New USDA Data Shows 85% of Foods Tested Have Pesticide Residues
By Carey Gillam
As Americans gather with their families for Thanksgiving this week, new government data offers a potentially unappetizing assessment of the U.S. food supply—Residues of many types of bug-killing pesticides, fungicides and weed killing chemicals have been found in roughly 85 percent of thousands of foods tested.
Data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows varying levels of pesticide residues in everything from mushrooms to potatoes and grapes to green beans. One sample of strawberries contained residues of 20 pesticides, according to the Pesticide Data Program report issued this month by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. The report is the 25th annual such compilation of residue data for the agency, and covered sampling the USDA did in 2015.
Notably, the agency said only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples tested were free from any detectable pesticide residues. That's a marked difference from 2014, when the USDA found that more than 41 percent of samples were "clean" or showed no detectable pesticide residues. Prior years also showed roughly 40-50 percent of samples as free of detectable residues, according to USDA data. The USDA said it is not "statistically valid" to compare one year to others, however, because the mix of food sampled changes each year. Still the data shows that 2015 was similar to the years prior in that fresh and processed fruits and vegetables made up the bulk of the foods tested.
Though it might sound distasteful, the pesticide residues are nothing for people to worry about, according to the USDA. The agency said "residues found in agricultural products sampled are at levels that do not pose risk to consumers' health and are safe …"
But some scientists say there is little to no data to back up that claim, stating that regulators do not have sufficient comprehensive research regarding how consumption of residues of multiple types of pesticides impact human health over the long term, and government assurances of safety are simply false.
"We don't know if you eat an apple that has multiple residues every day what will be the consequences 20 years down the road," said Chensheng Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "They want to assure everybody that this is safe but the science is quite inadequate. This is a big issue."
The USDA said in its latest report that 441 of the samples it found were considered worrisome as "presumptive tolerance violations," because the residues found either exceeded what is set as safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or they were found in foods that are not expected to contain the pesticide residues at all and for which there is no legal tolerance level. Those samples contained residues of 496 different pesticides, the USDA said.
Spinach, strawberries, grapes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon were among the foods found with illegal pesticide residue levels. Even residues of chemicals long banned in the U.S. were found, including residues of DDT or its metabolites found in spinach and potatoes. DDT was banned in 1972 because of health and environmental concerns about the insecticide.
Absent from the USDA data was any information on glyphosate residues, even though glyphosate has long been the most widely used herbicide in the world and is commonly sprayed directly on many crops, including corn, soy, wheat and oats. It is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s branded Roundup herbicide, and was declared a probable human carcinogen last year by a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization. But Monsanto has said glyphosate residues on food are safe. The company asked the EPA to raise tolerance levels for glyphosate on several foods in 2013 and the EPA agreed to do so.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also annually samples foods for residues of pesticides. New documents obtained from the FDA show illegal levels of two types of insecticides—propargite, used to kill mites, and flonicamid, usually aimed at killing aphids and whiteflies—were recently found in honey. Government documents also show that DEET, a common insect repellant, was recently detected by regulators in honey, and the herbicide acetochlor was found on mushrooms.
FDA scientists also reported illegally high levels of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam found in rice, according to information from the agency. Syngenta has asked the EPA to allow for higher residues of thiamethoxam permitted in numerous crops because the company wants it to have expanded use as a leaf spray. That request is still pending, according to an EPA spokeswoman.
The most recent public residue report issued by the FDA shows that violation rates for pesticide residues have been climbing in recent years. Residue violations in domestic food samples totaled 2.8 percent for the year 2013; double the rate seen in 2009. Violations totaled 12.6 percent for imported foods in 2013, up from 4 percent in 2009.
Like the USDA, the FDA has skipped glyphosate in decades of testing for pesticide residues. But the agency did launch a "special assignment" this year to determine what levels of glyphosate might be showing up in a small group of foods. An FDA chemist reported finding glyphosate residues in honey and several oatmeal products, including baby food.
Private testing data released this month reported the presence of glyphosate residues in Cheerios cereal, Oreo cookies and a variety of other popular packaged foods.
Questions on Cumulative Impacts
Whether or not consumers should worry about food containing pesticide residues is a matter of ongoing dispute. The trio of federal agencies involved in pesticide residue issues all point to what they refer to as "maximum residue limits" (MRLs), or "tolerances," as guidelines for what they say is considered safe. The EPA uses data supplied by the agrichemical industry to help determine where MRLs should be set for each pesticide and each crop the pesticides are expected to be used with.
