Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

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.

 

 

Bird, Fish Kills Blamed on Obama and DADT Repeal

J'ACCUSE! - A spontaneous demostration took place in Beebe, AR Sunday as Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials named Barack Obama as the major cause of a huge fish and bird kill along the banks of the Arkansas River.

Beebe, AR – Arkansas game officials have announced that President Barack Obama has been implicated in the deaths of 4,000-5,000 birds – mostly blackbirds – and approximately 83,000 drum fish along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River over the New Year holiday.

Billy Bob Hatfield, chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said toxicology tests have found no evidence of poisoning and necropsies that began on Monday have so far revealed no scientific explanation. Officials have also considered – but ruled out – fear of noise from thunderstorms and New Year’s fireworks and midair collisions between the birds. “With both fish and bird kills, it’s clear it wasn’t the noise or poison. And there were blackbird air traffic controllers on duty when the incident took place,” Hatfield said.

The commission settled on the Obama theory after a thorough search of the Holy Bible. “We prayed and the good Lord led us to a passage that says, “A man of dark color shall arrive in your country from Kenya and try to convert you to socialism,” said the chaplain for the Commission, Bob Billy McCoy.

Obama is the Anti-Christ
“We figured that since Obama has been conclusively proven to be a Kenyan and the anti-christ it must be his fault. “When we compared his color to the description of a ‘man of dark color’ found in the scriptures, it proved he was the true culprit,” McCoy said. “Then there’s that whole blackbird thing. Black man? Blackbird? That’s a coincidence? I think not.”

Some Republican officials and televangelist Pat Robertson have added “corroborating evidence” proving the initial trigger for the wildlife disaster was Obama repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

“There were thousands of gays swimming upstream of the fish kills in the Arkansas River. Some of the fish were sodomized by those secular homosexual humanists and swam upstream infected with AIDS,” Robertson said. “A dead fish washed ashore in the river and a bit of carcass from the fish was eaten by a blackbird who, in turn, infected the rest of his bird herd.”

“Gosh darn it. There can be no other explanation. God came to me in a vision I had during a nice veal scallopini dinner and told me it was so,” Robertson said.

Former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin also weighed in on the subject via a Twitter message. “Yeah, ditto what Reverend Robertson said. BTW I’m not running for President in 2012, I just play like it on TV. I’m a rogue, God bless America.”

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) – no relation to the town – cautioned citizens to not consider this a final cause for the incident. “As a Democrat, I will work in a completely bipartisan manner with my Republican colleagues to investigate this matter,” Beebe said.

Too Late for Bipartisanship

However, the Governor may be too late in his calls for bipartisanship. Incoming Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Republican Darrell Issa, is already adding an investigation to his lengthening list of issues the committee will take on.

“I’m currently asking lobbyists – including those representing the blackbird and drum fish lobby and the Texas Board of Education – to rewrite new rules and textbooks loosening the stranglehold the Sierra Club and those other nature nuts have on good old American business,” Issa said.

“We’ve already found direct evidence that Barack Obama is a pedophile through his connection to National Public Radio. I’m sure my committee will find him guilty, especially since he isn’t a US citizen. I’m already working with my pastor to fashion an extradition agreement with the Kingdom of God if one is needed,” Issa Said.

“All I know is that under George W. Bush’s administration we had 10 straight years without a wildlife kill. Now, with two years of the Obama administration’s mismanagement, we’ve had socialist health care, oil rig explosions, and the mass die offs of thousands of birds and fish,” Issa said. “Republicans will prove they are the party of God by becoming strong advocates for ecological conservation – as long as it doesn’t involve oil companies, coal companies, or mining interests. ”

“I don’t know why Obama hates America,” he added.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Weekly Pulse: Rotten Eggs, Drowsy Doctors, and Expensive Insurance

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tainted egg shell game

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club is pushing state regulators to investigate two factory farms and a feed mill linked to this summer’s massive recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. The Sierra Club sent a strongly-worded letter to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller urging him to investigate Wright County Egg, Hillandale Farms and the Quality Egg LLC feed mill. All three firms were linked to the salmonella outbreak that sickened an estimated 1200 people; and all three firms are linked to agro-baron Austin “Jack” DeCoster.

Tom Philpott of Grist calls DeCoster a “habitual” environmental offender and “one of the most reviled names in industrial agriculture.” In 1996, the Department of Labor fined DeCoster Eggs $3.6 million for what the then-Secretary of Labor described as “running an agricultural sweatshop” and “treating its employees like animals.” Over the years, DeCoster enterprises racked up additional fines in other states. A previous Attorney General of Iowa dubbed DeCoster a habitual offender for water pollution. In 2002, five female employees at the DeCoster’s Wright County egg operation alleged that their supervisors had raped them and threatened to kill them if they reported the crime. The company paid $1.5 million to settle the lawsuit.

Drowsy doctors

A coalition of public health activists is pushing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate the work hours of doctors in training. New proposed guidelines would limit the shifts of first-year residents to 16 hours, but more senior trainees could be forced to work shifts up to 28 hours. The group, which includes the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare, the American Medical Student Association, and Public Citizen, says that’s not good enough to protect doctors or the public. As I explain in Working In These Times, research shows that sleep deprivation is a major preventable cause of medical errors, which is why the coalition wants to see shifts for all residents capped at 16 hours.

Insurance premiums soar

A new report from the Kaiser Foundation Family shows that health insurance premiums continued to climb with employers shifting an ever-greater share of the burden onto employees. A family health insurance policy costs about $14,000 a year, with employees shouldering 30% of that cost. Michelle Chen reports in ColorLines that families that manage to hang onto their health insurance can’t expect relief through health care reform any time soon. The major reforms don’t go into effect until 2014 and the biggest early beneficiaries will be those who are currently uninsured rather than those who are already paying through the nose for lousy coverage. The ultimate goal of comprehensive health care reform is to reshape the health care and health insurance systems to bring costs down across the board, but that’s small consolation to workers who are struggling to stay on top of their premiums right now.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: As risks for oil and gas grow, USSF offers change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people’s water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks.

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

“Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out.”

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

“Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

“What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: As risks for oil and gas grow, USSF offers change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drilling, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people’s water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks.

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

“Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out.”

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

“Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

“What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

 

 

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