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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.

In Chicago, coal is the real crime

10:00 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

A sad fact of living in an American city like Chicago is that every time we open a newspaper or switch on the local news, we hear of some senseless, tragic crime that has claimed an innocent life.

We become outraged, and we demand justice for those who have lost their children, their parents, their siblings or spouses. In 1982, Chicago acted to stem the tide of gun-related violence when confronted with a disturbing rise in homicides. In fact, between 1980 and 2006, some 32,300 American died every year due to handgun violence, which is second only to car crashes in deaths by injury.

Ever since I got my start as an advocate for a healthy environment on Chicago’s West Side, I have wondered why we fail to feel that same sense of outrage when the culprit in a crime against innocents is not a gunman seeking cash, but a corporation seeking to improve its bottom line. Maybe the impacts of a company’s misdeeds are of a scale so grand that it is difficult for us to imagine.

Every year, the toxic pollution that spews from the smokestacks of America’s coal-fired power plants kills between 13,000 and 34,000 people, according to studies by the Clean Air Task Force and Harvard University. That staggering figure doesn’t include the carbon pollution–one third of all US emissions–that is driving the planet into runaway climate change.


The lives lost to the coal industry are as real and as important as any other, as are the dollars the industry plucks from our pockets without us ever knowing it. Between healthcare costs for heart attacks, asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases; birth defects; and damage to communities done by mountaintop removal mining, land degradation, solid coal wastes, and other impacts; the hidden costs of coal amount to half a trillion dollars annually, according to a recent study by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

That’s five hundred billion dollars that you and I are paying to the coal industry so that they can continue poisoning our communities and standing in the way of clean, green energy. This massive, invisible public cost is only one of the many accounting tricks used by utilities to rob the public of billions each year.

If that scale is too hard to imagine, perhaps we should focus on a more local level. The city of Chicago is home to two ancient coal-fired power plants, owned by Edison International subsidiary Midwest Generation. The Fisk Street and Crawford plants spew millions of tons of pollutants–including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and barium–that cause health impacts like those mentioned above. They churn out more carbon pollution than any other single source in Chicago.

And, according to multiple studies, these two facilities kill more than 40 people of this city every year. If those numbers bother you, they should. But even more scandalous is this figure: the number of Chicago homes and businesses that they power is exactly zero. Fisk and Crawford were originally built in 1903 and 1924 to provide power to the city, but since California-based Edison International bought them in 1999 they have not been needed in Chicago and have instead sold their power to the open markets in the mid-Atlantic.

So these plants are sickening and killing Chicagoans to send power to the East Coast and profits to California. Adding insult to injury, while Edison is claiming that coal is the only way to preserve jobs in Illinois, they are investing millions of dollars in job-creating clean, green energy in Southern California. Instead of southern California’s skyrocketing clean energy industry, Chicago is saddled with $127 million dollars in health costs as a result of these two old coal plants.

This situation persists because of a failure of our government to have the courage to protect people. Lobbyists have gutted commonsense public health safeguards, with predictably disastrous results for regular people. One example is the EPA’s decades-long failure to rein in the pollution pouring from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants–a situation they’re finally looking to correct. Sadly, the failure also extends to Chicago’s city government, which last month failed to vote on Alderman Joe Moore’s Clean Power Ordinance, which would have reined in the pollution from Fisk and Crawford.

But sometimes overlooked is the fact that companies like Edison bear real responsibility to the communities that surround them. Fisk and Crawford are a good example. In pursuit of profit, Edison continues to run power plants whose electricity is no longer needed by Chicagoans while people get sick and die.

Chicago’s clean power coalition, made up of over fifty local groups, have continually shown Edison that people can stand up to the enormous and destructive power of the coal industry. The people who have written letters, showed up at hearings, marched, rallied and called their aldermen are my inspiration and our great hope for the future. Today, Greenpeace activists scaled the smokestack of the Fisk Street station to support them and make sure the message is heard all the way back in California.