As long as most of foods sampled show pesticide residues in food below the MRLs, there is no reason to worry, the USDA maintains. "The reporting of residues present at levels below the established tolerance serves to ensure and verify the safety of the Nation's food supply," the 2015 residue report states. The agrichemical industry offers even broader assurances, saying there is nothing to fear from consuming residues of the chemicals it sells farmers for use in food production, even if they exceed legal tolerances.
But many scientists say the tolerances are designed to protect the pesticide users more than consumers. Tolerances vary widely depending upon the pesticide and the crop. The tolerance for the insecticide chlorpyrifos on an apple, for instance, can be very different than the amount of chlorpyrifos allowed on citrus fruits, or on a banana or in milk, according to government tolerance data.
In the case of chlorpyrifos, the EPA has actually said it wants to revoke all food tolerances because studies have linked the chemical to brain damage in children. Though the agency has long considered residues of chlorpyrifos safe, now the agency says, they may not be.
The "EPA cannot, at this time, determine that aggregate exposure to residues of chlorpyrifos, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other non-occupational exposures for which there is reliable information, are safe," the EPA said last year. Dow AgroSciences, which developed chlorpyrifos in the 1960s, is protesting the EPA efforts, arguing chlorpyrifos is a "critical tool" for farmers. In the latest USDA residue report, chlorpyrifos was found in peaches, apples, spinach, strawberries, nectarines and other foods, though not at levels considered to violate tolerances.
The EPA defends its work with tolerances, and says it has been complying with the Food Quality Protection Act that requires the EPA to consider the cumulative effects of residues of substances "that have a common mechanism of toxicity." The agency says that to set a tolerance for a pesticide, it looks at studies submitted by pesticide companies to identify possible harmful effects the chemical could have on humans, the amount of the chemical likely to remain in or on food, and other possible exposures to the same chemical.
But critics say that is not good enough—assessments must consider more realistic scenarios that take into account the broader cumulative impacts of many different types of pesticide residues to determine how safe it is to consume the mixtures seen in a daily diet. Given that several pesticides commonly used in food production have been linked to disease, declines in cognitive performance, developmental disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, there is an urgent need for more in-depth analysis of these cumulative impacts, many scientists say. The National Research Council has declared that "dietary intake represents the major source of pesticide exposure for infants and children, and the dietary exposure may account for the increased pesticide-related health risks in children compared with adults."
"With the ubiquitous exposure to chemical mixtures, assurances of safety based on lists of individual toxicity thresholds can be quite misleading," said Lorrin Pang, an endocrinologist with the Hawaii Department of Health and a former advisor to the World Health Organization.
Tracey Woodruff, a former EPA senior scientist and policy advisor who specializes in environmental pollutants and child health, said there is a clear need for more research. Woodruff directs the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.
"This is not a trivial matter," she said. "The whole idea of looking at cumulative exposures is a hot topic with scientists. Evaluating individual tolerances as if they occur in solo is not an accurate reflection of what we know—people are exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time and the current approaches do not scientifically account for that."
Critics say scrutiny of pesticide safety is likely to only soften given President-elect Donald Trump's decision to name Myron Ebell to oversee transition efforts at the EPA. Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is a staunch advocate of pesticides and their safety.
"Pesticide levels rarely, if ever, approach unsafe levels. Even when activists cry wolf because residues exceed federal limits that does not mean the products are not safe," states the SAFEChemicalPolicy.org website Ebell's group runs. "In fact, residues can be hundreds of times above regulatory limits and still be safe."
"The mixed messages make it hard for consumers to know what to believe about the safety of pesticide residues in food," said Therese Bonanni, a Clinical Dietitian at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
"Although the cumulative effect of consuming these toxins over a lifetime is not yet known, short-term data suggests there is certainly a reason to be cautious. The message to consumers becomes very confusing."
More than 200,000 people took to the streets in Washington, DC, today for the People's Climate March. Tens of thousands more joined via sister marches across the globe, including Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, Uganda, Kenya, Germany, Greece, United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and more.
In the U.S., more than 370 marches in nearly all 50 states took place, from the town of Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands to the streets of Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major American cities.
