The Speech I Gave to FERC From Baggage Claim Area 3
Author’s note: On Wednesday, I was part of a citizen delegation that met with the chief commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner (FERC), Cheryl LeFleur, and eight of her staff. Led by Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy, who had requested the meeting, our group included Tracey Eno from We Are Cove Point and Jocelyn D’Ambrosio of Earthjustice. I represented We Are Seneca Lake. Sadly, my flight from upstate New York was delayed for hours by bad weather. Hence, I ended up delivering my remarks to Commissioner LeFleur by speakerphone, while standing just outside the baggage claim area of Dulles International Airport.
FERC disallows ex parte conversations with staff about projects that are still under review in some way—and that’s a policy I agree with. Thus, I spoke not about the specific risks and harms of the Seneca Lake gas storage expansion project, but instead addressed my comments to larger concerns about the agency’s capitulation to the oil and gas industry. Ulimately, FERC is overseen by President Obama and reflects his failed energy and climate leadership, in spite of good rhetoric. The administration’s unquestioning devotion to natural gas is reflected in remarks made by Commissioner LeFleur in a recent speech before the National Press Club, and her words became the starting point for my own:
We're very fortunate to have abundant and relatively affordable domestic natural gas ... But utilizing that gas to meet climate goals require the expansion and construction of gas infrastructure, both pipelines and compressor stations, to get it to where it needs to be to keep the lights on. But while gas is critically important to our climate goals and other environmental goals, it has issues of its own. Pipelines are facing unprecedented opposition from local and national groups including environmental activists. These groups are active in every FERC docket, as they should be, as well as in my email inbox seven days a week, in my Twitter feed, at our open meetings demanding to be heard, and literally at our door closing down First Street so FERC won't be able to work.
We have a situation here. We take the views of all stakeholders seriously and try as hard as we can to thoroughly consider issues that are relevant to the decisions we're required to make. But FERC’s responsibility under the Natural Gas Act, because we're a creature of Congress, is to consider and act on pipeline applications after insuring that they can be built safely and with limited environmental impact.
My remarks prompted no questions from FERC staff. At the end of our meeting, I did ask one question of Commissioner LeFleur: “What message would you like me to bring back to the people of Seneca Lake?”
Her answer: “I would hope that you would tell them that you were listened to.” And then she added, “Of course, I can’t tell you how to feel.”
Here is the script of my prepared remarks:
I am a mild-mannered biologist and mother of two. Although I would much prefer to let the data speak, I have now twice received a 15-day jail sentence for trespassing in opposition to a FERC- approved project.
Before all that, I helped direct hundreds of written comments to FERC from concerned members of the public and have spoken at multiple public hearings and helped prep many others, including fellow scientists, to do so. What I learned from these experiences is that FERC doesn't listen to impacted citizens or to independent science. It now seems to me that the public hearings and the collection of data are just boxes for FERC to check on its way toward indiscriminate, foreordained approval of whatever plan the oil and gas industry puts before it.
The data tell me that climate change—and the fossil fuel infrastructure that stokes its fires—are existential threats to my children and the entire generation of which they are a part. The World Health Organization is very clear on this point, and I have spent my professional life studying and writing about this evidence.
The Seneca Lake gas storage project near my home poses multiple risks to the safety and health of my children, as good science shows.
Yet FERC ignores and sweeps aside independent science that we submit in response to this and other proposed projects. It is this willful deafness of FERC to matters of ultimate concern and its willingness to play the role of good German in the face of an unfolding climate catastrophe that is the reason for the ongoing protests and civil disobedience.
We have now reached the straw-that-breaks-the-camel's-back moment in the climate change story, and FERC is widely perceived—both inside the scientific community and out—as the agency that permits the piling on of even more straws even while blithely claiming that each straw poses only negligible risk for harm and must be evaluated individually and on its own merits.
The government's job is to protect the citizenry and assure its security and well-being. And yet, by this blindered approach and by its commitment to further entrenchment and investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, FERC is a branch of government that seems satisfied with recklessness and reductivist thinking precisely at the moment in which ethos and wisdom are required.
FERC’s atomized, compartmentalized approach to decision-making likely served it well in the past. But a continuing refusal to look at cumulative impacts over time and space is anachronistic, dysfunctional and downright treacherous in 2015.
