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Are You in Danger of a Preventable Chemical Plant Explosion?

11:08 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Chemical plant

Chemical plant

Yesterday, President Obama issued an Executive Order mandating that the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Labor and Homeland Security to develop plans for new safety measure at chemical plants like the one in West, Texas that exploded in April, killing 17 people and injuring hundreds.

That West, Texas tragedy was one of many preventable disasters that have happened in the decade since the EPA first proposed using the Clean Air Act to enforce common sense rules for chemical plants. It’s been over 10 years, and we’re still waiting. Even in the time since the West, Texas disaster, there have been at least six other serious, preventable chemical accidents around the country. This is a problem we not only should have, but could have, solved years ago, and now, with President Obama’s order, the EPA has a clear mandate to do what a wide coalition of organizations have been urging it to do for years: use its existing authority under the law to require chemical plants to use safer processes and chemicals at thousands of facilities across the country. The safety of millions of people depends on it.

At the same time that the president issued his Executive Order, Greenpeace and over 100 groups such as United Auto Workers, the Sierra Club, UPROSE, Rebuild the Dream, Environmental Defense Fund, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Peoples’ Action, MoveOn, Los Jardines Institute, and Community In-Power and Development Association sent a jointly signed letter to the new EPA chief Gina McCarthy urging her to make chemical disaster prevention a priority in her first 100 days in office. The path forward couldn’t be clearer, and the risks of continued inaction couldn’t be higher.

Unsecured toxic chemicals needlessly threaten our communities every day. According to the EPA’s own data, there are more than 470 chemical facilities that each put 100,000 or more people at risk of injury or death from a sudden poison gas release. In 2004, the Homeland Security Council estimated that an attack on a poison gas facility would result in 17,500 immediate deaths, 10,000 seriously injuries and send an additional 100,000 people to the hospital.

These are astonishing numbers, so much so that it can be hard to understand just how close this problem is to most of us. Greenpeace has set up a quick way for you to find out how near you are to one of these facilities, and by simply entering your zip code here you can find out exactly how this issue affects you. The results might shock you. They certainly shocked me. But luckily, this is a problem with a solution.

Hundreds of chemical facilities, including all Clorox facilities in the U.S., have already taken it upon themselves to adopt safer procedures for their workers and the communities around their plants. As Greenpeace knows well, we can’t simply rely on corporations to police themselves. There are still more than one-hundred million people at risk because they live and work inside “vulnerability zones” near the highest risk chemical facilities in major cities across the country.

The EPA needs to act now to ensure the safety of millions of people who who are needlessly endangered by un-secure toxic chemicals. The President has now made clear he is joining our call for action, but it’s ultimately up to the EPA to use its existing authority to make our communities safe from toxic chemicals starting today. Safer alternatives and better regulations are the only fool-proof ways we can keep keep tragedies like West, Texas from happening again.

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If You Want to Breathe Clean Air, Senate Reform and Democracy Matter

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

 

Watch the Netroots Panel “The Three Keys to Reclaiming Democracy” in this video

This week, the Senate will decide whether they will end Congressional gridlock with a simple majority, or if they will continue to allow obstructionist lawmakers to paralyze the government with partisan gimmicks. For our health, our communities, and for our planet that supports life in all its diversity, the Senate must adopt Harry Reid’s proposal to reform nominations rules now, and enact more sweeping reforms of the Senate rules in the immediate future.

Reid’s proposal to allow the Senate to end discussion of proposed nominations with a simple majority vote is the only sane way forward when Senate Republicans are bent on delaying and obstructing Presidential nominations like Gina McCarthy’s to the Environmental Protection Agency. The extremist faction isn’t filibustering because they think that there may be someone better to head the EPA than McCarthy (or Sharon Block for the National Labor Relations Board, or any of the other Republican-blocked nominations); they’re doing it because this is the only way they can keep the EPA from carrying out its congressionally mandated functions.

