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Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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Hi all!

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I think everyone was busy last week worrying the NSA is judging them for not calling their grandmother more often.  I know I was.  Which is why it took me a bit to get this post up, and also why so many fascinating things happened in the energy and climate world that I had to talk about them all in one post.

First of all, our least favorite pipeline that doesn’t even exist yet is back in the news.  The Sierra Club has quietly taken the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline over to the judicial branch.  The litigious environmental nonprofit (for those of you who don’t know, Sierra Club has acted as plaintiff for some of the nation’s most pivotal and groundbreaking environmental lawsuits – it’s one of their specialties as an organization) filed suit against the State Department last week regarding the sketchy-as-all-hell (from what I’ve read) environmental impact statement that the agency issued about the pipeline.  The impact statement – which suggests the pipeline will have no negative impacts – was prepared by a third-party contractor that has an active membership in the American Petroleum Institute, which Sierra Club and other environmental groups widely regard as evidence of a conflict of interest.  Perhaps more critically, the State Department did not respond to requests to produce documentation proving that the department screened for such a conflict of interest.  The lawsuit is seeking access to those documents and extension of the public comment period for the agency to finalize the determination so that the documents can be considered.  In the continued debate, Al Gore weighted in on the pipeline in a recent interview, stating that the project was ‘an atrocity.’  

Meanwhile, climate change is happening, you guys.  A five year study by FEMA that was just released has predicted a 45% increase in flooding in the United States during the coming decades – as a result of climate change.  (Except in North Carolina, of course, where flooding and climate change is illegal.  I suppose all the hurricanes will have to stick to Florida and South Carolina this year?) FEMA, which manages disaster relief, is expecting to have to insure 80% more properties, with a 90% increase in the average cost of a claim when filed.  But, this is all totally worth it, because it was definitely too expensive for us to regulate carbon through a cap-and-trade or tax system, and it was also definitely too expensive to make some of those fossil fuel companies maybe pay a little instead of collecting government subsidies.  What? Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

Fine. I’ll end on a good note.  Behold, Robert Redford for NRDC:

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Still better looking than you.

Redford, an environmental activist and partner to National Resources Defense Council, has put together a series of short ads calling for action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.  You should watch them.  Because it’s Robert Redford.  And, he’s got something really important to say.  And then you should send them to everyone you know.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll be less cranky.

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We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:

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I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

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I appreciate the recent blog post by the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. First, because it is outgoing Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recap on her top priority while she was at EPA and second, because it pays homage to a great community leader.  Though I may not be the protesting type, I strongly support those who organize and stand up for fair treatment, which all U.S. citizens deserve.  When it comes to environmental protection I support those who stand up for fair treatment even more.

In her final video message, Lisa Jackson spoke about the work of Hazel Johnson.  A founder of a Chicago nonprofit called “People for Community Recovery”, Hazel Johnson was often called the “Mother of Environmental Justice.”  If you’re new to the term of environmental justice (you haven’t been reading my old posts) it typically refers to the fair and equal treatment of all races so that people do not bare disproportionate environmental impacts such as air, water, and soil pollution.

During Lisa Jackson’s term as Administrator I too have seen a renewed focus on environmental justice.  The EPA Office of Environmental Justice released Plan EJ 2014, and 17 federal agencies have continually met to form the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.  I presume Hazel would have been very supportive of Lisa Jackson’s work on EJ, but still concerned that these issues are ongoing.  Hazel coined the term “toxic donut” a term referring to encircling industries that were polluting in her Chicago neighborhood.  Lisa Jackson saw (as did I during my undergraduate degree) a similar pattern in Cancer Alley, a stretch of industries from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; many of these types of patterns are all across the U.S. from Texas to California to New Jersey.

