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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

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.

Students Gear up to Protest Exxon Graduation Speech

4:41 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Rex CEO of ExxonMobile

As college students around the country are wrapping up their semesters, graduating seniors at Worcester Polytechnical Institute (WPI) find themselves in the midst of an ethical controversy.

On Saturday, WPI’s commencement speaker is none other than oil baron Rex Tillerson, CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil, although perhaps you’re more familiar with his role as the national president of the Boy Scouts of America.

ExxonMobil has donated generously to WPI and has an executive on the school’s Board of Trustees. WPI students protesting their administration’s choice in commencement speaker question the social and environmental record of Rex Tillerson’s company, with emphasis on its “scientifically negligent response to global warming.” As ExxonMobil has spent over $25 million since 1998 on groups who deny the science or significance of global warming, I share their concerns.

In response the school’s choice, the WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future negotiated with the administration to host a counterpoint speaker, Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute, who will be speaking at 3:00pm following the graduation ceremony. Heinberg is known for his analysis of peak production of fossil fuels, and the decline of easily-extractable, non-renewable energy sources.

Students have also organized a respectful protest of Tillerson’s speech. Twenty-six students are refusing to attend the commencement address, opting instead for Heinberg’s counterpoint speech. Other students who feel compelled to attend the speech will sport green ribbons to demonstrate solidarity with seniors who are abstaining from ending their schooling with an address from the mouth of Exxon.

ExxonMobil stands at the forefront of what is wrong with corporate America. The company is one of the top air polluters in the United States, with facilities that disproportionately affect minority communities. It is infamous for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. It has a history of supporting brutal human rights violations in Indonesia. Through XTO Energy, ExxonMobil has already caused a major spill in the contaminating gas extraction practice known as hydrofracking.

While people and the planet bear the brunt of Exxon’s negligence, the company leverages its immense wealth and influence to buy the right to continue conducting dirty business as usual. In addition to funneling millions to industry front groups that peddle misinformation about climate science and belittle the significance of global warming, ExxonMobil spends tens of millions annually on federal political lobbying, and millions more on contributions to federal politicians to buy favorable policies. And even though Exxon made tens of billions of dollars in annual profit–Tillerson himself has made over $40,000,000 in the last five years–American taxpayers still handed out billions of dollars in subsidies to Exxon and other oil companies each year.

As Worcester Polytechnical Institute offers Mr. Tillerson an honorary degree for concluding the education of the graduates of 2011, someone should probably also offer Tillerson an honorary degree in corporate carelessness. He has certainly earned it.

Check out the full story, as told by WPI students, on their Facebook page. They invite all to attend Richard Heinberg’s speech tomorrow. Greenpeace applauds the students of Worcester Polytechnical Institute for standing up to ExxonMobil’s polluting influence.

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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A Familiar – and Frightening – Story in Wisconsin

1:00 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

David and Charles Koch, the billionaire oil baron brothers Greenpeace exposed last year for spending millions to gut environmental protections and fund junk climate change science, are at it again. This time in Wisconsin.

According to the New York Times, the Kochs are major financial backers of Governor Scott Walker and are using one of their front groups, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to support the Governor’s efforts to strip public employees of their right to have a say in the workplace. This is an extension of the 40-year strategy laid out by soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Powell in 1971, which outlined the playbook for the Chamber of Commerce that worked to take over the courts, schools, Congress, and create a network of right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute (started by the Koch Brothers) and Americans for Prosperity (also funded by the Kochs).

After filling the courts with Supreme Court justices like Justice Roberts, the activist judge who recently allowed unbridled corporate spending in elections, the corporate right like the Kochs are working to cut union ranks by up to 50% through state-by-state attacks on public employees, attempting to neuter the one force in electoral politics that could counter these big spenders.

If Americans for Prosperity sounds familiar, it should – they’re the group that has been touring the country for years telling people climate change isn’t real. Today we have found out that AFP is upping their work in Wisconsin with a $350,000 ad campaign to support Governor Walker’s attack on workers’ rights.

For the Koch brothers and AFP, this is all about undermining the democratic process. And this is why we all must stand with the public employees of Wisconsin and people everywhere who are trying to make their lives and communities better by taking peaceful action. Whether it is fighting for safe working conditions and a liveable wage or fighting to replace coal plants with clean energy, at the core we are fighting for the democratic right of all people to stand up to make the world a better place.

Chicago’s True Cost of Coal

1:50 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

This week researchers at Harvard University released a historic study on the Full Cost of Coal. The study outlines the costs of each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, combustion, and waste. It concludes that the entire cycle of coal costs the American public up to one-half of a trillion dollars annually. Like many scientific climate studies, that is a conservative estimate.

