While nearly 9 in 10 Americans support the development of more solar energy, electric utilities and fossil fuel-backed special interests are trying to hold off the inevitable renewable-energy future by promoting policies that would make rooftop solar harder to obtain.
The sun is rising on a newer, cleaner era of American energy use.
The U.S. generates nearly eight times as much electricity from the sun and the wind than it did in 2007—enough to power more than 25 million homes—and the average American uses 10 percent less energy than he or she did 10 years ago, according to a new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center.
The report, Renewables on the Rise: A Decade of Progress Toward a Clean Energy Future, also cites a 20-fold increase in battery storage of electricity and the meteoric rise in sales of electric cars—from virtually none in 2007 to nearly 160,000 last year—as evidence that despite attempted rollbacks in Washington, a clean energy revolution is under way across the U.S.
Clean energy supporters in Massachusetts announced legislation Monday, backed by more than a quarter of the state legislature, committing Massachusetts to get 100 percent of its energy needs from clean and renewable sources by mid-century.
The legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sean Garballey and Marjorie Decker and in the Senate by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, establishes targets for Massachusetts to meet its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2035 and all of its energy needs, including heating and transportation, from renewable sources by 2050.
"The supporters of this bill have joined the growing number of stakeholders and leaders who recognize the need for rapid transition to clean, renewable energy to tackle our environmental challenges," Rob Sargent said. "With a can-do attitude, powering our state entirely with clean, renewable energy is as feasible as it is necessary."
A combination of environmental concerns and declining costs for renewable energy have made it the "go-to" option for many communities and businesses, in part because it is pollution-free, but also because it requires no fuel costs. As a result, dozens of major corporations from Google to General Motors to Walmart have already committed to a complete shift to renewable energy. Similarly, dozens of local governments including San Diego, California, St. Petersburg, Florida and Georgetown, Texas, have plans to go 100 percent renewable.
"The federal government is moving backwards on clean energy. So, the states must lead," said S. David Freeman, a long-time utility executive at Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the New York Power Authority and the Tennessee Valley Authority. "Massachusetts can show the way by enacting the 100 percent renewable bills and by so doing save consumers millions of dollars in the future with a free fuel energy supply."
Given the considerable resistance renewables are likely to face in Congress and the Trump administration, clean energy proponents are looking to state and local governments, businesses and institutions to ensure continued progress. In addition to the campaign in Massachusetts, Environment America and its partners are planning campaigns to get other states to go 100 percent renewable. And, today they will launch an effort to persuade America's colleges and universities to make similar commitments.
"Despite tremendous progress on renewable energy in the past decade, we've got much more to do and leaders in Washington who want to take us backward," Sargent said. "That's why we're counting on our local and state governments, along with businesses, colleges and universities and other institutions to lead the way by setting their sights on 100 percent renewable energy."
More than 650,000 kindergarten through 12th grade children in nine states attend school within one mile of a fracked oil or gas well, putting them at increased risk of health impacts from dangerous chemicals and air pollution.
Moms Clean Air Force
The finding comes from a new study by Environment America Research & Policy Center that exposes the proximity of fracking near schools, hospitals, day care centers and nursing homes, risking the health of our children and other vulnerable populations.
"Schools and day care centers should be safe places for kids to play and learn," said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America's Stop Drilling program and co-author of the report. "Unfortunately, our research shows far too many kids may be exposed to dirty air and toxic chemicals from fracking right next door."
Using data provided by the oil and gas industry and state regulators, Dangerous and Close—Fracking Puts the Nation's Most Vulnerable People at Risk, found that:
- 1,947 child care facilities, 1,376 schools, 236 nursing care providers and 103 hospitals are within a one-mile radius of fracked wells in the nine states examined.
- More than 650,000 kindergarten through 12th grade children attend school within one mile of a fracked well.
- The highest percentage of children attending school close to fracked wells is in West Virginia, where 8 percent of children spend their school days within one mile of a fracked well.
- Texas has the largest number of children attending school close to a well, with 437,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students attending public or private school within one mile of a fracked well.
Hospitals, nursing homes, schools and day care facilities within one mile of a fracked well, 2005 through early 2016, in Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia.Environment America
"American society aspires to protect children, the sick and the elderly," said Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "This report shows that we're violating that ideal because of our overwhelming dependence on fossil fuels. We've sunk to putting vulnerable populations at risk instead of making the wholesale shift to conservation and renewable energy."
Fracking creates a range of threats to our health, including creating toxic air pollution that can reduce lung function even among healthy people, trigger asthma attacks and has been linked to premature death. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to fracking's health risks. Children's immune systems are more susceptible to damage from toxic chemicals while older adults have weaker immune systems and more difficulty breaking down toxics chemicals in the body.
Studies show that the closer you are to fracking, the more susceptible you are to suffering negative health effects. In Colorado, residents living within one-half mile of fracked wells were exposed to pollutants that increased their risk of illness. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University found that in Pennsylvania hospitalizations rates increase near fracking sites.
