Activists Arrested, Launch Hunger Strike in Protest of Keystone XL Pipeline
Longtime Gulf Coast activists Diane Wilson and Bob Lindsey Jr., locked their necks to oil tanker trucks destined for Valero’s Houston Refinery in solidarity with Tar Sands Blockade’s protests of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Valero Energy Corp. is among the largest investors in TransCanada’s toxic tar sands pipeline that will terminate near the community of Manchester, located in the shadow of Valero’s refinery. Not only did Wilson and Lindsey blockaded the Valero refinery, the two lifelong friends have vowed to begin a sustained hunger strike demanding that Valero divest from Keystone XL and invest that money into the health and well-being of the people of Manchester.
With a 90 percent Latino population, Manchester’s relationship with the Valero refinery is a textbook case of environmental racism. Residents there have suffered through decades of premature deaths, cancers, asthma and other diseases attributable to the refinery emissions. With little financial support for lawsuits and without the political agency necessary to legislatively reign-in criminal polluters like Valero, the community suffers while Valero posts record profits.
Check out Wilson and Lindsey's testimonial video:
“All my life the Gulf Coast has been an environmental sacrifice zone, and enough is enough,” declared Wilson, who spent over twenty years organizing to stop chemical plants from dumping toxins directly into Gulf waters. “Keystone XL will bring the dirtiest fuel on the planet right down to the Gulf, where already overburdened communities like Manchester will be forced to suffer even more. After decades of toxic air in Manchester, I refuse to just let them continue to punish this community. I won’t eat until Valero divests from Keystone XL.”
Wilson, a fourth-generation Gulf Coast shrimper, is no stranger to civil disobedience. After years of fighting industrial pollution in her hometown of Seadrift, TX, her willingness to use civil disobedience in the struggle for clean water and the successes it wrought for her community changed the landscape of environmental justice along the Gulf Coast.
Newly designated by the Waterkeeper Alliance as the San Antonio Bay Waterkeeper, Lindsey was born and raised in Calhoun County, which has highest rate of cancer of any county in TX. Lindsey also has a shrimping heritage stretching back five generations. His sister has had four episodes of cancer, and his father and nephew both died of rare disorders while in their forties. All of these diseases are traceable to the chemical facilities around which his family members lived and worked.
“Me? I’m healthy. They’re the ones I’m fighting for. We have to be prepared to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves or who are too afraid to fight for themselves. That’s why I’m here,” said Lindsey.
“Diane and Bob’s decision to hunger strike in protest of TransCanada’s Keystone XL and challenge Valero’s longstanding disregard for the health and safety of the people of Manchester pushes the boundaries of the Gulf Coast environmental movement yet again," explains Ramsey Sprague, a Louisiana Gulf Coast-born Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. “Manchester deserves justice as do all communities treated as energy sacrifice zones. Corporations like Valero and TransCanada cannot seem to function without violating the health and safety of the people everywhere from Alberta to Manchester.”
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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