The problems of the gridlocked, broken Senate are nothing new to environmentalists. In her analysis of the failure of the 2009 climate bill, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol said, “The failure of the 2009-10 policy push for cap and trade legislation was, in one respect, quite unsurprising – attributable (in political science 101 terms) to Senate rules setting an insurmountable 60-vote bar.”

The Corporate Right knows this.

Grinding the federal government to a halt by abusing the filibuster is just one of the strategies that a handful of fossil fuel companies are using to undermine our democracy to keep their near-monopoly status in politics. While saving our democracy may seem a far cry from “Save the Whales,” moving closer to the dream of American democracy may be the only way to pass meaningful protections for our communities and our planet in the United States Congress. The environmental movement must engage in this fight.

The stakes are high. While a few Senators are working to ensure that President Obama’s election has no consequences by blocking him from staffing the administration, the Supreme Court has already pushed forward the Corporate Right’s two additional strategies to dismantle democracy of, by and for the people: suppressing the vote and unleashing limitless, secret money into elections.

This means that the voting blocs who most support the environment — youth and people of color — are being pushed out of the electorate, and powerful moneyed interests who fight environmental safeguards grow more powerful through keeping people out and pumping their money into politics.

The results of this bigotry and big money strategy show up in places like Art Pope’s North Carolina, where the legislature has gutted campaign finance laws for judicial elections and pushed bills to suppress voters, including a measure to remove a tax credit for parents whose college-student children vote at school instead of at their permanent address.

So what can we do about all of this? For one, we can start seeing ourselves as we are seen by the forces that are hell bent on fighting the promise of American democracy – as one movement with a shared vision of inclusion, of every voice counting, and of a government working for all of the American people.

United by this vision, a new force – The Democracy Initiative – was born, committed to getting big money out of politics, voters in (universal voter registration and an end to voter suppression), and reforming the Senate rules to get the government working again. Groups such as Greenpeace, the Communication Workers of America, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Public Campaign, Common Cause, People for the American Way, National People’s Action and dozens of others representing tens of millions of people are determined to win back what we’ve lost in the past four decades.

Big Money groups are still fighting as hard as ever across the country to disempower the majority who believe in the rights of communities to be safe and self-determined. The Democracy Initiative was formed to make sure that every voice is heard, and the people, not big money, control the future of this country. You can join this fight today by calling your senators and telling them that you support Senate rules reform now to end gridlock in Washington.

For Our Future, Today Can’t Be Obama’s Final #ActOnClimate

11:05 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

This afternoon at Georgetown University, President Obama plans to announce a series of “steady, responsible steps” to tackle climate change. It appears that the President will finally begin to make good on his climate promises, but to truly meet his obligation to future generations, this must be the foundation – not the final act – of his climate legacy.

The current Congress has made it clear that it will be on the wrong side of history, so it is absolutely vital for the President to use his authority to reduce power plant pollution, move forward with renewable energy projects on public lands, and increase energy efficiency. What the President will propose today is just a part of what it’s possible to do without Congress, and to solve the climate crisis, the solutions will have to be equal to or greater than the problem.

Greenpeace’s three million worldwide members will surely applaud the President beginning to lead on climate issues, but the bigger test will be whether Mr. Obama has the ability to follow through on this progress with concrete action. The President must finally abandon George W. Bush’s catastrophic “all of the above” energy strategy without half-measures or false promises. If the President intends to hand pass on a healthy and sustainable world for our children, there is no place for the Keystone pipeline, ‘clean coal,’ fracking, Arctic oil drilling, or giant giveaways to the coal industry.

While much of the President’s statement will be old policies repackaged, new carbon standards on power plants are one of the biggest steps that the President can take. The battle lines have been drawn; the coal industry will fight tooth and nail to stop new public health safeguards on carbon pollution. And the fight will continue to urge the President to take greater action to promote off the shelf, affordable clean energy.

We applaud the President for making this fight come into clearer focus. but his continued
actions on climate change in the days and years to come will mark his place, not only in environmental history, but in world history.

