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Protecting Our Communities From a Chemical Disaster

4:44 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

When was the last time you heard about Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something?

Christine Todd Whitman. Photo by Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Green.

Recently, the Center for Public Integrity reported that on April 3, Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to use Clean Air Act to prevent chemical disasters.

Yes, you heard that right, in a world where Newt Gingrich is calling for the abolition of the EPA, there is common sense bi-partisan support for the EPA using its authority to make us safer. Governor Whitman can speak with authority about this issue because she, as EPA chief under President George W. Bush, drafted such a program in 2002, driven by the country’s national security concerns following the 9/11 attacks.

The EPA’s 2002 proposal, complete with a roll out plan, hinged on using the “Bhopal Amendment” of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. Commonly called the “General Duty Clause” (GDC) this section of the Clean Air Act obligates chemical facilities who handle hazardous chemicals to prevent chemical disasters.

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Obama’s Job: Protect Us from Pollution [video]

3:27 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

While Obama’s jobs speech is being framed as a turning point for his tenure as President, there is another job I would respectively suggest he concentrate on: protecting the lives of America’s children.

Here’s a quick video ad that I think gets right to point:

Late last week the President blocked reforms to the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to improve pollution measures to protect Americans against the harmful effects of toxic ozone smog. The President chose to side with big corporate polluters instead of with the 12,000 Americans that, according to the EPA, would have been saved by these proposed updates to pollution controls. Obama also chose to side with the big polluting industries instead of with the estimated 24 million men, women and children suffering from asthma in this country who are forced to suffer even more because of heightened smog levels.

The decision outraged his biggest backers in the Democratic Party. Barbara Boxer, Chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said that environmentalists should sue the Obama administration over the decision: “I hope they’ll be sued in court and I hope the court can stand by the Clean Air Act.” Read the rest of this entry →

Koch Industries Lobbying Puts Over 100 Million Americans in Danger

2:25 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

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Recent Greenpeace analysis of lobbying disclosure records reveals that since 2005, Koch Industries has hired more lobbyists than Dow and Dupont to fight legislation that could protect over 100 million Americans from what national security experts say is a catastrophic risk from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Koch lobbyists even outnumber those at trade associations including the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute. Only the American Chemistry Council deployed more.

In 2010 Koch Industries and the billionaire brothers who run it were first exposed as a major funder of front groups spreading denial of global warming in a Greenpeace report, which sparked an expose in the New Yorker. Since then, the brothers have been further exposed as a key backer of efforts to roll back environmental, labor, and health protections at the state and federal levels. Through enormous campaign contributions, an army of lobbyists, and funding of think tanks and front groups, David and Charles Koch push their agenda of a world in which their company can operate without regard for the risks they pose to communities, workers, or our environment.

Today, in a new exposé, Greenpeace has shown how Koch Industries has quietly played a key role in blocking yet another effort to protect workers and vulnerable communities – comprehensive chemical security legislation. The Report is called “Toxic Koch: Keeping Americans at risk of a Poison Gas Disaster.”

Since before the September 11, 2001 attacks, security experts have warned of the catastrophic risk that nearly every major American city faces from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Nevertheless, ten years later, thousands of facilities still put more than 100 million Americans at risk of a chemical disaster. According to the company’s own reports to the EPA, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries Invista, Flint Hills, and Georgia Pacific operate 57 dangerous chemical facilities in the United States that together put 4.4 million people at risk.

A coalition of more than 100 labor, environmental, and health organizations has advocated for comprehensive chemical security legislation that would help remove the threat of a poison gas disaster by requiring the highest risk facilities to use safer processes where feasible. Koch Industries and other oil and chemical companies have lobbied against legislation that would prevent chemical disasters, despite repeated requests from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for disaster prevention. Instead Koch favors an extension of the current, weak Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of DHS to require safer processes. As in other policy areas, Koch’s huge efforts have gone largely unnoticed.

Koch campaign contributions reveal the company’s influence over the chemical security debate in Washington DC. All of the key Senators and Representatives who have taken a lead role during the last year in pushing legislation that supports Koch’s chemical security agenda have received Koch campaign contributions. The House members who introduced two bills that would extend CFATS without improvements and block the DHS from requiring safer processes for seven years have all taken KochPAC contributions over the last three election cycles, including Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA), Gene Green (D-TX), Peter King (R-NY) and Dan Lungren (R-CA). And all of the cosponsors of similar legislation in the Senate – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (R-AR), and before his retirement, George Voinovich (R-OH) – received KochPAC contributions during their most recent elections.