EcoWatch was there covering the DC march, and interviewing climate leaders and marchers from all over the nation. Watch our more than five hours of coverage here:
The Peoples Climate March was led by a coalition of frontline communities, faith leaders, labor activists, civil rights champions and climate justice advocates demanding commonsense protections for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the health of the vulnerable communities who have the most to lose under President Trump's administration.
"The sight of more than 150,000 people taking to the streets of Washington, DC, not to mention the thousands more in cities and towns across the country, displays the true power of the climate movement," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "We cannot nor will not be stopped. We will speak out, we will take to the streets and we will win.
"Donald Trump can try to stick his head in the sand when it comes to protecting our clean air and water all he wants, but that will never drown out the millions of voices across the country demanding action."
According to 350.org, the number of people far outpaced the National Park Service's permitted space of 100,000 people. The march extended for more than 20 blocks down Pennsylvania Ave., with tens of thousands more surging along the mall sending a unified message to President Trump and his administration to stand up for "climate, jobs and justice."
The day began at sunrise with a water ceremony led by Indigenous peoples at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Representatives from front line communities spoke at an opening press conference calling out President Trump for failing to address the climate crisis.
The march, which began at 12:30 p.m. EST, was led by young people of color from Washington, DC, and Indigenous leaders from across the country.
"Today we gather to see each other, to work with each other, to embrace each other and to envision a just and clean future together, one without fossil fuels," Mary Nicol, senior campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said. "We have a long struggle, but we know we will win. We will win because we stand for justice, the truth and the rights of all people."
At 3:30 p.m., crowds gathered at the Washington Monument while marches continued to take place across the country. The Peoples Climate Movement is a coalition of more than 900 organizations representing many of the major social justice, labor and environmental groups in the country, which has pledged to keep the momentum going.
The march was divided in creatively named contingents, like "Protectors of Justice," "Reshapers of Power," "Many Struggles, One Home" and "Fossil Fuel Resistance," which included the growing resistance to President Trump's and the Republican Party's dismantling of climate and environmental policies. The bloc included activists and organizations fighting oil and gas drilling, coal mining, pipelines and power plants.
"After losing the popular vote, Trump surrounded himself with fossil fuel executives, climate-deniers and Wall Street bankers hellbent on destroying our planet," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said. "The real climate solution is to keep fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewable energy."
Scott Parkin, senior climate campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, agreed.
"Executives at oil companies, coal companies and the Wall Street banks that finance coal mines and oil pipelines don't care about the climate or communities impacted by fossil fuels," he said. "The only motivation is short-term profit. Today, we march to not only say 'no more,' but also we will fight and we will win."
Nonprofits organizations and activists were not the only ones speaking out at the People's Climate March. Socially responsible businesses were there too, including Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing Company and many others. Here's a great picture of the Ben & Jerry's melting cone:
The People's Climate March sent a resounding message to the Trump administration and members of Congress who continue to choose corporate interests over the health of people and planet: Take climate action now. The voice of the people will not be silenced.
"Today's actions are not for one day or one week or one year," Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement, said. "We are a movement that is getting stronger everyday for our families, our communities and our planet. To change everything, we need everyone."
350.org Executive Director May Boeve summed up the day perfectly.
"The first 100 days of Trump's presidency have been hard. But today I can't help but be filled with indomitable hope: We've marked the 100th day with unyielding resistance, heart and creativity.
"Today in the streets we are proving that we will continue to mobilize against Trump's fossil fuel agenda. And this is only one part of the picture: The March for Science last weekend and Monday's May Day strikes show the resistance will continue on many fronts.
"We're on the precipice of launching an ambitious new grassroots push to stop every new fossil fuel project on the table and build 100% renewable energy in towns and cities nationwide. What we are doing today gives us real leverage to get there.
"There are always holes in the Death Star, and we will keep looking for them—on the 100th day and the 1,000th. Who knows what we'll find."
EcoWatch will be covering the People's Climate March all day in Washington, DC, starting with interviews around 9:15 a.m. EST of climate leaders, spokespeople and influencers. From 10:30 - 11 a.m., 10 powerful speakers will tell their stories about why they are marching. At 11 a.m., hundreds of thousands of people will start to line up for the march. There are also hundreds of sister marches around the world.
Led by frontline and Indigenous communities, the march will begin up Pennsylvania Avenue at 12:30 p.m. towards the White House. At 2 p.m., marches will begin to surround the White House grounds, sit-down, take a moment of silence and join in a heartbeat action for 100 seconds to signify our collective stake in this fight.