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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Big Coal and Oil Play Dirty but EPA Mercury Ruling Proves We’d Rather Keep It Clean

11:53 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Starting today, we can begin to breathe, eat, and drink a bit easier. The EPA begins enforcement of the Mercury and Air Toxics standard, a 20-year-old mandate that set limits on mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants.

These safeguards are not for show. They reflect a raft of highly credible research proving that mercury, along with other toxic metals including arsenic, chromium and nickel, is spewed in to the air as an insidious byproduct of fossil fuel burning. These metals contaminate waterways, where they infuse the bodies of commercial fish and seafood. It’s no surprise that women of childbearing age are urged not to eat salmon and shrimp. High accumulated mercury levels in these and other frequently consumed species can be devastating to the unborn and infants.

That reality gave this effort tremendous momentum — a record-breaking 500,000 Americans reached out to the EPA in support of the standard, reinforcing the notion that we’d rather have healthy moms and babies than antiquated power plants raining contaminants down on our communities. We salute President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson for standing fast against the antiquated interests of Big Coal and Big Oil in order to make this ruling a reality.

Unsurprising, however, has been the utility industry’s prolonged, expensive campaign of misinformation — millions of dollars and countless lobbying hours spent trying to convince legislators, and thus the American public, that a little mercury mutating a developing human nervous system was no big deal.

Some utility companies, along with members of Congress swimming in their campaign contributions, made heel-dragging on this issue an art. Their lobbyists are understandably upset, but we’re happy to treat them to a seafood dinner if that assuages their grief.

The barrage of tiresome talking points from Republican and industry opposition about how this epitomizes big government’s job-killing intrusion on free enterprise is already underway, but let’s be as clear as the forthcoming air:

This rule will save lives. According to EPA, the rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks each year, as well as almost 3,000 cases of chronic bronchitis yearly. Emergency room visits will drop by almost 6,000!

This rule will protect the environment. In 2008, nearly half of all U.S. river-miles and lake-acres were under water contamination advisories. The vast majority of this contamination was due to mercury, including 100% of the Great Lakes. Over time, just one gram of mercury per year will contaminate a 20-acre lake.

This rule will create jobs and boost productivity. EPA estimates that this rule will lead to 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs. Currently only 17 states have established mercury emissions limits on coal plants. That’s far from adequate, especially since the states with the largest volume of mercury emissions do not have emissions limits. In addition, we’ll avoid 540,000 sick days each year, enhancing productivity while lowering health care costs.

The downside for fossil fuel facilities is negligible at best. A mere eight percent of our nation’s coal-generation capability will be taken offline in the years ahead — decrepit, 30-to-50-year-old power plants that even utility companies agree need to be modernized or shut down outright as they have become too costly to upgrade or maintain, let alone operate.

So, let’s take a well-deserved deep breath and celebrate the fact that regard for a nation’s health and well-being has won out over the interests of a few backward-thinking bribe recipients who don’t lose sleep over causing cancer and birth defects.

Koch’s Congress Proposes to Defund the EPA

2:09 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

The EPA was set up in 1970 with a mandate to protect public health Our health. Our children’s health. Things were not so different in America at that time—an unpopular war, a recession-ridden economy—but we knew then that we have to protect the environment in order to protect our own health. Back then we had rivers catching on fire, today it’s a global climate disaster. After 40 years we still need the EPA to ensure that the financial desires of greedy industry leaders don’t trump our needs as people. The government is supposed to work for the best interests of its citizens. It’s the very reason why lawmakers in a democracy have a job to begin with.
Greenpeace image: Poisoned water
These needs have not changed, but many members of Congress seem to think that we don’t matter and don’t care anymore. They want to pass a continuing resolution that would cut $3 BILLION from EPA funding, eliminate its top positions, and block its ability to require that wealthy companies reduce carbon pollution. With no one to run the EPA, no money to run it with, and few tools to do anything, the EPA would barely be more than a ceremonial body.

With no one to protect Americans from dirty industries, they will continue to profit by taking unnecessary health, financial, and emotional risks. Asthma. Cancer. Tuberculosis. Infant mortality.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →