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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.

President Unveils “Obama Climate Pollution Test” for Future Energy Projects

4:55 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Today, in his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama challenged us to answer the essential question for every future energy policy decision we face – what will the net climate impact be if this project goes forward?

It was a bold, monumental speech, the best by not only this president, but any president to date on the climate crisis. Greenpeace supporters have told Obama for years that the longer he waited to take sides, the worse climate change would get. Today’s speech showed that the time has clearly gotten late enough for him to publicly side with the people, not the fossil fuel industry.

We proudly stand with the President in the fight against carbon pollution, but we know that this fight won’t be won with words alone.

The President framed the Keystone decision this way:

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Within this frame, it’s clear there’s no room in our future for the Keystone pipeline, fracking, Arctic drilling, or giving away our public lands to the coal industry. Each of these projects will have a significant negative climate impact and not be in our national interest.

*Oil Change International reported earlier this year that “the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.” Climate impact? You betcha.

*Fracking? Once you account for the impacts of extraction and not just burning natural gas, the climate impact of methane pollution from natural gas has the potential to be an even more severe driver of climate change than carbon pollution from oil and coal. That means it’s a bridge fuel to nowhere.

*In the Arctic, the climate impact isn’t as obvious as the impact of Shell’s oil rigs on Alaskan islands, but it’s coming more and more into focus every summer. If we continue to extract and burn oil and gas from the vulnerable Arctic region, the region itself will continue to disappear at an astonishing rate, short-circuiting our planet’s natural cooling system and making the vicious circle of climate disaster much much worse.

*And giving away publicly owned coal for pennies on the dollar? That’s a big climate lose. The expansion in US coal exports has the potential to release as much if not more carbon pollution than any other new fossil fuel project in the United States.

As the President said today at the end of his address:

“And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?”

Yes, Mr. President, we do. And we’re thrilled to know that you do too.

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.

Why North Carolina’s ‘Moral Mondays’ Matter for Democracy and the Planet

3:33 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

 

Every Monday for the past month, North Carolina citizens from across the spectrum have gathered at the State House in Raleigh to protest the pro-corporate, anti-rights agenda of the legislature’s newly elected Republicans. The top priority of these Republicans is to pass every law imaginable to wreck the environment and strip away the ability of people to defend their communities — which is exactly why Reverend William Barber and the hundreds of dedicated people of North Carolina will be there again this Monday, singing, chanting, and raising their voices in every way they can to make sure the corporate right doesn’t win in North Carolina.

Greenpeace activists will be there alongside Reverend Barber and groups across issues, because this fight matters in a big way — not only for North Carolina but for everyone in the country who cares about voting rights and environmental protection.

Why?

Because the big money groups fighting the citizens of North Carolina are the same big money groups fighting across the country to disempower the majority who believe in the rights of communities to be safe and self-determined. If the corporate right sees it can win in North Carolina, it will take the same tactics to every vulnerable state in the Union in a full court press against people and the environment. We can’t let that happen.

For years, the people of North Carolina have struggled against the State House influence of big corporations like Duke Energy, which has had the state’s regulators and politicians on lockdown for decades but now sees its old, dirty energy business model barreling towards obsolescence. So Duke and other old economy behemoths are getting desperate, trying to hold onto all the power they can before demographics and history sweep them aside.

Art Pope, North Carolina’s self-appointed kingmaker and honorary Koch Brother, along with the right wing legislation factories ALEC, AFP, and State Policy Network are gleefully running amok at the state house, trying to ram through legislation that would fire all the state’s environmental regulators, restrict renewable energy, wish away global warming, and make sure disenfranchised voters stayed that way.

These guys don’t divide us into social justice groups and environmental groups — they see us as all one enemy, which is why in North Carolina we are one movement. They try to take away voting rights from people of color because they know those are the people that — if empowered — will fight to make sure that coal plants and toxic waste incinerators don’t end up in their back yards. Communities of color and low-income communities are hurt first and worst by Duke’s rate hikes for dirty energy. They are hurt first and worst by pollution, since companies usually site the coal plants and toxic waste dumps in their communities. They are the people who could benefit most from solar panels on their rooftops and the ability to free themselves from the regressive, costly, polluting electricity grid that Duke currently offers. Which is why we’re standing together to make sure the people are empowered. An attack by corporate interests against North Carolina’s working people, women, people of color, or any other vulnerable group, is an attack on North Carolina’s environment too, and we will stand with our allies to fight that corporate funded threat.

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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Trimming Astroturf From the American Petroleum Institute’s ‘Vote 4 Energy’ Ad

11:20 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

It’s not surprising that the American Petroleum Institute — Big Oil’s premium lobbying entity — is using a synthetic media strategy. Their Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign spews misinformation like a two-stroke engine belching greenhouse gasses. It attempts to portray ‘real (cough cough) Americans’ who are ‘energy voters,’ which translates to voting for whichever politicians support Big Oil’s dirty agenda.

API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote4Energy ad that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s about as genuine as a gas-station burrito.

If you want authentic insights on Big Oil’s scheming, start with our own mock Vote 4 Energy commercial.

Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock Vote 4 Energy commercial to show how API and it’s oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) are generating this phony citizen support for Big Oil.

What’s really fueling this bogus outreach is API’s $200 million budget to push dirty energy incentives and tax handouts for oil companies — something the petrol pushers can’t do on their own. Hence the need to prop up a phony corps of pseudo-interested citizens. They’ve even gone so far as to stage faux-rallies for their Energy Citizens astroturf campaign, as revealed by Greenpeace in a confidential API memo to oil executives. The con-job is essential to their strategy because American’s overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty oil development. Read the rest of this entry →

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.