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.

What would a Chernobyl or Fukushima disaster at Indian Point mean?

9:42 am in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Twenty-five years ago the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, sending plumes of radiation around the planet and devastating the area surrounding the plant to this day.

The world learned firsthand then about the dangers of nuclear power. Today, the ongoing nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is a tragic reminder of the threat that nuclear plants pose to nearby communities and the environment.

Yet many in Washington appear so captured by the nuclear industry that they are still seeking to run old nuclear reactors longer and harder than ever before, and still trying to subsidize the nuclear industry so it can build new reactors.

Will it take a Chernobyl or a Fukushima on US soil before our lawmakers understand that nuclear power is unnecessary, dangerous and expensive?

Despite the spin from the nuclear industry, the truth is that every nuclear reactor has the potential for a Chernobyl-scale release of radiation. Can we imagine what a catastrophe would look like at one of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States?

1 in 3 Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, and many plants threaten major cities. More than 17 million people live within 50 miles of New York’s Indian Point, an old nuclear plant in an active seismic zone north of New York City. What would happen in New York City if an earthquake, terrorist attack, or accident led to a catastrophic release of radiation?

We don’t have to live with this threat. Instead of allowing these old reactors to run decades beyond their licensed life spans, we should be shutting them down. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to subsidize the construction of new nuclear reactors, we should be investing in safe solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

These technologies are ready now – in the last four years, 30,000 megawatts of wind and solar power have been built in the United States, and 0 megawatts of new nuclear power. Our global energy scenario shows that we truly can meet our energy needs and phase out nuclear and coal power.

Let’s take the lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima to heart, and phase out nuclear power before the next catastrophe. Read the rest of this entry →

Protecting our oceans, one supermarket at a time

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by Philip Radford

Last month, a group of Greenpeace volunteers in Denver trekked to over 30 Colorado supermarkets to investigate the sustainability of the seafood being sold inside. Armed with an “endangered fish check-list,” what they found–a thousand miles away from the nearest ocean–was shocking. In the freezers, wet cases, and can aisles they discovered nearly every species on their list, including Chilean sea bass, Atlantic cod, swordfish, orange roughy, hoki, red snapper, shark, and other environmentally unsound seafood options.


Today, these volunteers, along with supermarket chains, industry, scientists, and consumers, are working to change the state of our planet through our seafood choices. Greenpeace’s Carting Away the Oceans project has been working with all these players to rank America’s major supermarket chains on their seafood sustainability practices.

Since the first report, supermarkets have made big strides to change their policies. Over the last few years, major seafood retailers such as Costco, Price Chopper, and Trader Joe’s have eliminated many unsustainable species from their inventories. A small group of industry leaders has emerged as well, and today, we’re happy to announce that Safeway has taken over the top spot on our list. With this recent development, Safeway is joining the ranks of Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Target in proving that sustainable seafood operations are both possible and necessary in all sectors of the seafood retail industry – conventional, specialty, and big-box.

Seafood sustainability plays an important role in Greenpeace’s overarching work on ocean conservation. Our oceans are in crisis, and we need everyone on board to make the massive change needed to bring them back from the brink. Three quarters of global fish stocks are suffering from overfishing, and 90% of top marine predators are already gone. Destructive fishing practices such as pirate fishing destroy critical ocean habitats and harm global fish stocks. As the ocean becomes more vulnerable, it will succumb more quickly to the harmful effects of global warming.

Despite the major strides made to protect our oceans, no large grocer has yet achieved a “green” ranking in Greenpeace’s Seafood Sustainability ranking. We’re thankful for all of this progress, but the overwhelming majority of retailers still have a long way to go. All seafood retailers need to acknowledge their responsibility towards the oceans–both for how they have damaged them and what they must do to heal them. Until that happens, we will continue to call on them to enact strong, effective, sustainable seafood policies that will reduce pressure on our flagging fish stocks and help heal our ailing oceans.

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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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!