"While Trump and his crony cabinet rollback hard-won protections of our communities and our climate, we are mobilizing to fight for the bold solutions we need. We will present our vision to replace the fossil fuel industry with a 100% clean energy economy that works for all. Today, we march. Tomorrow, we rise united across our communities to make our vision of a just and equitable world a reality."
By Eric Pooley
President Trump said recently that the tradition of rating a new president's first 100 days is "ridiculous." The White House then created a web page devoted to rating his first 100 days.
It's further proof, if anyone needed it, that the defining feature of this president's first 100 days is noise. Every day brings some piercing new alarm, making it hard to separate the momentarily disturbing from the truly damaging. But this is essential—especially for the environment.
While the president has flip-flopped on some signature issues, he's been totally consistent about dismantling protections for public health, clean air and clean water. So let's take a closer look at what he's done so far, and what it will mean for our health and our world.
Here are the four worst actions Trump took during his first 100 days—and one that's very good:
1. Hired Scott Pruitt
Pruitt is beginning to staff the EPA with Beltway insiders who have made their living lobbying for weaker pollution rules on behalf of industry.
For example, it has been widely reported that Andrew Wheeler may be named as Pruitt's top deputy. Wheeler is now a lobbyist for Murray Energy, a coal mining conglomerate that is demanding an end to the rule that limits mercury pollution.
In fact, a recent analysis by Columbia University Law School showed that more than one quarter of the administration's appointees so far to environmental, energy and natural resource agencies have close ties to the fossil fuel industry. The likely result: Thousands of decisions over the next four years made by those more interested in protecting polluters than public health.
That will leave a toxic legacy of more disease and premature death.
2. Undermined Chemical Safety
Last year, a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly passed the Lautenberg Act, a new chemical safety law that, after four decades of a broken system that flooded our stores and homes with dangerous or untested chemicals, finally constructed a strong chemical safety net.
But now the EPA has to finish writing the rules to implement it. For that, Pruitt has chosen Nancy Beck, an insider straight from the main chemical industry trade association who even within the last few weeks lobbied the agency on these very rules.
If those new rules give industry everything it wants, we'll have blown a historic chance to restore public trust and market confidence in the products consumers buy for household use. Our health would continue to be at risk—and undoing the damage would take years.
3. Asked to Slash the Federal Budget
The administration's budget proposal would cut the EPA by almost a third—more than any other agency—even though its budget is tiny to begin with.
Out of every $10 the federal government spends, only two cents go to the EPA. These cuts aren't being done to save money. They're part of an ideological crusade the public doesn't support.
If the EPA budget is cut this way, the loss of experts and institutional knowledge will reverberate for years. Detailed plans obtained by the Washington Post show that Trump and Pruitt want to cut a quarter of the workforce and abolish 56 programs with impacts from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound.
Together, this will lead to more asthma attacks, more health problems for the elderly and a more dangerous future.
4. Moved to Roll Back Protections from Dirty Energy
Pruitt is now trying to gut many of the same the rules and safeguards he sued to stop as Oklahoma's attorney general. They limit the amount of arsenic and acid gases power plants can emit, reduce smog that causes respiratory problems and cut carbon pollution that causes climate change.
He has signaled hostility to the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, despite the fact that virtually all power plants are already in compliance. The EPA chief and Trump have also taken aim at the Clean Power Plan, America's first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, without any strategy to replace it.
5. Fueled Environmental Activism
This is the positive legacy of the Trump administration: Americans who used to take clean air and water for granted are waking up to the danger.
Membership in environmental groups is skyrocketing—the biggest question we get these days is, "What can I do?" as women and men from all walks of life are reclaiming environmentalism as a mainstream American value.
Thousands will take to the streets in Washington and other cities on Saturday for the People's Climate March. Just as a blossoming environmental awareness in the early 1970s led to some of the bedrock laws we rely on today, I believe the great awakening of 2017 will echo for years to come.
If we work together and make our voices heard, we can limit the worst of the damage Trump intends to inflict.
A new briefing paper details how Dominion Energy's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
The planned 600-mile interstate
pipeline will carry 1.44 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through forests, critical animal habitats and pristine mountains that Dominion would be required to "reduce" between 10 to 60 feet, according to the paper released Thursday by the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The paper cites data from the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.