Hazel’s top priority was for communities to be brought to the decision table when siting industrial facilities.  To me that seems like common sense. Sometimes that’s not the case and many community residents are ignored. But progress has been made and toxic sites have been cleaned up, so that should be applauded.  However the work is never done.  Not until Americans take a strong unified stance on how they use and obtain energy.  Open conversations about consumption and energy sources are the only ways to prevent things that Hazel and Lisa have so commonly seen.  You can see the EPA Blog post and video here.

A few weeks ago, the largest environmental march to date was organized in Washington D.C.; it was a march from the Washington Monument to the White House to tell President Obama to deny the Keystone Pipeline and reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was organized by the Sierra Club and many local environmental groups across the nation.  I wanted to see it for my own eyes so I braved the cold and watched for 30 minutes.  The march was organized and civil, and many had signs to reject the Pipeline.  After the State Department’s release of a draft environmental impact statement, I don’t think pro-enviros are too happy.  I took a couple photos just so you could feel like you were there:

"Obama how dare you frack your momma" - said the crowd

“Obama how dare you frack your momma” – said the crowd

En route to the Washington Monument

En route to the Washington Monument

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

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Spinach fans  – Happy New Year!  We hope you enjoyed the holidays (please, no more Christmas cookies).  The Team is back and we’re ready to enlighten you in the next week with issues we think are a priority for 2013 and with a wrap up of 2012’s successes/issues of concern.

With that idea in mind, let me get things started.  If you have not heard, the current Administrator (head honcho, el presidente for my fellow spanish spinach writers, commander in chief) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa P. Jackson (LPJ), has announced that she is going to resign from her post for President Barack Obama’s second term. It has left a few people saying

Momma No!!

While others, maybe some with the business and industry sectors, are doing

The Carlton dance. I bet they’re wearing pleated chinos too.

Regardless of the reactions to her departure, there is no doubt that LPJ came to EPA with an agenda.  LPJ grew up in New Orleans and went to Tulane University (shout out to Nola and TU!) and then worked for the State of New Jersey’s Department of the Environment after completing her graduate degree at Princeton (hi Pam).  I presume having connections to both of those states were eye openers to how industry-environment relations function (in those states probably favoring industry).  What LPJ sought to do however, and I as the Greenlight could not agree more, was to show how protecting the environment relates back to our health.  Under LPJ’s direction, when new EPA rules were proposed so were the number of asthmas and premature deaths prevented, human lives saved, and the number of tons of carbon removed from the atmosphere (I bet even more figures were included!).

But most importantly, LPJ sought to eliminate toxic exposures felt by vulnerable communities – this term is called environmental justice (ej, or as the movement recently says environmental injustice).  Traditionally these are minority, low-income communities that disproportionately bare the impact of toxic air and water from nearby facilities; they typically have little political clout to voice their concerns and as a result face serious health impacts, such as cancers.  LPJ reinvigorated the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (started under Bill Clinton, then stopped by George W. Bush) which convened 17 federal agencies to include EJ into their agency missions and programs. The EPA Care program, and other new federal agency program offices have issued new grants and trainings on technical assistance and research tools to aid communities obtain the basic rights to clean air and water they deserve.  Just like many other community leaders have done for decades.

In LPJ’s term at EPA, the agency issued environmental penalties to not only be monetary, but restorative (e.g., tree planting, technology retrofits), and to me passed three big things that could be tied to her agency legacy (I’m always the legacy tribute writer here).  Though there are other successes, the mercury and toxics standard for power plants, the new auto fuel standards for 2025, and the soot rule for boilers and cement kilns were, to me, LPJ’s and EPA’s three biggest rules.  The Natural Resources Defense Council did a nice write up on LPJ’s legacy too.

So, what about 2013 and 2014, and the next EPA Administrator?  My personal thought is that the next Administrator could be Bob Perciasepe (LPJ’s current Deputy Administrator) or Gina McCarthy at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation.  Since the person must be approved by Congress, these are no easy shoes to fill, Bob and Gina could be the least controversial.