"Fracking is an inherently dangerous threat to public health and should not be where vulnerable children and families live," said Dr. Walter Tsou, president of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"It is an unavoidable fact that as fracking operations have spread across the U.S., significant damage to our health and our environment has occurred," said Laura Burns, parent of two and field organizer for Mom's Clean Air Force in Ohio. "Our children are our future. And for the sake of our future, we need to be seeking clean, renewable energy solutions."
Given the scale and severity of fracking's impacts, fracking should be prohibited wherever possible and existing wells should be shut down beginning with those near institutions that serve our most vulnerable populations.
To better protect communities already on the front lines of drilling, stricter regulations should be adopted and federal fracking loopholes should be closed to hold the oil and gas industry to the same standards as other industry. Currently, oil and gas companies are exempt from key provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
"Our children's health and safety should be non-negotiable," Richardson said. "Ultimately, the only solution to this toxic health threat is to ban fracking entirely and move toward 100 percent renewable energy as swiftly as possible."
Surrounded by monstrous blades and tower sections on the docks of the Port of Providence, Gov. Gina Raimondo was joined by local elected leaders and clean energy advocates Monday to celebrate the final stages of construction of the nation's first offshore wind farm.
Fred. Olsen Windcarrier
As soon as next week, the company Deepwater Wind will begin installing the turbine towers and blades for the project, located three miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island and east of Long Island, New York.
With the potential to supply all of Block Island with clean power, the 30 MW wind farm could jumpstart the nation's efforts to finally capture the immense pollution-free resource off our coasts, advocates say.
"We're poised to tap the tremendous energy resource provided by the winds that blow off our shores," Rob Sargent, Environment America's Energy Program director and among those celebrating the project today in Providence, said. "Rhode Island deserves tremendous credit for being the first, but it certainly won't be the last."
Located in a renewable energy zone designated by Rhode Island state officials several years ago, the Block Island project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years in amounts equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road, create more than 300 jobs and save local residents up to 40 percent on their energy bills.
Other projects off the Atlantic Coast could provide similar benefits. A 2014 report showed that the 1.5 million acres designated for wind energy off the Atlantic Coast could support enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes, offsetting dirty fossil fuel energy sources and creating local jobs.
Advocates urged other Atlantic Coast states to follow Rhode Island's lead and pressed federal decision makers to continue to do their part to support offshore wind.
"If we're serious about tackling pollution from fossil fuels and helping our local economy, we should commit ourselves to meeting all our energy needs with clean, renewable energy sources such as offshore wind," Sargent said.
"That's why we need bold commitments from governors and state leaders, we need Congress to extend offshore wind tax incentives and we need federal officials to continue leading the way through programs like the Smart from the Start Initiative. With the right support, Block Island will be just the beginning."
A truck full of dead bees made its final stop at a rally outside the headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday, culminating a coast-to-coast tour to raise awareness about recent massive declines in pollinators.
While the millions of dead bees stayed in the truck, advocates and beekeepers delivered more than 4 million signatures urging an immediate ban on bee-killing pesticides.
“In the five years since I started keeping bees, I've seen many hives killed by pesticides," said James Cook, a Minnesota-based beekeeper who has been driving the truck across the country since last Monday. “If some fundamental things don't change, it's going to be really hard for beekeepers to adapt to the environment around us."
Bees pollinate most of the world's most common crops, including summer favorites like peaches and watermelon. But more than 40 percent of U.S. honeybee hives die each year, costing the farming and beekeeping industry more than $2 billion annually.
One culprit in the bee die-off is the widely-used class of pesticides called neonicotinoids or neonics. Last spring the EPA began a process to assess four types of neonics and their impacts on pollinators. In January the agency acknowledged that imidacloprid could indeed harm bees, but the remaining assessments are still outstanding.
“Given the facts we have at hand about the links between neonics and bee die-offs, officials should move boldly and swiftly to stop any and all uses of these dangerous chemicals," said Anna Aurilio, the director of the Washington, DC, office of Environment America.
To wrap up their Keep the Hives Alive Tour, farmers, beekeepers and food advocates met Wednesday with officials from the EPA, members of Congress and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, delivering letters from nearly 200 businesses and organizations urging action on bee-killing pesticides and support for sustainable agriculture.
"The science is clear and convincing. To be truly effective, we need a nationwide policy to protect our pollinators before the crisis gets completely out of control," said Del. Anne Healey, sponsor of Maryland's Pollinator Protection Act, the first bill passed in the U.S. to eliminate consumer use of neonics.
Over the past two weeks Keep the Hives Alive has made stops in California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It came to a close during National Pollinator Week, at a rally drawing hundreds of people, where environmental advocates, farmers, restaurant owners and others joined beekeepers to call for action.
“What's happening today to pollinators is no different than what happened 50 years ago with the collapse of the osprey, bald eagle and other bird and aquatic animal populations due to the use of DDT," said Scott Nash, CEO of Mom's Organic Market. “If we allow the chemical agribusiness industry to continue these short-sighted practices, food costs will increase as food supplies diminish."
