Mark Ruffalo's Call to Action Nov.21st at the DRBC

Please check out our founder, Mark Ruffalo's new video calling people to say NO to FRACKING at the DRBC hearing on Nov.21st in Trenton, NJ. 

http://j.mp/uPa3jE

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Weekly Mulch: Activist Tim DeChristopher Convicted of Two Felonies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted yesterday of two felony counts. DeChristopher was on trial for bidding on more than 22,000 acres of public land that he could not pay for: his two crimes are making false representations to the government and interfering with the land auction.

DeChristopher made the $1.79 million bid in order to “do something to try to resist the climate crisis,” he told Tina Gerhardt, in an interview published by AlterNet. But, as Kate Sheppard explains at Mother Jones, the judge threw out “the defense that his actions were necessary to prevent environmental damage on this land and, more broadly, the exacerbataion of climate change.”

“They’re hoping to make an example out of me.”

DeChristoper now faces the possibility of  a $75,000 fine and 10 years in prison. In an interview with YES! Magazine’s Brooke Jarvis, before the trial started, DeChristopher said he had faced the possibility that he would be found guilty.

“There is still the possibility of acquittal, but I think the most likely scenario is probably that I will be convicted,” he told Jarvis. “The prosecution has been very clear that they’re hoping to make an example out of me, to convince other people not to fight the status quo.”

Wild lands

What is the status quo? Bureau of Land Management land, like the parcel DeChristopher bid on, is owned by the government, which often leases out the rights to develop the natural resources, like gas and oil, to private companies.

Up until 2003, the Department of the Interior had the option of setting aside some of its lands for preservation, pending final Congressional approval. But during the Bush administration, the DOI gave up that option and only considered uses like recreation or development for its holdings.

Back in December, the current Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, reversed that policy, again putting on the table the option of using public lands for conservation purposes. But as I write at TAPPED, Republicans are throwing a hissy fit about the change.

Truth or consequence?

The Republicans’ argument goes something like: Using public lands for conservation will deprive Americans of jobs and hurt the bottom lines of states with large tracts of public lands. What they don’t discuss is the potential damage that drilling for, say, natural gas could cause. The Mulch has been writing about the dangers of hydrofracking for awhile now, but over the past week The New York Times began weighing in on the issue with a long series on the dangers of hydrofracking.

The Times‘ series brings even more evidence of hydrofracking’s dangers to light—in particular, about the radioactive waste materials being dumped into rivers where water quality is rarely monitored. As Christopher Mims reports at Grist, the series has already prompted calls for new testing from people like John Hanger, the former head of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection department, which has not been among the staunchest opponents of new drilling protects. According to Mims, Hanger has written that:

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.

Or, as Mims puts it, “No one has any idea if the radioactive material in the wastewater from fracking is appearing downstream, in drinking water supplies, in quantities in excess of EPA recommendations.”

Tar and feather ‘em

Fracking is not the only environmentally destructive practice that the energy industry is increasingly relying on. Earth Island Journal has two pieces looking into the tar sands industry in Canada. Jason Mark’s piece is a great introduction to the history of the tar sands and takes a sharp look into the impact development has had on the community and the environment.

And Ron Johnson details the U.S.’s connection to the destruction: The federal government is considering approving a pipeline that would allow the oil from the tar sands to travel to Texas refineries. Johnson writes:

Green groups warn that the pipelines will keep North America and emerging economies hooked on oil from the Alberta tar sands for years to come. By greasing the crude’s path to market, the projects will encourage further reckless expansion of the tar sands. That would delay the transition to a renewable energy economy, while further degrading Canada’s boreal forests and spewing even more CO2 into the atmosphere.

A new regime

The decision to approve the pipeline lies with the executive branch. But all of Washington isn’t a particularly friendly place to green groups and their causes these days.

For example, as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, the newly empowered House Republicans have done away with one of the smallest green programs the Democrats put into place, an initiative to compost waste from House cafeterias. They’ve justified the cut by saying it was “too expensive,” but as Buczynski writes, “Spending must be dramatically reduced, yes, but also strategically. It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see which programs the new GOP House has targeted first.”

It’s a small thing, but it shows how committed Republicans are to the status quo: They’re not even willing to mulch their leftover salad.

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: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

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: How Reid’s Energy Bill Undermines Senate Climate Efforts

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a limited energy bill that responds to the oil spill and promotes energy efficiency. Reid’s action is a signal that the Senate will not pass climate legislation before November, although Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that a climate bill could come up in the lame-duck session following the election.