For 2013 – Matt Damon already took a swing at the fracking debate (the natural gas industry so hates him right now(my film review to come next week)).  EPA announced that it will publish findings of its fracking study in 2014; however, I suspect information will be leaked on fracking before the final 2014 findings are released.  You can track the EPA Fracking Study here. The Keystone Pipeline is another pending issue that could get approved or denied this year.  President Obama said he would address the Keystone Pipeline after the November 2012 election.  Those are my top issues that will be addressed, while I think there are many others, to me, these are the most realistic that will be addressed this year.  We’ll let you know what happens!

Enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

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I never expected that I would be a tribute writer, but recently that’s how its panned out (I hope you read my posts on Silent Spring, and Russell Train).  In this latest tribute, last week, the Clean Water Act turned 40!

There’s no doubt that the Clean Water Act has led to cleaner watersheds and reduced pollution in our nation’s waters.  To date, 65% of our nation’s waters are swimmable and fishable (that’s the Act’s classifications).  What many don’t know is that the Clean Water Act was passed through amendments to the Federal Pollution Control Act of 1948, and it was a result of several disasters such as the famous burning of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River.

One of the goals of the Clean Water Act was for all the nation’s waterways to be fishable and swimmable by 1985.  News flash, we haven’t met that goal.  The Act gave authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to states to set pollution control standards to restore and monitor water quality.  One of the greatest aspects of the Act is that it allows public citizens to file suit on violators of the Act.  Many people don’t know this!  I’ve heard from EPA officials that the Clean Water Act is the people’s act.  Our nation’s waterways belong to us.

A few successes of the Clean Water Act include better overall water quality to over 60% of the nation’s waterways, more waterways that are swimmable, and restoration of major waterways such as the Hudson and Cuyahoga Rivers and Lake Erie.  I think the OMB article only touched on a few of the Act’s successes and I’m sure you can do a Google search and find more info.  Although I only like to highlight positive sustainable practices in my posts, I think it’s only fair to highlight that there are future challenges ahead for the Clean Water Act.  Factors such as population growth and urban development have led to runoff mismanagement,  particularly water from wet weather events, that are not addressed in the Clean Water Act.  Wastewater in natural gas fracturing (fracking) wells are also not included in the Act. Just today I heard that this current Congress has posed approximately 200 attacks on the Clean Water Act.

But, this is a tribute, and clean water will win.

Clean pipe discharge!

There are so many great on-the-ground partnerships taking on water issues, a few that come to mind include The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, Groundworks USA, and the River Network.  Those who question and attack the Act must not want fishable and swimmable waters for their families.  Maybe they just take it for granted, I think that’s the case.  Cheers to 40 years of success and to another 40 years of greater success.  Now go for a swim!

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Last week, a book that sparked the grass-roots movement and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned 50! Salley O’Malley is 50! 5-0.

She kicks, shimmies and shakes

The book is Silent Spring, and the author was Rachel Carson.  Carson was an unsuspecting fighter, and was the first to write about disproportionate use of pesticides in communities.  The Natural Resources Defense Council commented that the fight on pesticides is ongoing till this day and that Silent Spring brought an incredible awareness to the issue. Carson was born a gifted writer, and had a passion for writing at an early age.  She attended the Pennsylvania College for Women and earned a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins (she did not start Spinach, that was us).

Carson never intended for Silent Spring to be the political punch that it was.  She only lightly recommended that the pesticide DDT be banned, but did not call on political figures to take action.  Instead, Silent Spring sparked research on the chemical while the chemical industry condoned her, and even J.Edgar Hoover performed a private investigation on her.  Many criticized Silent Spring for its unsettling tone; USA Today reported (great video at this site too!) that Carson developed breast cancer while writing Silent Spring and that led to some of the dark and strong language in the book.  Carson passed away only 18 months after the book was published. Her intention for Silent Spring was to show people that if they harm nature, nature could harm them back.  I think we’ve all seen this time after time, disaster after disaster across the world.

My favorite Rachel Carson quote:

“Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

Have a great weekend, and get outdoors to appreciate the fall foliage. Cheers.

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