For many people around the country the true cost of coal is much higher than any monetary value. From families whose homes are bulldozed in the name of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, to parents who have to miss days of work to treat their children’s asthma, the cost of coal is much more personal.
Greenpeace image: Mayor Daley’s green legacy
In my hometown of Chicago two of the country’s oldest power plants, Fisk and Crawford, are making the true cost off coal personal for thousands of people. More than 10% of Chicago’s population (310,173 residents) live within three miles of the plant, resulting in 40 deaths and a 44% asthma rate in children closest to the plants.

A coalition of organizations around the city are taking matters into their own hands to make the issue of coal personal for Mayor Daley, the city’s departing mayor who once called Chicago the greenest city in America.

This week environmental activists surprised Daley with a balloon-propelled message calling him to close Chicago’s two coal-burning power plants. The banner hung over City Hall reading “Mayor Daley – Is this your green legacy?”

As journalist Jeff Biggers describes, “Despite the fact that Chicago has ranked as the asthma epicenter of the nation, a growing movement in Chicago claims that Daley has blocked a proposed Clean Power Ordinance to effectively retire and transition the old plants to clean energy sources. Early this month, the mayor and his allies in City Hall refused to grant the Ordinance a hearing in the Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities that is necessary for it to advance to a full City Council vote.”

If Mayor Daley wants to be a truly green mayor and show Chicago that he understands the true cost of coal he needs to make sure these killer coal plants shut down as soon as possible.

New Contest for Exposing Polluter Lobbyists’ Influence

10:01 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Are you a lobbyist for the coal industry, looking for the best way to meet members of Congress who will put your dirty energy money ahead of modern environmental standards and their constituents’ health? Maybe the chairman of a powerful congressional committee, seeking yet another industry lobbyist to join your staff and help roll back the Clean Air Act, choosing polluters over children’s health? Or a giant oil company who wants everyone to forget about that devastating oil spill and need some insiders to pull the strings in the halls of power?

If so, then you need to check out – the #1 matchmaking site for polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians!

Now for the rest of us, don’t worry, everyone can get in on the action. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’ve launched the new “Polluterharmony contest” to help expose the special relationships between politicians in Washington, DC and polluters, their lobbyists and campaign contributions.

Greenpeace image: Lisa Murkowski matched with Big Oil since 2004

We launched Polluterharmony last year, featuring a series of videos that highlighted the connections between polluters and politicians – like industry lobbyists writing legislation that would gut the Clean Air Act, oil executives threatening our coasts with offshore oil drilling, and polluters funneling their dirty money to our elected officials.

But this new Congress is on a polluter dating binge, so we need your help to expose the most lurid examples of polluter-politico love. Submitting your polluterharmony suggestion is simple: if you use Twitter, just include the hashtag #polluterharmony and tweet anything that shows a special relationship between polluters and politicians. The best match will get a special Polluterharmony surprise!

Here’s my first suggestion: @Phil_Radford: closed door meetings with industry to scheme attacks on the Clean Air Act Now that’s #polluterharmony

Last year, Greenpeace activists delivered a special Polluterharmony message to a favorite polluter destination – Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office. Who will get the next Polluterharmony delivery? Send your suggestion on Twitter, and be sure to include #polluterhamony so we see it!

Two Severe Amazon Droughts in Five Years Alarm Scientists

12:13 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Amazon basin showing deep ebb due to drought. (photo: Rodrigo Baléia for Greenpeace)

Tropical rainforests are called the lungs of the earth, because they suck in pollution and breath out clean, healthy air. There is a darker side to this story, though – without protection, these same forests could actually speed up global warming.

A new paper from a team of British and Brazilian researchers has some worrying news about the Amazon rainforest, the biggest single lung on the planet. It describes how last year’s drought left some areas as dry as a tinderbox.

The thing is, this happened in 2005 too. Back then the drought was described as a once in a hundred year event, but then it happened again.

The new study shows how these dry spells are really bad news for the trees, and many are dying. They then stop absorbing carbon dioxide and start pumping out gases as they burn or rot away. And so we get into a kind of vicious circle.

Climate science tells us that we’ll be seeing more droughts like this, more often. And if the rainforest starts breathing out more than it’s absorbing, then the forests begin to contribute to the problem they help solve today.

So far, so grim, but there are reasons for hope. Deforestation in the Amazon is falling, due in part to new agreements from the big players in the leather world (like Nike and Timberland) not to buy from ranchers who are cutting down the forest to graze cows. Larger chunks of rainforest are much better at withstanding drought, and so this drop in deforestation matters.

Every nation on earth also has a stake in this. By cutting carbon pollution down instead of trees, we can help to slowly stabilize the world’s climate and preserve the rainforests that are left.

Right now the world’s ancient rainforests are on our side in the fight against climate change. They can mop up a huge amount of our pollution, but there is a limit. It’s time for us to realise that this deal cuts two ways.