"In light of the discovery that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
"Dominion's pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region's environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline."
Dominion, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy. The developer promises that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will have "minimal environmental impact" and that "best-in-class restoration and mitigation techniques will be used to protect native species, preserve wetland and water resources, control erosion and minimize emissions." Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also have a stake in the project.
Environmentalists and other opponents argue that the pipeline will have adverse effects on sensitive habitats, reduce property values and introduce dangerous precedents for the seizure of private property through eminent domain.
Joyce Burton, a board member of Friends of Nelson County, expressed fears that Dominion's plan to build the pipeline on steep and landslide-prone Appalachian slopes could be catastrophic.
"Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope," Burton said.
"Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster."
Opponents of the pipeline are demanding more transparency from the company.
Ben Luckett, a staff attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said it was "astounding" that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess rock and soil that will result from cutting down the 38 miles of ridgetop for the pipeline.
"We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes," Luckett added.
"FERC and Dominion's complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act."
Dan Shaffer, a spatial analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, said there are too many risks involved with the project.
"Even with Dominion's refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety," Shaffer said.
"There is no way around it. It's a bad route, a bad plan and should never have been seriously considered."
Here are some of the new paper's key findings:
• Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
• This figure includes 19 miles in West Virginia and 19 miles in Virginia.
• The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
• Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as "overburden."
• Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
• Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.
The new EO will direct U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review the current offshore drilling plans, which limits most drilling to parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet, and reexamine opening parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to drilling. The EO will also roll back President Obama's permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic, issued in the last full month of his presidency. Zinke cautioned reporters that implementation of the EO will be "a multi-year effort," and several groups have pledged lawsuits to further slow down the process.
"Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is dead wrong," said Greenpeace USA senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best.
"Renewable energy already has us on the right track to energy independence, and opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling will lock us into decades of harmful pollution, devastating spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and a fossil fuel economy with no future. Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves—including the oil and gas off U.S. coasts—must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change."
Best added that Trump's latest executive order does not have popular support, and instead caters to "Trump's inner circle of desperate fossil fuel executives."
"Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill," she said, "but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country—from California to North Carolina—who will resist his disastrous policies."
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi agrees. "This attempt to greatly expand offshore drilling into the Arctic and Atlantic is a blatant prioritization of fossil fuel profits over the health of our climate and coastal communities," he said. "President Trump is ignoring the cries of citizens who have said offshore drilling poses too great a threat to their economies and ways of life."
For a deeper dive:
A total of 41 humpback whales died in the waters off Maine to North Carolina since January 2016, including 15 that washed up dead this year. That's about three times more than the region's annual average of just 14 humpback deaths.
"The increased numbers of mortalities have triggered the declaration of an unusual mortality event, or UME, for humpback whales along the Atlantic Coast," said Mendy Garron, stranding coordinator at the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, on Thursday.
A UME is issued whenever there is an "unexpected, involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response," she added.
So far, NOAA has examined 20 of the whales that died last year and determined that 10 of the mammals "had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds" likely from marine vessels, the agency said.
The whales may be moving around in search of prey, exposing themselves to shipping traffic, researchers suggested.
"It's probably linked to resources," Greg Silber, the large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, told reporters. "Humpback whales follow where the prey is."
The other half of the whales that were examined had no obvious signs of what caused their demise.
"Whales tested to date have had no evidence of infectious disease," Garron said.
The scientists stressed that they are unsure about what is causing the spike in humpback deaths.
"The answer is really unknown," Silber said.
By Dave Anderson
Perry's remarks came during an on-stage interview at the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn't rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
"That's a conversation that will occur over the next few years," Perry said. "There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene."
And according to Time's Justin Worland:
During a question and answer period, Perry also suggested that increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar might make the grid unreliable given they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, creating national security concerns. The Trump administration might try to preempt state and local governments that use policy to encourage clean energy to address those concerns, Perry said.
"There's a discussion, some of it very classified that will be occurring as we go further," Perry said. "The conversation needs to happen so the local governors and legislators, mayors and city council understand what's at stake here in making sure that our energy security is substantial."
Saqib Rahim of E&E News provided a slightly different quote from Perry:
"There's a conversation, there's a discussion, some of it obviously very classified, that will be occurring as we go forward, to make sure that we have the decisions made by Congress, in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America," he said at BNEF's The Future of Energy Summit, "and that states and local entities do in fact get preempted with some of those decisions."
