.
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, a multi-state agency that tests the river, also found no contaminants.
“Based on the chemicals that we were aware of, if there had been any other chemicals that would have been there, they all would have showed up (in tests),” Abbruzzese said.
Kelly Scribner, a toxicologist with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, which was hired by Statoil to perform the tests, said she wasn’t given a full list of chemicals either.
But, she said, the tests would have shown abnormalities in the water either way.
Fracking chemicals include ethylene glycol, which can damage kidneys; formaldehyde, a known cancer risk; and naphthalene, considered a possible carcinogen.
The water tests showed elevated levels of chlorides, salt and acetone in the creek near the well pad.
By the time federal and state EPA officials were given the full list, those chemicals likely flowed past towns along the Ohio River that draw in drinking water.
That worries some state lawmakers and environmental advocacy groups.
“We’ve got 70,000 or so fish that died,” said Nathan Johnson, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. “Clearly, something was wrong with the water.”
The group has been lobbying the Ohio legislature to pass laws that would force companies during emergencies to immediately disclose the full list of chemicals to all state agencies.
Oil and gas industry officials and regulators have pushed back against additional regulations, saying Ohio’s laws are more than adequate to protect people.
In a speech on Tuesday outside Mansfield, Gov. John Kasich said Ohio has “very tough regulations” concerning fracking. “If the accidents happen, and we’re not minding the store, or we’re looking the other way, that would be a disaster for us,” he said.
Kasich told The Dispatch it would be unacceptable for emergency responders, including federal and Ohio EPA officials, not to know the full list of chemicals that might have spilled into the river.
“We want people to know what the fracking fluid contains,” he said.
Other states, including Pennsylvania and Texas, make companies disclose the full list of chemicals within 30 days of wrapping up a fracking operation. In Oklahoma, they must disclose the chemicals to state regulators before a well is drilled.
The Statoil fire started on the morning of June 28 when, according to preliminary reports, a hydraulic line used during the fracking process broke.
The broken line sprayed fracking fluid onto hot equipment, igniting it.
The fire spread to 20 trucks, which went up in flames. No workers were hurt, but one firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. About 25 people who live near the wells were evacuated.
The fire continued to smolder for six days. As it burned, firefighters doused it with water and foam, washing chemicals from the site into the tributary, which flows for five miles before reaching the Ohio River.
Legislators and environmental groups say the Statoil fire illustrates a gap in the law that allows fracking companies to determine when they release information and to whom.
“It is a huge problem,” said Johnson, the Ohio Environmental Council attorney. “We’re essentially at the behest of the company with the chemical information.”
Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.