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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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
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