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Fracking Pipeline Puts Tim Kaine’s Fossil Fuel Industry Ties to the Test

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Fracking Pipeline Puts Tim Kaine’s Fossil Fuel Industry Ties to the Test

By Alleen Brown

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine is facing pressure from landowners in his home state of Virginia to stand against the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to mid-Atlantic markets.


He's made some moves in that direction: he's held private meetings with landowners in the pipeline's pathway; he's asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to strengthen the consultation process for residents; and he introduced an amendment to a federal energy bill that would encourage regulators to carry out a review of the cumulative impact of the region's four planned pipelines.

But he hasn't ruled the pipeline out, making environmentalists worry that he ultimately shares the quietly fossil-fuel friendly politics of the Democratic Party.

Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign pushed the debate over banning hydraulic fracturing onto primetime and into the Democratic Party's platform committee. But the Sanders view did not prevail in the end. The platform calls for stronger regulation of fracking—while affirming that it will continue.

Kaine's record on energy is mixed. He's been supportive of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and introduced legislation to speed up liquid natural gas exports. In 2012 he pushed for the construction of one of the nation's last new coal plants. And he helped pressure the federal government to lower Virginia's greenhouse gas emissions goals under the Clean Power Plan.

In Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's biggest investor, Dominion, was the largest single corporate contributor to local politicians between 1997 and 2016 and Kaine has accepted his share of the company's cash and gifts: more than $300,000 in total since 2001. When asked what he thought of Kaine, senior American Petroleum Institute lobbyist Louis Finkel told Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani, "He's the best we could have hoped for." Virginia's governor and longtime friend of the Clintons Terry McAuliffe supports the pipeline.

Still, many environmentalists consider Kaine someone who can be swayed. After all, he was one of the earliest legislators to declare opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Obama eventually cancelled the pipeline in order to demonstrate to global policymakers his dedication to fighting climate change.

Nancy Sorrells, who sits on the steering committee of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance, which is organizing against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said she believes that Kaine will come around to rejecting it. "He has a strong moral sense," she said. "I think he can look at it and it will be the logical thing."

"We feel like the heart side of Kaine is here with the landowners and that's the way that we fight these pipelines," said Jane Kleeb, a key organizer behind the defeat of the Keystone XL, whose organization Bold Alliance is working with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline activists. "Tim Kaine has to be the number one focus right now of the landowners: get him to be their champion."

Kaine did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept.

In Keystone's wake, natural gas pipelines are emerging as a gauge of Democrats' environmental seriousness. In the Appalachian basin alone, 19 major natural gas pipeline projects, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, have been proposed to carry fracked gas from production sites to markets, making them a focal point of the environmental movement.

The pipeline protesters have seen victories. On Earth Day, construction of the Constitution pipeline in New York halted when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied a key permit under the Clean Water Act. Only days earlier, pipeline company Kinder Morgan announced that it would cancel its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline because it lacked purchasing commitments from customers.

Organizers have not yet succeeded, however, in forcing regulators to link the infrastructure projects to one of Democrats' most pressing goals. The party's platform committed Democrats to "meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to 'well below' two degrees Celsius." It goes on to call for a "comprehensive approach that ensures all federal decisions going forward contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating, climate change." But for now, the impact of new fossil fuel projects is not routinely measured against national and international climate goals.

Last week, Oil Change International, which is dedicated to revealing the societal costs of fossil fuels, released a report that shows how the 19 proposed Appalachian Basin pipeline projects could fail such a climate test. According to the study, the Energy Information Administration projections of fossil fuel consumption suggest that "even if the U.S. reduced all coal and petroleum use to zero by 2040, the U.S. would still exceed its climate goals based on natural gas emissions alone." Since pipeline investments would incentivize the production and shipment of natural gas for decades, the report says, the pipelines are inconsistent with the 2-degree climate goal.

And yet, Democratic Party power players continue to push natural gas as part of a climate change solution. At a Politico-hosted panel event Wednesday, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, former Obama energy advisor Heather Zichal, who sits on the board of Cheniere Energy, said she is in favor of developing a climate test for infrastructure—but she also supports fracking. Another panelist was one of Kaine's companions on Clinton's short list of potential running mates, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose memoir, published this spring, states that "fracking is good for the country's energy supply, our national security, our economy and our environment."

"I think that there's a cognitive dissonance," said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzmann, "There's not really a way to do fossil fuels right anymore."

Kleeb, the anti-Keystone organizer, believes post-Bernie Democratic politics will require inviting more "keep it in the ground" organizers into positions of party power, starting within the Clinton campaign. "We need at the very least a stable of advisors of people like me—Josh Fox, Bill McKibben—that know the science, know the movement fighters," said Kleeb, who was recently elected chair of Nebraska's Democratic Party.

Of course, for many of those fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, climate is not the motivating factor. It's one of the distinctive features of the anti-pipeline movement that no two activists are fighting for quite the same thing.

Lewis Freeman, a former plastics industry lobbyist who briefly worked for the American Petroleum Institute and describes his politics as moderate, said his motivation is to preserve the harsh Appalachian landscape. In mountainous Highland County, where he's from, the line would pass through "karst" terrain, made of limestone caves with connecting fissures through which seeping contaminants easily impact the water supply.

"I have respect for the industry, but I don't believe that that means that the energy industry should have the right to build a pipeline or an energy property anywhere they want," Freeman said. "I do not believe that it is prudent on any measure, for safety or environmental reasons, to build a pipeline through the area where they want to build it."

The activists are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must approve the pipeline for it to go forward, to conduct a study that would examine the cumulative impact of four pipelines that have been proposed for the area. They've also raised questions about the necessity of the pipeline to state and national power needs and the impact on ratepayers. Sierra Club has filed an anti-trust complaint against Dominion with the Federal Trade Commission.

Tea Partier Travis Geary, who co-chairs the anti-pipeline Augusta County Alliance with Nancy Sorrells, believes the pipelines could serve as a very different kind of litmus test for the Republican Party, whose platform would eliminate support for the Paris climate agreement. "Developing energy independence or infrastructure cannot [take priority over] protecting individual landowners who have purchased land with blood, sweat, and tears, and passed it on to family through the generations," said Geary, whose parents' cattle farm would be crossed by the pipeline. "If we lose our property rights, that's the right that everything else is based on. I would like to see more of that in the Republican platform."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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