Do you live near a dangerous chemical plant? You might know you do, or you might live in a city like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles and not even realize that you live near a facility that puts you at risk every day. You might also work at a hospital that could be overrun by the casualties from a chemical disaster, or work for the fire or police department that has to respond to such an event. Even if that isn’t the case, you likely live very near any of the major railroads that are carting lethal gases through your community every day.
On behalf of these communities, over 100 organizations representing workers, disproportionately impacted communities, healthcare professionals, and environmentalists have repeated their request to President Obama that he use his authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent chemical disasters. And it is not just these organizations and the communities they represent, the New York Times has asked for the EPA to take action, and so has the former Administrator of the EPA under President Bush, Governor Christine Todd Whitman, whose call followed the formal request of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Congressional Republicans have stymied efforts to correct what the New York Times calls a “clear and present danger,” but the Obama Administration has advocated strongly for a comprehensive policy that would focus on preventing a chemical disaster by using safer technologies, instead of just focusing on fenceline security. President Obama has been clear that he will move his agenda forward with or without Congress and when it comes to the dangers from chemical plants, he has the tools to do just that.
According to chemical facility reports to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 480 chemical facilities each put 100,000 or more people at risk of a poison gas disaster. President Obama knows about this risk and in his 2008 campaign plan “Change We Can Believe In” he pledged to “Secure our chemical plants by setting a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation and safety training, and wherever possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals.”
Now is the time for the president and the EPA to act on this campaign pledge. This Congress has become captive of the chemical companies that want their profits to trump the safety and security of the public and has failed to pass any law that would focus on disaster prevention. President Obama needs to now take the reigns and fully implement the Clean Air Act protections that will make our communities safer.
Who has been waiting for a train, plane, or a bus and heard that? Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hopes that you all have.
Tuesday morning aboard the new Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace launched a new online map that allows communities to see for the first time whether they live in the vulnerability zone of one of 483 high risk chemical plants, and then it allows them to say something to President Obama. Each of the plants puts 100,000 or more people at risk of a poison gas disaster by accident or terrorist attack. All together that’s more than 110 million people, or 1 in 3 Americans. Continue reading →
Last weekend was a wild one for climate action in our nation’s Capitol, between the protest outside a conference run by Koch Industries front group Americans for Prosperity and Sunday’s large street protest against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that encircled the White House with over 10,000 people.
The two issues came together when I and another Greenpeace activist found oil billionaire and Americans for Prosperity Chairman David Koch inside AFP’s “Defending the American Dream” conference, and questioned Koch about his company’s financial stake in the Keystone XL pipeline and their false statement to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). Watch for yourself below.
Greenpeace presented Mr. Koch with a “Wanted for climate crimes” flyer featuring the faces of himself and brother Charles, and also asked about any changes in his view on climate change after a Koch-funded study appears to agree with what climate scientists have known for decades now—the globe is indeed increasing in average surface temperature. David Koch refused to answer questions, but clearly understood that accountability was expected for the $55 million he and brother Charles Koch have donated to organizations that work to confuse and deny the reality of climate science.
Mr. Koch’s day wasn’t all bad—shortly before the encounter he was lauded by Herman Cain, who declared, “I am the Koch Brothers’ brother from another mother!” The statement lifted David Koch out of his seat for a strange Nixon-style salute to the AFP audience. Chairman Koch also got to hear from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and fellow climate denial financier and AFP director Art Pope. Among numerous other issues, the keynote speakers attacked environmental protections and peddled fossil fuel extraction. Herman Cain stated the need for the US Environmental Protection Agency to undergo an “attitude adjustment,” a popular sentiment among attendees who were also offered a panel dedicated to hating on the EPA.
Echoing Kochs’ efforts to dismantle the EPA
Opening the “Extreme Power Abuses” panel, Koch-backed Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) bragged about his efforts to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, warning observers that EPA is “on the march, they will stop at nothing.”
Following Rep. Pompeo was Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch and Exxon front, among other dirty donors. Hartnett White’s primary focus appears to be criticizing the EPA’s every move. She approved Texas’ first new coal-fired power plant in 20 years when she was chair of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and has grossly misrepresented the scientific conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the panel, Hartnett White pushed to continue allowing unchecked mercury emissions from coal plants, which the coal lobby has blocked from regulation since the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. She downplayed the concerns of communities suffering from coal plant pollution with claims like “People do not die of particulate matter levels,” while ignoring clear threats to our health, such as mercury from power plants winding up in the fish we eat. Most indicative of Hartnett White’s do-nothing attitude on pollution: “there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no environmental problems.”
Next up was a career polluter apologist from the American Tradition Institute, Chris Horner. Horner is also an affiliate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Horner’s current work involves harassing climatologist Michael Mann by seeking his emails from the University of Virginia, a favorite cause of climate denier and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was also present at the AFP conference.
The EPA panel was concluded with the angry rants of Ann McElhinney, who has made a name for herself as an anti-environmental documentary filmmaker who circulates her films among various climate denier front groups. McElhinney accused environmentalists in general of being unequivocal liars while throwing some questionable claims* around herself. Claiming that “fracking is an absolute miracle,” McElhinney repeatedly attacked Gasland director Josh Fox for spreading a “message of hate” though his film. Similarly, McElhinney said that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “is just wonderful,” and mocked the idea of an organized protest against Keystone XL two days later.
What McElhinney said that did seem on point was, “at the moment, the story of energy is being told by people that tell lies.”That certainly sounds right – if she meant the influence peddlers of the fossil fuel industry. But McElhinney then continued to demonize people with environmental concerns, rather than pointing out how polluters spend millions to influence our government through direct donations, lobbyists, trade associations, and front groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the very panelists McElhinney stood next to.