“The Senate’s climate bill is officially dead,” Kate Sheppard writes at Mother Jones. “And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon.”

Since 2009, expectations for a bill regulating carbon emissions have steadily declined. After this latest failure in the Senate, the best near-term hope for addressing climate change comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which still has the power to regulate carbon emissions.

At the Washington Independent, Andrew Restuccia reports that Sen. Reid’s bill will likely hold oil companies more financially accountable for spills by lifting the cap on their liability for economic damages and will nudge homeowners towards energy efficiency.

But, Restuccia writes, a sources tells him that “significantly…the bill might not include a renewable energy standard.” Such a standard would require an increasing percentage of the country’s electricity to come from sources like wind and solar.

The energy bill could create jobs

Sen. Reid has often emphasized that an energy bill is also a jobs bill: Innovation in the clean energy sector creates employment opportunities at a time when they’re sorely needed. Dropping the renewable energy standard could also mean diminishing the potential for job creation.

Public News Service reports that in rural areas, a standard could create thousands of jobs.

“The Department of Energy says, if we get to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind by the year 2030”—one of the less ambitious standards proposed—“it would mean 3,000 to 4,000 new jobs in most of our states,” Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, said. “There’s not a lot of things out there bringing that kind of new economic opportunity to rural America, so it could be a great thing for us.”

The Gulf Coast connection

The need for job opportunities extends beyond rural areas. In the Gulf Coast, for instance, even fishermen left idle by the oil spill are hoping the oil industry resumes drilling soon. Their communities need those jobs. As Jerome Ringo, who worked for two decades in the oil industry, writes at The Progressive, “With unemployment still in the double digits across the nation, and the people on the Gulf Coast struggling to survive, we need far more clean energy job growth than what we’re seeing right now.”

That’s not going to happen without a long-term commitment to clean energy from the government, Ringo argues. “Businesses need this signal to know how to invest, and, with this signal, they will move in a direction that creates many more jobs in areas like renewable energy and electric cars for people like me who once worked in oil and gas.”

Climate refugees

That transition won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to start in that direction as soon as possible. In the United States, the effects of climate change are affecting people—farmers dealing with strange weather, for instance—but the impact is not obvious in the every day lives of Americans.

Not everyone has that luxury, though. LinkTV’s Earth Focus reports on the plight of climate refuges in New Guinea. In a new film, Jennifer Redfearn documents the story of the country’s Carteret Islanders—the first group to organize a community-wide evacuation of their home in the face of climate change. As the sea level rises around their island, storm surges increase and fresh water becomes salty. Carteret Islanders are looking to move to Bougainville, a neighboring island recovering from civil war.

“I’ve heard about you Carterets. You are an easy-going people,” one leader tells them. “Here it is totally different.”

The longer Americans wait to start scaling back our energy use, the more people around the globe will be displaced.

Hydrofracking

When moving towards clean energy, however, it is important that leaders in Washington and on the state level watch emerging energy companies closely. For instance, The New York Times reports that Reid’s bill will promote natural gas production. But as natural gas grows more popular as a bridge fuel, communities and legislators are discovering more dangerous environmental impacts from the hydrofracture drilling process that companies use to extract the gas from shale deposits.

Josh Fox’s recent documentary, Gasland, showed that residents across the country in fracking areas have had their drinking water contaminated. The natural gas industry is pushing back hard against the claims his film makes. Truthout reports that “Energy In Depth (EID), an information service created and funded by the oil and gas industry, recently posted ‘Debunking Gasland,’ a point-by-point argument against the Fox’s startling discoveries. EID paints Fox as a ‘purveyor of the avant-garde’ who is guilty of ‘flat-out making stuff up.’”

Fox isn’t the only one to voice concerns about water quality, either. GritTV recently heard from residents in the Delaware River Basin about their concerns. “No water for gas” is their rallying cry.

Water, water, everywhere

Fox is fighting back, but the response to his film shows that the industry is ready to push back against any criticisms of its practices. It has also resisted effects by regulators to require disclose of the chemicals it uses in its extraction process.

But as the Washington Independent’s Restuccia reports, “Momentum is building in the House to pass new regulations on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to natural gas.”

Unfortunately, if the fate of the climate bill is any indication, any environmental legislation, even with momentum, has little chance of moving through Congress right now.

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: 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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