Spectra Energy Got to Edit Its Air Pollution Permit for Atlantic Bridge Gas Project
By Itai Vardi
Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project.
According to emails obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, this privilege of reviewing and editing the draft approval was granted exclusively to Spectra and not to the general public.
Editing Compressor Project's Draft Pollution Permit
As part of the project, a planned expansion of Spectra's Algonquin pipeline through the northeast U.S., the company intends to build a new gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts. In February, Spectra was officially acquired by Canadian energy giant, Enbridge.
Since the compressor station will emit various pollutants, it requires environmental permits from state authorities. Spectra submitted an air quality application to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in October 2015.
Emails show that within a few months, state officials had already drafted a preliminary permit or "plan approval," of the application.
Then, in February 2016, the DEP's Permitting Chief for the Southeast Region, Thomas Cushing, sent the draft for editing to David Cotter of Trinity Consultants, Spectra's air pollution contractor in the project. Cushing wrote, "David, [A]s discussed, I attached a rough draft of the Algonquin approval for your review and comment."
At that point, the draft was already written on the DEP's official letterhead and addressed to Spectra's Houston headquarters.
Cotter returned the draft to Cushing in early April 2016, after revising it in numerous places using Microsoft Word's track changes tool. In his edits, Cotter changed text, deleted several words and data, and inserted comments.
"Thank you for offering us the opportunity to provide comment on the preliminary draft of the Weymouth permit," Cotter wrote to DEP's Cushing. "Based on your responses to our recommended edits and changes the next version of the draft permit will be forwarded to Spectra for review. We look forward to working with you as we move forward to the final permit."
Cushing wrote back to Cotter, saying: "I took a quick read and can accept most changes, but some I can't. Can I call Friday and discuss?"
Early Draft "Will Not Be Provided to the Public"
In late April Cotter provided an update to Kate Brown, Spectra's consulting scientist in the project, saying that Cushing will send soon the draft for Spectra's review and comment. "Note that this is a client review copy and will not be provided to the public," Cotter assured Brown.
From an email between Spectra consultant David Cotter and Spectra's consulting scientist, Kate Brown, indicating the company's exclusivity in editing the draft permit.
On June 17, 2016, DEP's Cushing finally sent the draft approval to Brown and Ralph Child, an attorney for Mintz Levin, a firm providing legal and permitting services to Spectra in the project. "Please provide comment as appropriate," Cushing wrote. "Feel free to call me to discuss."
Brown sent Spectra's edits on the document back to Cushing in December, writing: "Hi Tom, [A]ttached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, incorporating language as discussed in our meeting last week." As Cotter had done previously, Brown changed and deleted text, and inserted comments.
Cushing allowed Spectra one more round of edits in January this year. Spectra's Brown wrote to him on Jan. 13: "Hi Tom—Attached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, including all Algonquin comments on the plan approval, to date, and incorporating the additional information you requested when we last spoke on 12/29/16."
Cushing also asked Spectra to resubmit a modified application for the permit.
What the Public Didn't See in the Draft Permit
On March 30 this year, the DEP published on its website the draft plan approval, addressed to Spectra's corporate vice president of field operation. Due to the contentious nature of the project, the DEP allowed for a month-long public comment period on the draft before deciding on a final permit.
Comparing Cushing's original draft approval document to the Spectra-revised and final one reveals the DEP had accepted many of the company's edits. For example, Spectra increased the threshold for what will be considered a leak from a pipe seal, from Cushing's original 2,000 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to 10,000 ppmv.
Spectra also removed from the original draft a requirement for the station's initial compliance testing for sulfur dioxide and PM10, which refers to small particulate matter. Both were edited out of the draft approval published online.
On the top, from DEP's original draft approval of the Weymouth compressor pollution permit. Below that, the draft with edits by Spectra Energy.
Following the publication of the draft approval, the DEP received many public comments in opposition to the draft permit. These include a letter by 13 Massachusetts lawmakers who cite various health and safety hazards to the many residents living close to the station, as well as the project's contradiction to the state's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Spectra Asks for Exemptions from Emission Standards
Spectra apparently also benefitted from the constant phone communication with Cushing, the state official. Emails show that Cushing originally planned to include the station's separator vessel and condensate storage tanks as individual emission units subject to the state's pollution standards.
But following Spectra's request to include these as fugitive emissions exempt from individual emission standards, Cushing seems to have changed his mind.
"Tom was fine with us wanting to include the tanks as fugitives and asked that we send him an email containing a description on how the tanks operate along with our reasoning on why they should be included as fugitives so that he could review," Cotter reported to Spectra in April 2016.
These revelations come shortly after Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton promised to assess Spectra's pending state permits on their merits and "not in any predetermined way."
Yet DeSmog recently revealed the cozy relationship the company's lobbyists in the state had forged in the past two years with its top environmental decision makers, particularly Beaton and his undersecretary, Ned Bartlett. Another of Spectra's lobbyists, ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of law firm Mintz Levin, has connections to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
DeSmog reached out to but did not receive responses from Spectra Energy, Massachusetts DEP and Thomas Cushing.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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