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned fracking wastewater from public sewage plants, citing the inability of these plants to handle toxic and radioactive pollutants.
"Allowing toxic, radioactive wastewater to be treated at the same place as dirty bathwater defies all logic," Rachel Richardson, Stop Drilling Program director for Environment America, said. "This is a commonsense step to help protect our water and our health from the dangers of fracking."
The final rule formalizes a practice in place since 2011, when fracking chemicals were detected in some Pennsylvania rivers and officials ordered 15 treatment plants to stop accepting and treating fracking waste.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which large volumes of water along with sand and toxic chemicals are injected underground to extract shale gas. Much of this fracking fluid mixture returns to the surface as toxic wastewater, often with radioactive elements.
Municipal water treatment plants, which treat waste and then release it into drinking water supplies, aren't suited to treat such hazards. The mixture of bromides in wastewater and the chlorine used at sewage treatments plants also can produce a toxin linked to bladder cancer, miscarriages and still-births.
Even under the rule issued this week, fracking wastewater disposal still presents a conundrum for public health and safety. Plants designed to treat fracking waste are far from foolproof, as Duke University researchers found in Pennsylvania. Waste often spills into rivers and streams during storage and shipment. And studies show injecting the waste deep underground is likely causing earthquakes.
While no known municipal treatment plants currently accept fracking waste, the option could have become more attractive to drillers as standards tightened on other waste disposal methods.
“Fracking wastewater is a big problem for which there is simply no adequate solution," Richardson said. “We applaud EPA for taking this step to protect families on the frontlines of fracking. To fully protect our drinking water and the health of our families, we need to ban this practice altogether and transition to 100 percent clean energy."
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The statistic is one of many in a new study by Environment America Research & Policy Center that quantifies the environmental harm caused by more 137,000 fracking wells permitted since 2005.
“The numbers in this report don't lie," Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America's Stop Drilling program and co-author of the report, said. “For the past decade, fracking has been a nightmare for our drinking water, our open lands and our climate."
Today's analysis, an update of a similar 2013 study, paints a frightening picture of fracking's harms in addition to its global warming pollution—including toxic chemical use and destroyed land.
“In just the last two and a half years, the number of fracked oil and gas wells has increased by 55,000," Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report, said. “That growth in fracked wells means more polluted water, more toxic chemicals and more communities at risk."
The major findings of Fracking by the Numbers: The Damage to Our Air, Water and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling include:
- During well completion alone, fracking released 5.3 billion pounds of methane in 2014, a pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years.
- Fracking wells produced at least 14 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface.
- Between 2005 and 2015, fracking used at least 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. Fracking uses of vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne.
- At least 239 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005, an average of 3 million gallons per well. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well—water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems.
- Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 675,000 acres of land since 2005, an area only slightly smaller than Yosemite National Park. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.
Given the scale and severity of fracking's impacts, the report says fracking should be prohibited wherever possible and stricter regulations should be enacted to better protect communities already on the frontlines of drilling.
The report also gives lift to the effort to convince President Obama to end new fracking and drilling leases on public lands and in public waters, in order to keep upwards of 450 billion tons of global warming pollution out of the atmosphere.
"From contaminated water, to marred landscapes, to increased global warming pollution, fracking has been an environmental disaster," said Richardson. “The best way to protect our health and climate from this dirty drilling is to ban it altogether and keep fossil fuels safely in the ground."
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In a win for clean water and public health, the U.S. Coast Guard quietly dropped its proposal today to allow barges on the nation's rivers and inter coastal waterways to transport toxic fracking wastewater.
“Shipping thousands of barrels of toxic wastewater down the rivers we drink from was a recipe for disaster," said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America's stop drilling program. “For the sake of our drinking water and our safety, we're glad to see this bad idea put to rest."
Fracking—the controversial drilling technique by which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground—creates vast quantities of toxic wastewater often laced with cancer causing chemicals and even radioactive material.
An Environment America Research & Policy Center report found that fracking operations produced 280 billion gallons of such wastewater in a single year—enough to cover DC in a 22-feet deep cesspool.
Despite its often dangerous contents, fracking wastewater is not considered hazardous by the federal government, and its transport, treatment and disposal is governed by a patchwork of federal and state regulations.
The October 2013 U.S. Coast Guard proposal came in response to a specific request by a tank barge, and was immediately met with widespread criticism. More than 98 percent of the 70,000 public comments submitted on the plan—including more than 29,000 collected from Environment America—were opposed. More than 100 organizations also called on the Coast Guard to drop its proposed policy.
While shipments of fracking waste could still be approved on a case-by-case basis, no such approval has ever been granted. Clean water advocates said they would remain vigilant and advocate against future applications that would ship fracking waste by barge.
“Until we ban fracking altogether, we need to limit Americans' exposure to its harmful pollution every way we can," said Richardson. “We'll continue to work with our allies to keep fracking waste off barges and rivers altogether."
This piece was updated Feb. 24 to clarify that fracking waste could still be shipped by barge on a case-by-case basis.
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