By Jane Kleeb
The worst tar sands spill seen in the U.S. happened two years ago in Marshall, Mich. Inside Climate is running a three-part series documenting the stories of families impacted by the devastating spill and how unprepared local, state and national officials are for tar sands.
We are not dealing with traditional crude oil. Tar sands—also known as dilbit—is more toxic, more difficult to clean up and worse for our natural resources.
- What is the emergency response plan?
- What is the oil spill response plan?
- Who do citizens call to report the spill?
- What do local first responders do when they get on the scene?
- What equipment do they bring to handle tar sands and the chemicals?
- What training have firefighters and health providers had to deal with a tar sands and chemical spill?
- What state and local laws are on the books dealing with oil pipeline spills, emergency response equipment and safety around health and clean-up?
- Where do citizens go for ongoing information on progress of cleanup?
- Who pays for the water and soil testing that need to happen immediately and ongoing? Where are the results made public?
- What is the exact chemical composition of the contents found within TransCanada's pipeline (that is where is the MSDS sheet that provides this critical data)?
We have asked these questions for almost three years and have no clear answers from TransCanada or our elected officials. In fact, we are told by TransCanada, since they run the "safest pipeline" in the world and they have "proven and tested techniques" for cleanup, we should feel comfortable with this "detailed info" they have given citizens, landowners, elected officials, local and state agencies and first responders to date.
Fact is, no one (and please prove me wrong, I welcome it) has detailed information from TransCanada. Local responders and landowners do not even have the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) sheet that is a critical piece of info needed for planning and responding. When TransCanada is pushed to give it to citizens and landowners, they tell us "for security reasons" we cannot give it to you or "for proprietary reasons" we cannot give it to you. This is unacceptable. There are federal "Right to Know" laws and we need our state senators to step up and get this information. If TransCanada has "proven and tested techniques" to clean up tar sands from the aquifer, show it to us. Maybe they could be "good neighbors" and give it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Enbridge also since they clearly do not have the solution for cleaning up tar sands.
- The Pipeline Safety Trust published a critical report on emergency response and oil spill response plans.
- U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also has a detailed report on emergency response plans.
- Plains Justice and Paul Blackburn wrote a detailed report on how inadequate TransCanada's plan is for Nebraska.
But, will Nebraska elected officials finally admit we as a state are unprepared and will they stop taking TransCanada's word and finally put state and local plans and laws on the books to protect citizens, landowners and our natural resources? Or will we have to wait for a disaster for them to act?
Even PHMSA, Congress and the Canadian government have admitted there are no national long-term, peer-reviewed studies on the impact of tar sands on water supplies and the corrosive impacts of tar sands in traditional pipeline infrastructure. PHMSA is conducting a study now, which is due out next year.
In Nebraska, we do have a state-based study that was peer-reviewed and written by Dr. Stansbury from UNL that clearly outlines the risks to the Ogallala Aquifer. Instead of building on this science-based report, TransCanada, Nebraska officials and even the U.S. State Department dismiss the red flags raised in this report about this tar sands pipeline.
Susan Connelly is a mom from Marshall that will not rest until questions are answered and our country has a better plan than "trust us" when it comes to tar sands. At a congressional hearing, Susan confirmed many of our concerns about local response and training:
"When the spill occurred in my hometown, first responders and county health officials were caught off guard. A lack of training, lack of communication and the failure to properly evacuate residents, coupled with all of the unknowns, led to this truly tragic event. I say unknown because this spill was the first of its kind. I find it unconscionable that the health and well-being of our environment and citizens have been set aside for the sake of tar sands oil, which little is known about the effects at this time."
The Inside Climate report contains critical red flags and information for our state, including:
- The high toxicity of tar sands crude, including heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals.
- The unreliability of tar sands pipelines carrying corrosive crude at high temperature and pressure.
- The irresponsibility of oil companies whose dismal safety standards and inadequate emergency procedures leave local communities and emergency responders burdened with a potentially deadly situation.
- The difficulty of cleaning up heavy, sticky tar sands crude, which sinks in water and bonds with soil, making clean up next to impossible.
Joe Moller is a landowner in the proposed route of TransCanada's second pipeline—Keystone XL—and a Nebraska volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years and former pipeline worker. Joe confirmed to Bold Nebraska that even the Nebraska Fire Marshall does not have the MSDS sheet for TransCanada's pipeline leaving first responders at risk and local citizens in danger. About two years ago we called the Fire Marshall's office and they informed us while the Unicameral gave them legal authority on gas pipelines, they have no legal authority when it comes to oil pipelines. Which is probably why you see no listed oil pipeline safety training sessions listed on the PHMSA website for our state.
"With TransCanada's history of spills, our local first responders need not only the MSDS but also proper training and equipment to handle a tar sands spill or fire. We don't know if we need self-contained breathing apparatus or Level A hazmat suits when dealing with tar sands and the chemicals involved. Given the basic fact that it will take TransCanada's emergency crew anywhere from 3-12 hours to get on site and given the tragedy we saw in Michigan with local folks not having the proper information, it is time we hold TransCanada accountable and protect our state."
TransCanada's pipeline is not a pipeline for the people. It's a risky pipeline for their profit. It's an export pipeline without a drop dedicated to the U.S. At some point our elected officials have to stop listening to the fancy TransCanada lobbyists and television ads and start protecting landowner rights and our natural resources, especially our water.
We have a choice because we do not need tar sands. Period. We can get on an energy path that meets our country's needs without sacrificing our families health, natural resources and our local economic activity. We are not here to help out TransCanada and other tar sands companies who have invested in this extreme energy. We are here to protect our families, our economic activity and our natural resources. We can live without toxic tar sands. We cannot live with toxic water.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.