Americans for Koch’s Prosperity
Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity have become synonymous to the people who pay attention to the billionaire oil baron brothers and their many front groups. AFP itself was spawned from predecessor group, the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (CSE), which split from its sister group to form AFP and Freedomworks. While the Kochs left Freedomworks alone, they continue to fund and govern AFP—David Koch is the chairman of the AFP Foundation and the group has received over $5.6 million from the Koch Brothers’ foundations, according to the most recent five years of their tax filings. Co-sponsors and allies present at the conference have received large checks from the Kochs over the same time frame, such as the Heritage Foundation ($2.2 million), the Institute for Humane Studies ($4.4 million), and the American Legislative Exchange Council ($275,858).
Other known financiers of AFP and other corporate front groups, which often don’t have to report their donors, are the usual cadre of ideologically-driven conservative foundations backed by corporate interests who bankroll efforts to roll back environmental protections, attack health care reforms, increase corporate rights while decreasing corporate tax rates…check out the Lewis Powell memo for more history on how companies have seized our democracy.
*Standing out most among Ann McElhinney’s misleading statements were two in particular. First, she claimed that the gas industry website FracFocus www.fracfocus.org contains full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—it doesn’t. Second, she led the audience to believe that health concerns over tar sands water pollution [PDF] in Alberta, Canada were unsubstantiated. Specifically, McElhinney attacked Dr. John O’Connor, who discovered and was persecuted by industry (and industry-tainted government) for years for linking tar sands operations to unusually high cancer rates. This was formerly confirmed by the Alberta Cancer Board in May 2008, vindicating Dr. O’Connor. The cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area are 30% higher than expected rates. Most notably, McElhinney accused Dr. O’Connor of fabricating the death of a 33-year old in Fort Chipewyan, a community heavily polluted by chemical byproducts flowing up the Athabasca River. Read more about this specific industry/Alberta government attack on Dr. O’Connor in Andrew Nikiforuk’s “Tar Sands,” pp. 96-101.
There are many contradictions in America’s Energy Policy. One that’s come down the pipe recently is just how little we as a society rely upon aggregated costs when determining how expensive coal is.
You’ve heard the talking points: “Coal is cheap and we’ve sure got a lot of it;” “Coal is energy security;” “Coal work provides good quality jobs for lots of folks.”
Well, not exactly.
There is a tremendous human, environmental and governmental cost to coal that is not reflected in its market price. Instead, these costs are borne by society.
Coal is only cheap if you externalize costs. For example, some externalized costs include: air quality costs (like increased rates of asthma, air opacity, poor air quality, coal fires, etc.), the costs of unsafe mining conditions (deforestation, soil erosion, black lung, and the human cost of tragedies like what we recently saw in West Virginia, and the environmental costs of disposal (leaching coal ash ponds, leaking waste destroying fish stocks and agriculture, acid mine drainage).
This is a short list in what is a very large problem. The true cost of coal is in fact very, very high.
Importantly, the debate has heated up recently on one very important aspect of the coal chain of custody: coal ash disposal.
On June 21st, the EPA gave us, the people, 90 days to comment on a federal rule for coal ash disposal. For those that don’t know, coal ash is the residue captured from the chimneys of coal-fired power plants. It contains dangerous pollutants like arsenic, mercury, lead, and a host of other heavy substances and heavy metals. In short, it’s filthy and its never been regulated.
Coal ash impoundments are routinely placed close to schools, residences, and some of the most pristine and beautiful spots in this nation. We have to tell the EPA to act responsibly for both human and environmental health and safety.
To that end, the EPA has given us two choices for its federal rule. One proposal is good and the other is very bad. The first proposal would classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, which it is. The other would classify coal ash as non-hazardous. To classify coal ash as non-hazardous would run contrary to the EPA’s own findings, playing right into the hands of polluting industry.
We need to tell the EPA that we support regulating coal ash as a “special waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Coal Ash is hazardous waste; it destroys communities, destroys our ecosystem, and, unless regulated, will continue to do so in increasing amounts.
Today, Greenpeace announced that our citizens’ inspection of the Kuehne Chemical plant near New York City in South Kearny, NJ showed that the two million pounds of Chlorine gas on site puts up to 12 million people in the New York area at risk. This “worst case scenario,” defined by their Risk Management Plan submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, would occur from the release of just one full rail car of chlorine gas. There could be enough chlorine gas on site at the Kuehne facility to fill 11 rail cars and the Department of Homeland Security has said that a terrorist attack would likely be worse than a worst-case scenario.
Imagine a low-lying cloud of lethal chlorine gas spreading through New York City or your home town, stretching 15 miles past your childhood playground, your place of worship, or your friends’ homes. Imagine that you witness the same horror seen by American troops when Hitler used chlorine gas as a weapon: people gasping for air and grasping their throats as fumes melted their lungs and slowly suffocate them. Imagine that your Senator could have done something to prevent this.
Last November the House of Representatives passed a bill that November that would require high-risk chemical facilities to convert to safer chemicals if feasible. Soon afterward Senator Lautenberg pledged to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. We expect that legislation to come out soon and we need the full Senate to take action this summer. If the U.S. Senate fails to act this year, you could be one in three Americans who will remain at risk.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 shocked us all and set into motion the tightening of our security systems. While we’ve added air puffing machines to our airports, metal detectors, x-ray machines, and requirements to take off our shoes, our elected officials have all but ignored the fact that the nation’s dangerous chemical facilities remain unsecured. There are so many of these facilities, that the Department of Homeland Security can only inspect less than 5% of these plants they themselves have identified as high-risk.