Perry's remarks re-sparked earlier concerns that the Trump administration could seek to preempt renewable energy standard policies that are now in place in 29 states, as well as renewable energy goals adopted by another nine states. The growing number of local communities that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy could also come under fire from the Trump administration.
Renewable Energy Is Reliable and Makes America Safer—Just Ask the Department of Energy
Rick Perry is also facing scrutiny for ordering a study examining "electricity markets and reliability" that was tasked to his Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, who previously played a central role in attacks against rooftop solar for the Edison Electric Institute. Also named to lead work on the study is political appointee Travis Fisher. Fisher previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), which have received ample funding from the Koch brothers and coal industry. IER and AEA have long sought to undermine renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina, a national leader in solar energy.
Christian Roselund of PV Magazine responded to Perry's study order by pointing out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—one of the Dept. of Energy's 17 National Laboratories—has already written studies that show we can rely on renewable energy to provide much more of our electricity than it does today. In fact, one 2012 NREL study found that we could get 80 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 using existing technologies. Other studies by states and grid operators confirm that renewable energy is reliable.
Another NREL study documented the significant health and environmental benefits generated by the state renewable energy standards that the Trump administration could try to preempt. In short, these policies make Americans safer by reducing harmful pollution emitted when we burn fossil fuels—especially coal—to produce electricity.
Other reports by clean energy experts have documented the economic security benefits of these state renewable energy standards, which have supported the growth of jobs in the booming solar and wind power industries.
Real world experience also shows that renewable energy is working just fine. Texas, the state where Rick Perry was governor, actually leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Texas during the first quarter of 2017 came from wind.
Ask the Department of Defense, Too
The Dept. of Defense does not appear to share the Trump administration's concerns about renewable energy. In fact, the military has made significant investments in renewable energy in order to enhance national security—an investment that continues with Trump in the White House. The U.S. Navy just recently refuted misleading claims that a new wind farm could interfere with a radar system made by some Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who wrote a letter to the Trump administration.
Climate Change Is a Real Threat to Energy and National Security
In 2015, the Dept. of Energy released a report that documented the threat climate change poses to energy security—and by extension national security—in every region of the U.S.
Trump's efforts to rollback limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and his embrace of the so-called "clean coal" put the nation's energy and national security at further risk from climate change. Preempting state and local support for renewables would only increase those risks.
Rick Perry Could Support Renewable Energy by Working for a Smart Grid
Greentech Media reported that Perry made only "sparse" mention of renewable energy at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, but did say he wants to "help renewable energy make its way to the grid … "
Preempting local and state support for renewable energy would only ensure that less renewable energy makes its way to the grid. Perry could instead take positive steps to support integration of renewable energy by working to build a smart grid, the topic of a Dept. of Energy website. He could also support the energy storage revolution that is now underway, thanks in part to earlier investments by the Dept. of Energy.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's energy policy seems to more squarely align with fossil fuel and utility interests who seek to undermine state and local support for renewable energy.
The Trump Team Is Full of Opponents of State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
Travis Fisher is not the only political pick by the Trump administration that comes with a history of attacking state and local policies that have fueled the growth of renewable energy to benefit funders in the fossil fuel or utility industry.
Trump tapped Thomas Pyle, also of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), to run his Dept. of Energy transition team. IER and AEA have targeted state renewable energy standard policies with misleading attacks for years. During the 2016 election, Trump responded to an AEA questionnaire with pledges to "review" key U.S. clean energy and climate change policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has already fulfilled part of that pledge by beginning the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan.
Trump similarly chose climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Like Fisher and Pyle, Ebell has attacked renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Greentech Media recently took a rather revealing look at the backgrounds of some other members of Trump's energy beachhead team.
No Uncertainty About State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
At this point, it remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration would use the pretense of reliability concerns to preempt state and local support for renewable energy. If it does seek to preempt state and local control, it will certainly face significant opposition from states and local communities—including those led by Republicans—that are already leading the way on renewable energy.
The ruling against Exxon in a suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club found that the oil giant failed to update emissions-reductions technology at its Baytown, Texas refining and chemical plant.
In their suit, the groups alleged the plant illegally released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants between 2005 and 2013, while Exxon gained more than $14 million in economic benefits.
"Today's decision sends a resounding message that it will not pay to pollute Texas," Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by when polluters put our health and safety at risk."
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