As Congress debates how to protect Americans from dangerous chemical facilities, Koch is once again opposing legislation that would make America safer, despite the enormous risk its facilities pose to communities, workers, and our environment.

A battle for the Earth’s last remaining frontier

2:42 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

A fire ship hoses down an iceberg near the Stena Forth drilling ship in Baffin Bay.

There are clear signs that a new Arctic oil rush has begun. Earlier this month Shell submitted plans to the US government for for new drilling in the icy waters off Alaska’s north coast, and now a Scottish company has won permission to take a similar gamble near Greenland. Tomorrow Hilary Clinton will fly to the picturesque town of Nuuk in Greenland to discuss how spill response equipment might work in one of the world’s most extreme and beautiful environments. I can save her the trip – it won’t.

Here are some facts. Over the next few years a handful of powerful oil companies will tow rigs beyond the Arctic Circle to drill for a few short months before the winter sea ice closes in. They’ll rely on untested equipment and wildly ambitious response plans in the event of a blowout or other major accident. When October comes, the sea ice will close in and leave the area completely isolated until the following summer.

Think about that for a moment. This means that if a blowout happened in the fall, oil could gush out underneath the ice from Halloween through Thanksgiving, all the way to Memorial Day or, depending on the oil spill and the ice, the fourth of July or longer. Wildlife like bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and walrus would have to fend for themselves as the world looks on helplessly and the oil companies make their excuses. We tried. We took precautions. It’s a big ocean. The Arctic will recover. Sound familiar?

Global warming is happening faster in the Arctic than on anywhere else on earth, and multinational oil companies are desperate to exploit the newly opened seas for huge profits. Safety is not their first priority, whatever the glossy brochures and reassuring words might say. The Deepwater Horizon disaster took 6,500 well equipped vessels over three months to cap. In the Arctic Ocean there aren’t even that many kayaks.

In the Arctic Ocean, the world’s last real frontier, Big Oil is taking bigger risks than ever before and dressing up their recklessness as necessity. They’re wrong. We can prevent extracting oil from the Arctic – and the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tar Sands in Canada -by taking it out of Detroit instead. We can ‘produce’ millions of barrels a year simply by not using it in the first place. Cleaner cars with better engines mean lower bills, less pollution and a healthier industry.

Our politicians have become hypnotized by the mantra of the fossil fuel lobby and are repeating it like drones – more, more, more. At some point this thirst, this reckless and desperate urge has to stop. One day, somewhere, we must draw a line in the sand and say: enough. This year just might be the moment, and Alaska’s Arctic Ocean might be the place.

Homeland Security Chairman Peter King ignores poison gas disaster threat to New York City

12:52 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

The Kuehne chemical plant stores deadly chlorine gas that threatens 12 million people in the New York City area
Congressman Peter King (R-NY), the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, faced protests from hundreds of New Yorkers and interfaith leaders this weekend over his plans to single out Muslim communities in upcoming Congressional hearings. While Rep. King seeks to look tough on terrorism by scapegoating people for their religious beliefs, last week he showed his willingness to leave New Yorkers and millions of other Americans vulnerable to a catastrophic terrorist attack on dangerous chemical plants.

Instead of ensuring that the highest risk chemical plants convert to safer technologies, King joined Representatives Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in supporting weak chemical plant security standards. Championed by chemical industry lobbyists, these rules leave 110 million Americans threatened by these pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction. In a press release, Congressman King explained why he supports the weak rules, but not the disaster prevention legislation that the chemical industry opposes: “Congress must ensure that DHS’s current authority is extended in a manner that protects our homeland without additional burdensome and costly requirements or job-crushing mandates.”

In case you need help translating those chemical industry talking points, “burdensome and costly requirements or job-crushing mandates” is code for the common sense requirement that if a chemical plant can use a safer chemical or process that would remove the threat of a poison gas disaster to hundreds of thousands of people, then it should do so. And in fact, an independent analysis showed that the disaster prevention legislation the House of Representatives passed in 2009 (which Rep. King voted against) would have created 8,000 jobs each year for the next decade, despite his unsubstantiated “job-crushing” claim.
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White House Hid the Truth on Spill: The Truth and the Oil is Still Out There

7:57 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

The President’s National Oil Spill Commission released preliminary findings today from its investigation into BP’s oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

And its initial findings will cause at least two major headaches, I mean headlines, for the White House.

First, the report finds that the White House blocked efforts by federal scientists to publicly reveal how high the oil spill rate was based on modeling they had to estimate the worse case scenario.