That is why I and many others are becoming reluctant civil disobedients in the face of FERC projects that are rolling over our communities and jeopardizing our health and our climate.
I am a founding member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York and co-author of a massive compendium of evidence documenting the multiple harms and risks of fracking to public health and to the climate. In that capacity, I have seen the power of science at work in public forums wherein science informed a powerful citizens movement that, in turn, served as a megaphone for science. I have seen the power of science at work within our regulatory agencies as the state of New York deliberated the question of whether to permit or prohibit shale gas extraction via high-volume hydraulic fracking. This was a long decision-making process. Over the years, many researchers and health professionals brought emerging data to the people directly, via teach-ins and the mass media, and to our public agencies and elected officials, via hearings and comment periods.
In the end, the evidence of the emerging science was determinative. Our state’s Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo looked at the best data and made a wise, ethical and science-based decision. I am grateful to our governor for his courage in making it.
It is also a popular decision that enjoys the widespread support of a majority of New Yorkers, including those who live in frontline communities that would have been the first to get fracked. As a state, we are now engaged in a vigorous, creative transition to renewable energy. We are on the path, and we are on the march. It is very exciting. There is a new zeitgeist in Albany.
But, at the same time, from Port Ambrose to Seneca Lake, we are being threatened by FERC- approved, fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. They are a ball and chain that keep us bound to a ruinous past and thwart our progress. Pipelines. Compressor stations. LNG terminals. Gas storage in crumbly, lakeside salt caverns in the middle of wine country. These projects fly in the face of public health and climate science. They undermine democracy and self-determination. They undercut investments in renewable energy. They are out of step with our statewide ban on fracking and are turning our state into a storage and transportation hub for an export-oriented fossil-fuel industry.
And even our governor, our wise governor who is listening to the science and trying to lead our state to a renewable energy future, cannot say no to FERC. Your jurisdiction supersedes his. No state government can reject a FERC- approved project. [Author’s note: Governor Cuomo does have veto power over the Port Ambrose LNG terminal off the coast of Long Island.]
This, then, is the problem:
You don't say no to the fossil fuel industry's ideas through a process of wise, selective discernment, and we and our elected officials can't say no to you. That is why you have a situation.
Click here to read Ted Glicks article about our meeting.
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Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) station in Chatham, Massachusetts was evacuated March 31 over concerns the entire operation would topple into the ocean.
"We had to say goodbye to the site because of where we are located at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, we're adjacent to a bluff that overlooks the ocean," Boston NWS meteorologist Andy Nash told WHDH at the time. "We had to close and cease operations there because that bluff has significantly eroded."
Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod, a land mass extending out into the Atlantic Ocean that has been reshaped and eroded by waves and tides over tens of thousands of years, The Guardian explained. However, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis have sped that change along.
"It's an extremely dynamic environment, which is obviously a problem if you are building permanent infrastructure here," Andrew Ashton, an associate scientist at Cape-Cod based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian. "We are putting our foot on the accelerator to make the environment even more dynamic."
This was the case with the Chatham weather station. It used to be protected from the drop into the ocean by about 100 feet of land. However, storm action in 2020 alone washed away as much as six feet of land a day.
"We'd know[n] for a long time there was erosion but the pace of it caught everyone by surprise," Nash told The Guardian. "We felt we had maybe another 10 years but then we started losing a foot of a bluff a week and realized we didn't have years, we had just a few months. We were a couple of storms from a very big problem."
The Chatham station was part of a network of 92 NWS stations that monitor temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and other data in the upper atmosphere, The Cape Cod Chronicle explained. The stations send up radiosondes attached to weather balloons twice a day to help with weather research and prediction. The Chatham station, which had been observing this ritual for the past half a century, sent up its last balloon the morning of March 31.
"We're going to miss the observations," Nash told The Cape Cod Chronicle. "It gives us a snapshot, a profile of the atmosphere when the balloons go up."
The station was officially decommissioned April 1, and the two buildings on the site will be demolished sometime this month. The NWS is looking for a new location in southeastern New England. In the meantime, forecasters will rely on data from stations in New York and Maine.
Nash said the leavetaking was bittersweet, but inevitable.
"[M]other nature is evicting us," he told The Cape Cod Chronicle.
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
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By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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