Weekly Mulch: Cost-Cutting at the Environment's Peril

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

In Washington, the environment is under attack. The cost-cutting deal that the House passed yesterday stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of $1.6 billion, which made up 16% of the agency’s budget. Funds for clean energy were cut. Republicans put in a provision that would keep the Department of the Interior from putting aside public lands for conservation and one thatkilled the nascent climate center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These choices represent a deeper antipathy toward nature and environmental health than the run-of-the-mill climate denialism that’s become au courant among congressional Republicans. They show that plenty of leaders in Congress do not care about basic protections that ensure clean air and clean water or that keep even small stretches of the planet safe from mining, drilling and other human interventions.

Greenlining

One idea driving these decisions is that, economically, the country can’t afford to protect the environment right now. But as Monica Potts argues at The American Prospect, in a review of two new books that cover the economy and the environment, green policies are good for business. In reviewing Climate Capitalism by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Potts notes that “$2.8 billion a year is wasted because employees don’t turn off their computers when they leave work; comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation could create 1.9 million jobs; improving indoor air quality could save businesses $200 billion annually in energy costs.”

Almost 2 million jobs! The country could use that boost right now. But those jobs depend, of course, on government action. As Potts points out, businesses won’t necessarily adopt these solutions on their own. The other book she reviews, Seth Fletcher’s Bottled Lightning, explains why electric cars weren’t developed sooner.

In short, “oil has stayed so remarkably cheap,” Potts writes. And, as she says, “The market doesn’t capture all of the costs that fossil fuels and other industrial-era processes impose on society.” Environmentally friendly policies might be good for business, but sometimes business doesn’t know it. The private sector won’t learn that lesson, either, if Washington is willing to sacrifice its administrative infrastructure for handling environmental issues.

New energy, new decisions

The country’s going to want its government to have some environmental experts left around for another reason, too. As oil and gas get more expensive, alternative energy sources are going to look more appealing. But while they might have lower carbon emissions, they raise new issues about clean air and water and about their impact on ecosystems. The EPA, for example, is currently studying the water and air impacts of natural gas, which has been widely touted as a fuel source that emits less carbon than coal.

But that may not be accurate, either. In a study obtained this week by The Hill, Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist, found that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas production may actually far outstrip the amount coal produces. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard explains:

While burning natural gas may emit less carbon dioxide, its extraction releases quite a bit of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Gas from shale—a fine-grained layer of rock below the earth’s surface—is also responsible for 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas. The study found that up to 7.9 percent of the methane escapes directly from the wells, leaks from pipelines, or is released in venting and flaring. While the leaks may be relatively small, methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that those leaks have a major impact, Howarth tells Mother Jones.

Fighting back against fracking

If Howarth’s study is correct, that means even worse news for communities in the gas fields that have been fighting against new natural gas drilling, only to be told that it’s for the greater good. For instance, in New York this week, Public News Service’s Mike Clifford reports that “Dozens of environmental and health groups are asking [Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers] to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits.”

The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs tells Clifford, “We’ve seen in places like Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry has been booming, children on certain days cannot go out and play; they get nosebleeds from the air quality. It’s serious stuff, and we don’t want that in New York.”

Just over in Pennsylvania, natural gas drilling has been going ahead, and Nina Berman reports for AlterNet on its impact on families:

The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead.

Right now, the EPA is studying the effects that natural gas drilling have on public health. Their findings could, at the very least, strengthen the case for putting restrictions on drilling companies to prevent pollution. But if anti-environmentalists in Washington keep cutting into the bottom line of environmental programs, families like the Spencers will have an even harder time fighting against the conditions they’re facing now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Mulch: Cost-Cutting at the Environment's Peril

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

In Washington, the environment is under attack. The cost-cutting deal that the House passed yesterday stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of $1.6 billion, which made up 16% of the agency’s budget. Funds for clean energy were cut. Republicans put in a provision that would keep the Department of the Interior from putting aside public lands for conservation and one thatkilled the nascent climate center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These choices represent a deeper antipathy toward nature and environmental health than the run-of-the-mill climate denialism that’s become au courant among congressional Republicans. They show that plenty of leaders in Congress do not care about basic protections that ensure clean air and clean water or that keep even small stretches of the planet safe from mining, drilling and other human interventions.

Greenlining

One idea driving these decisions is that, economically, the country can’t afford to protect the environment right now. But as Monica Potts argues at The American Prospect, in a review of two new books that cover the economy and the environment, green policies are good for business. In reviewing Climate Capitalism by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Potts notes that “$2.8 billion a year is wasted because employees don’t turn off their computers when they leave work; comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation could create 1.9 million jobs; improving indoor air quality could save businesses $200 billion annually in energy costs.”

Almost 2 million jobs! The country could use that boost right now. But those jobs depend, of course, on government action. As Potts points out, businesses won’t necessarily adopt these solutions on their own. The other book she reviews, Seth Fletcher’s Bottled Lightning, explains why electric cars weren’t developed sooner.

In short, “oil has stayed so remarkably cheap,” Potts writes. And, as she says, “The market doesn’t capture all of the costs that fossil fuels and other industrial-era processes impose on society.” Environmentally friendly policies might be good for business, but sometimes business doesn’t know it. The private sector won’t learn that lesson, either, if Washington is willing to sacrifice its administrative infrastructure for handling environmental issues.

New energy, new decisions

The country’s going to want its government to have some environmental experts left around for another reason, too. As oil and gas get more expensive, alternative energy sources are going to look more appealing. But while they might have lower carbon emissions, they raise new issues about clean air and water and about their impact on ecosystems. The EPA, for example, is currently studying the water and air impacts of natural gas, which has been widely touted as a fuel source that emits less carbon than coal.

But that may not be accurate, either. In a study obtained this week by The Hill, Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist, found that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas production may actually far outstrip the amount coal produces. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard explains:

While burning natural gas may emit less carbon dioxide, its extraction releases quite a bit of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Gas from shale—a fine-grained layer of rock below the earth’s surface—is also responsible for 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas. The study found that up to 7.9 percent of the methane escapes directly from the wells, leaks from pipelines, or is released in venting and flaring. While the leaks may be relatively small, methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that those leaks have a major impact, Howarth tells Mother Jones.

Fighting back against fracking

If Howarth’s study is correct, that means even worse news for communities in the gas fields that have been fighting against new natural gas drilling, only to be told that it’s for the greater good. For instance, in New York this week, Public News Service’s Mike Clifford reports that “Dozens of environmental and health groups are asking [Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers] to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits.”

The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs tells Clifford, “We’ve seen in places like Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry has been booming, children on certain days cannot go out and play; they get nosebleeds from the air quality. It’s serious stuff, and we don’t want that in New York.”

Just over in Pennsylvania, natural gas drilling has been going ahead, and Nina Berman reports for AlterNet on its impact on families:

The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead.

Right now, the EPA is studying the effects that natural gas drilling have on public health. Their findings could, at the very least, strengthen the case for putting restrictions on drilling companies to prevent pollution. But if anti-environmentalists in Washington keep cutting into the bottom line of environmental programs, families like the Spencers will have an even harder time fighting against the conditions they’re facing now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has not just racked up safety violations but also consistently disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has not just racked up safety violations but also consistently disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has not just racked up safety violations but also consistently disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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