Visiting the Gulf of Mexico

In section 2 called The Fate of the Oil Released, there are two major issues. First says that the numbers that the Administration used to base its announcement that most of the oil had just disappeared was in fact not meant to be rigorous accounting. And second, in a section called The Fate of all Hydrocarbons, a study done in late September concluded that "most of the initial biodegradation in the plumes involved gaseous hydrocarbons (propane and ethane), rather than oil". Meaning that what happened to most of the oil remains a mystery.

Let’s take the first piece. The Obama White House, for whatever reason and we can make a fair guess, did not want to disclose to the public how bad the oil spill could really be. Much like BP, the government instead chose to paint rosy scenarios about the size and impact of the spill. Who was the White House protecting? Certainly not the good people of the Gulf Coast. Certainly not the American public. And certainly not the Gulf of Mexico.

Now part 2, the White House continues to shakily stand by their initial assertions that 75% of the oil has disappeared. They based that on an "Oil Budget" estimate meant to help responders with their efforts, not as a definitive estimate. However, the commission report states that the Oil Budget was simply not designed to explain, or capable of explaining, the “fate of the oil”. It was not robust enough scientifically for that. Much like BP who wants to down play the presence of oil in the ecosystem and it’s effects because of legal liability, the White House is joining the industry chorus perhaps to down play it’s political liability.

There’s much in this report that’s revealing but one last piece perfectly states why the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise is in the Gulf conducting independent science and why we’re thankful others are as well. In the study mentioned above, much of the bio-degradation the Administration hoped was eating the oil was not. It is eating gaseous hydrocarbons like propane and ethane. The oil is still out there and instead of ‘fessing up to the extent that remains and the damage it will do likely for decades, the government joins with industry to keep us in the dark.

Now the White House hopes we will take their word that we can indeed go forward with more offshore drilling and that it can be done safely. How many more fossil fuel disasters will it take for our politicians to lead us out of this rut and into the secure and environmentally friendly renewable energy future we need? Instead the White House and Congress are all pushing for Drill Baby Drill as per the President’s statement back in March.

[Philip D. Radford is the Executive Director of Greenpeace US.]

Going Beyond Oil

6:53 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Big Oil’s reckless pursuit of the last remaining oil reserves (and ever-more exorbitant profits) is disastrous for the planet, governments of the world are still greenlighting dangerous deepwater drilling projects.

That’s why this morning two Greenpeace activists locked down the anchor chain of Chevron’s drill ship the Stena Carron, which was scheduled to depart for a deepwater drilling site north of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. While our activists physically prevent one more irresponsible drilling project from getting underway, we’re calling on all governments to ban deepwater drilling once and for all.

The action was launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which was also the base of operations for the activists who staged a 40-hour occupation of Cairn Energy’s Stena Don oil rig off the coast of Greenland earlier this month. There is real danger that the Stena Don could spark an Arctic oil rush, which would pose a huge threat to the climate and put the fragile Arctic environment at risk. So, for nearly two days, Greenpeace activists prevented this dangerous drilling operation from proceeding to threaten any more marine life and coastal ecosystems with catastrophic oil spills.

This is as much a moral issue as an environmental issue. We don’t fully understand the long-term effects of oil spills like the BP Deepwater Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. We need independent science to find out what those will be. All we do know for certain is that the oil and its impacts will persist for decades. Surely we can all agree that we owe our children a healthy planet to live on? And unfortunately, as is now all-too clear, expanding offshore drilling operations is incompatible with keeping our planet healthy enough to support future generations.

That’s why we’re not only working to stop more dangerous drilling, we’re also seeking to get to the truth about the impacts of oil spills. Our ship, the Arctic Sunrise, is now halfway through its three-month expedition in the Gulf and has hosted several teams of independent scientists who are working to understand where all of BP’s oil has gone and what it’s doing to marine wildlife and ecosystems in the Gulf. You can stay up do date with the crew’s findings via our Google Earth map, which is tracking blog posts, pictures, and videos coming from the crew onboard the ship.

If you want to know even more about the long-term effects of oil spills and how we can prevent future oil spills from happening, tune in this Friday to the blogger briefing Greenpeace is hosting as part of UN Week. Greenpeace USA’s Kert Davies is onboard the Arctic Sunrise in the Gulf right now and will be participating in the briefing as well as answering your questions live via video Skype.

We’re not just against oil, we’re for clean, sustainable energy. Sven Teske, the author of our Energy [R]evolution report, will be taking part in the briefing to discuss how expanding our offshore drilling operations is not only dangerous, but unnecessary. We can get to 80 percent renewable energy globally by 2050, and we’d be creating 12 million jobs by 2030 in the process.

A clean energy revolution would not only help stop global warming and get our ailing economy back on track, but it is also the only 100 percent fail-safe method for preventing oil spills. That’s because the only way to stop oil spills is to leave the oil in the ground (or hundreds of feet under the sea, as the case may be). We can’t do that until we move beyond oil and other fossil fuels as our primary energy sources.

Greenpeace will continue to confront reckless new oil drilling operations and bring attention to the issue, but we need to build a widespread movement that demands we go beyond oil as soon as possible. Join us on the blogger briefing this Friday to find out how you can help get us there.

This was originally posted on Huffington Post on September 21st.

[Philip D. Radford is the Executive Director of Greenpeace US.]

Dear White House Re: Oil Spill Not Gone

1:39 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Ms. Carol Browner
Director
Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

August 16, 2010

Dear Ms. Browner,

During the week of August 4, 2010, you served as the administration’s principle spokesperson appearing on multiple national television programs, including NBC’s Meet the Press and ABC’s Good Morning America, to report findings from the interagency BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget. You stated repeatedly that "the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone."

This week, multiple independent scientists have released calculations and investigations that show quite the opposite:

* from the University of Georgia that upwards of seventy nine percent of the spilled oil still remains in the Gulf

* from the University of South Florida oil found on the bottom of the ocean in a vast area of subsea canyons some 40 miles from the Florida panhandle

* and from the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution, published today in Science, new mapping of the disputed massive underwater plumes of oil.

This new scientific information tells a story that is a complete reversal of what you conveyed to the American public just two weeks ago. We are mystified about how you and government’s top scientists could have gotten the numbers and the interpretation and translation of this data so wrong. The only plausible explanation is that you rushed to put an optimistic face on the worst environmental catastrophe in American history.

Your major media appearances the first week of August included the following quotes:

"The good news is that the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone…The scientists are telling us about 25 percent was not captured or evaporated or taken care of by mother nature"
on ABC Good Morning America, August 4, 2010

"I think it’s also important to note that our scientists have done an initial assessment and more than three-quarters of the oil is gone, the vast majority of the oil is gone…The EPA has been monitoring, NOAA is monitoring, the Food and Drug Administration is looking at the fish; and, right now, nobody’s seeing anything of concern."
on NBC Meet the Press, August 8, 2010

Today, in a congressional hearing, NOAA and EPA testified that preliminary results released August 4th have not been peer-reviewed, and that this must and will be done before any conclusions can be made about the state of the Gulf. Furthermore, NOAA’s preliminary statement about oil cleaned up includes the 800,000 barrels of oil captured by ships – which never entered the Gulf but was instead likely sent to refineries and into America’s gas tanks.

Did the NOAA and EPA scientists who briefed you for the August 4th release affirm that it was accurate and credible to use the language, that "the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone."?

While you falsely reassured the American people and residents of the Gulf region on the ongoing environmental impact in the Gulf, we are also concerned that this optimistic assessment may have further undermined the administration’s credibility and the longer term efforts of the Federal government to fully prosecute BP and others for the damage to the Gulf. We remain very concerned about any possible industry influence on the collection of accurate scientific data and dissemination of information about this oil disaster by the government’s reliance on British Petroleum assets and other oil industry actors involved in the assessment and clean up response.

Greenpeace remains committed to independent review of the oil disaster’s impact and support demands made today by Representative Ed Markey that all data, calculations, formulas and citations of scientific literature behind the Oil Budget calculator be immediately released to the public and to independent scientists.

Our research vessel the Arctic Sunrise is currently hosting scientists from multiple academic institutions investigating the ongoing impacts of the oil that remains in the Gulf of Mexico as we help independent scientists in the pursuit of the truth. We will be happy to share the results of this mission with your office.

The President rightly promised the American public an unprecedented amount of transparency and rededication to science in his administration (versus the behavior of previous administration). We feel the President has been unfairly blamed for the Gulf disaster, but there is no getting around the fact that you were on national television telling the American public something that has now been severely contradicted by independent expert scientists.

We sent a FOIA request to NOAA on August 5, 2010, asking for disclosure of the calculations and data behind the Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget. While we await a response to our FOIA request, we would kindly request that you formally amend or retract your comments of the week of August 4th based on this new evidence.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Best regards,

Phillip Radford
Executive Director
Greenpeace US

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